freezing cold, soaked in sweat. 

My nightmares are back with a vengeance. For a few weeks there they had ended, allowing me a restful nights sleep, bringing me to a joyful morning. 

But now they’re back; I wake in the night, whimpering like a wounded animal, freezing cold and soaked in sweat. 

Im groggy in the morning, and can barely make it a couple hours without needing a nap. I’m exhausted, which contributes to my anxiety, which begins the circle again. 

During the day, I feel like a tortured character from an old movie – the ones where they strap the good guy in front of a tv, hold open his eyes and flash pictures of atomic bombs, poverty, death – trying to turn him to their side, the bad side. 

I keep reminding myself to breathe, counting to ten with my breath – 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, and so on, and then I begin again. 

Let’s all take a minute to be aware of our breath today – for without it, we would not be here. Even on the bad days. 

i won’t quit, i want more.

This blog post has been bubbling up in my throat all day. I knew I had something to write, but as I moved through the motions of my day, I didn’t know what it was yet. It started out as a feeling of anxiety – tightness in my chest and shoulders, feeling like I was going to vomit – and turned into whirling thoughts in my head that I couldn’t stop. I tried everything that normally helps me when I’m feeling this way – writing, reading, painting, meditation, and even a nap – nothing worked. Eventually the tears came.

I have been feeling like a bit of a mess since returning to Ontario. A lot of crying, sleeping, isolating myself, and just a general feeling of overwhelming sadness. I feel weak, physically and mentally, and I feel like giving up; I feel quite a bit like I did when I first moved here.

Here’s the difference between then and now: Now I am able to recognize these feelings. I am able to say to myself, its okay to feel what you’re feeling, but you have to keep going.

So, I went to yoga. I cried the whole way there in the car, but I got my butt into the studio and onto my mat. I inhaled and exhaled until my body knew it wasn’t in fight or flight mode anymore, I was safe. During many points in the class I wanted to just lie down and cry (it wouldn’t have been the first time) but I didn’t. I told myself that after class I could run to my car and cry the whole way home. But I didn’t. I felt just a little calmer, and I felt ready to write.

On the way home, a song came on the radio, and I couldn’t help but turn it as loud as it could go, and sing at the top of my lungs – the lyrics felt fitting for my day.

My body – Young the Giant sings in the song, “My body tells me no / But I won’t quit / Cause I want more”.

And I won’t quit. Not today.

adjusting, again.

It was really hard for me to leave Newfoundland, for a second time in three months. Even though I was only there for a week, it took no time at all to adjust back to the way of life I lived while I was happy there: surrounded by friends and family, walks along the harbour, and meals at my favourite restaurants. It was perfect.

But I had to say farewell once again, because as I said in my post last week, my journey to health is here.

What I didn’t expect was how I would feel when I got back to Ontario. I felt out of place, unwanted, unwelcomed. I felt alienated from my family here, and instead of talking to them about it, I isolated myself from them. I felt as though they should have known how hard it was for me to come back here again – but after taking some time to think about the skills I learned in my therapy program, I realized this was an unrealistic expectation of them. They are not mind readers, and I offered no line of communication. In the end, I made it harder on myself by choosing to be alone.

This isn’t the first time I have felt this way. When I first moved here three months ago, I just wanted to be alone in my room and cry. On top of my other diagnoses, my psychologist diagnosed me with something called adjustment disorder: moving back to Ontario to live with my parents while finalizing my divorce was all too much for me. I couldn’t adjust properly to my surroundings, which therefore caused added stress in my life and in my relationships.

Part of this disorder is explained here as: ¬†“You experience more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful event”. ¬†I would say this is something I experienced travelling back from Newfoundland this past Friday.

What I would like to work on is knowing that contentment is within myself, and not within a place – I won’t find it in an apartment, or a city, and not in a province. It is here, in my heart, and wherever my heart takes me.

until next time.

As I mentally prepare myself to leave this little island for the second time in three months, I am reminded of a song that my father sang to me as a young girl. His deep baritone voice washed away my cares from the day, and lulled me to sleep in just minutes.

The song, Isle of Newfoundland, sung here by Roy Payne, can be listened to by clicking the link, and you can read along to the lyrics below. (blog post continues after)

Isle of Newfoundland 

In the cold Canadian waters north from the coast of Maine
There’s an island called Newfoundland swept by snow wind and rain
On the island there’s a village with its customs and its ways
The little town of Carmanville my home of childhood days

Those childhood days were something carefree all the time
There’s a girl in every story and you know there’s one in mine
She broke my heart so often and it stays a little sore
That’s the reason I left home and can’t go back no more

Where the people make a living on the land and on the sea
There are people on the island that mean the world to me
I wish I had the power to change the course of time
And live again in Newfoundland my home of childhood times

I’d like to watch the fishing boats as they sail across the bay
To see again the farmers sow his seeds and cut the hay
Well this island has no strangers cause everybody is your friend
This little isle called Newfoundland oh I’d sure love to see it again

To live again in Newfoundland my home of childhood times

 

Since arriving here on Friday morning, I have felt that my departure date has been looming over my head (I even extended my flight by four days). So why must I leave? Because my journey to health begins in Ontario, and, while it shatters my heart to leave my family, my friends, and a great love, I know that to be the best version of myself, I have to step forward into the unknown.

So – here’s to Newfoundland, and my next few days enjoying everything it has to offer. And to everyone else taking their steps into the unknown, I will leave you with a Newfoundland blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
Long may your big jib draw.

shannon

St. John’s Harbour

a place where it doesn’t hurt.

In early November of 2016, I stayed with my parents in Ontario for about five weeks. It was a tough time for me – my depression had reared its ugly head, and was a weight on my shoulders that wouldn’t let me up. I was drowning.

When I arrived in Ontario, I slept for days. My depression had led to strep throat, which became bronchitis, which turned into me sleeping for nearly twenty hours a day. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was crying.

I remember one Sunday in particular. I woke up and the sunshine was coming through my window, and I felt instantly energized. I wanted to be outside. It was even warm – winter hadn’t yet begun, and the air still smelled of that crisp autumn earthy smell. My parents asked me to go for a walk with them, and for the first time in nearly a week, I left the house.

We walked for maybe half an hour. At the beginning of the walk I was so full of hope РCould this be the start of my healing? Is it this easy? Did I just need to see the sun? 

But after about ten minutes, a dark cloud moved in, casting a shadow over only me; the sun still shone for the rest of the world.

You will never be happy. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life crying in bed?

I started to cry, walked ahead of my parents, and lead the way home. I walked into the backyard and sat on the patio stairs. Dad came and sat beside me and let me cry into his shoulder.

I will never forget the conversation we had next:

“Dad, I wish I had cancer. Because then I would have something wrong with me that people could see, and I wouldn’t feel so ashamed to feel this way.”

“I know sweetie, depression is hard.”

“Dad, I don’t want to live anymore. I just want to say good-bye to my family and friends, and just go some place where it doesn’t hurt.”

This was the first time I had said the words out loud – The first time I said them to another human being – They were no longer just scribbles in my journal. Someone else finally knew how I felt, and it was freeing.

 

I am not sharing this story to make you sad (even though I have shed a tear or two while sitting here writing it), but I am sharing it to show you how far I have come.

I know that it feels like it’s going to last forever, but it won’t. I promise. It’s not all good, but it’s not all bad either. Your dark cloud will go away, the weight will lift, and the tears will dry. I believe in you.

 

I love you, Dad.

 

perspective.

How do you see yourself through your eyes? How do you see yourself through the eyes of others? Is there a difference?

In the therapy course I attend, we discuss this quite often: Why is understanding perspective necessary? How is it that two people can see the same situation differently? What is perspective?

Once again, I will call on Merriam-Webster for an official definition, “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed; places the issues in proper perspective (point of view).¬†The capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance ‘trying to maintain my perspective’¬†“.

Besides thinking about perspective in therapy, it has been coming up a lot at home as well. I try to see situations from another persons’ point of view if we are having a discussion or perhaps a disagreement. And that technique has allowed me to be quite a bit more self aware and generally more calm. It is important to understand that each individual will see things from their own perspective, because each individual experiences different emotions, holds different values, and has different skills. And that is what makes the world go ’round.

But a situation arose this past weekend that sort of through me for a loop:

I met up with an old acquaintance from childhood; we have known each other since before kindergarten, playing hide-and-seek on the back streets of our neighbourhood. Hide-and-seek turned to grade school, grade school to high school, and then we eventually lost touch.

We met for drinks with other acquaintances from younger years, and over the course of the evening a couple references were made to how these people viewed me when we were younger – my life, from their perspective. A very different life than the one that I lived. They knew a Shannon that I had never met.

Apparently, from their perspective, I looked like I had it all.

What I had in high school was a turbulent relationship with an alcoholic mother; I had pressure from friends to drink alcohol and use drugs, and I found myself in situations that were less than desirable. I put pressure on myself to be as good/fit/smart as my older sister. I was bullied in grade school, and the first two years of high school; eventually I became a bully to hide my real emotions – something that still holds deep regret in my heart. Most days I skipped class to avoid the hallways of people. I was depressed, and at times I was suicidal, and I couldn’t wait to never step foot in the hallways of that school again.

Today I will ask you to challenge yourself to see someone from a different perspective. Perhaps that person looks like he or she has it all together, but in reality they could really use a friendly smile, or a helping hand. Look under the social expectations and material possessions that we hide behind, and call on yourself to be better. Look deeper. Be kinder. Smile.

 

the electricity that runs through us.

When I spent a week on the psych ward at the hospital, I met a man named Jonathan (whose name has been changed for obvious reasons). He is thirty-eight years old, Caucasian, and has the saddest eyes I have ever seen. His face is gentle and approachable, and with no facial hair, he looks ten years his junior. His hair is brown with a sprinkle of red, quite curly, pulled back under a baseball hat. He is so open, and his honesty kept my stay on the ward a little more bearable.

I was checking my email on one of the two computers accessible to inpatients, and he sat beside me on the other. He asked me how I was feeling – it was my first night on the ward. He asked me why I was there, and after my response, I asked him the same question.

He tried to hang himself – twice, in the past month. The first time in his bathroom over the door, but his weight was too heavy for the rope and he fell, and smashed his face on the bathroom tile. The second time from underneath his back patio. His second attempt was also unsuccessful, and after being found by his mother, he was sent to the lock down ward. He said he couldn’t speak for a while after because of the damage to his throat, and his face was pretty beat up and bruised.

Jonathan is bipolar, which means that he experiences extreme mood swings from complete depression, to emotional highs much like a feeling of euphoria. He told me he had been pretty even keel for the past twelve years – he hadn’t had an episode since he was twenty-six. But, much like what I have experienced in depression, one small thing went wrong, followed by another, and another, and another, until he found himself in a downward spiral, with a noose around his neck.

During my stay on the ward ¬†Jonathan’s psychiatrist was experimenting with different medications to find the perfect “cocktail” to suit Jonathan’s needs. This is pretty standard when dealing with mental health – everyone’s brain, and needs are so vastly different that not all medications do the same thing for each person. But the side effects are usually a zombie-like state of feeling nothing, and dead eyes. Jonathan told me that he was getting to the end of experimenting with medications – he had tried them all, and nothing was working, and finally his psychiatrist suggested ECT.

Scary, right? I had no idea that doctors today still use electroconvulsive therapy. But, it’s much safer these days – patients are under anesthetic, and less electricity is used in each session. ECT is used when other medications fail, and apparently it can reverse the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, like depression, or bipolar disorder.

So, as I was being discharged, Jonathan was preparing to attend weekly ECT.

I hadn’t seen him in almost five weeks when I ran into him in the hospital hallways late last week. I said a big hello, and he greeted me with a hug. Then I noticed his slowed, almost slurred speech. He told me his treatments were almost complete, and he would soon be able to go home. He said hopefully the slowed speech would wear off, but the doctors couldn’t be sure. He had lost some short-term memories, and was hopeful those would come back too.

 

To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I’m writing about him today. I mostly just wanted to share his story too. To let people know that it’s more than just depression out there – that real people are experiencing real things and they shouldn’t be looked past.

 

I wish you all the best in your journey, Jonathan. Thank you for sharing your story with me.

she was free.

In addition to my writing here, I also keep a journal filled with thoughts, quotes, notes to myself, and sometimes, creative writing.

Today I would like to share with you an excerpt from a journal entry that I wrote five days after being admitted to the psychiatric ward.

 

February 15th, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. What happens when we die? What comes next?
Perhaps it is a little something like this…

“She took her last earthly breath; for a split second as her lungs grew heavy and her last breath dissipated into the outside air, ¬†she felt a burst of panic. She felt the deep sadness that was her life.

And then it all went away. 

Every twisted thought of causing harm to her own body had disappeared. The overwhelming emptiness she fought every day, was gone. Her pain, both physical and emotional, ceased to exist.

She was free.

The darkness turned into a vast infinite space. The universe enveloped her, cradled her like a baby, and presented to her gleaming galaxies and uncharted nebulae. She cupped her hands and held a star, and felt its’ warmth coursing through her veins.¬†

She did not feel sadness for leaving her loved ones behind, for she knew they would meet again.

But now it was her time. Her time to rejoice in her new life – for her soul was at peace, and her smile would never fade.”

 

One thing that I deeply struggle with as I fight my battle with mental illness, is the thought of suicide. When is it too much to handle? When will I want to bow down, wave my white flag and surrender? What am I even fighting for?

I have to wake up every morning, and actively choose life.

And I do. I did yesterday, and I did today, and hopefully I will again tomorrow, and the day after that. But it is never easy.

If you have a loved one struggling with mental illness, please take the time today, and every day, to tell them how much you love them, so that they too, may continue to choose life.