Welcome

Hello!

I’m a mental health advocate determined to reduce stigma and influence policy change so brain health is treated quickly and effectively.

Navigating the site:

The Wellness Tab contains articles on maintaining health and wellness.

The Kate’s Journal Tab contains my personal blog. My hope is that by sharing my triumphs and struggles with depression and anxiety, alongside the professional work I do on the same site, I will help lessen the mental illness stigma.

The re-ID Tab contains a collection of articles I wrote for musician re-ID.

The TDTC2014 Tab contains articles about my experience at the Transforming Depression Through Connections conference, which brought together researchers, health care workers, people with lived experience, and politicians to discuss depression and PTSD.

The Eat Your Way Through Depression Tab contains information on my project to create a practical cooking guide for people with depression. A free ebook is available now.

Would you like me to write for your publication? Contact me through the form below, or at kate @ kateahendry .com with your needs. I will respond within 48 hours.

Thank you for visiting and I hope to connect with you soon!

name Kate

Mental health and the municipal elections

DSCN0436Last night at the Ward 1 (Acton) Councillors Debate for this month’s municipal election, I asked the 4 candidates in attendance this question:

“If elected, what will you do to increase the health of the people in both mind and body?”

That wording wasn’t clear enough, so I repeated the question. I was nervous to ask the question in front of a room full of people, but battled my anxiety to ask again:

“How would you improve both the physical and mental health of people living in Acton?”

The moderator had to rephrase the question again. I don’t want to make assumptions as to why the question was difficult to understand, so I will chalk that problem up to me not speaking loudly or clearly enough.

Here is my interpretation of the answers from the four gentlemen – Jon Hurst, Geoff Maltby, Mike O’Leary, and Robert Bedard.

  1. There are many facilities such as the arena, the indoor soccer field, the outdoor sports fields, and the swimming pool to increase one’s physical health. If we create happy families that will help people’s mental health.
  2. People who walk around downtown can’t be removed, and he doesn’t like the direction the town is heading in.
  3. The Town has a Trails and Cycling committee, and many people walk to improve their health. Unfortunately, Acton is the only urban centre in the region of Halton without a hospital or psychiatrist.
  4. There are many facilities for physical health, but the more important aspect to my question is the mental health side. We need to talk more openly about mental health to break the stigma. Last week there was a speaker in Acton talking about mental health, and while he unfortunately couldn’t attend, more events like it should take place

A day later I have many mixed emotions about the above answers. Shock, disgust, bewilderment, disdain, and anger are pulsing through me.  It is clear more education is required, so I’m going to take some time to explain my views on the mental health situation in Acton.

The facilities available for physical health in Acton were mentioned, but nobody spoke of the services available for mental health. The following organizations can all be accessed in Acton:

  • The North Halton Mental Health Clinic. Despite what we heard last night, Acton is served by two psychiatrists and two mental health nurses. These services are free of charge. Patients need to be referred by their family physician, although people without a family doctor can call the clinic directly. They are part of the Halton Region Health Department, .
  • Summit Housing and Outreach Programs. Summit provides affordable housing, and is one of several agencies in the region which provide support workers. They run groups, programs, events, and trips for people with mental health issues to meet each other and alleviate some of their symptoms. They are a non-profit charitable organization funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network.
  • STRIDE. Their “primary purpose is to serve the employment needs of individuals facing mental health and addiction issues”. They are  a non-profit, charitable program.
  • COAST. COAST stands for Crisis Outreach and Support Team. They can be contacted at 1-877-825-9011 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will work with people over the phone to create a safety plan. They also have a mobile unit who may visit a person in crisis to provide support and safety. This is run through a partnership between the Halton Region Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Halton Regional Police Service.

As for what Town Council can do to improve the mental health of the people of Acton and Halton Hills? Here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed this morning:

  • Create a Mental Health Committee
  • Meet with the organizations in the town and region to educate yourselves on what the needs are for better health
  • Update the Town of Halton Hills website to include a page listing mental health resources in town.
  • Adopt the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace for Town Hall.
    • Create a press release to share how you are prioritising the mental health of town employees
    • Challenge every place of employment in the town to join you in adopting ‘the Standard’
  • Work with the above listed agencies to provide subsidized recreation passes to their clients
  • Encourage people with mental illnesses to apply for the ActiVan if they need assistance to get to health services
  • Issue press releases during Mental Health Week, Mental Illness Awareness Week etc calling on all citizens to engage in dialogue to reduce stigma
  • Tell the federal government you want a National Suicide Prevention Fund as you do not want to lose any Halton Hills residents to suicide
  • Request additional psychiatric support, particularly for children and youth who must currently travel to Milton
  • Provide transportation to people who may need to travel to Milton or Oakville for treatment

Mental health is important, and impacts every area of our lives. The Mental Health Commission of Canada found mental illnesses “place a significant burden on Canada’s
economy with the annual economic impact of over $48.6 billion dollars in 2011 and with the present values of the cumulative cost over the next 30 years exceeding $2.5 trillion”. Read the entire report here.

As citizens, we must demand action, awareness, and an open dialogue on mental health issues from our elected officials. Please let them know this issue is important to you.

You need to do what you need to do

I have been busy like a bee. Sorry if it has taken men away from you.
I have been busy like a bee. Sorry if it has taken me away from you.

I took a leave of absence from blogging, and truthfully, from communicating at all with many people. It wasn’t personal, I didn’t have a massive breakdown and end up in the hospital, but I did go quiet. I have 10 Facebook messages I haven’t even opened. People have worried because of my silence. People have been hurt because I haven’t replied. People have been irritated if not angry with me. And for that I am very sorry. It was never personal. It wasn’t about you.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the behavioural consequences of having a mental illness, and the responsibility I have for my actions. I don’t want to act in a way that negatively affects others, but that is impossible. I want to be capable of doing everything I want to do, but that is impossible. I know impossible is a bad word in these times where we can do anything if we put our minds to it. The problem is my mind is broken.

Recently I was invited to a meeting where people concerned about the mental health services in Acton got together to share ideas on what we can do to make things better. I understood when I decided to go it was very likely I would take a role where I explained, based on my personal experience, what it is like to live with a serious mental illness. I understood this would be stressful for me, as I still expect negative backlash. An irrational fear to have with a group of people professed to wanting to make things better, but there nonetheless. It was a worthwhile stress for me, but I knew I would need to be careful not to overload myself before and after the meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, we were asked to stand to introduce ourselves. The first woman did not want to stand. Truly, no one wanted to stand. She did stand though after some grumbling. The next woman also stood as she introduced herself. I was next. I panicked, because it was difficult enough for me to be there. It was difficult enough to have the attention of this group on me. It was difficult enough to explain my role as someone living with mental illness. I made a split second decision not to stand, realizing that extra effort was likely enough to put me out of commission for the rest of the week. It may seem improbable, you might be thinking I’m exaggerating, but the reality of my life is that there is a limit to what I can do and still be able to function well.

I heard comments of “oh, we have a rebel” when I declared I would stay sitting. Those didn’t bother me, but it took all of my energy in that moment to introduce myself. My brain was on high alert looking out for danger, so I could not explain the importance of that decision when I made it. I could not, in the moment, explain that those of us with illnesses often have to rebel. We can’t always be polite. We can’t always be on our best behaviour. We can’t always do everything we want to do.

But it’s not all bad. While my summer was stressful for a variety of reasons, I have many reasons to be happy and grateful. Every Wednesday night I run a therapeutic writing group in Acton for the Summit Housing and Outreach Programs organization. As the group leader, my job is to be there for the other group members, but they have helped me just as much. At the end of October I will be speaking about my volunteer experience to launch Summit’s Volunteer program, an evening to which I am both nervously and excitedly looking forward.

I also started working as a part-time writing for Acton’s The New Tanner newspaper. I was terrified to apply, and quite honestly I am still nervous every time I interview someone new. But they are fears worth tackling. I love this job. I love when people get excited and look forward to seeing themselves in the upcoming paper. I love learning about my community. And I really do appreciate the opportunity to challenge these fears which frustrate me to no end. Although typing that, I hope I do challenge them to an end.

I’ve made improvements in my resiliency over the past 5 months, but that came at a cost. I sacrificed blogging, I sacrificed replying to emails and messages from my friends. Some of the silence was also due to depression and not wanting to admit all was not perfect. And then I didn’t reply because I felt guilty for being depressed and not having the energy or brain capacity to reply. I did not think my reason was a valid excuse. I don’t like that I can’t do everything. I don’t want to admit I’m not superhuman.

I am sorry. Next time, because I’m not so naïve to think there won’t be another period of my life where I shut down, next time I will try to send out a warning message or blog post. I will even write it here so all I have to do is copy and paste.

Hey,

I’m super overwhelmed at the moment and I need to take a step back to care for myself. If I don’t get back to you, please know that it’s not you, it’s me. I hope to take steps to get me quickly back on track. Those steps may include relaxing activities to distract my mind from destructive thoughts. If you see me out for a walk or bike ride, but I haven’t replied to your message, please don’t be offended. I need to do what I need to do in the limited hours and energy I have. I hope to get back to you soon. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for understanding.

Love you lots,
Kate

Abortion: Are respectful discussions possible?

After careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason for this current depression I’m in is because I’m back to being terrified of standing out, of being noticed, of angering someone with my words. After more careful consideration, I’ve decided I still want to write. And I still want to write publicly and advocate for mental health. I can’t think of anything every person in the entire world agrees on, so I have to accept that some people will disagree with some of what I write. I have to accept that some people will get angry with what I write, and realize the chances of their anger resulting in violence against me is slim.

So with all that considered, I am going to write about one of the more contentious issues today. There will absolutely be people who disagree with what I write. There will probably be people angry with my opinions. I welcome your thoughts if you disagree with what follows in this post. I just ask that you reply with respect. If you agree with what I write and you want to voice your support, I also ask that you reply with respect to those who disagree.

Abortion.

What thoughts and feelings does that word bring up for you? For me, it brings up anger and sorrow, guilt and relief. I’ve had an abortion. It was the worst experience of my life. I would never have one again, and I would never advise someone to get one. I think it is a horrific procedure.

I got pregnant when I was 23. The pregnancy resulted from having sex with someone I thought I loved and had planned on marrying at one point. We weren’t, strictly speaking, a couple anymore. My self-esteem was at an all time low, in no small way due to him. I had tried to kill myself 5 months earlier. I didn’t think anyone could ever love me. I was a mess. Definitely not ideal motherhood conditions.

I was having a very bad day when I found out I was pregnant. I had to tell friends I couldn’t move in with them because I found out the man who raped me lived in their neighbourhood. They didn’t believe me and I lost our friendship over it. My cat, who was living with other friends, was coughing up blood and at the vet. I was nervous to meet my old manager to ask for my job back at the university. Why I decided that would be a good morning to take a pregnancy test in a mall bathroom stall is beyond me, but that is what I did, and that is where I found out a little human was quickly developing inside me.

I had half an hour before I was to meet my manager. I walked around the block a few times waiting for the restaurant to open. I cried, and then took a deep breath. It was now essential I got my job back. And choose the healthiest lunch possible.

To my surprise and relief, my manager wanted me to work for her again. She even wanted me to have a senior position with a pay increase. And, as an employee of student housing, I could live on campus at a reduced rate for the summer. Good. I had employment and (inexpensive) housing for the next four months.

Next I met my friend at the vet. My cat Tabatha was ok, but I needed to buy some medication for her from the pharmacy. “Perfect”, I thought. “I need to buy vitamins from the pharmacy. I need to give my baby the proper nutrients. I’ll look for folic acid”.

To be sure, I was terrified. I joked with my friends that night I needed a drink to deal with this, but under no circumstances would I drink alcohol. I had a tiny life growing in me, and I had to protect her/him. I was already in love with my child.

I’ve read about the different times parents fall in love with their children. Some are like me, and it hits us early. Some fall in love at birth. I don’t think one is better than the other, and I’m not sure we can control when it happens. But I suspect this may have something to do with the split between the pro-choice and pro-life factions. Before I became pregnant, I couldn’t understand why some people would continue with a pregnancy when they clearly weren’t at a stage in life to raise a child. After I became pregnant and loved the life inside me, I couldn’t understand how anyone would want death to come to someone I loved, or any of the other little humans growing inside their mothers.

My family who knew about my pregnancy didn’t want me to give birth. After initially agreeing to raise our baby together, the father had a change in heart. He didn’t think we should. He told me he didn’t trust himself to be a father. He told me he was attracted to young girls, and was afraid he would abuse either our child, or our child’s friends once they got to a certain age. He didn’t want our child to exist. He didn’t want me to give our child a life and a home with a different set of parents. It was us together (which wasn’t going to happen) or no baby at all.

As there are no laws in Canada about abortion, I should have been entitled to choice in the matter. But as someone who was ill and too weak to stand up for myself, I did not have a choice; I had to have an abortion. So I can understand the outrage of the thought of laws requiring women to give birth whether they want to or not. Women have been oppressed, ignored, and disrespected for most of history, and still in so many ways today. But I loved my child before it was born. He or she had her own DNA, and although in Canada not legally defined as a person, she was her own self. She was not just a part of my body. And I think she was entitled to the right of life.

But what about the threat of abuse from her father? I don’t think taking away a person’s chance at life is a good way to offer protection. I’d like to think my parents are happy they gave me life, even though I’ve experienced pain and abuse. As much as I want to die at times due to the ongoing PTSD symptoms I suffer because I was raped, I’m glad I wasn’t preemptively killed to spare me the pain. I hope, if given the chance, my parents wouldn’t choose to go back in time and take away my life.

(I should also mention, to be fair to the father and for those who know who I’m describing, he later told me it was all a lie. That he said those things to get me to have an abortion because he didn’t want to be with me. So, you can decide which is the lie, and whether or not he should be monitored around children and young teens.)

I mentioned I feel anger, sorrow, guilt, and relief. Anger at the people who couldn’t see my child as a child and encouraged me to have her killed. Sorrow at the loss of her life. Guilt because I didn’t stop what I knew was wrong. And relief. I’m relieved I’m not in that relationship anymore. I’m relieved I’ve been able to grow in self-respect. A friend told me recently he could not imagine I would date someone who didn’t respect me. I agree. But had I stayed in that relationship to raise a child together, I doubt that would be the case today. Abortion is complicated.

I don’t know what the solution is to get to a point where no one wants abortions to happen, all pregnancies are greeted with joy, and we don’t have to fight over the rights of a woman versus the rights of a fetus. The ideal, but unrealistic solution, of course, is for people to only have sex if they would be happy with it resulting in a child.

Can we take steps in that direction though? Can we, for instance, teach our children and young people to believe it is absolutely unthinkable to force sex on another person? Can we maybe instill a culture where denying or delaying our own pleasure is looked upon with admiration?

As someone who has been raped, I’m always uncomfortable with any discussion which assumes it is impossible for people to not have sex. I have higher expectations for myself. I’ve been in the position where I wanted to have sex, but the person I was with did not. I accepted his boundaries, and dealt with the frustrations of my unmet desires. I’ve also been in the position where I wanted to have sex, but didn’t want to risk getting pregnant. Neither did he. We didn’t have sex. It’s not an easy decision to make in the heat of the moment. I think we cheat ourselves out of a more fulfilling life by lowering the expectations we have for ourselves and assuming we can’t make hard choices. To remove the risk of being called a hypocrite, I will admit to having had sex without considering the consequences. This is why I think it is unrealistic to ask people to only have sex when they would welcome a child. It’s really a very difficult expectation to have.

Once I physically healed from the abortion, my former fiancé tried to have sex with me again. I cried and said no while he was on top of me, and fortunately he stopped. We never saw each other again after that day. I’m glad I finally said no, and I’m lucky that was the end of our relationship.

Not every woman who gets an abortion is in a toxic or abusive relationship, but I would like to see more support given to the women who are. A prescription for birth control pills did not help me out of a bad situation. Quite the opposite in fact. The ability to have “consequence-free” sex makes it easier to stay in a bad relationship. If I hadn’t found the abortion so horrific, I might still be with him, or someone equally disrespectful. It took me a long time to find my self-worth. At the very least they could give the contact numbers for women’s shelters and counseling groups to their patients.

One group which offers help to women with unexpected pregnancies is the Sisters of Life. While yes, they are a group of Catholic sisters (nuns), you don’t have to be Catholic or religious at all to receive their help. They are a group of women who deeply respect the women they serve. I respect them immensely as women who are doing something concrete and practical to help other women. Take a look at their website here.

I’d like to see a world where we actually respect one another. Where we can debate serious issues like this without resorting to name-calling. Where we can accept being rejected without calling the other person a bitch or an asshole. Where we can ask for what we want in relationships, and kindly end those where our needs aren’t being met. Where we consider how our actions impact others, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Where we apologize when wrong. Where we use our strengths and powers responsibly.

I hope I haven’t offended you by sharing this part of my life. If I have, I hope I can still have your respect and count on a life without abuse or harassment, even with what you consider to be an offensive opinion.

Fear and depression get a rematch

I finally admitted to myself yesterday that I’m back to being quite depressed. I had to lean against the wall while taking a shower before kneeling and finally resting my head on the bathtub floor while the water flowed over me. I got out and curled up on the floor. “I need to do something about this,” I told myself.

This has been a five-week decline. I haven’t been in complete denial about it. But I haven’t been as proactive in protecting my mental health as I could have. Better late than never in making necessary changes,

I had a really good conversation with a friend yesterday. As I tried to explain what is going on in my head, he said it seems like I’m afraid of people. That pretty much sums up my brain when it takes a turn for the worse, and I’ve been living in hiding more and more these days. Sorry for all the birthdays I haven’t acknowledged on Facebook. It’s become one of the scarier places to hang out.

I had felt really good for months, and I thought I was finally on the forever good side of mental health. I started writing as if I could lead from the position of good health. And in this moment I can’t. My health is not in good shape. I’m actually quite ill.

I have it in me to lead from the trenches though.

I finished reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open, last night. I didn’t care about tennis before reading this book. I barely knew who Andre Agassi was, but from the first page it has changed my life. He documents his struggles with depression and injuries. I don’t want to give away his story, but I will say it inspires me to pick myself up and train for the life I know could be in my future.

I told myself I was writing my cook book for a future me if I became depressed again. I thought the book would be finished before I needed it, but maybe it’s best to write it from this perspective. Harder, but better.

Since the hardest part of this post will be hitting the publish button, I’m going to end it here and press the button before I think too much about it and left my fear take over. My intention is to write again soon with a more detailed plan on what I will do to ensure I spend more time in upright positions than lying down.

Is there still respect in the world?

no greater agonyI’ve been unable to write for a week. I’ve been unable to do much of anything except sleep. There is a lot happening in my life right now, and some of it is not pleasant, but my writer’s block has to do with one event in particular.

I’ve been afraid to write about it. But Maya Angelou was correct when she said, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. So I guess today is another day for facing fears. Which also means the writing will be crap. I’m fighting my brain big time to get this out, so style is de-prioritized.

A couple of weeks ago a new acquaintance started commenting on pictures I had on my Eat Your Way Through Depression Facebook Page in a way that made me uncomfortable and angry. Sex is a sensitive topic for me. I never want to hear someone tell me I’m sexy – it makes me want to gag. And I certainly don’t want to make eating to support mental health about sex.

I understand sex is a big part of our culture, I understand I’m considered a prude to many, but that’s the way I am. I told this person how I felt, asked him not to post similar comments in the future, and emphasized I am not attracted to him and we will never have a romantic relationship.

I consulted a group of friends during all this because it was overwhelming for me, and to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. The general consensus was if I made my feelings clear, he would understand and respect my wishes. No need to worry.

The reaction I got back was infuriating. He disregarded everything I said.

“…I can’t wrap my head around the idea of dating someone who has children my age, so it will not happen between you and me”

was countered with

“And yes, you could be a daughter; but, you are not. i gravitate to special people of any age and gender. Chhrono age doesnot matter to me a whole lot; since, i am way younger than 63 yrs”

“Comments like “you make clementines look sexy” and “you obviously know the way to a man’s heart” distract from that message. Under no circumstances do I want to promote the idea that a person should cook to get a romantic relationship”

was countered with

“I will respond to my food comments another time; but, food and love are pretty synonymous… hard to deal with one without including the other”

I was advised to let him know any further communication would be considered harassment and to then block him from Facebook/my life. I did just that, and he messaged me from a different Facebook account. Thankfully, that has been the last I’ve heard from him. His final message put the blame on me – I misunderstood him and should have let him explain himself over the phone.

He also chastised me for keeping that link open, as if I was supposed to know he has two Facebook accounts. This pissed me off almost more than everything else. It’s details like this which skew a story. I think of it as a Woody Allen tactic.

In the grand scheme of life, this was a tiny event and it ended well. I stood up for myself and my boundaries, and although not at first, those boundaries were respected.

I’m wary though. He wasn’t the first disrespectful person I’ve met, and I doubt he will be the last. Part of me wants to close up shop and hide away. That’s what I’ve been doing this week. If I stay inside I’ll never be treated like a silly little girl whose opinions don’t matter. I’ll never be looked at solely as a body for someone else’s use.

But silence is agony.

This incident brings to mind a few topics I could write about, such as

  • kindness not equaling flirtation
  • how to respectfully listen to and debate differing opinions
  • love not equaling sex

So, stay tuned for future blog posts.

To end this post, I want to emphasize how terrifying it is for me to write and publish this. I’m afraid there will be negative consequences for opening my mouth. I don’t think this person is dangerous, and still I’m scared.

The thing is, the agony of silence is worse than the consequences of speaking up. I – we – must remember that simple truth.

Fire Took Our Church Building, But Not Us

sainteliasMy church burnt to the ground yesterday morning.

I haven’t written about my faith on this blog for a number of reasons. It was close to nonexistent last year when I started writing. Religion is a touchy subject and I didn’t want to offend anyone. A belief in God is a mystery, and I’m not equipped to properly explain why I would choose to do such a foolish thing. But my church burnt to the ground yesterday. My heart weeps and so I write.

I didn’t grow up going to church. I wasn’t a religious person. Having a vague belief in God seemed like the thing to do, but I didn’t know what that meant to me.

When I was 22 I desperately wanted to die. I spent a month researching how I would do so and came up with a plan. I’m not going to detail the plan because it was from posts like this that I found my ideas. So let me just say this. If you’re reading this because you too want to die, please reach out to someone you love. Or a stranger, or a crisis line, or your local hospital. It is much nicer to go to the psychiatric floor of a hospital without first spending time in intensive care. Life got better for me, and it can for you too.

Anyway, I had my plan. I measured and consumed the amount of poison which would kill me based on my weight. I took extra, just in case. I was very sick for 3 days on my bathroom floor, but I didn’t die. I didn’t want my friends to find me, so I called 911.

A few days later my kidneys still weren’t working. I was on dialysis, and heard the doctors say if I didn’t start peeing that night, I would likely need dialysis for the rest of my life. I was furious. Not only didn’t I die, but I would be tied to a machine forever.

I told this vague idea of God I had that He was an Asshole and I hated Him. Why would He give me such misery in my life and not let me die? During these thoughts, a new voice entered my head. It said, “You won’t die by suicide. And I need you”. I was freaked out because those were not my thoughts. My nurse that night asked if she could pray for me. I didn’t care, so she did. A few minutes later I peed. By the time I left the hospital there were no marks that my kidneys had been damaged at all. One month later a doctor confirmed my kidneys were perfectly healthy and I didn’t need any follow up visits.

Just over a year later I was driving with a Roman Catholic friend along highway 7 from Brampton to Acton. He saw a church in the distance with domes, not a typical sight. After a brief visit where we learned it was a Ukrainian Catholic church, he made plans to attend Mass there with another friend. I didn’t want to be left out that weekend, so I asked if I could come too.

I was nervous to go. I had nightmares about the church burning down as I crossed the threshold. (Brain, please note I was nowhere near the church when it did burn. This is not my fault.) We stepped inside and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was the most beautiful building I had ever been in. The Liturgy (Eastern Christian word for Mass) was in Ukrainian that week. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I cried and cried and cried from the beauty.

Icons of saints looked down on me from the walls and ceilings. The congregational singing pierced my heart with a joy I didn’t know existed. The scent of the incense told me this was no ordinary place.

There were no pews or seats, so we stood for the 2 hour service. After a cup of coffee we left into the bright, snowy outdoors to drive home. But not before the priest ran out of the church asking our names and who we were. He invited us back the next week when the Liturgy would be in English.

This is the true beauty of Fr. Roman and what he has nurtured at Saint Elias. He sees the beauty in each of us and welcomes us into his family. He encourages and expects us to do the same.

A year and a half later we returned. That beautiful church had captured my heart and I wanted to belong. After more than a decade of depression, anxiety, vigilance, heartache, and misery, I found a place where I could breathe. I found a place of hope, and I found a place where I didn’t want to die.

I don’t blame people who hate the Catholic Church. We are a church founded on love, but too often that love doesn’t burst through the buildings or the people. I moved to Vancouver and found no love in the few churches I attended. I was not welcomed, nor greeted. I was not encouraged to sing. The great traditions of our Greek origins had been cast aside and reduced to nothing. I cried in church, but they were not tears of joy.

I understand if you want to tell me I’m crazy for asking to be baptized into the Church in my mid-twenties. All I can say to that is, if crazy means mentally ill, I was crazy before joining the church. And now I refuse suicide as an option, even if I still think about it. I think that’s healthier and less crazy.

In Vancouver I felt alone and raged against God in my thoughts. And still, I kept my icons up. I spoke with Saint Catherine, and sometimes brought her icon down to my bed so I wouldn’t sleep alone. Maybe that is silly, and maybe that is crazy. But with her I didn’t try to die.

I can’t defend the horrible things people have done while professing a love for God. I can only ask that you don’t judge me in association.

My building of peace, joy, and solace is gone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about how I will cope. But my spiritual family of Saint Elias is strong. We gathered yesterday and shared many tears. With the tears, there was hope. There was laughter. There was love. And there was a determination to continue on. That is the beauty of Saint Elias. That is the beauty which will sustain me and give me strength.

Nightmares: There’s Treatment for That

On March 26th and 27th, I participated in the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network’s (CDRIN) inaugural Transforming Depression Through Connections conference in Ottawa. This is the first in a series of posts on my experiences at this conference as a person with lived experience.

Share this article if your doctor doesn't know how to treat nightmares.
Share this article if your doctor doesn’t know how to treat nightmares.

Thursday morning, bright and early at 8:30am, the panel on PTSD and Depression – Canadian Forces Perspective began. Col. (Dr.) Rakesh Jetly, the mental health advisor to the Surgeon General, opened by explaining Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is no longer considered a subset of anxiety disorders. In fact, we may discover in time it is Post Traumatic Depression. Changing this distinction will aid researchers to become more precise in learning what exactly happens in the brain, and how the different parts of the brain talk to each other. In theory, if not in practice, newly discovered research will allow clinicians to provide patients more effective care.

Col. Jetly also pointed out that 8% of civilians have PTSD; it is not just a military injury. As I am part of that 8%, I appreciated the shout out. And yes, injury is the correct word. Col. (Dr.) Eric Vermetten, Head of Research at The Netherlands’ Ministry of Defense’s Military Mental Health Program, praised Canada on using the term Operational Stress Injury (OSI). Just as a broken arm is an injury which heals with effective treatment, PTSD or OSIs are brain injuries which can heal with effective treatment.

Dr. Alexander Neumeister of the New York University Langone Medical Centre told us there is no drug specifically for PTSD. Not only that, but research shows current drugs are not effective in treating PTSD. Funny, because that is how every doctor wants to treat me. At least now when I refuse to take antidepressants which will not help me, and may even harm me with the side effects, I can confidently say research backs up my decision.

For me though, the bombshell dropped (an unintended pun) with Dr. Anne Germain’s presentation. Dr. Germain’s research at the University of Pittsburg focuses on stress-related sleep disturbances. She explained how people with PTSD often complain about poor sleep, which wasn’t showing up at sleep clinics. Researchers changed the way they monitor the sleeping brains, and found the vigilant parts of the brain do not rest during sleep, which leads to poor sleep quality. This was very validating information for me as I have been to a sleep clinic which found I did not have the sleep problem I insisted I had. Finally, I found confirmation my experience is real.

She went on to share the results of research which show the drug Prazosin, as well as modifying behaviours, are used successfully in treatment to reduce nightmares.

That is the moment my life changed. At first I felt overwhelming happiness and relief to learn there are treatments for my #1 complaint in terms of symptoms. Immediately I was also confused. Why have I never heard of this treatment? I have seen countless health care professionals. I have filled out dozens of questionnaires listing my symptoms and their severity. It is not a secret I suffer from chronic nightmares.

I figured, this must be a new drug and new research, right? During the question period I asked how practicing doctors are informed of this research, because the information has not gotten to me. My voice wavered as I told a room full of hundreds of people how much I need that treatment. Dr. Germain told me she would give me her card and email me PDFs of the medicine and behavioural component. Col. Jetly told me he would speak with my doctor if needed. Then he said, and I may be slightly paraphrasing, “we’re spoiled in the military. We’ve been using Prazosin for 13 years”.

I have no idea what he said after that. I starting sobbing uncontrollably. 13 years. 13 bloody years. Literally bloody, as I used to cut myself to ease my pain. What would my life be like now if at age 17 I was effectively treated for my nightmares? Would I have finished university? Would I have gone to law school like I once dreamed of doing? Would I have put myself at risk by drunkenly having one-night stands with complete strangers? Would I have left a relationship sooner which became quite damaging because I wouldn’t have needed his support when I woke shaking and crying in the middle of the night? Would I have been able to date without fear? Would I have married? Would I have children now? I almost died by suicide when I was 22. Could that have been prevented?

I’m grieving the life I might have had. And I am enraged. Who is responsible for it taking 13 years for me to find out about this medication, and by chance at a conference? Thank God I was there.

After a short break, Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, told us great research is happening in this country. But still, 50 % of patients don’t get effective, evidence-based treatment. Even worse, up to 25% get treatment they don’t need and which might be harmful. WTF.

James Hughes, President of the Graham Boeckh Foundation, an organization devoted to transforming the mental health care sector, let us know that current health care practices are 30 years behind current knowledge from research. He said how frustrating that is, to know people are receiving outdated care.

So my rage is not only on my behalf, and my rage is warranted. This is more than a frustration for me. Our health care system has failed me, and I am not alone. There are millions of us who are not receiving adequate care.

8% of Canada’s 34.88 million population is 2 790 400. If 50% of us are not receiving effective, evidence-based treatment, that means one million, three hundred and ninety-five thousand, two hundred people are being failed by our system as we speak. And that number only accounts for people with a PTSD diagnosis.

I will take the liberty of speaking on behalf of those 1 395 200 people in saying we demand better. Health Canada, you are, according to your website, “responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health”. You are failing in that responsibility.

Health Canada, you say you “Rel(y) on high-quality scientific research as the basis for our work”. Use the evidence presented at this conference to tell doctors not to treat people with PTSD with current antidepressants which are ineffective. Tell doctors there is a drug, Prazosim, which is effective in treating nightmares. Help Canadians improve their health. Do I really have to do your job for you? Do I have to bring about legal action against you to make you pay attention and do your job?

The previous day Captain Wayne Johnston shared his moving story of life with PTSD. He said we must implicitly trust our mental health team. I would like to agree, but after almost 2 decades of treatment, most of which has done little to improve the health of my brain, that became impossible for me. Learning about the chasm between research and practice has not increased my trust.

And yes, I am happy to know about it now. I am hopeful my 30s won’t be as devastating as my 20s. But let me feel my anger and let me feel my sadness. During the conference I met and spoke with Dr. Andrew J Greenshaw of the University of Alberta. He emailed me a link to the following video about empathy, and I urge you to watch it if your reaction is to tell me, “at least you know about it now”.

RSA Shorts – The Power of Empathy

CDRIN and The Mood Disorders Society of Canada recognize our current healthcare system is in need of help. That’s what this conference was about. They are devoted to fixing the system. In fact, in the next 3-4 weeks there will be a free, continuing medical education course online designed for primary care physicians about PTSD. It is authored by LCol. (Dr.) Alexandra Heber and Dr. Catherine Classen in association with The Mood Disorders Society of Canada. While it was written for physicians, it will be accessible to everyone. I saw a preview of the course, and I am excited by how it could improve treatment of PTSD and OSIs.

Physicians and other health care workers will not be required to take the course though, so there might not be much positive change in treatment after all. I will link to the course from my website when it is available.

I encourage and implore everyone reading this to ask their health care workers to take the course, even if you don’t personally suffer from PTSD. We need our health care workers to stay up-to-date on current research. With effective training, they give effective care. This benefits everyone.