#TalkAboutItTuesday: Thinking About Suicide

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immediate help PLEASE call 911 or your local crisis hotline.  

Kids Help Phone (a crisis line for youth under 20) 1-800-668-6868

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (US & Canada) 1-800-273-8255

Ontario Mental Health Helpline 1-866-531-2600

Trans Lifeline (a crisis line for transgender youth and adults) 877-330-6366

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310

I was 16 when I first had thoughts of killing myself. They were fleeting, but always lurking, nestled in the back of my mind. They would wait patiently for a moment of vulnerability, and come crawling out of the shadows ready to prey on a moment of weakness. No amount of wishful thinking could make them go away. I was convinced no one would miss me. I was convinced it was the best option. I was convinced it was in my life plan. Growing up, suffering from depression, I never saw myself growing old. I never saw myself with a family, a partner, or a future. The idea of turning 25 was inconceivable to me. The idea of a happy, fulfilled life was unfathomable.

I dropped out of school at 17 due to severe depression, crippling anxiety, and an eating disorder that consumed my life. During this time, I spent most of the day cooped up in the house. I was fearful. Fearful of the outside world. Fearful of my inadequacies. Fearful of the future. I was left alone to stew in my thoughts. The negative thoughts grew stronger and crueler. I hated myself. I couldn’t stand the thought of existing anymore. I began to voice my thoughts out loud which caught the attention of my father. Beginning to write things down, a post-it note of his I once found said this,

“I don’t want live anymore.”
“What’s the point?”
“I want to kill myself.”
“It’s not worth it if I feel this way.”

I was taken to the hospital.

At the time, these thoughts were rational to me. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with feeling the way I did. I had accepted that this was what my life was supposed to be like. I had accepted that I was never destined for greater things. Not wanting to spend my days restricted to the white walls of a hospital, I lied through my teeth to the crisis worker they assigned to me. If I wanted to die, it was going to be on my own terms.

One night, during my first year of university, I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t live like this. My grades were terrible. I had been the victim of assault. I felt that I deserved nothing. Feeling that I couldn’t continue any longer, I sat on the bathroom floor, a cocktail of pills in my hands. Grasping what looked like a small pharmacy, I became fascinated with the power I held in my hand. It amazed me how something so small could be so powerful. How something so ignored could be so significant. Was it really bad to be so small, to feel so small?

I don’t really know what stopped me, and I don’t think I’ll ever know. Perhaps it was that I felt I couldn’t do this to my family, or that I didn’t even deserve the escape suicide would have allowed. Maybe it was that I didn’t want to become another statistic, or end up as a story in the paper. Whatever the reason(s) may be, I’m so very grateful that I flushed death down the toilet that day.

In Canada, it is estimated that approximately 210 people attempt suicide every day. Of those attempts, 11 people will be successful. That’s 4, 015 people every year. 4, 015 people too many. In 2009, it is estimated that up to 100, 000 years of life were lost to suicide. That’s years of life that lost out on birthdays, graduations, marriages, promotions, children, and much deserved happiness. Suicide does not discriminate. Age, gender, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity doesn’t ensure immunity. Over 90% of suicide victims suffer from at least one mental health disorder. However, depression accounts for 60% of that population. Rather than one single determining factor, suicide is often motivated by many. Declining health, marital stress, sexual assault, abuse, major loss, and mental health can all be contributing factors of suicide.

What are some symptoms?

In one’s self:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair

  • Thoughts of, or committing, acts of self-harm

  • Self-loathing

  • Anxiety

  • Mood swings

  • Preoccupation with death or dying

In others:

  • Talking about harming themselves

  • Saying goodbye

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Mood swings

  • Increase in risky behaviour

What can you do to help?

  • Talk about it. Stigma is the biggest hurdle mental health advocacy faces. Take the shame, uncomfortably, awkwardness of a conversation, and open up!

  • Equip yourself with the skills to help others. Learning how to talk to someone you suspect may be suicidal could help you to save a life.

  • Never blame yourself. No matter how hard you may try, prevention, unfortunately, is not always possible.

For access to a list of distress and crisis centers, plus more information please visit The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention

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A Letter to My Body

IMG_20170728_185448_482So often are we quick to say things about our bodies that we would never say to one other. So fast to put ourselves down for what we see as our short comings, and attempt to refute any positivity others place upon us. Ask yourself, would you say to someone you love the things you say to yourself? No longer shall we treat our selves as verbal punching bags. No longer shall we assault ourselves with uncalled for negativity.  No longer shall it cripple us, or inhibit dreams and goals. Take a moment to reflect on the wondrous things we have, can, and do accomplish in the bodies we are in. We all deserve to feel comfortable being who and what we are.  After years of neglect I’ve decided it’s time to rebuild the broken relationship with my body.  I’ve decided it’s time to start healing. For a moment I’ve set myself apart from the skin I’m in, and come to realize what a truly remarkable thing it is, and what a truly wonderful thing it is to be alive.

Dearest you,

As I write this, I have spent 25 years, 142 days, and 14 hours with you. Throughout our time together you never let me fall; you never let me fail. When I was at my weakest you stood strong.  Never faltering to the blows I threw your way. You are resilient. For the past 25 years, I’ve had the ability to love, laugh, cry and dream because of you, yet, I despised you. You make me who I am.  I can never apologize enough for what I have put you through. So, here is a love letter, and an explanation, for you. For everything you do for me, and everything you’ve done. For all of your faults, failures and short comings, and for all of your strengths, beauties and achievements. I’m proud of you.

I used to hate to have to look at you. I’d cringe whenever I caught your reflection out of the corner of my eye.  You repulsed me.  The way your stomach bulged, the way your thighs jiggled, and the way your skin crinkled and dimpled. You disgusted me. The stretch marks that litter your thighs, stomach and chest made me sick. Whatever I could pinch or grab, I wanted to cut away. You were never going to be good enough for me; you were worthless. I wanted nothing to do with you, and I would have done anything to rid you from my life. I denied you the very things you needed.  I denied you health, the basic necessities of life. I hurt you. There were times when I wanted to end your time here on this earth. I hated you for reasons no one ever should, for being who you are. It was never fair to you. It was never deserved.  I punished you, because I never thought you were good enough. I watched you suffer as I abused you. Watched you crumple, become worn and tired. You did nothing but give, and I took from you all that I could. I’m sorry. Those words don’t seem enough, I know, but let us start there. Let us begin to build a bond that will never again be broken. Let us grow stronger together.

I now see that your legs are strong.  They’ve carried you miles and miles, and they will carry you for many more. You move like there is nothing holding you back.  Your stomach keeps you tall, it holds you up. Provides you with the energy to do the things you love. Your skin has scars, beautiful, beautiful scars. They are your story; they make you who you are.  As you grow you become a book that has been read and little worn, bound to have a few tears and wrinkles, but what a beautiful story it is. A story where you are the hero. You will not be confined to a genre.  You are a comedy, a romance, a mystery and an adventure; you are an epic.

Your body was your passport into this world, and with it you will go on the journey of a lifetime. You will not suffer from a destiny of regret.  You will not end up at the end of your life wondering what could have been if you had lost a little more weight, or looked a different way. Your life will be one worth living.  It will be a life well lived.

I owe so much to you. Thanks to you I can feel, not only with my hands, but also my heart.  Thanks to you I can embrace the ones I love, kiss those I hold dear, and hold the hand of a friend. I can feel warmth, both inside and out. You’ve given me the ability to love, possibly the greatest gift of all, even though there were times I didn’t love you. You are selfless.  You provide me with life, and encourage me to continue living when it was the last thing I wanted. Thanks to you I get to see beautiful, vibrant sunsets, and smell the lilacs in the first rain of spring. Thanks to you I can listen to the birds in the quite of sunrise, and bury my hands in the cool, damp earth.  I am able to wade in the waters, feel the cool pebbles beneath my feet. I am able to smell the friendly smoke of a campfire, feel the heat, and hear the crackles. I am able to dance, albeit not well, and enjoy every silly moment of it. Thanks to you I am able to live.

I now see how people look at you.  I see how they embrace your presence. I see how proud your friends and family are of you, and I see how the man who loves you smiles when you look at him. You see that you are loved. I too now love you, and I thank you for all that you have done for me. Thank you for giving me the strength to get through it all. You are beautiful, inside and out. You are me, and I am you. Thank you.

      Love always,
Claire 

#TalkAboutItTuesday: Binging, Purging and Bulimia

A simple bite that turns into a binge. That’s how it all started. I suffered from bulimia for upwards of 5 years, in various states of severity throughout that time. At the height of my bulimia, I would binge and purge up to a dozen times a day; sometimes in very close succession. Anything and everything was fair game. I would eat foods I thought of as indulgent and unhealthy, knowing that I would bring it right back up without any of the caloric repercussions. I would stuff myself until I became uncomfortably full, and then —as simply as it sounds— throw it all up. By simply contracting my stomach muscles in a certain way I was able to bring up what I had just eaten. Often times, depending on what I had eaten, it was painful. My stomach would hurt, my esophagus would burn, and my mouth would become sore. Over time I had begun to learn what foods were easiest to purge. Ice cream and cereal became my go-to binge foods as they were satisfying to eat, but incredibly easy to bring back up. Foods like bread, pizza, or any other dense items were much more difficult, and painful, to purge due to fact that they would often “ball up”. This would make it difficult to move through my esophagus, and sometimes raise my anxiety levels in fear of being unable to void it from my stomach. I would often eat meals with large amounts of water in order to ensure easier purging, as it’s easier to bring up solids with a liquid. I began to find it difficult to eat a simple meal without feeling the urge to over eat. Trying to stop myself from overeating, which would lead to purging, became near impossible for me. Even eating something as simple as an apple would trigger an unhealthy eating pattern. I became afraid to eat, because I knew what it would lead to. I would feel incredibly weak and tired post purging, and often lacked the energy to do much of anything.

For me, bulimia was a way to indulge in foods I wouldn’t otherwise eat. It became a “no consequence” diet.  I was able to eat anything I wanted without fear of gaining weight, but little did I realize at the time, bulimia was costly in more ways than one.  Not only is the cost of bulimia experienced physically, but also financially; it is an expensive eating disorder. I don’t like to think about how much money I was wasted on purchasing food I knew I would just purge. I essentially flushed money down the toilet. I have done irreparable damage to my digestive system and metabolism due to years of abuse, and it will take a very long time for my body to recover from both my anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders take a huge toil on a person physically and mentally, and its effects can be felt long after one begins to recover.

Bulimia is a very difficult thing to hide from those around you. The unexplained absences after meals, the time spent in the bathrooms, and the sound of vomiting often make it difficult to conceal the illness. However, unlike anorexia, bulimia sufferers are often of average weight making it difficult to notice if someone is suffering. It is difficult to determine how many individuals suffer from bulimia, as binge eating and purging often takes place in private. However, it is estimated that 1-3% of Canadian women will develop bulimia at some point in their lifetime, with most women developing bulimia in their late adolescents (Statistics Canada, 2015) Bulimia is an illness that may present at intermittent times over a period of time, or as an ongoing chronic issue. (Statistics Canada, 2015) Often, bulimia sufferers have, at one point in their lives, suffered from restrictive eating, or anorexia. (Statistics Canada, 2015) Bulimia is clinically characterized as periods of binge eating, followed by participating in methods of inappropriate behaviour to prevent weight gain (Statistics Canada, 2015). This includes purging, sometimes coupled with the use of laxatives and over exercising. Many bulimics also suffer from co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety.  I myself, as I have mentioned in previous posts, suffered from severe depression and anxiety.

Treatment for bulimia is similar to that of any other eating disorders. In hospital treatment, cognitive behavioural therapy, and counselling have all been effective in helping people recover. I was medically diagnosed as bulimic and referred to an in hospital treatment program. I decided not to commit to the offered treatment, and instead opted for weekly counselling. While this process took much longer it felt like the right option for me at the time.  Any form of treatment will help an individual establish the triggers and patterns which result in binging and purging behaviours. The tracking of binging and purging episodes may help sufferers begin to understand their triggers, allowing them to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Identifying the feelings, and their causes, associated with a bulimia episode is what I found valuable to my recovery. Over the years I have developed the ability to identify my triggers before they become uncontrollable and overwhelming, and as a result I have established healthy coping methods. Some of my coping methods include meditation, breathing activities, going for a short walk, stretching, and (as silly as it may sound) watching cute animal videos. Everyone’s coping methods will differ, and for some their recovery methods will completely differ. Finding what best helps you is the best method that there is. Remembering self-care is another critical component to anyone’s recovery. Ensuring that you are surrounded by those who will be supportive, as well as creating a safe recovery space are also extremely important. Lastly, know that recovery is a journey, and you’re eating disorder is not a life sentence. You can find happiness and health again, it may just take a little time.

Resources
Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) (416) 535-8501
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) (416) 340-4156
F.E.A.S.T. Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

  1. Statistics Canada. (2015). Section D- Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/2012004/sections/sectiond-eng.htm

#TalkAboutItTuesday: Self-Harm Scars

Every scar has a story behind it.  Whether it’s from falling down when learning to ride your bike, or drunkenly falling flat on your face on your 23rd birthday, the scars we have are a part of our history. However, not every scar has a story that its owner wishes to tell. For many, the scars they have are extremely personal. Not everyone is open to discussing them, and that privacy should always be respected. For some, the scars they have are part of a bigger, more complex issue; scars that aren’t just a result of minor accident. This #TalkAboutItTuesday is intended to open up a dialogue on an often hushed topic: those who self-harmed and the resulting scars. The mental health stigma is still alive and well. Given that mental health disorders occur internally, rather than externally, it may be easier for those who suffer to mask symptoms. Self-harm scars, on the other hand, are a physical manifestation of a mental health issue. They say loud and clear that something is not okay. To ask about them is to ask an individual to divulge their innermost personal details.  It’s not an easy subject to discuss if you, or someone you know, has suffered from self-inflicted pain.  Know that there isn’t always a right way to handle it, and we have to learn to be okay with that.  Do everything with the best intentions, and strive to understand even when it may seem impossible.

People self harm in different ways, and for different reasons.  Some people may scratch themselves until they bleed, carve or cut, or even pull out their hair. It’s unique to every individual. The reasons for why people self-harm is a much more complex issue. Self-harming is often thought of as a behavioral trait of youth suffering from anxiety, but it is important to know that anyone can suffer from self-harming tendencies, including both adults and children.  Those who do self-harm most often suffer from a number of co-occurring mental health disorders, including, but not limited to: depression, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder.  It is difficult to determine the exact number of those who self-harm, as it is often done in private and rarely talked about.  I want to talk about it.  I want others to know what it’s like for those who did — or still do — self-harm, and why talking about it isn’t always easy.

I was a burner. It was simple, and I liked that. It made it easier to do.  It always happened when my depression was at its very worst, and my anxiety was uncontrollably high.  It was a distraction, and—oddly enough—soothing.  It allowed me to focus on nothing but the act itself, and the physical pain that followed distracted me from from the mental pain I was experiencing.  When I would have anxiety attacks, lock myself in a room, and become emotionally manic it seemed like my only option. I’d stop crying, unravel myself from the unrecognizable heap of human I was on the floor, and hyper focus on doing something I felt was both productive and necessary, hurting myself. It helped me to escape.  Escape to a place where I didn’t feel unbearable pain.  A place where I felt in control; control that I had not experienced in a very long time. Strangely enough, it became a comfort.  Knowing that I would be able to have this little moment of escape during a time of suffering.  It became my twisted form of therapy.

I have been asked about the scars since, and up until now I have lied.  Not only because I was ashamed, but because it made it easier.  I’ve blamed them on everything from cat scratches, to kitchen missteps, to hiking accidents, not knowing if anyone truly believed me. It’s easier to make up a story, than to open a potentially uncomfortable dialogue with others who may not know how to react.  Behind them is a story, a fairly emotional one, that I didn’t always feel like sharing. I do now, hoping it helps others who have had a similar experience. I want others to know they are not alone, and that there are safe spaces to talk about their experiences. I still chose not to ask people about their scars. For some, bringing up a reminder of a difficult time can be quite triggering, and I would never want others to revert back to feeling the way I remember feeling.  If they want to share their scar stories with others they will tell them. Simple as that.

My scars are quite visible. So much so that I don’t bother to make an effort to hide them. They litter my forearms, and to a lesser extent my legs. They are now a permanent part of me, no matter how much I may have tried to rid them from my body. Some have faded to the point of obscurity, others remain prominent. I have learned to live with the raised reminders of what I have been through, but more importantly, how far I have come. I am no longer ashamed of them. They are reminder that no matter how far I may fall, there is always the possibility of finding happiness again. I know this because I have lived it. They remind me of a place where I once thought living was no longer an option. A time where I was sitting on a bathroom floor, clutching a bottle of pills in my hand, desperately seeking an end to it. I made it through all of that, and today I am here writing this in hopes of helping others who may feel the same way.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immediate help please call 911 or your local crisis hotline.  
Kids Help Phone (a crisis line for youth under 20) 1-800-668-6868
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (US & Canada) 1-800-273-8255
Ontario Mental Health Helpline 1-866-531-2600
Trans Lifeline (a crisis line for transgender youth and adults) 877-330-6366
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310

To Medicate, or Not to Medicate…

This is in by no means meant to be medical advice.  If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself or others, low self-esteem, hopelessness, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, mood swings, anxiety or low energy levels, please seek medical help immediately.

To medicate, or not to medicate — that is the question.  A question that often becomes an overwhelming dilemma.  With so much information about prescription medications out there, it can be very confusing and stressful.  I myself was very hesitant to speak to my doctor about the possibility of starting medication for a multitude of reasons. What would the side effects be? Will I have to take pills every day for the rest of my life to feel “normal”? What if they don’t work, then what will I do? Would people think differently of me if they knew I took pills? All of these questions only contributed to the anxiety I was already experiencing, and made it difficult to begin seeking treatment.  I was in my mid-teens the first time I ever spoke to my doctor about my depression and anxiety.  At that point I had yet to be clinically diagnosed, and had only experimented with herbal remedies. My mum was concerned about the idea of beginning medication at such a young age, so she researched some alternative options. One of the most well-known alternatives is St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum). St. John’s Wort is a natural plant based remedy that has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes.  While natural, St. John’s Wort should not be taken in conjunction with any other antidepressants for risk of serotonin syndrome (a dangerous level of serotonin in the brain). While, I didn’t find St. John’s Wort to be affective for myself, I really appreciated my mum’s support in helping me find some relief. If herbal remedies work for you, fantastic! I wish they worked for me.  Unfortunately, after exhausting all options, I realized that prescription medication might be my only option.

DSC_0186 (3)

I’m not a doctor, nor am I a medical expert by any means, but I will do my best to explain how anti-depressants work in the most basic terms. Many Anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications, fall into the category of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SRIs) inhibit the reuptake, or reabsorption of the serotonin that a cell produces so that it has the opportunity to be absorbed by receptors. This increases the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. As many of you may know, serotonin is what is known as a “feel good hormone”. It is believed that those suffering from depression lack sufficient levels of serotonin, or have an imbalance of other chemicals in the brain. Common brand names for SRI medications include: Cipralex (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline). I have taken a variety of SRIs, including Cipralex and Zoloft, but none were effective in helping improve the way I was feeling. When I first started taking prescription medication I became very discouraged when I didn’t notice any changes in my mood right away. This, I learned, is very common. One thing I cannot stress enough is that if you’re thinking about beginning medication patience will truly be a virtue. It takes time to experience change. Rarely do antidepressants begin working right away. Many times it can take weeks for changes to occur. If you do not experience any changes, talk to your doctor about other options. There are many different medications on the market, so don’t hesitate to seek other options if what you’re currently taking isn’t working However, if you begin to feel worse, or experience any side effects, I urge you to seek medical help immediately.

I am currently taking what is known as a serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. This is dual acting medication that inhibits the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine. There are various trade names for SNRIs, but the one I am currently taking is Prsitq (desvenlafaxine). I am fortunate not to have experienced any side effects while taking Pristiq, but some of the side effects may include: insomnia, worsened anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and irritability. (Pfizer, 2016) I take it every morning around the same time as a way to create a habitual routine that ensures I remember to take my medication. Drug interactions are also something one should be aware of. Certain medications, including those that aren’t antidepressants, may interact with certain foods, drinks, and other medications which may make them less effective or possibly dangerous. In many cases doctors will recommend you avoid alcohol while taking antidepressants. Each medication contains different ingredients, so you should always read the information provided with it in order to ensure effective results.

Many people feel that there is a stigma attached to taking antidepressants, and may be concerned with what others may think. “Popping happy pills” is often a phrase used to negatively describe someone who is taking antidepressants. There should be no shame in taking “happy pills”. In fact, I exclusively refer to my medication as happy pills, because they do indeed help me to be happier. There is absolutely no shame in that. Why should I feel ashamed? If your family member, friend, co-worker is taking medication for a physical ailment, would you mock them for that? Do you look down on diabetics for taking metformin? Or someone who is taking Ramipril for a heart condition? I’m going to guess the answer is no. So why is there such a stigma attached to antidepressants? I wish I could answer that, but everyone has their reasons for feeling the way they do. Depression is a medical condition just like any other. A medical condition that needs to be treated. Please have compassion for those who are seeking treatment. It’s often not easy to seek help when the last thing you want to do is get out of bed.

Remember, not every medication works for everyone. It takes a little trial and error to find what works best for you. Each medication works in different ways, and it is important to find what works for your body chemistry. Work with your doctor to find what helps ease your symptoms. Seek support when you need it, and I wish you the very best in your health journey!