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’.

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‘I Have Loved The Stars Too Fondly To Be Fearful Of The Night.’ Sarah Williams

Three weeks ago

I felt scared

I felt panicked

I felt unsure

I felt lost

I felt alone

I felt weak

I felt crazy

Three weeks later

I feel strong

I feel empowered

I feel courageous

I feel a little invincible

I feel like a conquistador

I feel proud

I feel brave

Tonight

I want to bottle this feeling

Memorize this moment

So that I can take it out when I need a reminder

Of who I am

Of what I’ve overcome

Someday

I want to look back on this

Without regret

Without sadness

Without bitterness

And only feel proud

That what I endured

Didn’t break me

It didn’t shatter me into millions of sharp pieces

Instead

A fire within me was ignited

Inflamed by my struggles

Emboldened by my heartache

It burns so bright and so fiercely

That I wonder if the stars above will take notice

Unsure if I’m beckoning them

Or trying to outshine them

We’re the same though

The stars and I

We’re both exploding from our depths

And illuminating what would have been total darkness

The Only Way Out Is Through

It’s been something like two and a half weeks since I lost my mind
Countless days and nights that I haven’t felt like myself
That my skin hasn’t felt like my own
Two and a half weeks since I went to two different emergency rooms
Two and a half weeks since I spent the night at a crisis centre
Two and a half weeks since I first lost my appetite
Two and a half weeks since I first started having irrational and obsessive thoughts on top of multiple panic attacks per day
Two and a half weeks since I became scared to be alone
Scared in my own home
Scared of my own mind
It’s been a week and a day since I came to stay with my parents
It’s been a week and a day and I’ve only been comfortable being left alone once for a short period
It’s been a week and a half since I told my neuro psychiatrist what I was experiencing
It’s been a week and a half since I went back to my old full dose of Paxil
It’s been a week and a half of 3-4 Ativan per day
It’s been a week and a half of nausea, grogginess, headaches, crying fits and having my appetite return
It’s been a week and a day since I haven’t went to bed in my own home
Where I haven’t seen Joey either right before bed or as soon as I wake in the morning
A week and a day since I last napped with my dogs
4 days until I call my neuro psychiatrist to let him know how I’m doing
5 days until I start paying for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Unknown days until I return home
Unknown days until I don’t wake up afraid of a day filled with panic attacks
Unknown days until I don’t fall asleep fearing another day of panic attacks
Zero days that I haven’t wished for a different life
Zero days that I felt like I had the strength, courage and determination to get through this
Today though…is a special day
It’s the day where I wrote
Today is the day that I got my voice back


‘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

‘The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste.’ Ministry

So I’m laying in bed thinking about my panic attacks

Crying

Hot frustrated tears

Because even still

I just can’t wrap my head around the why

If I know that my fears are unfounded

That I won’t spontaneously ‘go crazy’

And that I’m safe

That my panic attack won’t last forever

If I have evidence to prove that as well

Then why in the actual fuck am I still having these ridiculously soul wrenching panic attacks?

The kind that exhaust me

Leaving me crumpled in bed

Sleeping in an Ativan induced stupor

It seems that I have all the knowledge and the tools

Necessary to overcome all of this

And yet

Here I am

Terrified still

Of not just being in a state of panic

But of simply having another panic attack

Ugh

I want to beat my head in exasperation

So many years later

Having survived innumerable panic attacks

Fearless in the face of meeting the boogeyman

Unafraid of being awakened by things that go bump in the night

Completely confused

Why I’m still tormented by the threat of another panic attack

And yet somehow it seems perfectly fitting

That the only thing that could truly terrify me

Is my own fucked up mind

‘But It Is One Thing To Read About Dragons And Another To Meet them.’ Ursula K. Le Guin

I have Panic Disorder What is Panic Disorder?

From my very first panic attack to my most recent this morning

They all share the same premise

My fear is that I’m going to go crazy

Which to me looks like

Being stuck in a permanent state of panic attack

Where my breath is not deep enough

Everything sounds too far away

I feel nauseous and queasy

My mind is racing

My heart beating too fast

My tears won’t stop coming

I feel afraid

I feel discouraged

And I feel like it’s all never going to end

I know people say shit like this all the time

But I truly wouldn’t wish this on anyone

It’s such an overwhelming feeling and sensation

That it just takes over every part of your life

Life becomes all about navigating panic attacks

What can I do to avoid them?

What triggers them?

What makes me feel better when I have one?

When will they stop?

Why me?

I won’t lie

I get really stuck in the last two

I’ve been thinking the same thing since I was 18

What the fuck did I do so badly that I had to get stuck with this?

Negotiating on what I can do better to make them stop

Its actually kinda funny that between MS and Panic attacks

I’d actually rather have MS

I’ve never thought about that before

Even writing it out sounds preposterous

But it’s the truth

MS with all its pain, difficulties, uncertainties and tribulations

I’d rather be stuck with you

Then experience even one more panic attack

I’m sure to people who’ve had the good fortune to never have had a panic attack

That sounds silly

But here’s the thing

While MS certainly fucks with your vision, your mobility and so much more

It does not trick you into believing your worst nightmare

It doesn’t dupe you into thinking you’re dying

It simply is what it is

Your immune system attacking your myelin

It’s as scientific as it is shitty

It’s not curable but it’s explainable (altho the exact reason why it occurs is still a mystery)

Panic disorder on the other hand

Is a lying, manipulative, twisted motherfucker

Who will do whatever it takes to fuck with you

Yeah maybe that’s giving it too much power

But how can I not when it’s been responsible for so much negativity in my life?

In my own father’s life?

Growing up I saw the hold it had on my dad

I saw how much he tried to resist it

How he couldn’t

How he still can’t

Sure people tell me I’m not like him

My doctor included

But we have this huge struggle in common

The one he couldn’t defeat

The one that feels like it’s defeating me

The one that feels like it has a chokehold on us

Maybe our stories are linked

If he defeats it

Then I can too

Or maybe one has no bearing on the other

But I promise

If I can slay this dragon

It’ll be for us both