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.