As I think back to this time last year, I’m reminded of the rocky start I had to 2016. By January 3rd of 2016, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward at Vancouver General Hospital. It was a place I swore I’d never go back to, but was willing to because I had been told that the best way to deal with my treatment-resistant depression was through ECT, or electro-convulsive therapy. I had dropped classes, prepared myself to lose parts of my memory (temporarily, but terrifying nonetheless). Unfortunately, 2016 had other plans for me. The doctor overseeing my progress in the hospital decided that ECT was not the right option, and that more intense drug trials would be in order.
Part 1: The Ugly Trials
Let me preface this by saying that taking prescriptions or medication for mental illness is completely acceptable in my opinion, and people considering medication should not be afraid, provided they have the support of a medical professional. After trying a number of different anti depressants in 2014 and 2015, I was told to try a few more before giving up on medication altogether. From January to April, I tried at least 4 new medications at countless different doses and in numerous combinations. It felt, quite literally, like hell. The side effects caused a plethora of issues consisting of hallucinations, mood swings, nausea, and fogginess that I hope to never experience again. While on a ski trip in late January, I had an adverse reaction to a new drug trial and ended up losing feeling in half my body for a number of hours and lost some memory. As if being on new drugs wasn’t hard enough, while switching from one trial to the next, I had to endure the agony of withdrawal. Withdrawal is a slow and painful process, because quitting these drugs cold turkey can cause a number of reactions – some as severe as death or heart attacks.
In the midst of all this, there were a number of moments that were really fun and special for me. When I was struggling in my classes and feared not being able to graduate, my professors showed a great deal of support and were very lenient and understanding of my needs. My friends were there to help me out whenever I needed – whether it was giving me notes from classes, or making sure I was eating, or just reassuring me when the side effects of drugs were really bad. I was able to get into a really amazing therapy program for suicide attempt survivors and made a great deal of progress in my healing process.
Perhaps the most important and special memory I have from those difficult few months was getting to not only attend, but also play an integral role in planning the jack.org 2016 Jack Summit – an annual event designed to inspire change in youth mental health and alter perceptions to reduce stigma. It was an unforgettable experience, and I met and worked with people I hope to know forever.
Part 2: The Rocky Road
In early May I found out I was hired by my dream company for an opportunity in logistics…across the country. In what felt like no time at all, I got out of my lease in Vancouver, packed my bags, and moved to Toronto. I left behind my friends, my mental health supports, and pretty much everything I knew. The summer was an unforgettable one that I hope to forget. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at my job, couldn’t adjust to the hours, had no professional support, and was scammed by my movers. I spent my summer hating my life with no bed, no belongings, no friends, and worst, no hope for my future.
Part 3: Finding my stride (with a little limp)
Luckily, a new position opened up in my company and I was able to start a job that I was actually good at. I love my job, I’ve met amazing co workers, and finally can see a future for myself like I always wanted. Slowly but surely, I’m finding my stride in Toronto. What many people struggle to understand about people with mental illness is that sometimes things take a little longer. For me, adjusting to my new life was painfully long, and I still don’t feel like I have it all figured out. My anxiety contributes to thoughts that I’ve made wrong decisions and don’t know what I’m doing, and my depression makes me question why I bother trying at all. Somehow, these voices are a little softer on some days, and I have moments where I feel okay.
My life is by no means perfect, just like everyone else, and there are definitely days where I feel like I got the short end of the stick. I recently learned that my seizures have caused permanent nerve and muscle damage in my legs, which makes walking difficult and physical activity close to impossible. As a result, I have treatment 3 times a week and hobble around sometimes. I think I look like a penguin and get frustrated with the pain and limitations that come with it, but it’s all part of learning and growing. I’m learning now more than ever that self care isn’t selfish, and am working every day to accept my limitations without letting them bother me so much.
So, 2016, you’ve taken me by surprise. Just when I thought I knew where my life was headed, it turned upside down. Good thing being upside down isn’t as scary as I thought.
Keep Surviving by Living.