#BellLetsTalk day has rolled around once again.


I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my struggles with mental illness, as I know how important open conversations are to ending the stigma. I used to write about my experiences regularly, but have found myself doing so less and less over the last couple of years. At first I simply wasn’t finding the exercise of writing as helpful as I had in the past. But last spring it became much more than that.
Late one night in June, after 10 years of inner turmoil, I became so overwhelmed with my anxiety and depression that I attempted to take my own life.
I then spent the next seven days as an inpatient in the Mental Health unit of the new St. Catharines Hospital and can truly say that that was the worst week of my life. But probably not for the reasons you’re thinking…
Each day I was in there I would meet with my assigned psychiatrist, and each day he would make the same comment: “You’re a highly educated and well-travelled young woman. You’re not the type of person I should be seeing in here.”
I never knew how to respond to this. He used words like “typical” and “should” and I just didn’t understand. Educated people can and do have depressive disorders, and well-travlled people can and do have anxiety disorders. Who was he to tell me I shouldn’t be there, when the fact was, I WAS there. I was there, and in pain, and instead of being helped, I was made to feel like my thoughts and emotions were invalid. I was made to feel like I should have somehow been above mental illness.
In the end, I didn’t receive anything in the way of “treatment”. My medication was switched to something I’d been on previously, and I slept a lot, played cards with my dad, and then after a week was discharged.
I left the hospital feeling completely discouraged. Following my discharge I dropped out of the outpatient anxiety treatment program that I’d been taking part in for a year previously, stopped going to counselling, and never spoke to anyone about how the experience effected me.
(Until now.)
I spent the summer wallowing in self-pity and feeling like a complete failure, followed by an autumn spent travelling and learning to trust my own abilities again. Thankfully the latter worked, and I returned home feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could be okay eventually. I built up the nerve to take some big chances, as well as rid myself of a few bad habits.
For a long time I didn’t think I’d live to see my 30th birthday.
But I did make it to 30. I made it, and now when I think of the future it’s not a blank question mark, but filled with possibilities. And for the first time I in as long as I can remember, I want to be alive to see what happens.

You better work.

I stepped up my job application game last autumn, resulting in several interview offers. Though I didn’t receive any job offers, I did get a lot of great feedback and made it farther in one process than I ever had before. So while the outcome wasn’t what I’d hoped, the experience was a positive.

After spending a couple of months putting applications together, I now find that I have several different versions of my resume, each suited for different types of jobs. In browsing through these I can’t help but think of how many jobs I’ve omitted from my resume, whether is be for space constraints or irrelevancy. And then I realize that I’m not even sure I can remember every single job I’ve ever had!

This thought has led me here, where in a mix of curiosity and boredom, I will try and list every paid job I’ve ever worked, no matter how short my time there was. Let’s start at the beginning…

2002-2004: ST – Elevator Operator, Arcade Attendant
2004-2005: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2005-2005: ES – Breakfast Hostess
2006-2006: ST – Projectionist, Reservation Agent, Cashier
2006-2006: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2007-2007: OSI – Server
2007-2007: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2007-2011: NFT – Tourism Counsellor
2008-2008: CNH – Reservation Agent
2010-2011: ABM – Customer Service Representative
2011-2012: SCCN – Usher, Parking Lot Attendant, Cashier
2011-2012: SKI – Programs Assistant (Intern)
2012-2012: BT – Telemarketer
2012-2012: CRUK – Telephone Fundraiser
2012-2012: NHM – Retail Sales Associate
2012-2012: EB – Watch Salesperson
2012-2012: PS – Receptionist
2013-2013: VFTS – Project Coordinator, Customer Service Representative
2013-2013: SCCN – Front of House Coordinator
2013-2014: VFTS – Administrator, Customer Service Representative
2013-2014: TWC – Museum Services Assistant
2014-2014: SKUK – Communications Coordinator (Intern)
2014-2014: BRC – MAPS Assistant (Intern)
2014-2014: MCS – Supporter Donations Assistant
2014-2014: HNC – Ticket Taker, Poncho Distributor, People Counter
2014-2015: CI – Front Desk Agent
2015-2017: CC – Visitor Services Officer
2015-2016: MC – Ticket Agent, Cash Room Clerk
2015-2016: ON – Retail Sales Associate
2016-2016: SK – Brand Specialist
2016-2016: HS – Project Coordinator
2016-2016: OTW – Communications Coordinator (Intern)
2016-2016: CX – Technical Support Representative
2017-2017: REV – Transcriber

There are over 30 employers on this list (though some are listed several times, for example IM, which I quit and returned to three times), and I feel quite certain that there’s one or two that I’ve completely forgotten, and will come to me later!

And boy, does this list make me feel like a flake! But in my defense, I spent highschool and university working summer jobs in a tourist town, where you typically had to find new employment at the end of ever summer season AND needed to procure multiple jobs in order to work 40 hours per week. After that I moved to London where I worked as temp, so several of these were just short-term contracts. And from 2014 onward you’re looking at upwards of four jobs held at one time just to pay the bills.

Oh, the joys of precarious employment!

Can you list all of your jobs?

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The Anxious Wanderer Returns, Take Two

In three short days I’ll be in a rental car driving the Golden Circle in Iceland. I’ll be flying there from Toronto tomorrow, and meeting one of my dearest friends in the world in Reykjavik. Following a few days in the land of ice we’ll be flying back to her home in London, and later I will continue my adventures solo around England, Denmark, and Norway.

While this certainly isn’t my first time heading off on a grand adventure, it will be the first time since my anxiety has become so severe. And that, for me, makes this one of the most important trips I’ll ever take.

To say that the past two years have been hell is an understatement. In that time I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder, panic psychosis, and severe chronic depression. I’ve been through periods where I was unable to leave the house. I’ve experienced emotions so severe than I didn’t know how to cope with them. I’ve had difficulty maintaining friendships, employment, and my own physical health. And just a few months ago I had bout of depression and anxiety so severe that I tried to take my own life.

In this time I’ve been on a dozen different medications, seen countless doctors, counsellors, and nurses, and been admitted to several outpatient and inpatient mental health programs.

In moments of panic it feels like my mind has turned against me, and convinced me that danger lurks around every corner. My attacks, which had always been unpleasant experiences, have become unbearable episodes of sheer terror. The frequent fear and stress have become all consuming, and over the years has slowly chipped away at every aspect of my life.

Even in periods when the attacks, anxiety, and depression are less intense, I’ve discovered that it’s difficult to enjoy things I once loved, like theatre and travel. In the past few years these things have provided me with little more than fear and nausea. At one point I even thought that perhaps I’d just stop partaking, because what was the point?

But, at the end of day, I just couldn’t bring myself to give up my last semblance of hope. So in the spirit of ‘go big, or go home’, I’ve decided to get over my fears by visiting three countries I’ve never stepped foot into before (two of them on my own). I’m also giving myself London, because it’s the love of my life.

And I refuse to let my anxieties take it, or anything, away from me.

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Locked Up

Exactly one month ago I was released from the hospital after spending 7 days on a mandatory hold inside of the psychiatric unit. It was undoubtedly the worst week of my life, and the lowest point I’ve reached during my decade long struggle with mental illness.

During and following my hold I didn’t tell many people about what was happening. Partly because I was embarrassed and ashamed, and partly because I simply didn’t know how to talk about it. I still don’t, to be completely honest. But despite that, I’m writing now because I feel it’s important to say something. It may not be the correct thing, or what people want to hear, but the one thing I know is that keeping quiet out of shame only perpetuates stigma.

The ‘How?’ and the ‘Why?’ are likely what people most want to know, but are in my opinion the least important aspects of the story. While it was one rash and desperate decision that landed me in the hospital, the path leading up to it was a long and complicated one. My incarceration was 10 years of poor decisions in the making. Poor decision that I, for the first time, realize come from the fact that I simply don’t value my own life.

That revelation is in and of itself heavily complex. And along with it I also have my crippling anxiety, chronic depression, and unstable emotional responses to stress and upset. But I’ve come to learn that identifying and accepting issues is half the battle.

And as of tonight, that battle is not yet lost.

30 x 30

T-minus 6 months (and 2 days) until I turn 30. And as such, I’ve decided to make a list of 30 things I wish to do / 30 goals I’d like to achieve, by age 30:

  1. Visit 30 new cities
  2. Do 30 minutes of meditation or mindfulness each day
  3. Learn to be kind to myself
  4. Walk 30 km each week
  5. Eat fruits & veggies 30 times each week
  6. Take time out to recharge and refocus
  7. Lose 30 lbs
  8. Work avg 30 hours each week
  9. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’
  10. Spend only $30 each week on non-essentials (movies, clothes, eating out)
  11. Put $30 in savings account each week
  12. Learn self-forgiveness
  13. Watch / Listen / Read 30 new arts / entertainment things
  14. Give Jacob 30 memorable experiences
  15. Be a more attentive friend
  16. Write and send 30 letters / postcards to loved ones
  17. Set aside 30 minutes each week to get organized
  18. Be more open and honest about my feelings
  19. Rid myself of 30 toxic habits / relationships / things
  20. Volunteer 30 hours each month
  21. Ask for help when I need it
  22. Take 30 photographs each month
  23. Try 30 new foods
  24. Take the time to reflect and appreciate
  25. Write 30 new posts / articles / essays
  26. Try 30 things that scare me
  27. Learn to be more flexible / “go with the flow”
  28. Apply to 30 new jobs
  29. Try my very best to do the 30 things on this list
  30. But don’t beat myself up should I not accomplish them all

Special thanks to Jenny for helping me brainstorm in the middle of the night ;)

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Hit The Floor

Over the past few months I’ve quit several jobs, but still can’t seem to get over this chronic fatigue. I’m at the point of sleeping 10 hours a night, and taking 3 hour naps during the day. On top of that my overly intense panic attacks recently returned, and I’ve started having fainting spells due to a new health issue that is still in the process of being diagnosed.

Oh, the joys of chronic illness!

I wish more people understood chronic illness. I feel like in the past year so many friends have drifted away, frustrated, and I just haven’t had the emotional, mental, or physical energy to pull them back in and explain. But perhaps that’s for the best, because the fact remains that I can’t keep up.

I don’t even have the energy to write more of this post. Please see The Spoon Theory.

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#GETLOUD

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in Canada, and CMHA is suggesting we #GETLOUD for mental health. As I’m always happy to further conversation on the topic, here I am, getting loud. Or at least speaking at a moderate level ;)

Over the past year I’ve been volunteering with a local children’s mental health organization, and it has opened my eyes to the great strides our country has made when it comes to talking to young people about mental illness. Part of my volunteer role involves running information booths at mental health fairs and events held in secondary schools around the region. And every time I go it never ceases to amaze me how informed and engaged young people are about mental health issues.

I can’t help but feel a little envious.

I often wonder if I’d had all this information, would I have been a little more prepared when mental illness took a hold of me? When it started during my second year of university I didn’t have a clue about what mental illness was, that it affected 1 in 4 people, or that it was most often triggered during post-secondary. I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why, and I was certain that I’d never be okay again. I would go to sleep wishing that I’d never wake up because the confusion and pain felt unbearable.

I didn’t know that I could go and seek help. I didn’t know about counselling or medication or crisis lines. I didn’t know about all the resources that were offered through the university to help me get better, or that this was something that thousands of other students were dealing with at the same time. I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t know any of this because no one had ever told me.

But this generation does know. They know signs and symptoms to look for in themselves or in their friends. They know who to call and where to go if they need help. They know that there’s no shame in mental illness, and are active in making sure that the stigma is gone. And while I know that this knowledge won’t lesson the occurrence of mental illness for them,  I’m hopeful it will make the lives of those who deal with it down the road just a little bit more bearable.

So, I’m going to #GETLOUD for all those like me who just didn’t know. Mental illness affects everyone, and we should all be talking about it.

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Ya Burnt!

I can feel an overwhelming chorus of “I told you so!” coming my way after this post. And, to be honest, I told myself so as well. Yet here we are at… burnout.

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Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses.” (x)

After spending several long months ill and unemployed last winter I finally found a job with the Chamber of Commerce in late spring. It was only part-time, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to ease myself into work life after so long away. I spent 6 months doing this, but near the end felt I needed to find something full-time. I began applying and interviewing for positions in late summer, but unfortunately never landed anything.

In the autumn I decided that my finances required I figure something out, so I began applying for other part-time jobs that I could do in addition to the Chamber. Within a week of making this decision I found myself with 4 offers, and decided to accept 2 of them. One was a part-time retail position conveniently located in the same complex as my first job, and the other was a casual position at a local sport/entertainment venue.

For the next few months I easily balanced the 3 roles. I was tired, but it was working. When January rolled around the retail hours diminished, so I took on a second retail position that offered 1-2 shifts / week. However during January the hours at the casual position unexpectedly shot up to full time, and I found myself working non-stop. At the casual job I also found myself assisting other departments during events, and was offered a job in the finance department, which my people-pleasing self accepted in a moment of weakness. This brought me up to 5 jobs.

Did I mention that on top of this I was also doing regular volunteer work with a local non-profit as well and taking courses for my outpatient anxiety program? Yeah…

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In all of January I had one day off. I was completely exhausted, but knowing the hours at the casual job would drop down in February I powered through. And then February came and I thought ‘Oh, sweet relief!’

Except, not so much.

A family crisis hit early in the month, which I won’t get into, only to say that it was horrible and caused a lot of stress. I was so flustered that I began giving incorrect availability at jobs, double booking myself, missing enough class to eventually be kicked out, and having panic attacks at work (which as you know from my last post was a huge trigger issue for me).

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Everything came to head last weekend when I went on holiday. After months with only a handful of days off, and too tired and busy to think about anything other than work, I have 4 whole days off! And doing what I always do when such an event occurs: I hopped on a bus to NYC. I was expecting a few fun-filled days with theatre, friends, and wandering. And while all of those things happened, I can’t say the days were fun-filled.

The night before I left for NYC I developed a fever. As I have auto-immune disease this wasn’t a rare occurrence, so I ignored it, as I usually do. Unfortunately one of the effects of me being fevered is an increase in anxiety. And with finally having time off to breathe and relax all of the stress of the past month(s) hit me full force. I spent the entire weekend in a state of low-grade panic, I couldn’t sleep, and became wholeheartedly convinced that I was going to die. I was in full fledged terror psychosis mode, and actually wrote goodbye letters to people. It was terrifying.

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“Anxiety is a poorly performing fight or flight system, which is the system that your body activates when it’s experiencing severe danger. An anxiety attack is essentially the peak of this fear. Your body rushes with an intense amount of adrenaline, and this alters your brain chemistry and thought patterns to tell you that you’re in grave danger. It’s the same way you would feel if you were holding onto a ledge above a 10 story building. Your body is telling you that you need to be very afraid because your life is in danger. Unfortunately, in the case of panic attacks, your body is wrong.” (x)

When I got home I was beyond exhausted. I went back to work on Monday and by Wednesday felt like I was losing my mind. Some unpleasantness that I’d rather not talk about happened over the next 24 hours and I went to the doctors where I learned that 1) my white count and liver enzymes are completely out of whack; and 2) I am, indeed, burnt.

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My doctor ordered that I take some time off, so between now and April 1st I’ll be working just 2 jobs. This should total only about 25-30 hours / week, leaving me time to do my classes (6 hours a week), get some rest, and pack (as I’m moving on April 1st). I am also taking a full 7 days off in the middle of March for a big meet-up in New York. I’ll be seeing Hamilton (!!!) and Fun Home, catching up with lots of amazing friends, eating an obscene amount of delicious food, and doing activities all over the city. Needless to say, I’m very excited! And it’s nice to have something to look forward to in the midst of all this chaos.

So, I have 5 weeks to get my head back on straight. Wish me luck…