Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 2

Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 1
May 8, 2017
To My Son’s Other Mother
May 16, 2017

Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 2

So I left off with Adam and I becoming a couple.  He came into my life at just the right time. I had a new found love and respect for myself and I believe that is what drew him to me (plus my flirting wearing a low cut sweater might have helped a little). We were engaged after four months of being together though we didn’t actually get married until two years later in 1995. Shortly after we got married we started to try for a family. I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) so becoming pregnant is not easy. We eventually got in to a fertility specialist and even had an emergency round of InVitro fertilization (IVF) before we decided that we had enough of the poking and prodding. I was devastated and became very depressed. I would spend hours just playing a mindless video game to try to keep my mind off the fact that I might never be a mother. Thankfully the IVF clinic in London offered counselling. I took them up on it and travelled four hours round trip to be able to sit down with someone that saw infertile couples all day every day. It helped and I felt the depression lifting.

We then focused on adoption and for the next few years I was good. A little bit of ups and downs but nothing major. We adopted our oldest and things were immediately difficult. After about a year of struggling with his behavior I had a discussion with the head of the early intervention team in Windsor (who also happened to be my boss, awkward . . .) who was very wise and told me “not everything can be fixed” when I said we just needed the right help to be able to fix the things our son was struggling with. She gently suggested to me that while I waited for appropriate services I might want to look into some private counselling for myself. At first I resented the implication. It was my son, not me, that needed the help.

Then one day I showed up at the office on my team meeting day and there were no parking spots even though I had enough seniority to have one. I went inside and demanded the list of license plates. I then went out and determined there were several people without the seniority in the spots. I seriously lost my damn mind and left nasty messages for each of those people. After I had time to calm down and reflect I realized my response to the event was way out of proportion with what actually occurred. I took this as a sign that I was too stressed and I asked my boss for that list of names of counsellors.

Off and on I would do therapy over the next several years with the same therapist. Though I tended to bail once my benefits ran out which would coincide with my getting down to some serious issues. Avoiding the intense work, my stress and depression continued to mount until one day in 2012 I left therapy and just fell apart. I thought seriously of using the pills I carried around with me (a mixture of pills I had kept over the years) and jumping into the river. Out of desperation I called my husband and when all was said and done I ended up in the hospital for several weeks.

I stayed in therapy and started doing some deep work which led to another hospitalization in 2013. I was just in a deep dark place and I even tried to strangle myself one night which led to a longer hospitalization and a new diagnosis that I don’t agree with. Leaving the hospital they had me on about 7 different medications and they set me up with Dialectical Behaviour therapy (DBT). I was excited to go because I was looking for anything that would help keep me out of the hospital. I was sorely disappointed in the group. The leader, a Psychology resident, simply read monotone from a manual and 1 or 2 people would dominate the little conversation that there was. These people had majorly dramatic and tragic lifestyles. I could not relate to anyone. I went 3 or 4 times and then just stopped going. I’m glad I actually made a choice for myself instead of just going along with it because a doctor said so.  I stayed in my private therapy and dug even deeper.

In 2014 I managed to stay out of the hospital and began to flourish. I went back to my old job in early intervention and was enjoying the work (and paycheck).  At the end of 2014 I decided that I was doing well and did not need my medication. By the New Year I had taken myself off of all my psychiatric drugs. In January 2015, I confessed what I had done to my psychiatrist. He was not happy but agreed to just close monitoring. When I went to my regular appointment in April 2015 I had spiralled so far out of control he hospitalized me. I promptly attempted to strangle myself so I was “formed” – which is where physicians practising in Ontario have the right to sign an Application for Psychiatric Assessment (Form 1), “which authorizes the apprehension, detention and assessment of a person” who meets certain criteria under the Mental Health Act. They then have 72 hours to do an assessment to determine if a person MUST be admitted (involuntary) or that a person SHOULD be admitted (voluntary) or just be released from the hospital.  I don’t really remember when the doctor formed me but according to Adam I was not happy. To be formed means losing the basic right to freedom, if only temporarily. I’m glad that I was so out of it that I didn’t realize at the time I was formed. That would have set off my anxiety to a level I have never quite experienced.

The drawback to being hospitalized at Windsor Regional, Ouellette campus in Windsor, Ontario aside from the loss of freedom is that there is essentially no programming or therapy while you are there. Occupational Therapy is offered but it consists of choosing a puzzle, a colouring page or video games. Sometimes they play Bingo. That’s it. The rest of the time you sit around, drugged out of your mind, trying to put two words together when visitors come. Eventually I was transferred to the Toldo Building at Hotel Dieu hospital. Things were completely different there. The nurses seemed happy and eager to help, the rooms were private, you could shave without having a nurse watch you (yes this was the case at Ouellette) and there were so many programs offered you could stay busy all day if you wanted to. Meditation, Yoga, Workout room, Horticulture, Cooking and on and on. While I was there the fog started to lift and I began to dig my way out of the hole of depression.

The fallout from severe clinical depression is sweeping. It affected my memory, my emotions, my concentration, my energy level.  People around me noted that I seemed to have a flat affect, and I did. It was the medications that were necessary to function outside the hospital but they were making it harder to function in my everyday life especially at work. I had to come home on my lunch hour and take a nap just to make it through the day. The Lithium gave me a tremor, which at its worst, made writing extremely difficult. Over time these side effects have decreased or I have gotten better at managing them.  My concentration just came back last month – almost two years after my hospitalization.  I used to love to read, in the past 2 years I have probably read one book.

So what does all this mean? Did the hospitalization help? Hinder? Perhaps a bit of both. But it was necessary at the time. Depression is still an active illness for me, but I have learned better coping mechanisms since then. I have opened up about my struggles to those around me. I used to try to be a martyr and do everything at work and home alone. Now I lean on my co-workers and my family.

Depression is a beast. But I’m a warrior.

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with mental health.

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