Hold on: Find your depression life preserver

It’s been a hell of a week. Despite all of the wonderful things happening around me: my Facebook Page has reached just over 300 likes, I’m going to be in a documentary about Clara’s Big Ride, I had a journalist from Elle Canada contact me about a post I wrote on self-harm, my depression was so bad that I thought I was going to have to admit myself into the hospital.

On Monday, I spent three hours sobbing in bed without any explanation. I woke up in the morning and I felt off kilter but I figured it was because I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in over a week. I had been experiencing terrifying nightmares. Not just nightmares where you’re late for work or you show up to your presentation naked, but the kind of nightmares that make you question your brain. Nightmares where I was gang raped, nightmares where I watched my husband’s throat get slit before they did my own. These nightmares woke me up, panting and sweating and unable to go back to sleep. I was afraid to sleep because I was afraid of the nightmares that might happen.

It's Okay to CrySo Monday was day five of this sleeplessness and in hindsight I should have contacted my doctor earlier, but I thought it was just anxiety. By Monday afternoon I was in full blown crisis. My husband came home for lunch and he could read it on my body that I was in a bad way. He decided to stay home because he was afraid. There’s nothing that can quite make you feel as guilty as someone telling you, “I can’t go back to work because I’m afraid I might find you dead when I come home.” That’s when he asked me, in between my sobs and screams of frustration, if he should bring me to the hospital. And that’s when we both realized, we had no idea where to go.

We have been living in Montreal for about four years now and my mental health issues haven’t been prominent enough for us to think about this. It’s not that I haven’t been struggling because I have been. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have had to take time off of work because of my mental health, I have been experiencing daily panic attacks that have only recently abated, and I had a full blown hypomanic episode.

But, there’s a fine line between anxiety, depression, and hypomania that is manageable from home and that place that makes you and everyone around you so completely helpless that you resort to checking yourself into a psychiatric ward. My husband and I have been there before and it’s never an easy decision.

Finally, I decided to take a Clonazepam just to calm myself and I took a nap. I napped to hang on a little while longer. Two hours later, I woke up and felt I didn’t need to go to the hospital and I could hang on until I could speak to my therapist on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I felt worse than I did on Monday, but at least I couldn’t cry anymore. I couldn’t do anything. I sat in front of my computer and watched my Twitter feed until I could speak with my therapist.

I just want to say that I have the most amazing therapist in the world because she is out of the country and still responds to my e-mails that are written mid-panic. She called me from wherever in the world she is and calmly explained that she felt it was simply lack of sleep that was making me feel so despairing. She reminded me how when I lack sleep, I feel like a totally different human being. She told me to get off the phone and make an emergency appointment with my doctor.

Depression problemsWhen i saw my doctor on Wednesday, my husband accompanied me because he didn’t want me playing down or intellectualizing how badly I felt (I have a bad history of that). However, I think my doctor was able to read me well enough to know that I was not doing well. I was a mess. I was unshowered, greasy haired, dressed in leggings and an oversized sweater, and on the verge of tears. She increased my dose of Seroquel to essentially tranquilize me into sleep and a referral to the local psychiatric hospital, just in case, since she wouldn’t be working over the weekend.

Now for any of you who have taken Seroquel before, you know what this is like. If you’ve never taken Seroquel well it hits you like a truck. The sedation is intense. This is not a drug to be fucked with. It knocked me out but I could barely function. Extreme dizziness accompanied every small movement. I had skull crushing headaches. My brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton. My concentration was so bad that I couldn’t even watch daytime TV. I couldn’t speak in full sentences and my husband had to guess the words that I was trying to speak so that he could finish my half-started sentences.

Finally on Saturday, I felt good. I felt rested. I felt happy. I also felt like I was having a mild hypomanic episode. My husband noted I was rambling and talking really fast. I was having thoughts that didn’t connect with anything and blurting them out loud. But compared with Monday, this was a vast improvement. I actually willingly left the house. I was hopeful. The came Sunday and my mood had crashed again. I was anxious and agitated and felt like there were ants crawling on my brain. It is so frustrating to have these fleeting moments of good moods and you try and cling to them, but they slip through your fingers like water.

It’s now Monday again and I feel a million miles away from where I was last Monday. The dizziness has largely dissipated, except when I stand up too fast and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I can concentrate for larger chunks of time (hence the blog post). But it’s still slow going. My words still feel stuck between my brain and my lips. My headaches are constant and Advil only mildly touches them. But at least I don’t feel like I need to be in the psychiatric hospital, so that’s a win!

I don’t really have an overarching message for this blog post other than to hold on. Find something to hold on to – whether it’s to see your doctor or therapist – and cling to that like a life preserver when you’re drowning in the despair of depression. Just keep holding on.

Clara’s Big Ride: Sneak Peek

Hey peeps!

On Monday I announced that I would be part of an incredible documentary that was filmed last year. Now I’m providing you with a sneak peek (check me out at the 1 minute mark!).

Check it out here or click on the image below.

Part catalyst for change and part epic road movie, CLARA’S BIG RIDE is an inspiring new film that tackles the profound conversation about mental health and the stigma that surrounds it.


On January 28th, a.k.a. Bell Let’s Talk Day the film will be available on demand all day on CraveTV and CTV.ca. Also available on CTV, CTV Two and live-streamed on CTV Go at 7p.m.

How Clara Hughes inspired me to share my story

Last Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to meet Clara Hughes, a mental health advocate and six-time Olympic medalist, at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital (JGH). Hughes has been my inspiration and gave me the courage to speak out about my own struggles with mental health. She is akin to a mental health rockstar to me.

The Jewish General Hospital awarded her with the Douglas Utting Medal for her work in the field of mental health. For the past five years, she has been the national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Mental Health ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign. This year, she and Bell also launched Clara’s Big Ride which was a 110-day, 12, 000 KM stigma busting journey across Canada.

Me and Clara Hughes - I got a little teary meeting her.

Me and Clara Hughes – I got a little teary meeting her.

During her talk, Hughes didn’t dwell much on her sporting success. Instead she spoke candidly about her family life in Winnipeg with an alcoholic father who was verbally abusive to her mother. She spoke about following in the “delinquent footsteps” of her sister (who has now been diagnosed with bipolar disorder). She spoke, with a shaky voice and tears in her eyes, of the moment that changed her life; the moment she watched Olympic speedskater Gaétan Boucher in the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.


“It was the most awesome thing I had ever seen in my life and I knew that I was going to skate for Canada one day,” Hughes said.

But that moment wasn’t the end of her struggle. Hughes took a detour on her speed skating career with cycling. She was trained by an uncompromising and emotionally abusive coach, Mirek Mazur:

“On my way to the Olympics I was beaten down emotionally. I was too fat, too slow, too awful. [Mirek] gave me an eating disorder. Since I grew up in an environment of abuse that abuse was comforting. I turned into a training junkie. A winning junkie. I had a collection of medals and it was never enough. I was never enough. I thought once I made it to the Olympics I would finally feel like it would be good enough. But it wasn’t. I won two bronze medals. These medals were nice for everyone else but why did I still feel like garbage?”

These words struck a chord inside of me. My life and Clara Hughes are are vastly different. I’ve never been remotely athletic and my childhood wasn’t nearly as difficult as hers, but still there is a vein of similarity in our stories. I certainly wasn’t emotionally abused by my parents or a coach, but I was bullied relentlessly in school.

Teenage girl being bulliedFor anyone who thinks that bullying is a rite of passage in childhood, it isn’t. It isn’t natural for a sixth-grader to deal with death threats from other children, it isn’t natural to have rocks thrown at you during recess, it isn’t natural to have people trashing your school supplies and clothing, and it definitely isn’t natural to have chants made up about you.

To this day I remember seeing MSHMENTOS written on every chalk board and bathroom stall. It was an acronym for Marisa Sucks Her Mom Every Night and Twice On Sunday. As an adult, it’s gibberish and incredibly childish, but in eighth grade it was the epitome of humour and insult.

I am so grateful that I grew up pre-social media because if these kids could have invaded the safety of my home, I don’t know if I would be alive today.

The worst part was that it wasn’t just one school where this happened. It wasn’t the same kids. We moved a lot and I went to six different elementary schools. Each time I changed schools, I always thought that this time would be different. I would be different. But it didn’t matter where I went – there were always bullies in the schoolyard and I was always the target. The thing is, to this day, I still have no idea why. These girls who ended up tormenting me always started as my friends. Had I done something to them and had no idea? Or was I just an easy target because I was tall, chubby, and sensitive?  Or did it have nothing to do with me and was just a result of a bunch girls with low self-esteem?

And you might be wondering, why didn’t my parents intervene. Because I didn’t say anything. They knew I was having a rough time at school, but I kept quiet about the worst bits of torment. They didn’t know I had to hide in the bathroom at lunch. They didn’t know I used to walk the schoolyard socializing only with a teacher on duty because I knew they wouldn’t physically hurt me in front of a teacher. They didn’t know about the death threats. As most kids think, telling your parents will only make the situation worse.

So how does this relate to Clara Hughes and her feeling like garbage after winning two bronze medals? The constant emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of other children has created a hole, an emptiness in my soul. As an adult I try and fill that emptiness with achievements, the praise of other people, and making other people happy (often at the expense of my own happiness).

Me at my BA convocation...ignore the wind!

Me at my BA convocation…ignore the wind!

In school, no grade was ever good enough. I used to make myself sick over my report cards. Going to university and getting a Bachelor’s degree wasn’t good enough, I had to get a Master’s Degree. But even that wasn’t enough. I was supposed to get a PhD (until my illness got in the way) and I still struggle with the fact that I’m not Dr. Lancione. The Dean’s List, honour roll, all of those things that my parents are incredibly proud of mean nothing to me.

Today I can’t just be okay at my job, I have to be the best. I have no tolerance for anyone who is mediocre at their job. I’d rather do it all myself and know that it’s being done right than depend on another person because people are inherently untrustworthy. I take criticism personally because everything I do is a reflection of how good I am.

And like Hughes and her medals, it’s never enough.

I’m an adult and I should be over this by now, right? Absolutely. I have spent 10 years in therapy working on these issues but they are so deeply ingrained in my soul that I wonder if I will ever get over them. Moreover, I wonder if my genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder would have manifested itself if I hadn’t been treated so cruelly?

Today most people see me as an  intelligent, confident, articulate, and successful woman. But I don’t see it. At the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, I’m still that kid being torn apart by other people. I’m not good enough and I will never be good enough. It doesn’t matter how many people I please, I’m never happy with myself.

So why am I sharing all of this? Wouldn’t I want to keep all of this self-doubt and self-esteem problems hidden from the world? Well, this is another thing that Hughes said that resonated with me: “When you’re winning, you can share your weakness and still be seen as strong. But struggle is part of the human condition and if you don’t share your struggle then you are not a complete human.”

So, this is why I have opened my life to whoever chooses to read my blog posts about mental health. People perceive me as someone who is “winning” in life – I’m educated, employed, happily married, and have friends – but that doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling or that I haven’t struggled.

I’m celebrated for speaking about mental health because I’m winning, but what about those who aren’t? They’re the reason I speak out and share my story.

Check out this great video when Gaétan Boucher joined Clara on her Big Ride: