Tina Szymczak

In November 2014 I decided, without my doctor’s knowledge, to go off my medications. The Lithium I was on was stunting my emotions to the extreme, I was always tired and a hand tremor was driving me crazy. In January 2015 I informed him of what I had done and he reluctantly agreed that I seemed to be doing fine and we would just keep an eye on things. By April of 2015 I was actively battling my depression and anxiety and I was losing the fight. I was overwhelmed by even the smallest of things and I felt like I was drowning. I kept questioning myself – why was I feeling this way? Why couldn’t I just snap out of it? Then came the suicidal thoughts and at first I was able to think “Your family needs you” and “tomorrow will be better, just wait”.  But tomorrow wasn’t better and I began to think that my family would be better off without me. After all, if my everyday life was filled with anxiety and profound sadness – what good was I to my family?  At that point my thoughts just seemed to unravel – I was no longer making sense even to myself. My thoughts were so jumbled I didn’t even have the capacity to ask my family or friends for help.

Then I had my regularly scheduled appointment with my Psychiatrist and my husband, sensing something was off, came with me. It wasn’t far into the appointment when I admitted I wasn’t doing well. It took his point blank question of “are you thinking of harming yourself?” for me to break down and admit (almost matter of fact) that yes I had those thoughts and I had a plan. Right away he wanted me to go to the hospital. Adam took me there and after a short wait I was placed in a quiet room in the emergency room. My thoughts swirled around in my brain – mostly telling me I was a horrible person to once again be in this situation and that I would be better off dead.

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Adam left me alone for a few minutes to use the washroom and make some calls about our kids. I took advantage of his absence and promptly chewed on a corner of the bedsheet until there was a tear and I could rip off a long piece. I tied it to the bed rail. Before I could tie it around my neck Adam came back and I tried to hide it. Sensing I was acting weirder than usual Adam searched my blankets and found the bedsheet noose I had made for myself. He, despite my pleas, told the nurse who then proceeded to tell me that they had trusted me and given me my own room and now I would have to be placed across from the nurse’s desk for observation. It felt like I was being chastised and I became indignant and ranted and raved about the lack of understanding from those around me. The doctor quickly “formed” me – which means he signed a paper saying I was a danger to myself and allowing them to hold me against my will for 72 hours.

The wait in the emergency room was lengthy – Adam says it might have been a couple of days while we waited for a bed. I don’t remember much from that time – just snippets as I drifted in and out of sleep. When I was awake all I could think was what a failure I was and how I wanted to die. That was the depression lying to me – actively making me doubt myself and seeking to end all pain through suicide. Depression lies and is very convincing at it.

I eventually got a room on the psychiatric ward and was safe and Adam could return to our life to try to make it as regular as possible for the kids. For me it was a 2 month fight to get back to “normal”. Depression had really done a number on me that time and it was hard to fight through. Every day the on call doctor would ask me if I was feeling better yet – insinuating that I should be. And I would answer “no” and he would look at me blankly like he hadn’t expected that response. Later I would find out that another medication had been added to my regime. At the end of my 2 month stay I was on about 7 medications – anxiety medications, ones for depression and a mood stabilizer. I lost track of what I was taking and what for.

Life on “the unit” in the first hospital was very tense. There were so many very ill people all in one place. The nurses were for the most part miserable and refused to do anything other than the bare minimum their job required. Even getting something as simple as a cup of water could be difficult. For two weeks I had to sleep without my CPAP machine that I use at night to keep me breathing – because they were afraid I would hurt myself with the cord. Without sleep I was struggling just to get through each day. Not to mention being awoken during the night by my roommate who was experiencing psychosis and was scared one minute that people were out to get her and the next minute she was asking me if I was her “real sister” that had been hidden from her. The food was alright, though mistakes were common and one day I received a large plate heaped with broccoli. That was all I had to eat, a plate of broccoli. Days were long and filled with copious amounts of time to brood and wallow in feelings of despair coupled with nonsensical phone calls to friends to try to ease the mind numbing boredom. The only good thing about the unit was that visitors were welcome pretty much any time of day and visits from friends and coworkers helped to ease some of the discomfort.

With a few very ill men on our ward tensions were high as people battled each other – for control of the TV, control of the phones and on and on. I put in a request to move to the long term care facility where my doctor was the head of Psychiatry. It took a month but finally one day I was roused out of my sleep and ordered to follow some random man down the hall. He turned out to be a medical doctor and he was giving me a once over before I was transferred to the Toldo building of Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital. In a foggy haze I hurriedly packed my belongings and made a quick call to my husband to inform him of my move. I know he wasn’t very happy with the turn of events. I had just the weekend before had a successful day pass to go home and he was hopeful I would be released soon. But I knew I wasn’t ready to go home – I wasn’t well enough yet.

Toldo building was completely different. The nursing staff was pleasant and helpful and seemed eager to see us do well. I was promptly put on a specific calorie diet because of my diabetes and I grudgingly had to admit I was physically feeling better with the diet I was on. My meds began to finally kick in. They had a ton of programming and after a week or so I threw myself into the activities including going to the gym and horticulture (I was very proud of my tomato plant).  The rest of the time we watched episode after episode of Criminal Minds, Dog the Bounty Hunter and The First 48. Wonderful episodes to watch while trying to recover from severe depression – but I didn’t control the remote.

Meanwhile Adam pushed for there to be a return home plan and my doctor and I put together a progressive plan that would see me go home about a month after I arrived at Toldo. A few visits home that were successful followed by an entire weekend and I was good to go home. It was scary. I felt bruised and uncertain. But I also felt hopeful – which was the most important and I nurtured that. I remained off work for another month and even when I returned I wasn’t completely myself. In fact it wasn’t until recently, 1 year later, that I finally feel like a new version of myself.  A full year to gain back all the skills and abilities that I used to take for granted.

to be continued . . .

May 5, 2016

A Full Year

In November 2014 I decided, without my doctor’s knowledge, to go off my medications. The Lithium I was on was stunting my emotions to the extreme, I was always tired and a hand tremor was driving me crazy. In January 2015 I informed him of what I had done and he reluctantly agreed that I seemed to be doing fine and we would just keep an eye on things. By April of 2015 I was actively battling my depression and anxiety and I was losing the fight. I was overwhelmed by even the smallest of things and I felt like I was drowning. I kept questioning myself – why was I feeling this way? Why couldn’t I just snap out […]
May 3, 2016

Mental Health Awareness

Where I live it is Mental Health Awareness week for both youth and adults. Check out some of these sites for more information: Canadian Mental Health Association Children’s Mental Health Ontario Parents for Children’s Mental Health National Alliance on Mental Illness (American) Also my son and I contributed to podcasts at CPRI in London – go to this link to hear our podcasts and some other amazing ones. Mine is the under “families” and Corbin is under “kids” CPRI I have asked all of my work colleagues to wear Green tomorrow (Wednesday) to raise awareness for Mental Health – we’d love to have you join us. I’m not on twitter or snapchat or any of that but you could always […]
April 18, 2016

Reconciling Autism

The first three and a half years of my son’s life was utter turmoil. Then we adopted him and gave him a stable home and the next seven years were spent going from doctor to doctor; professional to professional. Along the way we gathered diagnosis – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Tourette Syndrome (TS); Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); Intermittent Explosive Disorder; Sensory Integration Disorder (SID); Learning disabilities (LD) and held them tight as we researched them and received varied amounts of treatment for each.  However, even after all of these diagnoses, it still felt like we had missed something.  I tried to talk myself out of it – telling myself “enough is enough, now you are just trying to make […]
April 15, 2016

Self Advocacy

In 2010 our son Corbin was in crisis and needed to have a residential placement at the Child and Parent Resource Insititute (CPRI) in London Ontario. While he was there we were able to start the process of having him diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (on top of all his other diagnosis – Tourette’s, ADHD, OCD, Disturbance of Attachment, Autism, Sensory Integration Disorder and probably more I just can’t think of right now). His time at the residential placement ended prior to completing the assessment for Bipolar. Following his time at CPRI we transitioned him (rather poorly) to our local children’s mental health agency for ongoing services while we continued the assessment process and subsequently began trying medication to better manage […]
March 26, 2016

Compromise

I have always believed in inclusion. Long before I had my own children I worked with children with disabilities and I helped those families to advocate to have their child included. When I would meet a parent or professional that didn’t believe in inclusion I would be aghast. Doesn’t everyone want to be included, to join in, to belong? Even before I had kids I joined a local grassroots not for profit that was all about inclusion. Then came my own kids each with their own challenges. We chose our local Catholic board as they believe in inclusion unlike the public board (their idea of inclusion was to let some kids join their grade for gym or art and spend […]
March 10, 2016

Absent

I know I have been absent of late. It’s not because I don’t want to write or even that I have writer’s block. It quite simply is because I put my back out and between trying to find comfortable positions, popping Tylenol 3’s and attending Physiotherapy the writing has taken a back burner. I will be back soon, thanks for checking in.