Bell Let’s Talk Day

Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, a day that happens twice a year dedicated to eradicating the stigma of mental health issues. The goal is to get folks talking about their struggles, reaching out to others, and creating a community of support and acceptance. There is no shame in struggling, there is no shame in being unwell. Needing help is part of being human and it is impossible to reach out if we don’t overcome this notion that something is wrong with needing help.

 

The first step to demolishing the stigma surrounding mental health is open communication. If you’re reading this, you know I’m a huge advocate for positive mental health. I post about it on Facebook almost daily. The things I post are things I wish had been shared with me from childhood.

be-the-person

It’s storytime, kids…

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression from childhood. I felt different from everyone, even my family, and it was incredibly isolating. As I became an adult, my anxiety got progressively worse and I had a hard time finding (affordable) medication that helped.

When I got pregnant, I was poorly advised to stop my medications for ADHD and anxiety. I spent my first trimester in a haze from stopping meds cold turkey and the havoc hormones were wreaking on my system. I switched from the OB to a midwife and I was advised to get back on my ADHD meds, as they wouldn’t harm the baby and I was having such a tough time adjusting. I was also diagnosed with Pre-Partum (or Pre-Natal) Depression. I’d spend hours in tears and often wished I weren’t pregnant or even dead. I was in a terrible relationship with a person incapable of supporting me or taking care of me. I was an inconvenience and felt I had few people to turn to.

crying-maggie

This is what depression and anxiety feel like.

summer-2015

This is what it looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Maggie was a few weeks old, I was placed in a Post-Partum Depression support group and it saved me. I had support from a therapist and a group of women who GOT IT. They got what I was feeling, that hopeless lost feeling and allowed me to feel unashamed. I can’t begin to describe how liberating it was to hear my own experiences and feelings echoed in those of others. Almost 3 years later, we’re still friends, still supporting each other, still reminding each other that it’s okay to stumble.

I still struggle, but I’m not alone. I’m here today, typing this, because I reached out. People care, and they can help – without judgement. Mental illness is isolating and dark, but there is help in the darkness and there is no shame in being honest about your feelings. It could save your life and it could save someone else’s.

#BellLetsTalk

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Pre-Partum Depression: What a Sucky Illness.

For context, I have an 8 month old daughter. She is the cutest dictator the planet has ever seen. We will be powerless to stop her and her ruffle-bum leggings when her plans for world domination come to life.

I have ADHD (which everyone knows, I mean, have you met me?? I’m the freaking poster child), so I also enjoy the emotional roller coasters of depression and anxiety. It’s cool, I’ve been doing this since birth, it’s just a part of my day-to-day. So when I found out I was pregnant, I was stoked to have 9 months to prep for the inevitable shitstorm that we call Post-Partum Depression.

“NOPE!” cried Life. “PLOT TWIST!”

Pre-Partum Depression. I got hit early and I got hit hard. I know what you’re thinking.
“WTF, is that actually a thing?”
Umm, yes. I wanted to walk into traffic, just disappear off the face of the earth. I knew that the mood swings were more than just pregnancy hormones talking, but I didn’t know what to do about it… so I did what any educated person does about their mental health. I talked to my doctor. IT’S NOT THAT DIFFICULT. YOU JUST GO IN AND TELL THE RECEPTIONIST SHIT’S GONE WRONG IN YOUR HEAD. No shame, no shame at all. I was 9 weeks pregnant (October 2013) and my GP referred me to Reproductive Mental Health at St Paul’s. All the overwhelming mood swings and feelings of displacement and poor job performance were going to be behind me. There was going to be a 3 week wait period, which I thought was a pretty darn long time to make a depressed pregnant woman at wits’ end to wait. I was ok with that because it meant I was getting help. I was relieved. I still felt all the same horrible, low, desperate feelings, but I was feeling optimistic. Thank goodness this was all after my parents got the baby news – and, in Dad’s case, handled it horrendously

At this point, I was on the verge of losing my job because I’d stopped taking my ADHD meds (my attention span level was Medium Goldfish), so I had to tell my boss about the impending Squidlet (yes, we referred to her as the Squidlet for 9 months and beyond) 3 weeks ahead of schedule. He was so relieved that I wasn’t just slacking.
“Anything you need,” he said, “just name it. I’m here for you.”
I didn’t tell him about the depression, I didn’t feel it was relevant and in hindsight, I’m still good with that call.

Three weeks comes and goes. I’ve told my coworkers (this garnered blank stares, a thumbs-up, a look of “I’m trying to be polite, but I really think YOU being a parent is a bad call”, and an “are you going to keep it?”. Afterwards, though, they were awesome and supportive and some even got me little gifts. I told the masses of parents we work with and 99.9% were 100% thrilled (the other 0.1% thought I was 19 and were super uncomfortable until they realised I was 25). Even with all the love and support (I’d told a handful of mums weeks earlier that I was pregnant and about the PPD – they were amazing), I still felt so small, so useless. It wasn’t helping things that the co-worker who gave The Look acted as though he were my supervisor and, I feel, intentionally made things more difficult for me in our workplace. I was so stressed I thought the baby would just hit the eject button in my inter-uterine fighter jet. He was the living worst and it was so draining.

The Floor Spoon

I’d come home from work and find a spoon on the floor. My insides were so uncomfortable from this lemon-sized baby that I couldn’t bend over to get it, so I’d cry for 4 hours. The weight of the emotional turbulence and thinking this was all a big mistake and I shouldn’t be a mother… it took everything I had to cope. It wasn’t until we were gearing up for our semi-annual black belt test (I work at the most amazing Taekwondo school in town) and Christmas party that I realised something.
It’s December and I still haven’t heard back from St Paul’s.
I called my doctor in January and her fabtastic receptionist called the hospital with a great big “what the actual f—, guys??”. They’d lost my referral and could she please fax a new one?
“The wait is only 6 weeks.”
Are you kidding me? I’m dehydrated from all the crying over floor spoons! That receptionist decided St Paul’s just wasn’t the place for me and lied on my referral to BC Women’s Reproductive Mental Health clinic and said I was undeniably 100% suicidal. They accepted my referral and then didn’t contact me for an appointment. I also had to go to the ER because my gall bladder was being a jerk and slacking off on the job. In all that followed, I forgot to call them.

By this point, January 2014, I was working the lonely day shift. Just me, the radio, and sometimes my boss. I loved being off work at 2pm and walking home in the cold sunshine with my little baby belly. I hated being up at 7am. The girl we’d hired to do evenings turned out to be a really awesome ally in the fight against The Coworker Who Thinks He’s My Boss. I was so relieved. I told her about my struggle with PPD and she was amazing and supportive. Each afternoon, she’d ask how I was doing and let me vent about things that don’t upset normal people. She was aware of the fact that this wasn’t a normal situation and shouldn’t be treated as such. So simple, so brilliant, so effectively affirming!

By mid-February, I called Women’s to see what was up and got an appointment for mid-March to see a therapist. It only took our mental healthcare system SIX MONTHS to get me into a therapist’s office.

I don’t have a car, so bussing all the way out there was just as stressful as battling the illness I was seeking help for. The therapists were great, but once my daughter was born, I didn’t feel they were helpful anymore. I stopped going, but was so grateful that I was finally able to have at least one trimester of healthy mental standing.

Things didn’t get resolved like clouds parting to end a storm in a fairy tale. It was hard work and I relied heavily on my friends and family. I feel like I was a serious burden, emotionally and (sometimes) physically, but I wouldn’t have made it through otherwise.