Mental Health: More needs to be done

This is my first blog in a very, very long time. I have been busy surviving, living life and trying to make sense of the world these days.

What moves me to write today, is a recent experience I have had in the realm of Mental Health and getting the help I need.

For those of you not familiar with my story, I survived an unexplained Sudden Cardiac Arrest in January of 2012 that resulted in the implanting of an internal defibrillator. The next 3 years was a horror story of problems, medication changes, heart stops and ultimately shocks from my device. Over 120 times. I have been “stable” now for just over 2 years but my mental health issues hang on tightly, I just can’t seem to get past the trauma. For the past 5 years, I have struggled with Severe Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression. While I have some of the best arrhythmia experts in their field responsible for the care of my heart, finding the help I need within our Canadian Health Care System to deal with the mental fallout has been a disaster.

There was very little in respect to mental health resources available to me in the big city of Vancouver, one on one therapy to get the real help I needed was available for upwards of $150.00 an hour, impossible on a fixed income. I could find cheaper therapy, but it entailed students working towards their degree and they were available to me for a few weeks or a few months at best, then I had to start all over with a new person. I was able to take advantage of some art therapy, which I found very helpful, but that was very short term as well. It’s been very frustrating especially with all the awareness being raised around mental health issues these days.

My husband and I recently relocated to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, we were desperately in need of more affordable living, some peace and quiet and although it meant leaving the safety net of doctors and hospitals who intimately familiar with my history, we really didn’t have much choice, we had to go somewhere else.

So, enter a new Psychiatrist. In order to take advantage of the mental health resources available in our new city, I had to be referred into the system here in Nanaimo. The wait time to see the doctor was 2 months, to date, I have only been referred to a Cognative Behavioural Therapy Group it’s only been 2 weeks so I can’t attest to it’s effectiveness. Last week, I had a followup visit with the Psychiatrist after 4 months in the system, our conversation is the reason I have felt compelled to write this blog….

I should also mention that an anti-depressant named Cipralex was one of the culprits assumed in the cause of my Unexplained Cardiac Arrest, the drug, as some anti-depressants do, lengthened my QT Interval and my current heart drug Quinidine is not very compatible with other drugs.  I am ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of taking any additional drugs, so, imagine my surprise when I was presented with a prescription for Lamotrigine along with a study assuring me that this drug did not prolong QTc. As I sat there horrified at the thought of having a drug I did not want or ask for pushed on me, the doctor talked glowingly about all the good things it could do for my anxiety.  “It has been known to erase all PTSD symptoms” he said. This drug is used to treat epilepsy and when it was discovered that it made people taking it “happy” they decided to try it on patients with Bipolar disorder.  The drug comes with a Black Box Warning about life threatening skin reactions such as Stevens-Johnson Disorder and other horrifying things. Sign me UP!

I find it totally irresponsible for a doctor to give a patient who has been through as much as I have and has been told of the consequences I face by taking a drug that is not compatible with my heart medication to hand over a prescription and expect me to willingly have it filled.  He seemed quite surprised when I told him NO!  He told me he thought my only criteria for taking something was that it did not affect my QT interval.  WRONG!  He seemed quite proud of himself for finding the “special” drug just for me!  WOW!  So much for my hope of finally getting some of the help I so badly need.

This experience has been my call to action, I think that the mental health system has it all wrong.  I know there are people out there who require medication, I used to follow along until I died that day on my dining room floor, but I will no longer be are part of this “drugged” society.  I think they should offer more yoga, meditation, mindfulness, music and art therapy classes and encourage people to spend more time out in nature while they get their free “one on one” help to fill in the gaps and less medication. Kids should be taught these coping skills as soon as they start kindergarten, it will help them be more resilient as they grow up and allow them to have some tools as adults, just in case a curve-ball is thrown their way. It would take a huge burden off of the health care system.

It was a light-bulb moment.  I have to stop relying on a system that has failed me and take matters into my own hands.  I will have to search out the support I need myself, if I wait around for it to help me, I will never get better.

wish me luck.

 

Advertisements

Technical Difficulties

The two years since my Sudden Cardiac Arrest have been challenging to say the least.  You hear all the time about people coming back from death experiences with a whole new appreciation for life, for me that was not the case.  Initially, I mean before the shocks started, I went into a deep depression,our life had suddenly changed so much and I was convinced that I lived because I had a purpose, I was in a panic about figuring out what that was.  I spent my days, deep inside myself,shut off from the world trying to figure out what I had to do now that I had a second change.  Once the shocks started, my survival instincts kicked in along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety, a fear of going to sleep at night and a fear of leaving the house.  The leaving the house part was two fold, one, I worried that I would experience a shock, from which I always go unconscious and fall and crack my head open and two, I worried that a stranger, in trying to help would hurt me instead. The fear of going to sleep came from worry that the device, after saving me 28 previous times would fail and I would die, every morning I opened my eyes was a relief.  During the 10 months where my heart wouldn’t calm down, I experienced severe physiological damage my brain and body were battered, I had lost a great deal of muscle mass from spending so much time in bed, I was a shadow of my former self. For those 10 months, I had nothing to do but sit around waiting and worrying about the next shock between long stays in the hospital and a total disruption in our life.  It seemed that the meds they were using were making matters worse and just as I was about to go on the heart transplant list, a drug was found to control the arrhythmia, I have been stable now for almost 14 months. 

 

I really wasn’t able to start working on the physiological damage until last September, since my Cardiac Arrest at the beginning of 2012 Douglas and I had spent every single moment of every single day together while he took care of me, we had no time apart for a very long time. We were at a point where we needed to start separating our lives again, we needed to move on with our lives and get back some normalcy, it was time.  I had the chance to take part in a weekly Mindful Meditation group at Vancouver General Hospital and I was determined that this was my chance to gain some of my independence back.  I had so much anxiety around this, but I really had to push my way through it, it was an important step and just making the 40 minute trip there on public transit was daunting and I had to figure out a way that I could get to the class without crumbling from the anxiety. I decided to take a cab, it made both of us feel better.  Ok, so now I’m at VGH, anxious about being around of group of people I didn’t know, worried that I would have a shock and cause a scene, all I could do was cry my way through my introduction. I was a mess and I felt really stupid.  I sat through the rest of the day not saying a word, wishing I could bury myself in a hole.  I called a cab home and despite feeling like a failure, it was the first step and I was relieved.  The day before the next session, the facilitator of the group called me and asked me not to come back, she felt my depression was still too prevalent and that me being in the class would not be good for the others in the group.  I was crushed but not surprised.  One of the things that the facilitator suggested was that I get some one on one counselling and come back at a later date.  That one little baby step I had taken the week earlier lead to another, I found a counsellor I could see within walking distance of our apartment, I started making the weekly trek alone, still anxious but doing it, two steps forward, one step back.  I felt so happy that Douglas could have some time to himself and that I could work at being independent again, if only for a couple of hours a week.  Each week I got more and more confident and the counselling really helped me to process things and see things from other perspectives. I also learned to take things one day at a time and not to rush things and to stop being so hard on myself that I couldn’t just stand up and dust myself off and carry on. 

 

To this day I still experience anxiety, it’s depends on the circumstance now and not all the time.  I still have nighmares from time to time and the flashbacks have slowed down too, things are looking better, how far we have come.  One of the things that has made a huge difference in my mental well being has been mindful meditation.  When I first started it was hard, my mind would wander off a thousand times in a 5 minute session and I had a hard time sticking with it but I kept hearing how successful it could be so I carried on. There are many forms of meditation and I found at first that I had a hard time focusing on my breath so I tried guided meditation or I would put on some ambient music and say positive affirmations for 10 minutes, as long as it quiets the mind.  I find it easier to stay with it these days and I am seeing positive results.  I feel a subtle difference in how I look at the world, how I deal with depression, emotion, fear and anxiety.  I feel calmer, happier and much more positive than I have in a very long time. I’ve realized that I no longer need to mourn for the life that I lost but to live for the one I have been given a second chance at, I am more grateful. I’m coming to terms with my new normal.

 

I still have a way to go but slowly and surely I am changing.  It took death to make me realize how much I want to live the life I am meant to live.  Everyone, including me, deserves to be happy and to shine brightly, changing the negative self talk is probably the hardest to do as it’s so ingrained.  I’m still trying to find my way down this path, but I am more sure than ever that I am headed in the right direction.

The 30×30 Challenge

Why I took the challenge

For weeks I have been feeling rather down about something that I had been dealing with, it was on my mind quite a bit and it was waking me up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t go back to sleep.  After a few days of this, my husband, tired of seeing my grumpy face suggested that we go out  for a walk in Stanley Park.  It was raining pretty hard this day and my first inclination was to dig in, stay on the couch and continue to feel miserable while I tried to sort out the issues in my mind.  I reluctantly got into my gear, put on my shoes and we headed out, I was in serious pout mode and I would have rather have been going for a root canal.

 

We walked in silence for the first few blocks, I just wanted to go back home but as my body warmed up I began to realize that it felt good to be outside even if I was getting soaked.  We entered the park by Lost Lagoon, we wanted to see if there were any ducklings swimming around yet, still too early.  We headed up Tatlow trail and the minute I stepped into the trees I felt my anxiety start to subside and my mood begin to lift, I took a few deep breaths, deep into my lungs and stood there totally mindfully soaking in the beauty of nature, I had a overwhelming feeling of well being at that moment, it was a reminder to me of the healing power of being outside.  I returned from the 8 km walk tired but with a clear mind and I was happy that I had gone.

 

A few days later I saw the information for The David Suzuki 30×30 Challenge and decided that it was something I needed to put a honest effort into doing because I was reminded about what it could do for me.   Studies have shown that getting out into nature can lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels, and boost immunity. ‘Green time’ has also been shown to reduce feelings of anger and depression, while increasing energy, creativity and even generosity. At the very least, I will get some exercise.

 

So, please come and join me in my quest for zen, 30 minutes a day, what have you got to loose?

 

http://30×30.davidsuzuki.org/