Mental Health

Managing Mental Illness – Will I ever truly be well?

Mental illness is a shit-show. To combat it, one must always be on the look out, watching for signs and symptoms of recurrence. When detected, one must pull out the big guns, as it were – the weapons of learned coping skills , methodologies, medications, and support team – with the constant hope that thusly armed, the event will pass with minimal damage left in its wake.

Grateful as I always am when the event does pass, I am often left wondering. Will I ever truly be well? Or, is this how things will be for the rest of my life?

I’ve been asking this last question for over two decades and counting and, as much as I want to believe that the last event was THE last event, so far, it has not been so.

Mental illness is real. It’s not imagined. It’s not something one can simply will away. I know. I tried – twenty years ago before I took my first antidepressant. The shame I felt then… the defeat… when swallowing that first pill. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I’d be sitting here today, on guard, constantly at-the-ready to fight this ongoing fight, I wonder what I would have said – or done?

I’ve had many ups and downs over the years. I hit rock bottom in 2012 when I came close to suicide. That’s how far and deep I’d fallen. It was the hardest fight of my life, getting out of that hole. But I did it – and I’m grateful every day that I’m still alive to tell about it. And, while seven years have passed since that dark day, I’m still fighting – like today’s seemingly for-no-reason symptoms of anxiety sneaking up on my psyche, ready to pounce.

Out comes the weaponry. I’m always on alert, remember?

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I will battle mental illness until the day I die. I will have to be vigilant. Because, the truth is, wellness ebbs and flows – a recovery/remission/recurrence, as it were. I must practice my skills while I am well so that they are well oiled and ready for battle when the next one comes. As I’m sure it will.

If you are reading this and you need support, please reach out. Get help! Don’t wait to hit rock bottom. Do it now. I’ve provided some links below.

CAMH
Crisis Services Canada
US Suicide Prevention Lifeline
healthyplace.com

Mental Health

It’s International Mental Health Day #InternationalMentalHealthDay

October 10th is International Mental Health Day, first marked in 1992 as part of an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health.

I suffer from mental illness and have done, since I was a child of ten. Sadly, mental illness effects millions of people around the world, indiscriminately. The odds are that someone in your circle-of-influence is suffering, often times in silence.

Days like today, International Mental Health Day, Bell Let’s Talk Day, etc., shine a light on this global epidemic, providing much needed information to sufferers, family and friends, support workers, medical practitioners, remedy practitioners, clergy, businesses, and so on. It helps remind us all that mental health is a serious illness that should not be discounted and that the people who suffer from mental illness should not be judged. Every year on this day, we are reminded that the word is getting out, that help is available, and most importantly, that we are not alone.

Every day I feel intense gratitude for the many people who support me – both present, and past. At the top of that list is my husband of 36 years. His unwavering love for me acts as a ladder that helps me climb up and out from what are sometimes the depths of despair. His calm, rational words remind me to check my mental health gauges and seek medical attention when he sees that I am slipping. His sense of humour helps bouy me above dark waters. Thank you!

If you are reading this and you need support, please reach out. Get help! Don’t wait for the next special day of recognition. Do it now. I’ve provided some links below.

CAMH
Crisis Services Canada
US Suicide Prevention Lifeline
healthyplace.com

Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

Feeling #Hopeless – the cruelty of #depression

I hadn’t felt hopeless in years. Not since 2011. That’s a long time, successfully keeping my head above water – sometimes floating calmly, other times, flapping about madly – all in an attempt to stay afloat and keep depression away.

And yet.

Despite best efforts, doing my mental-wellness “homework”, as I call it, depression took hold – again! – and dragged me down to the point of hopelessness. I was flabbergasted. What, again?? No. It couldn’t possibly… Yet there I was – sad, defeated, tired, broken.

The pragmatic, logical side of me knew that I wasn’t hopeless. But, somewhere in the depressed mind, reality and logic simply don’t connect.

From hopelessness, I fell a little further into feeling as though I had no value. None, whatsoever. I knew that I was a good: wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend, pet-mom, etc., but my brain chemistry changed how I perceived the value of these roles.

That’s one of depression’s cruelest tricks – it robs you of your ability to feel the good while simultaneously amplifying the bad.

Despite every instinct that just wanted to lay on the couch, do nothing, and be okay with doing nothing, I knew that there was very little room between where I was and rock bottom. I’d stared suicide in the face eight years ago, I wasn’t about to go there again.

It took every micro ounce of energy I had to do what I had to do – talk therapy, discussions with my cannabis educators (with tweaks to timing and dosage), and visits to my doctor – before the fog finally lifted. When you’re in it, the journey seems impossible! There’s no WAY I’m going to feel better! And yet – I do.

On June 6th I wrote about how depression knocked me on my ass. Today is August 6th – and I finally feel better. I can breathe. I feel hopeful. I know that I provide tremendous value to the people in my life. To that end, I continue to work with my therapist, cannabis educators, and my doctor, to proactively equip myself with the tools I need to stay well. Fingers crossed, it’ll be years before I feel this poorly again – hell, I’m shooting for never feeling that way again.

One can hope.

______________

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, there are many resources out there that can help. Ask for help. Seek medical attention. Visit one of the links below.

CAMH – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
CASP – Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Depression, Mental Health

#Depression knocks me on my ass!

It still surprises me that after all these years battling depression, it can still knock me on my ass! It’s frustrating and exhausting. But, it shouldn’t be surprising. Not really. Dealing with depression symptoms – something I’ve done for almost 20 years – is like playing the same crappy computer game over and over, and there are bugs in the program that put you in a seemingly endless loop.

In the grand scheme of things, my depression is managed. It never goes away, though. Symptoms come and go on the regular; some times they’re worse than other times – like now. I’ve spent the day doing practically nothing save for plenty of negative self-talk:

“You’re a fake!”

“You’re lazy!”

“Just get UP and DO some-thing… ANY-thing!”

“Stop staring at nothing!”

“You should go for a walk.”

“You should be grateful for your life!”

… and so on.

Worse yet, I hear my negative self-talk, know what it is and have coping skills to deal with it – but I don’t use them. I mean, what IS that? THAT, is a symptom of the depression. When you know all the things that help to alleviate it but you can’t bring yourself to do them!

This isn’t one of those blog post that will have a meaningful conclusion other than to perhaps say – “Hey, it’s okay to have these bad days. If this is all you can manage, then this is all you can manage and it’s okay. You have an illness and sometimes it’s hard to get through the day. Let go of your guilt. Tomorrow is a new day.”

Wait – I guess that was the meaningful conclusion. And if you’re still reading this, know – like I do – that you’re not alone.

Cannabis, Mental Health

First grandchild, legalized #cannabis and semi-retirement versus #jobloss, #mentalillness and #compassionfatigue. Where to begin.

There was a time, back when my kids were young and we celebrated New Year’s Eve at home with friends and family, when – some minutes before midnight, after reminiscing about the year’s events and what we were truly grateful for, we’d set a fire in a large barrel in the backyard and BURN shit! Old calendars, bras, photos of our X’s… whatever it was that we wanted to physically and emotionally eradicate. Then, at the stroke of midnight, we’d raise our glasses to ring in the new year, then ponder and commit to great things for the future. It was therapeutic – bye-bye old year with its trials and heartache, hello new year, full of promise and wonder.

I can’t remember where the idea to do this came from (my has-a-penchance-for-pyrotechnics Hubby) or why it waned (we moved and no longer lived on a ravine) but, I miss it.

Consider this blog post the reminisce/eradicate/commit ceremony of 2018.

Top 3 things I am grateful for from 2018 (besides Hubby, Kids, Fam and Besties who are always at the very top of the gratitude list) :

Right out of the gate – the birth of my first grandchild. While technically he was born December 28th the prior year, I am grateful for the many wonder-filled hours I’ve spent with him throughout 2018. Truth is, I smile the entire time I’m with him! He’s a delightfully heady elixir to what ails me – mind and body.

Next, I’m very grateful that cannabis was legalized in Canada. While I had been experimenting with cannabis prior to legalization – both as an alternative to pharmaceuticals for my depression and anxiety, and recreationally as an alternative to alcohol – I am delighted that I no longer have to hide it. I can partake openly and continue to benefit from its healing properties.

Lastly, I’m grateful for the abundance of time to myself this year – having started semi-retirement rather unexpectedly. With this time, I was able to help care for my elderly father during an acute illness that lasted several months. I’ve also read almost two dozen books, have taken an interest in indoor gardening, and have started crocheting again.

Top 3 things I’m tossing into the barrel fire (metaphorically speaking) :

Right out of the gate – job loss. After twenty years, my old employer and I parted ways. I call it involuntary semi-retirement, though technically I did have a choice. Let’s just say that tossing it into the fire speaks for itself.

Next, my mental illness definitely spiked this year – specifically, my anxiety. While depression too has been its usual burden, my anxiety took me to new and rather horrible places. Glad to give it the old heave-ho into the fire too.

Lastly, and connected to my father’s illness; navigating his hospital stay, home care, appointments, and dealing with governing bodies on his behalf, left me with a bad case of compassion fatigue. The fire gets this one too.

Pondering the new year :

I commit to being grateful.

That’s it. No lofty goals or resolutions for me. Just a commitment to be grateful.

I’m a firm believer that gratitude will open the door to all sorts of wonderment. And, while next year will undoubtedly have its burdens (fodder for another barrel fire), it will most certainly have many delights.

Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health

The holidays are hard – especially for those with #mentalillness

I come from a long line of people with mental illness. From OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to schizophrenia to GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to maybe even PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It stands to reason then, that some of this landed on me and even my kids.

If you’ve read one or two of my blogs, you know I suffer from Anxiety and Depression, both of which make enjoying the holidays very challenging.

I live in Southern Ontario, near Toronto, where this time of year can be very, very bleak – weather-wise. Yes, we’ve made it through the shortest day of the year (Dec 21) and are on the slow journey to spring, but add the holidays to that – with all the (sometimes) harrowing acts of buying and wrapping gifts, the well-intentioned visits, the obligations of faith, and the – let’s face it – unreasonable expectation to have fun and be joyful – and it can be a veritable vortex sucking you down into a pit of woe.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if you’re overwhelmed… or even underwhelmed for that matter.

The holidays are hard enough for normal people but even harder for those having to deal with #mentalillness. Sometimes, we just want to crawl (or stay) under the covers and not have to fight the (bad) fight. Sometimes, we just want to cry, or scream, or just sit quietly without having to explain why.

To all those suffering, like me, know this. You are not alone. Know that the holidays are finite and soon you’ll be on the other side. If you can, reach out to someone – a friend or family member, a pastor, a coworker, or even someone on social media.

And, from me to you – may your heart and mind be chaos free and may you feel some peace. Joy and merriment too, if you can manage it. But mostly, I wish you peace.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada P3 – Marrying tried-and-true with the new when managing #mentalillness

In a recent post, I wrote about the adverse side effects I’d had to a pharma-based switch in my medication, prescribed to help with my evolving anxiety – which it did do. To counteract the side effects, my doctor prescribed more pharma meds. I disagreed and went back to my old medication.

My decision to go back to my old meds was a good one as the side effects essentially disappeared. Unfortunately though, the anxiety reappeared, rearing its ugly, pernicious head.

#Cannabis has helped! Indeed, vaping cannabis for breakthrough anxiety (like breakthrough pain but with anxiety) helps (me) a great deal. So, when my trusty vaporizer went on the fritz two weeks ago, away went my ability to self-treat. It was more than a little unsettling.

Immediately, I decided to invest in a backup vaporizer. Cyber-Monday sales helped with this, but the ongoing Canada Post strike meant it would be a few days before I would receive the product. So, I pulled out the proverbial CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) handbook and got busy practicing my coping techniques.

I learned two things. First, using cannabis to manage my breakthrough anxiety works lickety-split! Within minutes of vaping, I’m calm and feeling pleasant. Second, CBT does help (me). It is exhausting, requires a lot of motivation (hard for a chronic depressive like me), and takes time to be effective – depending on the breakthrough anxiety of the moment. Still, it helped me through a few rough patches.

Anxiety and depression are ongoing, (sometimes) lifelong struggles. Use ALL the tools at your disposal; both the tried-and-true (medication, CBT, etc.) and the new (cannabis, etc.). If one of the tools in your toolbox goes on the fritz, reach in and grab another one. As I’ve said in prior posts – when it comes to managing (your) #mentalillness, you gotta do the homework! Know thyself. Participate in your own healing. Nobody else can do it for you.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Women's Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada – Might it help me with my #mentalillness?

So cannabis is finally legal in Canada. YAY! October 17th was a big day for us – as a forward-thinking nation, of course – but also for many of us with mental illness looking to either subsidize our pharma products with cannabis, or replace them altogether.

My doctor wasn’t ready to make that assertion nor was she ready to refer me to someone who would. Thusly, I took the matter into my own hands, doing my own research on cannabis as a treatment option for people with mental illness. And to be completely honest, legalization notwithstanding, I have been experimenting with various strains of cannabis and documenting my experiences.

If you’ve read a few of my blogs you’ll know that I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2000, but have memories of dealing with anxiety and panic from around the time I entered puberty. Since 2000, I have been on two different prescriptions – both SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), both effective for a time. I consider myself one of the lucky ones – I’ve only had to use two… some sufferers are on veritable cocktails of pharma medications.

Since the onset of peri-menopause three years ago, I’ve been all over the map with my symptoms. Most recently (the past 9 months), I have really been struggling with anxiety to the point where for the third time since 2000, I was put on a new medication – this time, an SNRI (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors). (As an aside, I was also diagnosed with pre-hypertension and prescribed a low-dose medication for it). While this new SNRI medication has helped a great deal with the anxiety, it has caused two notable side-effects; brain-zaps and exacerbated tinnitus (ringing/whooshing in the ears – which I’ve had my whole life but would only hear if it was either very quiet, or after being subjected to very loud noise e.g. a concert). The tinnitus is now loud and constant and the brain-zaps are happening several times a day (where before they would happen maybe once a month). NOT GOOD! Also noticed but unconfirmed by my doctor as being related (though I believe it is), my blood pressure is even higher despite the medication that was supposed to help lower it! Both tinnitus and hypertension (high blood pressure) are listed as possible side-effects of SRNIs.

My fear when changing medications again was that I would be faced with the very thing that has happened – side-effects that require further exploration (referral to an ENT (Ear/Nose/Throat) doctor – which could take months – to ensure there is nothing mechanically wrong with my ears) and even worse, more medications – I was told to double the hypertension medication! Neither of these will help the brain-zaps at all.

And so, I’ve come full circle back to the question – might cannabis help me with my mental illness? This last doctor’s visit has solidified my resolve to continue my exploration with cannabis to treat my anxiety (as a first step). Against my doctor’s recommendation, I am going to ween myself off the SNRIs and back onto the SSRIs (my baseline, before side-effects). I am not willing to wait for an ENT to tell me that yes, I have tinnitus and no, there is nothing mechanical going on.  I do NOT want to double the hypertension medication that was supposed to reduce my high blood pressure.

It is my long-range goal/hope that maybe I can ween myself off of all of it. That’s lofty given the last time I went off my medications without doctor’s supervision I ended up in a deep depression that lasted months. Then again – cannabis wasn’t really an option then. It is now. And the best part is that, since legalization, I can now do it out in the open without having to suffer the villainization that cannabis has suffered in the past.

If you are looking to start your exploration into cannabis, try the Strainprint app. I have found it an invaluable source for researching ailments, symptoms and strains, as well as tracking my sessions with cannabis. Strainprint is available in the Google Playstore as well as the App Store. Thank you Humble & Fred Radio for recommending this app and for all the great cannabis-related content you’ve provided.

Mental Health

It’s #MentalIllnessAwarenessWeek in Canada – Many still suffer in silence.

MHAWThe difference in awareness of mental illness now as compared to even three years ago is astounding. Social media helps a great deal in spreading awareness. I follow several mental health-related handles on Twitter including CAMH, Elephant in the Room, and Mental Health Platform, to name a few. They have been and continue to be great sources of not only information, but comfort as well.

Why comfort? Because there is nothing like knowing that you’re not alone – that others are suffering, just like you.

Many of us who suffer with mental illness suffer in silence.

I was no different. While I have been writing about mental illness for several years (though few people knew about it), taking the step to vocalizing it was a whole new nest of bees. Of course, I had told my immediate family and some very close friends, but I had never gone beyond that – specifically, I had never told a colleague.

Several years ago, one particular colleague and I struck up a rather good work friendship. We would bitch about, and purge our work-related woes to each other (as work friends often do), finding that we had a lot in common. I keenly recognized her to be a high-functioning depressive, like me. I had begun to trust her but still, I just wasn’t sure how she would react and even more concerning, if she would keep my confidence.

One day, while walking back from getting an afternoon coffee, and in reference to some of the things we had been discussing, I took a deep breath and calmly stated, “I suffer from chronic depression.” We stopped walking and she looked at me. This was it: the moment of truth.

We stood for another ten minutes while I shared with her my history with mental illness, both depression and anxiety. And then something remarkable happened. My work friend shared some of her journey too. Not as much as I had, but that was okay. It was a start.

When we got back to our desks, she thanked me for opening up to her. I took a big step that day and in some small way, I believe I helped her. It made us closer and while she has since gone her way and I’ve gone mine, I still think ever so fondly of her and that indelible moment.

It was a risk. I understood it then and I understand it to this day. You have to read the situation and trust your gut. Since that day, I have shared my mental illness journey with quite a few people and it becomes easier each time.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Depression, Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

My brain chemistry knew before I did…

I am currently semi-retired from over thirty-five years in the corporate world. As such, the days tend to (blissfully) run into each other. Friday is no longer the anchor tethering me to sanity and the term “long weekend” means little more than an extra day when family a friends may be available to socialize. As such, I often ask my husband what day of the week it is and have to consult a calendar to learn the exact date.

Having said that, the first day of fall – the actual first day of fall (here in southern Ontario); September 22nd – came and went unnoticed until my brother mentioned it.

And then it clicked!

For several days prior, I had been feeling low… melancholy… yes, depressed. It was like my body already knew – shortened days, grayer skies, more frequent rains, colder temps. While in my semi-retired-induced date oblivion, my brain chemistry discerned the subtle changes in the environment that in my case, lead to those low, meloncholy, depressed days/weeks/months of the Canadian winter.

Oh boy. I mean – I knew if was coming… of course I knew. Winter is coming (shameless Game of Thrones reference) has a whole new meaning when it comes to people with depression. Given I’ve worked full-time for the past 35+ years, I’ve more-or-less been calendar-locked. I knew exactly what the date was and what it could/may mean and so, in ways, would go about doing my depression-readying “homework” to prepare myself. But this was the first time is snuck up on me and I find myself more than a little behind the eight ball.

There was one positive that came out of this – it gave the blah feelings I was/am having (for no apparent reason) some credibility. You see, part of the self-stigma attached to depression and anxiety is that you feel you’re faking it. You know better, of course, but still. There’s always that devil on your shoulder screaming “FAKER!” at you.

Ok – so, now for the depression-readying “homework”: