You Know Who I Am

30 Apr

You know who I am.

I’m the girl you see in the cafeteria over lunch or gasping for air as I finish the last five minutes on the treadmill at the gym. I’m your friend.  I’m your colleague.  I’m your neighbor. I’m just your average 30 something trying to balance work and life.

I’m also someone who suffers from a mental illness.

To look at me you might not guess I had been a client at the Royal.  I’m pretty together now, more so than the struggling 20 year old who was crying all the time and couldn’t make a simple decision.  I guess I’m a different me now, but I wouldn’t be this me without the support of The Royal.

When I was 20 years old in my second year of University in Toronto my nearly perfect life began to unravel.  I cried all the time.  No amount of sleep every seemed enough.  School assignments that I normally would have tackled with ease seemed insurmountable.  I was anxiety ridden and social interactions that were normally pleasant for me were painful.  I felt like I was carrying about 20 pounds of extra weight in my heart and in my head.

After a trip home to Ottawa at Thanksgiving my parents could sense something had changed in me.  My mom came down to and shacked up with me for a week in my dorm room to help me manage the back-half of the fall semester.  One cool fall day she bundled me up shuffled me off to the University Health Centre.  After a quick visit I was sent packing with a prescription for Paxil and a counseling appointment in two weeks’ time.  Dropping a course provided temporary relief, but the Paxil made me shake and I hated the way I felt, so I stopped taking it.  I felt hopeless but also felt that I had to keep going for myself, for the successful and happy girl I wanted to be, and for my parents and friends.

With my parents support and the want to pretend nothing was wrong I got through until almost the end of the spring semester.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job at pretending everything was ok.

I later learned that my roommates would open my door after I went to sleep at night because they were so worried about me.

It was my final paper for my Women’s Studies that became the final straw.  I worked for hours at the library putting together a paper for the next day.  I typed, and re-typed and after almost a whole day I looked at the screen in a moment of clarity and realized I only had one paragraph.

That day was the day that the will to keep going dried up for me.  I felt I had nothing left.  My dad heard a sad, scared me on the phone that day.  Through my tears I heard him tell me to hang on, that I must promise to hang on, and that he would come and get me.

Two days later I was in the hospital.

I don’t remember a lot about that time.  I think forgetting hard times is the brain’s way of protecting us.  I sometimes have small flashes of memories in my mind like how I hid in the bathroom of the doctor’s office because I was convinced everyone in the waiting room was looking at me, or how once we got the hospital I begged my mother to take me home.

My first hospitalization at the Civic in Ottawa is where navigating the health care system in search of support began for my family and me.  It’s a tricky thing access care for a mental health issue.  You practically need to be running naked down the middle of Rideau Street before get to the front of the line.  For me a scared but clean-cut 20 something from a middle class up brining in the suburbs, it wasn’t so obvious.  I thank goodness that my parents didn’t give up and tried their darndest to find the right kind of support for me.  The finally found me help at the Royal.

I was admitted to a rehabilitation program at The Royal in October 2002.  The goal of the program was to help individuals who had been treated for mental health issues to regain a sense of routine and normalcy and learn important lessons about self-care and managing their illness before transitioning out of the hospital setting.  While in this program I managed to take a course at Carleton.  I worked with a kind and caring doctor named Dr. Miura who listened while I talked and cried.  He had me paint pictures and write about how I was feeling.  He helped me to find the right combination of medication to help the fog of depression lift a little.  He explained what was going on in my brain and helped me to understand what I was feeling in my heart.  A gifted Social Worker named Kenna McCall worked with my parents and I to learn how to work together to manage my illness.  She taught me important strategies to manage stress and anxiety – some of which I still use today.

In 2003 I was discharged.  I came away from the program at the Royal a different me than I had been a year and a half earlier when the depression first set in.  There was still much work to be done for me, but the Royal helped me lay the foundation to do that work.

In the ten years since I was first diagnosed with depression, much has changed for me.  With the right support and a little emotional elbow grease, I finished school and started to build what’s been a pretty exciting career in Human Resources.  I’ve built new friendships, bought my first home and been in love.  The familiar beast called depression still lurks within me.  I take medication to manage it and I’ve also come to know myself better so I can give myself what I need to feel ok when I need it.  I am so thankful I am here, and not there where I was on the edge of giving up.

A co-worker said to me the other day “Laura, you’re always so cheery – it is hard to ever imagine you in a bad mood”.  This comment made me giggle a little.  I thought  back to some of my darker moments wonder what my colleague would think if they knew about my journey. That I feel deeply sad and anxious sometimes. Or, that I take Effexor every morning.

What this is all meant to say is: you know who I am.  I’m a human resources professional.  I’m someone who cares deeply about my family and friends.  I am that girl at the gym gasping during the last five minutes on the treadmill!  I’m a friend, a daughter and an auntie by proxy.  Ilove indulging in celebrity gossip, my evening work outs and yoga.  I enjoy laughing until my belly hurts, my new bike and cappuccinos.  I’m the social coordinator.  I like being silly and making other people laugh.  I love babies and new clothes. I am passionate about raising money for mental health research.

I am all these things thanks to the support of The Royal.   It was The Royal who helped

C'est moi!  Proudly displaying my Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for my fundraising for mental health research

C’est moi! Proudly displaying my Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for my fundraising for mental health research

me to learn that I’m so much more than my illness and that with the right tools I can manage my depression.

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3 Responses to “You Know Who I Am”

  1. Andrea April 30, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    amazing story of an amazing woman.

  2. werfriendswithbenefits April 28, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    Reblogged this on Friends… With benefits and commented:

    Reblog – This post sums up the importance of Friends With Benefits. 1 in 5 of us will be affected by a mental health issues in our life time. Friends With Benefits is all about sharing the fact that there are many who are living and thriving with a mental illness and eliminating the stigma attached to mental health issues.

    This year we want to raise $20,000 in a single evening for mental health research at The Royal. Help us find living saving treatment for those living with mental illness. Help us find ways to help people recover more quickly. Help us elminate the stigma surrounding suicide. You know who I am… are you with me?

  3. megan April 28, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Laura, I love you!!! You are such an inspiration to us all!!! Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. I know that you will help others by doing so. xo

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