Rock Bottom: Part 1

Hi folks and welcome back! I want to jump right into things for this post; it will most likely be a longer one than usual, but I will split it into parts to ease the load. However, do not let the length deter you from reading as it will provide insight into why it took me 8 years to complete my Bachelor of Science degree, and will hopefully explain why I operate the way I do. We are all products of our environment and experiences, as well as genetics. I don’t want to skimp on this one; I am ready to tell all.

Well actually, the latter statement is somewhat inaccurate as I only just reached the conclusion that I will never be fully prepared to share my personal journey, so there is no better time than the present, right? It’s time to bite the bullet. This article is in no way a means to obtain attention, sympathy, or praise. I feel that it is imperative to maintain an open dialogue on mental health, and attempt to demolish the stigma associated with it. I also want to provide a space online where my readers can feel safe and perhaps find comfort in knowing that mental health does not discriminate and affects all people in numerous ways. I am comfortable in divulging the fact that I have experienced every level of mental health issues from one end of the spectrum to the other – from mild to severe, at one time or another. I suppose there is no better place to start then at the beginning so lets dive right in…

The earliest moment in my life where I first experienced the symptoms of depression was when I was 17 years old. It was during this time that my beloved pet dog, Jasmine, had passed away. We met when I was only 3 years old, and suddenly she was gone. I had lost my best friend. Despite Jasmine being a dog, we were very much alike as we both had a low-maintenance, chilled out vibe. Sometimes I would fall asleep next to her on the floor because I just wanted to be near her. At this point, I had never experienced a greater loss than I did that day. Looking back, this feeling only just scratched the surface of what it is like to experience depression, if you can even classify it as such. Keep in mind that the content of this article deals with my experiences only. Everyone is on their own path and has their own experiences with mental health. My story does not speak for everyone.

A year later is really when I got myself into a mess. I had entered into a relationship with a person who I should not have due to a plethora of reasons. Being 18 at the time, I take full responsibility for my actions and realize that it was a selfish choice on my part as well. It was clear that I had made an exceedingly terrible choice, and in turn it caused a great deal of grief for many people. For that I am deeply sorry.

At approximately the 2 year mark of this relationship, I was severely depressed. I wanted to escape the emotional anguish. It was torture, and was the worst pain I had ever experienced. I was staying with my wonderful grandparents for a period time while my own parents were attempting sort out their relationship. One afternoon, I had asked my mother to deliver my medication as I was running low, however she did not realize that I had an alternate plan. At this point, I wasn’t entirely sure that I would follow through, but as the evening droned on, I had reached a level where I was past the point of what I could handle mentally, and decided to swallowed approximately 10 painkillers. This is approximately 500 mg of amitriptyline, which is 3.33 times the recommended maximum dose. I desperately needed relief, and that was the only thing that would provide it immediately.

Once the drugs started to kick in, I became increasingly frightened and proceeded to inform my grandmother of what I had done. She called my mom, and they both sped me away to the Cobequid Hospital in Sackville. The last memory I have of that evening was passing out in the car as my mom was slapping my leg to try and keep me conscious. She was shouting at me to stay awake, but I could no longer keep my eyes open. I had slipped into darkness.

The next thing I remember is waking in the Intensive Care Unit, coughing. Not realizing that I had been intubated, I was trying to cover my mouth to prevent my saliva from spreading, but someone kept pushing my hand away from my face. I had a machine breathe for me, and the hospital workers thought I was trying to remove the tube. The tube in my throat was causing me to cough, and I was therefore only trying to be polite by covering my mouth! Once I was conscious, the tube was removed from my throat and I was breathing on my own again. My recollections of initially waking up are very unclear but I partially remember 3 things: thinking of the fact that what I had chosen to do had failed, my parents and/or grandparents were on either side of my hospital bed gripping my hands tightly, and my entire body was in severe physical pain. It felt like I had been hit by a transfer truck.

I was informed that my heart had given out and stopped beating. My lungs had stopped breathing on their own. I had at least 4 physicians working on me at once to attempt to resuscitate me. I do not know the amount of time that had passed from when I first slipped into unconsciousness to when my lungs and heart began to work again. However, I am aware of the fact that my parents were warned that I may have had severe brain damage. They didn’t expect me to wake up to be a person of possessing the same brain functionalities as I had before I swallowed the pills. The doctors had also informed my mom that had I taken one more pill, waited two more minutes to tell my grandmother what I had done, or had driven to a hospital that was farther away, I would have been a lost cause.

It had taken quite some time for me to feel like myself again; a few years at least. Time does not heal all wounds, but it can ease the pain. I relied heavily on the people around me. I am forever in their debt. This near death-by-suicide occurred only a couple of weeks prior to when I was supposed to start my first semester of university. I received credit for only one course, and dropped out for the remainder of the year.

I still deal with varying degrees of depression and mental health issues, but I have accepted that it is part of who I am. It is never constant, but that means I have good times too. For me, depression behaves as a tide does – it comes and goes, ebbs and floods. It does not make me any less of a person. It has taught me that it is ok to put myself first, and to make my health a priority. It has taught me to be more sensitive, understanding and accepting. It has taught me that we are not doing enough for mental health patients and that there is much more work to do.

After being at the center of the mental health system in Nova Scotia, I witnessed these issues first hand, and felt compelled to do something – anything that I could. The idea came to me very quickly. During my hospital stay, I became reacquainted with skateboarding thanks to my buddy Heather. Even though it was something I never had much skill for, I still appreciated and enjoyed it as a sport. The initial plan for the fundraiser was to skateboard from Halifax to Moncton.

After finding out that the use of a skateboard on a highway is illegal due to safety concerns, I was forced to regroup and decided to hold two separate events. Over the course of the following year, I organised a fundraising project for mental health in Canada called Skating for my Sanity. The first event was held at a local bar, and included a silent auction with live bands. The second event was held at the Halifax Commons skate park, and included skateboarding contests and prizes. The latter event was held on the one-year anniversary of when I swallowed those pills, and coincidentally, today, August the 18th, 2017 marks 6 years since I made the largest decision of my life.

When all was said and done, the amount raised was approximately $6500. The funds were divided between the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. The Skating for my Sanity fundraising project is one of the things that I am most proud of myself for.

It is crucial that I thank everyone who has been a part of this journey. To everyone who was there for me in body and in spirit, to everyone who donated, to everyone who had a hand in assisting with the fundraisers, to everyone who sent me cards and notes, and to everyone who listened, thank you.

Check back for Part 2 where I will discuss the remainder of my time in university and the challenges that ensued over the next 6 or so years.
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Carboniferous Compendium

Good day folks! I am writing to you from my new home for the next little while in River Hebert. It is a town of less than 500 hundred people, situated adjacent to a lesser populated town called Joggins in Northwestern Nova Scotia. Joggins is home to the Joggins Fossil Center and the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, collectively known as the Joggins Fossil Institute. In 2008, Joggins was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, it is a town that is known for its rich history and participation in the coal mining industry, mainly during the 19th century.

I have been fortunate enough to have an offer of employment for the summer at the Fossil Institute. My job as a Geologic Interpreter is to lead tours of the Fossil Cliffs and explain the history, geology and paleontology to visitors. The tours are 30 minutes, 2 hours, or 4 hours in duration. When I am not interpreting, I help out at the admissions desk/gift shop. I am also assisting the curator of the Fossil Center, Dr. Melissa Grey, in photographing and cataloguing fossils. My hope is that this job will kick-start my career in geology and paleontology, as it is my first official full-time, albeit temporary, job in the Earth Sciences.

The Fossil Cliffs at Joggins span 15 million years of geologic time within the Carboniferous period, and the UNESCO site spans 15 kilometers. Because the bedding in the cliff is tilted, one would walk back through geologic time as they head north along the beach. Alternatively, if one were to head southward, they would be walking ahead through time. Therefore, for each kilometer that you walk, you are essentially walking through 1 million years of time. That also works out to be 1000 years for every meter. So essentially, you would walk through nearly 1000 years of geologic time with every step. Think about that for a brief minute and make an effort to put it into perspective.

The Carboniferous is a period of time (otherwise known as the “Coal Age”) and spans approximately 300 to 360 million years ago. This time frame is approximately 100 million years earlier than when the first dinosaurs evolved! The World Heritage Site is absolutely peppered with immaculately preserved fossils. Most of these are of former plant life, including fossilized tree roots, leaf impressions, and entire sections of “stone trees.” In addition, there is ample evidence for animal life including the world’s first terrestrial (land) snail called Dendropupa, and the largest known terrestrial invertebrate, a 2 meter long millipede named Arthropleura. But the real kicker is this: Joggins is home to the earliest known reptile (Hylonomus lyelli), the “great-great-grandmother” of all dinosaurs. Its fossilized and disarticulated skeleton was found inside a tree stump in 1852 by a Nova Scotian geologist, Sir William Dawson. Dawson was initially sent to Joggins to study the coal and attempt to decipher the conditions of its formation. He is also the namesake for the undergraduate geological society at Dalhousie University, the Dawson Geology Club.

Hylonomus was the first animal to ever adapt to a fully terrestrial lifestyle, and is the earliest known ancestor to all amniotes (four-limbed animals with a vertebra who lay their eggs on land, or the fertilized egg is retained within the mother). This includes modern day reptiles such as lizards and alligators, as well as birds, dinosaurs, and mammals. It is quite accurate that if Hylonomus was never able to fully adapt to a life on land, you or I would not be here writing or reading this post. Allow that to sink in for a moment.

In conclusion, I feel extremely fortunate to know what I want to do with my life and the direction I want my career to go in. The majority of the population is not so privileged. My time at Joggins has confirmed this very quickly, and I am very much looking forward to the remainder of the summer here in Joggins.

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Standing beneath a fossilized lycopod tree (approximately 300 million years old) at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs. Photo Credit: Dana Brown.

The Earth Ring

Hi again folks, thanks for coming back! Firstly, I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has checked out my first post on this website. It was very well received!
As my final semester at Dalhousie University starts to come to a close, items on my personal and professional check-list are starting to be marked as complete. One of those items being the acquisition of my Earth Ring. I realize that this piece of jewelry sounds like something out of a film based on a free-spirited, Middle Earth-loving Hobbit hippie mash-up. But I can assure you that it is much more meaningful. I have compiled information about the ring and its accompanying ceremony below. It is quite a neat little thing to be a part of. The majority of the information comes from myepsa.ca.

The Earth Science Ring Ceremony, a ritual of welcome into the profession of newly qualified geologists and geophysicists by senior practicing Earth scientists, started in Alberta in 1975. This yearly tradition for the university geoscience graduating classes at Edmonton and Calgary has spread to other provinces and jurisdictions in Canada. The ceremony carries many of the same passages written for the Engineers’ Iron Ring Ceremony and symbolizes the commitment and responsibility that come with the title of a professional. The Earth Ring reflects the individual values of practising Geoscientists and the trust society places in them.

Like the Engineer’s Iron Ring, the Earth Science Ring’s simplicity and strength bear witness to the calling of the geologist and geophysicist. The ring is made of silver and marked with the crossed hammer of geology and with the seismic trace of geophysics -signifying both the immediate and the remote searching out of nature’s knowledge. Without beginning and without end, it also represents for those who wear it, the continuous interplay of ideas and of material realities.

The ceremony includes a speech by senior Earth scientists and an obligation (pledge) taken by the group of newly graduated geologists and geophysicists. The ring is presented by the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Nova Scotia (APGNS).

In the Land Before Time

Hi everyone! Welcome to my first-ever blog. I have started this project as I work through the last month or two of my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; a feat that will have taken 8 years to complete…(that will be a topic for a later post). But for now, I wanted to let you all in on my soon-to-be post-university, geological  adventures in an attempt to share with you just how fascinating this earth is. I also wanted to give a quick shout out to my sister. She came up with the title for this blog page “Full of Schist”…I know, I was also impressed. Thanks Britt!

My hope for the blog is that it ignites a passion for learning in you like it did in me, and gives you something worthwhile to come back to read about. My blogs will be approximately a 50/50 split to include my adventures as a young geologist, and educational pieces to spread some knowledge (and to hopefully keep you from becoming too bored of my personal journey). It may occasionally include what ever else may be rattling around in my noggin at the time. I would like it to be interactive, so feel free to send me any ideas you would like to see me write about. I will try to keep all content comprehendible for the average layman, but I want you to learn new concepts and vocabulary, too. For future reference, I will use ‘geology’ and ‘earth science’ interchangeably. As for today, I will tell you how my geological journey began.

In grade 10, as a freshmen in high school, my friends (not that I had many), kept insisting that I needed to take the oceanography course, Oceans 11. The teacher for that class was called Mr. Burke, and he was known as one of the most beloved teachers in the school. I was also informed that it was a class where the material was not difficult to understand. Needless to say, I enrolled in Oceans 11 for the following semester.

From the first day, I knew immediately that I was going to enjoy this class. Mr. Burke was quite the character and had a wicked sense of humor which I appreciated very much. He was easily the funniest and kindest teacher I had thus far. He would remain the best teacher I have ever had. Sometimes at lunch, my friend Jason, Mr. Burke and myself would bring our guitars to school and have a little jam session in his classroom. We would rock out to songs by The Beatles, The Eagles, or anything else that was created long before Jason or I were born.

As the term went on, I became overly interested in the course material. There were topics which overlapped into geology, like plate tectonics. I remember wanting to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could. I didn’t mind studying for tests and exams, or completing homework assignments for the class. I feel lucky to have had this experience as it really was the beginning for me.

I was told by other students that if I liked oceanography, that I would most likely enjoy Mr. Connors (unofficially titled) “Rocks for Jocks” class. It was a grade 12 geology course. So the following year, my cousin, Michelle and I both decided to take it together. She was in grade 12 and I was in grade 11 at this point. Michelle and I never heard the end of the Mad Hatter jokes (however we both obtained the highest marks in the class – around 95-96%). Mr. Connors was just as passionate about rocks as Mr. Burke was about the ocean, and he became one of my favorite teachers as well. These two men helped me to realize my passion and the type of career I wanted to have. I will be forever grateful for that.

Before my time in high school, I was like the average person who though that a rock was just a boring, hard, gray object found on the ground. I thought that certain minerals and fossils were cool but that was about the extent of it. What I learned from Oceans 11 and Geology 12 was that geology is more than a boring gray hard thing on the ground. Each rock represents a unique story, and the stories they tell are something that I couldn’t have dreamed of at the time. In addition, geology isn’t just about rocks! It includes earth processes, and the study of deep time.

Geology tends to be labeled as the “easy” branch of science. What most people do not realize is that the field of geology is a melting pot where almost every other branch of science is included. For example, we use:

  • chemistry
  • physics
  • biology
  • mathematics
  • engineering
  • statistics
  • geography
  • economics
  • environmental science
  • microscopy
  • computer science/programming

There are also other skills that may be useful as a geologist, such as art or sketching, photography, and any labs skills. Albeit, most of us specialize at some point in our career where all of the above may not be used or needed. However, if you want to become professionally certified as a geologist, you need to have taken courses in the majority of the sciences listed above.

In conclusion, during my last year in high school, I was accepted to Dalhousie University for the following school year to study science. I was also accepted into Saint Marys University in Halifax for the arts program, but as you can most likely infer, I chose to study science and major in earth sciences at Dal. The rest is history, but the future awaits…and I can’t wait to see where in the world it will take me.

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