Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is There Hope Out There? – Part One

It is with a sense of weariness and resignation that I write this post today. More than a week has gone by since my last post and I have spent much of that time thinking about the experience I talked about in my last post.

I’ve had comments and emails wondering about the medical system here in Canada which in turns makes one wonder about their own doesn't it?

Alberta is the richest province in Canada. When the recession hit and spread around the world, we saw a mass input of people from other provinces arrive in sunny Alberta. This put a huge strain on our already overtaxed medical system and especially on the inadequate psychiatric department.

People are falling down under the strain of life all over the world. We are nothing unusual here in Alberta. However – like Las Vegas – the hopes of striking it rich and making a good income can be dashed quicker here than anywhere else. People arrive with expectations. We are just a province with oil sands in the north – a province not unlike the others in this great nation - except for the oil sands.

When the influx started there was a lack of housing and people were living in tents in parks or camping out under trees that lined major thoroughfares in cities. We could not build fast enough to accommodate all that were arriving.

Now add medicine into the mixture and the whole system crumbles. Not only because we don’t have enough doctors to begin with – one of my former doctors headed south to the United States to make the big bucks – but the influx of people is like a tree now overripe and dropping its fruit onto the ground.

That fruit usually ends up being the mentally ill. People whose hopes have been dashed as they wash out their clothing in the river – no hope for housing – chances of a (great) job slim…..

There are so many of us who crack under the strain. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it happens. It may happen to you – don’t say never – never is for Neverland.

So here we are – with only so many psychiatrists to start with – with only so many beds on a psychiatric ward – and suddenly Alberta is seen as the land of milk and honey and no system can hold it all.

I believe dropping through the cracks is something the mentally ill will always do. Will doctors ever understand how the brain works? I doubt it. It is too obscure. It’s not like a broken bone that can be mended. It’s not a gastric problem that can be discovered with a little camera and surgically repaired. There is nothing short of lobotomy (and thank God they don’t often do that anymore) that can fix a broken brain. Not even time heals it.

Being ‘cured’ of a mental illness is often like being on the alcoholic wagon. Years may go by after you are ‘healed’ or discharged from the hospital and you suddenly lose it. Then the long process to get our brain back to where we could function half-normally starts once again.

I look at myself with the above analogy. In 1998 I had a meltdown. My psychiatrist (the one on the phone) said I would never get better. I wanted to prove him wrong and over the years I slowly weaned myself off the medication and I thought I functioned not too badly. Just this last year – 10 years later – I wanted to kill myself. It haunted me every single day and I had it planned out to the exact detail.

Since then I have had to start all over again. Not with medication but with my own steel will and dedication to healing myself.

It happens to many of us. Years go by and suddenly something happens and it is too much. We want out – more than we want to run. It is too hard for us. And do you think we want to go for help on this at that time? No. We are secretive and ashamed of how we feel. I’m not going to go sit in a waiting room so I can tell my doctor I’ve got my own death planned. I’m not going to go ask for help because as I see it there is no help. There is only wanting out.

Again – Part One.

Addendum - again. Please note that my suicidal thoughts were last winter - 2008. They lasted for over a month but I've got a hold of that now. I wrote about it back then - and yes - the writing helped - the blogging world helped. All my friends here helped with my sadness and desperation. However - that is not how I feel today. Right now I am just worn down by the desperate need for help in the field of mental illness. Today I am enjoying making my jewelry and learning new things about that. Thank you to those who posted comments thinking I was suicidal. Thank you for caring. I'll know where to turn if I slide back there once again. I'm working hard at not doing that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Does This Blog Post Make Me Look Angry - Part Two

My last post asked if it made me look angry. And most of you agreed that it did. That anger has waned to a near defeated attitude. Let me tell you why.

Yesterday I was at the medical clinic, sitting in the little examining room. I could hear quite clearly my doctor talking on the phone in his office. It was apparent that he was talking to someone who was having mental difficulties. As I sat there listening, I could feel my anxiety level rising to such a degree that I wanted to flee. My hands started to shake and I found I was close to panting so I forced myself to take deep breaths – in and out – in and out. I kept telling myself that I could handle this – I could! I had come so far over the years that I couldn’t let a simple telephone call destroy me.

As I sat there, trying not to listen, I heard my doctor tell the person that he probably couldn’t help them because they had not come into the office to see him, instead the person had chosen to drive to the psychiatric hospital in Alberta where they had refused to help. They had insisted that the personal physician be called first. That call is what I was overhearing.

As a result, my doctor ended up calling my former psychiatrist. I could overhear that call as well and I could tell that the poor person sitting in a car in distress was not going to get the help that was needed. I was right. Apparently no beds were available in the psychiatric unit on which I resided for nine months. Great. Up went my anxiety once more. Not only from hearing the psychiatrists name but also from knowing how the person in distress was going to react. For me it takes quite a bit of courage to go to my doctor for any medical reason. My anxiety level goes sky high and even writing about it makes my hands shake. I don't think I could do it for a mental distress reason. I just couldn't make myself go let alone try and sit in a waiting room full of people and then try and talk to my doctor. No. I know right now it's not going to happen that way for me.

Another call then took place to my doctor’s nurse who sat just down the hall from me. She had to call the person and tell them no help was available and that he had to voluntarily ask that he be committed to the psychiatric hospital. We all know where that leads.

When I was on the psychiatric unit I was threatened with incarceration in that hospital. It scared the hell out of me. Or should I say it scared me into sanity. We all know of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Those stories don’t get told without some kind of history behind them. Sure it was Hollywood and Jack did a fabulous job didn’t he? Wow. But don’t put me in that hospital. Ever.

So – my heart ached for the person on the other end of the line and I looked at my doctor in a different light. Where is the compassion needed for us? For those of us who are falling through the cracks of life. Whose fingernails are broken because they’ve been holding on to the edge for far too long? Where is the simple compassion needed to get us help. To get someone to talk to us – to talk us down from the edge of the building, from the edge of the blade, from the burn of the rope? Why are we being left out in the cold and the dark amidst the monsters to fend for ourselves. Why does a simple cold deserve more attention than a mind that is breaking into little pieces.

Last week a champion died. Eunice Shriver – the champion and hero of many, a fearless warrior for the voiceless and the woman who founded the Special Olympics. A woman – all on her own - who asked what we have done today to better the world. She leaves behind a massive hole that will probably never be filled by anyone. Shoes too big for even two. How I wish I had known her personally. How I wish there was someone like her to help with the fight for the rest of us.

So today I feel almost defeated. I know that if my mind slips again to that point where I can’t reel it back in, that I am in trouble. Today our Canadian doctors are uneasy. The United States has pointed so many fingers at our system that everyone now is evaluating what is being done here in our country.

It has never been the best or even close to perfect. But I felt that help was easier to find. Now I don’t know what is going on. One of my own medical conditions has me waiting to see a specialist in February. Just rushing me in!

So if my mind fails again what will happen to me? What is going to happen to that person on the other end of the line?

I used to wonder how people ended up living on the street, in a corner beside a warm air vent. I wondered where were the families of these people. How did they end up with all of their belongings in a shopping cart - pushing it down the street - fighting another just like them for a special spot on a park bench. Did no-one care about them?

Before I was released from the psychiatric unit I applied for help from the government because I could no longer work. That help came in the amount of $867 a month. I was supposed to live on that – pay my mortgage, all my bills, and feed myself. It didn’t come close. I learned very quickly where some of the homeless came from. As for the families who cared about them? I also knew about that from personal experience. A story to be told at another time.

So today, I’ve slipped down the rungs of the ladder a bit. My anger is not raging, I’m not at the top of the ladder screaming out at the world. Today, because of the medical society itself I have slipped down a number of rungs and I’m more timid. More afraid of my own future and terrified for the future of others in this position.

But hey! Don’t let me get you down. We are the forgotten – the downtrodden – the pushed aside – the whispered illness. We know that. It’s nothing new to us. Some of us will take up Eunice’s cry and ask what we have done today to make this world a better place. Some of us will hold out our hands and offer a shoulder to someone on the edge. Some of us do it out of experience, from having been there. Some of us do it out of compassion. We offer our shoulder and our hand and anything else we can think of. I’m just not going to refer anyone to the medical world at this moment. I think they’re on the edge too.

An Addendum: I'm adding in this link to The Green Stone Woman because her post of today is exactly what I am talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Does This Blog Post Make Me Look Angry?

In my last post I mentioned that I have been and am mentally ill. For those of you who haven’t read this blog from the beginning – let me clarify for you.

In 1998 my life caught up to me and I had a complete mental breakdown and was hospitalized for nine months. For the first number of months I didn’t know who I was or anyone else for that matter. I thought I was waiting for a cruise ship – in my pyjamas – that was parked just outside the window of the lunch room. I live on the dry prairies of Alberta. The nearest port is a 15 hour drive from here. Nevertheless – I waited. And I survived.

I survived suicide attempts and longings. I survived psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses as well as psychiatric patients. I survived a threat to move me to a psychiatric hospital where there would have been little chance of getting out.

Yes – I survived. And when I started to see the light of day for what it was, I vowed to help others who were suffering or who had suffered any form of mental illness. I wanted to help. To at least be someone who would listen and understand and hold out a hand. To be someone who wouldn’t judge because a person had faltered or been struck down by whatever it is that affects our brains. I wanted others to know that there was a chance to feel better about ourselves and that someone had been there and come out the other side – so there was hope – some kind of hope – no matter how small.

When I look back to my childhood I am ashamed to say that I joined in with the other children and called someone a ‘retard’. Nowadays I wouldn’t let that happen. Not only because I now see things differently but also because I hope I’ve matured.

Yet being judged follows us – especially the mentally ill – wherever we go. It’s just not the mentally ill in New Orleans – it’s everyone around the world who has suffered anything from depression to mental incapacity in some way. Not only are we judged but we are shunned because of it. In most countries mental illness is treated like leprosy – shoved away into institutions – the key thrown away. Some countries have incredible support for this illness – yet most fail and in fact don’t want to talk about it. The words ‘mentally ill’ are often whispered – like the C word or like when our mothers talked about a single pregnant woman. It’s shameful. It’s something we don’t want to acknowledge.

Yet people will call it out in the streets quite easily. ‘Retard'!’ People will leave comments about the mentally ill as being losers and wasters and they think we want to be this way.

Here – on the other side – I look into the mirror and wonder if my mental capacity (or perhaps lack thereof) can be seen by others. Would someone be able to yell that at me if I got up the courage to actually walk down a street? I wonder.

Let’s get back to the judging bit. Remember the famous judgement made by Tom Cruise about Brooke Shields because she took some medication to help with her post-partum depression? What a judgement that was on someone who was trying to tell it like it is so that she could help other women who suffer from this. But Tom ‘knew psychiatry’. He had read about it.

That judgement ricocheted around the world and caused an incredible amount of talk about psychiatry and depression. There are those who would have marched along with Tom proclaiming us as losers – but there would have been those who benefited from Brooke telling it like it is. I can only be thankful for that and I imagine there are a number of woman who are grateful as well.

A couple of years ago I saw a job advertised that I thought I might be able to do. My boss would be a ‘friend’ of mine. I was feeling pretty good those days and had hardly had any setbacks, but in the end I didn’t apply. I am on a disability pension which will change to an old-age pension in the future. Yet, when I casually mentioned to my ‘friend’ that I thought I might have applied for that position – he said “Doesn’t matter – I know your mental history and I would never hire you’.

Ah! I’ve been branded for life! Apparently I have a big L tattooed right in the middle of my forehead – ‘Loser!’ And if you can’t see that you can probably see the big sign on my back that says - ‘Mentally Ill – Kick Here’.

I am not alone. Every single one of us who has had any kind of mental disease must now run the gamut of boots and sneers and derogatory remarks. We must be braver than ‘normal people’ when we venture past the front door because of how the ‘normal people’ are going to treat us. We must have tougher skin. We must be partially deaf. We must smile and take it or duck our heads and run.

And if some people get their way – our mental history and drugs we have been (forced) asked to take will be on display for the government, insurance companies and future employers (because they need to know if they are hiring a loony or not).

It doesn’t matter if we are ‘cured’. Does it? We’ve still been mentally ill. It’s like cancer – once you’ve had it (and I have) then you are a ‘cancer survivor’. Perhaps we need to start a movement that says we are a ‘mental illness survivor’. Come on – walk for us. It’s a good cause and you never know if you are going to be struck down with it.

I want to label this ‘End of Part One’ because I have a feeling I’ve got more to say about this.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


First off – let me deal with some questions that arose from my last post.

Did someone offend me in a comment on one of my posts? No. It wasn’t blogging related.

Was my last post read by the offenders? I doubt it – they don’t even know I blog.

Did my (new) attitude make a difference to said offenders? To those who I interacted with afterwards – yes. Some have yet to make an appearance and might never - which is fine with me. I hate confrontation to the point where I will start shaking and when I get angry enough I will start to cry.

More importantly – it made a huge difference in me. I feel stronger. That being said I also feel that I have built a thicker wall than was there before and in many respects that is sad.

I am a person who puts it all out there for the world to see. I give my heart and soul to any project that I undertake and any friendship I embark on. I believe in honesty and respect. And I believe that we shouldn’t judge.

I’m not going to list all the reasons I’ve been judged but one major one stands out. I HAVE BEEN AND AM MENTALLY ILL. I am on a disability pension because I can no longer function in a working environment let alone a stressful one. I am unable to interact socially in what is termed a ‘normal’ manner because of my illness – I am afraid of new people and of crowds. If poked long enough with a certain stick- I will dissolve into a babbling mess. That being said – the journey from here to the ‘loony bin hallway’ is not that far.

Yet still – if you had never met me and didn’t know of my past – would you know? Could you see? Probably not. Not unless you had that antennae that searches out the vulnerable people in the world.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend in New Orleans. She pointed me to an article Mental Illness Tidal Wave Swamps New Orleans

I read that article with my hand over my mouth and tears in my eyes. Why? Not only for what those people are going through – what they went through – what they have to further endure – but because of the comments. Nearly every single comment poked at the people being mentally ill. They poked at them losing their inner strength because they had 'a flood'. They insisted that we should be able to pull up our socks and get on with it. They thought those people deserved whatever they were going through because they chose to live in the ‘cesspool’ of New Orleans.

Who are they to judge? What gives them the right or authority to give (hateful) judgements about people who are suffering? Did they endure Katrina and its aftermath? Did they watch their loved ones die and float away in front of them? Did they survive something that killed how many?

Were they there when I was beaten – by my father – by my mother – by someone who claimed he ‘loved me’? Did they take those fists to the face? Those kicks to the stomach? That back breaking drop that destroyed the spine? Were they there when I was mentally abused around the clock? Were they the ones who feared for their lives? Were they 15 years old and running through the dark – fear pounding at their heart – fear running down their leg in a yellow stream? Looking over their shoulder to see if they were being chased? Were they afraid to speak and when it came to escape – did their hearts almost collapse out of fright and loss of love? Did they lose their minds somewhere because it was just the safest place to be when there was no more hope?

And yet they judge. How proud they must be.

Some may say I am judging them. That may very well be true. But try to walk one mile in my shoes and one inch in the victims of Katrina – no matter where they lived – in New Orleans or on the Mississippi coast.

Try walking in the shoes of any mentally ill person. The ones raving on the street – the ones lying in the gutters – the ones curled up on the grate for a bit of warmth in the winter.

Try to think what it might be like for any of us. The day does not dawn shiny and new on a daily basis. Life is not a bowl of cherries and we don’t skip merrily down the lane hand in hand with shining children and partners with perfect shiny teeth. We’re more like PigPen - that Charles Shultz character that always had the little black cloud over his head. There are not enough words of angst to describe what our lives are like.

Yet we try. We may fail on a regular basis – but we try. Not one of us chose this path we now walk. And we know you judge us.

Now – don’t get me started on being judged because I am female.