Today Bell Canada is hosting Let’s Talk and it is described as “a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across Canada.”
So let’s talk…
My foray into mental illness started after our home burned to the ground in June 2001. We had been sleeping when the fire started and I woke up, for a reason I will never know, before the flames touched the second storey apartment we were living in. No one was hurt and for seven months we lived with some incredible people as we put our lives back together. When the house was rebuilt we moved back in. That’s when it all hit the fan.
The nightmares were incredible and seemed so real. I would wake my husband Bryan up and make him check the entire house. This happened several times a week. My landlady, who lived downstairs, would burn something on the stove and I would go into full-fledged panic mode. I’d run down the stairs and my heart would be beating so fast that it felt like it was going to leap right out of my chest. If someone had a fire in their fireplace or a campfire in the backyard, I would check all over the house to make sure it wasn’t our home. No more candles. No more incense. I would see a photo of a fire, even if it wasn’t one of our home, and I would start to smell the burning. Suddenly it would be hard to breath. I would sweat and feel like I was going to vomit. I was in a constant state of red-alert and the anxiety levels were high. We would come home from shopping and I would almost hold my breath as we came up the highway towards the house because I kept expecting to see it on fire again. I lost interest in hobbies, in friends, and life in general. I stayed up almost all night and half the time slept on the couch. My marriage was teetering on the edge and I was hiding from the world.
About a year and a half after the fire there was a day I felt so low that I just wanted to walk away from my life, in Christopher McCandless fashion, and never look back. I almost did. It was in that moment that I knew I had reached rock bottom and that I needed support. I talked with the one person who has always been my best friend, my husband. I started with acknowledging that I was not okay. Bryan helped me pick up my life and move forward in a very gentle way and thankfully it worked.
We walked and talked. We backpacked and went on long multi-day canoe trips. He listened whenever I needed him to. I decided to do some volunteer work and fundraising. I forced myself to get back into photography and started shooting weddings again. I made an effort to climb into bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. I started eating healthier. It helped tremendously and I was reconnecting with my life but I was still struggling. I surrounded myself with positive people. I clung to each moment of happiness like it would slip through my fingers. Finally I reached a point where joy was in the forefront and I started to feel whole again.
For a while I thought that what I was suffering with was a normal response to our lives being turned upside down but as time progressed I realized it was much deeper than that. In hindsight, I now know that I was likely dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something which I only thought happened to people who went to war.
I’m sharing my story today so that I can help break the stigmas surrounding mental illness… so that if you find yourself mired in the depths of something like depression or PTSD, that you know you are not alone.
There is a song that resonates with me although I am not sure the writer meant it in quite the way I interpret it.
Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing,
It’s okay not to be okay…
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart.
Tears don’t mean you’re losing, everybody’s bruising,
Just be true to who you are!