Friday, October 3, 2008

Rachel's Story - Intro

Hi, my name is Rachel.  I’m 25 years old.  I have a two-year old Yorkie whom I adore.  I am a vegetarian and Indian & Sushi are among my favourite foods.  In my spare time I love practicing yoga and watching movies.  I have a degree from the University of Ottawa in Theatre (I LOVE acting and directing) and in Communications.  I’m a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a student, an employee, a friend.  I am one of the 1 in 5 people affected by mental illness in our community.  I have Bipolar Disorder.


Clearly, the decision to be open with others about any illness is very personal and, unfortunately, there is lots of stigma attached to mental illness in particular.  But I want to share my experience of this disease with you; both the experiences of my past, and the journey I’m on now.  I’m eager to share because for the first 23 years of my life, I hid the symptoms and feelings I was so ashamed of.  No one in my world talked about mental illness.  I didn’t know of anyone who saw a psychiatrist or had a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.  I had no idea that my out-of-control moods and dark thoughts were in fact due to a chemical imbalance.  I felt so alone.  So I spent every day putting all of my energy into showing the world that I was ok – just like everybody else (it’s no wonder that when it came time to choosing what I wanted to pursue at University, I wanted to learn acting!).  As you may know from personal experience, this is an exhausting way to live.  In class at school, I tried very hard to focus so as not to break down in tears.  I just wanted to lie curled up on the floor and disappear forever.  I still feel this way much of the time.  In fact, this past week or so has been filled with feelings like this.  I am relieved, though, to have a reason (a diagnosis) and people to talk with about it (whether that be a friend, a family member or my doctor).  It has been freeing to not feel that I have to hide this HUGE thing I am going through.  The openness has created somewhat of a support system.  People in my life weren’t able to help me when they didn’t know what, if anything, was wrong.  That being said, my natural instinct when I’m sick is still to withdraw from the world and isolate myself, even from the people who are closest to me.  It continues to be a constant struggle right now, every day.  I realized this past week that I was falling back into my old pattern of faking feeling good.  It’s so hard when I know that everyone in my life wants so desperately for me to be well.  I hate disappointing them…but I think I hate the loneliness even more.  I know that I’ve never felt worse by speaking honestly about my mental illness.   That being said, I hope that voicing my experience here will help me manage my symptoms and, more than anything, I hope that someone with similar symptoms might feel a little less lonely by reading about my journey.

thanks for reading.   

see you next week,




Sunday, September 28, 2008

FirefightersStory-Trying to Protect My Family

As does everyone, I would do anything to protect my family. As I was taught, and had to learn though, by trying to protect my family from what I was going through with PTSD and other related symptoms, I was actually causing them more harm. This was a very tough lesson for me to learn though, and even though my psychologist explained this to me, many times, I still showed up in therapy with stories of ways that I hid what I was going through. Then, of course, she would patiently explain it to me, again, and again, to make me think, show me the reasons why I shouldn't hide what I was going through and feeling, in the hopes I would understand. This would be repeated to me for many many months.
I had a severe fear, and problem with "feelings" and dealing with and accepting them. I was totally numb to any and all feelings when I entered therapy. It was part of many years of numbing them, in order to survive and continue firefighting and living. This just happened, it was automatic, and I didn't have to try to do any of this, it was just my brains reaction I suppose to survive whatever I had seen and been through for many years as a firefighter.
My thinking was that if I tried to hide what I was feelling and going through, then everybody would think that I was okay, and things were normal. For years though, in my gradual decline, and denial, I thought I was doing a good job of trying to cover things up, so as not to worry my family, but also to protect them. I didn't realize just how much I had changed though, nevermind the inside, but on the outside. Nobody said anything though, or if they did, it wasn't to my knowledge. As I look back now though, things couldn't have been more obvious to all, and the only person that thought I was succeeding in covering things up so as to look and act 'normal', was me.
I'll just talk about one thing that I hid from my family, and everyone for that matter. Rather, I should say I 'thought' I hid from my family.
Endless tears, and crying uncontrollably. Yes, I'm not too proud now to say that I spent most days in neverending tears. I had deteriorated emotionally and was truly in a very 'fragile' state of mind.
I did everything in my power to hide my tears. I ran and hid at from my family at home, as well as having to have many strategies for hiding my many breakdowns at work. Obviously when at work, there were many other obvious risks I took with regards to getting 'caught' and suffering extreme embaressment. What the hell would you say to a bunch of macho tough firefighters who weren't suppose to cry, or in reality, be human.
I had so many ups and downs throughout the day, and it wouldn't be unusual for me to have upwards of probably between fifteen to twenty episodes of crying per day during my worst times. They obviously weren't all at home, but out in public places.
I did everything I could to avoid going out in public for fear of breaking down into tears. I had withdrew from venturing out as much as possible, and avoided any public contact with people as best I could. When forced to go out, to say get food, I always had to be ready to run out of the store and somehow avoid people who would see my tears. Quite the feeling as you could imagine.
At work, I had to find places to hide from my guys in order to hide when the tears flowed freely.
These episodes also came out of nowhere, blindsiding me as I say. For no particular reason, there they were.
At home, I would spend a great deal of time either running outside so my family wouldn't see me in tears, or as all too often would happen,trying to be as quiet as I could at night in bed, not sleeping, and crying uncontrollably into my pillow.
The most important lesson she (my psychologist) taught me was to share, share and share some more with my family. These were the people who were closest to me, yet I was keeping them as far away from me as possible. They were there to support me, as well as needing support themselves. In order for my family to help me, I had to allow them to 'know' what I was feeling and going through. If I didn't allow them in, to my world, and what was happening, then how or who was I expecting to give me support and allow me to try and focus on "my job" of working hard in therapy, in order to survive and find "my HOPE" in life. Therapy and my 'fight' took every ounce of energy I had, what little I had by now. So, it was explained, again and again to me, that by allowing my family to help with the little things, so I could fight the 'big things', they would be part of the solution. This would mean that some of THEIR fears would be allowed to be addressed also, as they were all going "to hell and back" with me. If I was scared and didn't understand what was going on, and what the outcome would be, try to think how NOT letting those closest to you, your family, to stand by helplessly by the sidelines and watch the 'self-destruction' of their complete family unit.
I know and realize it is one thing for me to say to others to try their best to allow their loved ones to help them, but I am talking from experience, and am hoping that by passing on this experience, it will help others to move forward faster on their own road to recovery during therapy and will find their own "light at the end of the tunnel", it IS there, trust me, and to find their own personal HOPE, which is the beginning of their own personal dreams and aspirations.
YOU CAN DO IT, I know you can. Continue to be BRAVE and COURAGEOUS as I know you are.
Thanks, Larry