Kid, I hope you’ve finally found some peace

I started working with youth in 2008

Up until that point

I sort of dabbled in working with different populations

At a youth shelter, I found my place

It just felt right

Since then

I had worked exclusively with youth

Mostly homeless and/or at risk youth

Eventually I worked out of Mississauga as an outreach worker

Anyway

I have this thing that I do

I read the paper in the mornings or at night

If a headline catches my eye

That something happened in one of the areas that I worked in

I read it

Sometimes it’s about a young person who was a victim of crime

Or a perpetrator

Sometimes it’s about no one I know

Today

It was about someone I think I may have known

His name immediately caught my eye

And while it was spelled incorrectly

His age adds up to who I remembered

He was killed in a violet crime

He was of no fixed address

It all adds up

But all I keep thinking about

Are his vivid blue eyes

And the protective way he took care of his little brother

Sure I remember other things

Like taking him to court and working through his anger with him

Being upset that he got arrested again

Or something else

But I remember more about the long stretches his mother would leave him and his little brother home alone to fend for themselves

While she went to Florida with her boyfriend

With no food in the house

Under the guise that his grandma was watching them

I remember his dysfunctional mother calling me

Alternating between crying and yelling at me

That she couldn’t handle him

Wanted him to move out

I remember when I had two clients scheduled for court on the same day and time

So I figured I’d just drive them both home

No biggie

Until they told me to drop them off at the same location and went off together

If it’s you that was in the paper

If it’s you whose life was snuffed out far too early and much too violently

I’m sorry I couldn’t have done more to help you

I’m sorry that I couldn’t prepare you better for what was coming next

I’m sorry that life treated you unfairly from the beginning

I’m just sorry

And I promise to remember you

With your vivid blue eyes

And the way you wanted to protect your little brother

Rest In Peace, kid

You deserve to finally have some peace

Alright so ‘Let’s Talk.’

While I’m glad to see so many friends and family supporting Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign to raise awareness for mental health, I think it’s long overdue time to get real about fact that while awareness is helpful in de-stigmatizing mental illness. It does not fix a very broken healthcare system. Yes, I know the rhetoric. Canada is so great, free healthcare and all that. But <and this is just my opinion> it’s great when you are for the most part a ‘healthy’ person. For the rest of us, navigating the healthcare system with a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis is, at the best of times, tricky and underwhelming. However, when you throw mental illness into the mix, it becomes glaringly apparent just how lacklustre our services really are. Firstly, when a person is in crisis, you do what you’ve been taught your entire life to do…which is to seek help. You go to the emerge. Where you are triaged based on need.

Which I understand as the most serious cases being seen first.

So in my last experience, I waited and waited and waited. In active crisis. Which for me, meant I felt panicked and somewhat hysterical.

And they put me to wait in a loud, bright, bustling waiting area for over 5 hours until I approached a nurse and through sobs told her I needed help. She moved me to a stretcher in a quieter hallway. I waited and waited and waited.

After a few more hours, I was seen by a crisis psychiatric nurse and a psychiatrist. I was ultimately sent home (with no follow up) because the psychiatrist didn’t want to ‘step on’ the toes of my illustrious neuro psychiatrist.

Clearly, my crisis had not ended. I ended up seeking help twice more <once through a crisis centre and once more at a different emerge>.

So let’s stop here for a minute.

What could be changed to keep in line with the current fad of progressive mental health Canada seems keen to have?

1. Upon first triage, when I explained that I was experiencing panic attacks and was terrified there are a few different ways that could have been handled:

Option A. A triage system that recognizes mental health. My vitals could still have been taken and when it was apparent that my panic attack was the primary reason for my visit, I could have been triaged to a mental health waiting area. This might look like something on a different floor, with room for privacy and staffed by both nurses and psychiatric nurses. I could have had the psychiatric nurse assess me and then had a psychiatrist who does the rounds discuss with the nurse what the best course of treatment would be. I would not have a psychiatrist who cared more about her career connections than my crisis.

Option B. Upon triage, after taking my vitals and confirming that it was in fact most likely a panic attack that was my primary reason for visiting. I could have been provided with crisis line information and/or a referral to a mobile crisis team or something similar. In my own work experience, I have used a mobile crisis team to come to a school I was at with a young man who needed psychiatric assistance. Often with anxiety disorders, talking to someone who has the tools to walk you through a crisis, is all you need at that moment.

Option C. Would require intensive training for all frontline staff including triage nurses to emergency room nurses to emergency room doctors and so on. I would imagine this option would be highly unlikely. However, it would be helpful for such staff to be experienced in noticing the signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses and being knowledgeable with basic tools such as belly breathing. Furthermore at the point of triage, redirecting patients who have a flu or a cold to walk-in clinics would help possibly reducing the amount of people using the emergency room.

Secondly, family doctors generally are not equipped with the resources to handle crisis situations. And in my case, my doctor has something like 1700 patients. So if in my crisis, I had called to get an appointment to at least know there might be relief in sight, it is unlikely that I could get an appointment within the next two weeks. So this appears to be dead end and not a valid or helpful direction.

Thirdly, the saga with my neuro psychiatrist. You remember him right? The one no one would touch me because of?

I was called for a referral that the psychiatric nurse had put in for a short term psychiatrist.

When I spoke to intake, she said they could not see me because of my neuro psychiatrist.

I asked perplexed ‘even if I’m telling you I don’t want to go back and see him?’ You can guess the answer there.

So my neuro psychiatrist. I left voicemails and emails and was lucky that I had an already scheduled appointment with him the week after my emergency room visit. I saw him for less than half an hour, I gave him notes that I took on my ordeal which I’m sure he never read.

He apologized to hear what I had gone through and recommended that the next time I tried to get off Paxil, he would do it inpatient at Sunnybrook.

I think I guffawed and said I’d never try to get off of it again.

He prescribed my original dose of Paxil and some additional Ativan to get me through, told me to call to update in two weeks and sent me on my way.

Oh and my next appointment is in three months time.

While he is a very highly regarded doctor and widely known within the MS community, is he the best person to be treating me? My anxiety and depression were triggered long before my MS appeared. It appears to me that seeing another psychiatrist is near impossible not to mention that all psychiatrists are OHIP covered, so the wait time for a new one would likely be close to a year. In October, my neuro psychiatrist put in a referral for me to do CBT at a hospital close by. The wait time for that is equally lengthy. So I found a private clinic that offers CBT that is not covered by OHIP and am going to see them next week. It’s expensive and not covered by my group benefits.

During this time, I also had my family doctor complete an application for a private inpatient facility that deals with mental illness and would cost approximately 20K for 56 days.There was a wait time, and thankfully during this time, my Paxil increase has kicked in and I am no longer in crisis so I have deferred admission. I do not want to go to a place that costs that amount of money. I am trying to figure this out on my own before they call me to give me a final offer me for admission.

I don’t know where that leaves me.

I don’t know where any of this leaves me.

I don’t know what my future looks like.

Much like half the Canadians who also live with mental illness.

We are left to navigate this scary and overwhelming path on our own.

So maybe it’s time Bell changes it’s campaign from ‘Let’s Talk’ to ‘Let’s Talk About How We Can Do Better’.

‘At Times, Our Own Light Goes Out And Is Rekindled By A Spark From Another Person.’ Albert Schweitzer

Dear David (from Gerstein Crisis Centre)

It’s taken me four days to finally be able to compose this letter.

Not because I didn’t care to but because I became too emotional whenever I thought about your kindness towards me during my short stay at Gerstein.

You were the first person during my ordeal who did not see someone who was ‘weak’ and ‘needy’ but instead you saw someone who was tired of fighting so hard.

Someone who just needed a safe place to land.

You gave me that.

From the very minute I stood in front of the office doors as a crying hot mess, until we had talked long enough for me to enter a sleep-like.

state.

You threw me a lifeline.

You listened.

You talked.

You joked.

You laughed.

You related.

You made me feel heard and understood, and there are not simply enough words in the English language to convey my complete gratitude towards you for that.

So from one panic attack sufferer to another…

In words I know you’ll understand best.

I’ll just say:

I’d lay down in the snow with you, until your panic attack passes. 😊

Forever grateful,

Angela

PS if anyone knows him or how to get in touch with him let me know

‘A person with panic disorder may experience symptoms such as severe feelings of terror, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. People with panic disorder may experience these attacks unexpectedly and for no apparent reason.’

One week

That feels more like a year

One week

That will go down as the worst in my life

I’ve lost count of how many nights I’ve woken Joey during the night in a sheer panic

Two emergency rooms

Two emerge doctors whose kindness I won’t soon forget

A private inpatient facility

A crisis line

Two triage nurses

Anyone who would listen

Even the ones that didn’t

Two psychiatric nurses

One psychiatrist who cared more about ‘stepping on the toes’ of my neuro psychiatrists than helping me through a crisis

One night at a crisis centre

One night where I never thought I could ever end up

One staff member who was my lifeline

One 37 year old who needed her mom to get through the night

One nine hour wait in an emergency waiting room

One road trip to Collingwood

Another half hour wait in an emergency waiting room

Countless nurses and doctors who looked right through me

As long as I didn’t kill myself

No skin off their backs

One prescription for Diazepam to get me through another scary night

Several messages and emails left for my neuro psychiatrist and to my family doctor and to anyone else I could think of

Two more days until I get to see my neuro psychiatrist

Thousands of hugs and kisses and words of encouragement from Joey and my mom

Countless messages of support from my friends, family and Facebook peers

One persevering warrior

Who is trying her absolute fucking best

To not give up

One day and night

Where the first and last thoughts aren’t about panic attacks

Would be nice too…

‘I Dream My Painting And Then I Paint My Dream.’ Van Gogh

So I did something today

That I hadn’t been able to previously accomplish

I finished an audiobook

No big deal there

That happens very frequently

I should clarify

I finished an audiobook where the main male character has Multiple Sclerosis

I know it might not seem monumental to you

There was no forewarning about his diagnosis in the description of the book

Because in all likelihood

I wouldn’t have given it a listen

I hate to admit that in the past I’d been unable to continue to listen when I got to the point in the story where a character was revealed to have MS

In that instance

I stopped cold turkey

Right then and there

This time around

I had two hours left in an eight hour book

It wouldn’t have been strange for me to not finish listening

There have been many times

Where the romance audiobook character said the word ‘gosh’ too many times

And with only minutes left

I just couldn’t do it and ended that listen lightening fast

Anyway this time

I got to the part where it is revealed the character has MS

I paused the audiobook for a minute

Maybe more

I called Joey to come into the room

Explained the situation

Made him listen to the line

And then

I did something unlike myself

I kept listening

There may have been some tears

The female characters

Not my own

Well

A little my own

But whatever

More importantly

The story kept going

It didn’t end there

With him in a hospital

Talking medical shit with a doctor

The story continued for two hours

Two hours where I continued to listen

I could have stopped

Deleted it

Found something else

And yet I listened to the whole story

Sometimes with tears

Sometimes not

I kept going

I listened until the very last second

I listened until the credits rolled and the audio went silent

And honestly

I can’t think of anything more fucking poignant

‘Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.’ Carl Jung

I think I could write a story about my life

With a tongue-in-cheek name like ‘The Measuring Spoon of Life’

It would be about a little girl who would carefully measure her happiness by how many nights a week her favourite cousins could sleep over

She would use teaspoons and tablespoons to represent her happiness

When she was a teenager, she learned to measure happiness in dimes and grams

She would use scales and dime bags to symbolize her happiness

As she grew into a young adult, her happiness amounted to how many days in a row she got to spend with her love

For that she used cell phone pictures depicting laughter and text messages filled with flirting

Then when she hit her late 20s, she would measure her happiness by how long she could remain in public without having a panic attack

She would use mood journals and diaries to interpret her happiness

Later in her mid 30s, her happiness was measured by milligrams, and how many Ativan’s she’d had to take

Pill bottles and prescriptions were the perfect illustrations of how much happiness she’d been prescribed

Throughout the story the landscape changed

The young girl grew into a teenager and then an adult

But her objective in life remained the same

The pursuit of happiness

She learned very early on

That happiness only came in small doses

And because of that, it should be treasured dearly

She would think to herself

Maybe it’s so people don’t overdose on happiness

It’s far too sacred to be given an abundance of

In the story of the young girl, she learned early on

That happiness is not going to stick around forever

So she learned to cherish the nights with cousins, the recklessness found in the dimes and grams of youth, the lucky days spent with lovers, the little successes during rough patches

Like all great stories

It comes with a life lesson

Using the girl who measured happiness with spoons as an example

The story warns that if she had so much as blinked her eyes

She might have missed one of the small measured capsules that happiness would hide in

But that little girl was smart

And she knew that one day she might need a dose of her treasured happiness

She knew it would help her

To get through all the hard times that were waiting up ahead

The story ends with that little girl as an old woman now

Suffering through pain of illness, loss and disease

She looks so old and sad

She opens up a memory box

And empties it all onto the bed beside her

Out comes the spoons, the scales, the pictures, the journals, the diaries, the prescriptions

The old woman looks at her life laid in front of her

Instruments of measured happiness

And she’s so grateful

That she held onto all of those small doses of happiness

She thinks to herself

How much she needed to see it, to feel it all over again

She smiles for the first time in a long while

She can’t even count how many times

Those small doses of happiness that she’d held onto

Saved her life

Maybe a thousand times already

And once more