Friday, October 10, 2008

Rachel's Story - how it began...

I can’t remember when this all started for me.  It’s not like this illness just snuck up on me.  In hindsight, I can see that it was building over the course of my life. Certain parts are a bit fuzzy in my mind (thanks, in part, to the illness, I think).  But I am going to try to share it, with the hope that others might identify with parts and feel less alone.

 As far back as I can remember, I have happy memories but also depressed ones.  From when I was a kid, I have memories of overwhelming sadness & loneliness without a particular reason.  I felt isolated from other kids at school.  I never really had any trouble making friends; I was popular among the other kids.  But still, school was actually a very lonely place for me when I was young, partly because it only served to reinforce the fact that my sadness was holding me back from being a happy, playful, carefree kid like the others (this is very similar to how I feel about being around large groups of people now).  These moments of intense sadness were balanced, though, with intensely happy times with a close, loving family.  I am so lucky for that.

 It wasn’t until I was a teenager that the depression became more painful, persistent and intense.  The first time I seriously wanted to kill myself was when I was about 16, I think.  And again, the reason I kept going everyday and did my best to hide what was really going on was because I loved my family more than anything.  In this way, I never slipped too far down or away with my depression, because my family was always around, doing things together that I still managed to enjoy.  In my late teens I confided in my brother.  I told him how much I was hurting inside and how lonely I felt, despite being surrounded by loving people.  I’ve always considered him to be my very best friend and confidante.  I realize that I am lucky to have him and that not everyone has someone they can trust like this.  Depression is a terrifying thing to admit.  I felt so deficient compared to everyone else around me; like I was such a loser because, somehow, I just couldn’t cope with things that seemed to come so easily to others.  I was embarrassed that I cried myself to sleep every night, overwhelmed by school, friends, expectations and LIFE.  I was having trouble doing basic things like getting out of bed in the morning and eating.  I was dragging myself through my life, trying my best in every moment to contain my SECRET.  Of course, looking back, I wish now that I’d somehow found the courage to ask for help, to tell my parents.  I didn’t know it then, of course, but things were about to get much worse.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


This writing should be a good education for all, I HOPE! I'm hoping that those who read this, whether you are like me, 1 in 5 and who suffer from a mental health illness, or have a family member that does, and are struggling with the many stigmas, feelings, fears such as I have, will just maybe have a better insight by what I am about to write here today. This is real, this is what I am feeling right now, and I am gripped in a terrifying fear of so many thoughts and emotions. I hope that for those of you who are sufferinng and struggling right now, you will see that YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and I HOPE you will somehow find a way to take a little bit of comfort in that. For those of you who know of or have a family member who is suffering, read on ,please,as this might, help you to understand just exactly what we who ARE the 1 in 5 fear, struggle with. It might also help you gain a little insight into the strange and scary ways that our minds sometimes grip us with fear, panic, confusion, and so many emotions that take over and run wild and rampant.
My heart is racing, and I'm running a million miles an hour inside as I write. I am terrified for what lies ahead for me in the days and weeks to follow. I am going to be doing something tomorrow that I BELIEVE IN, and I am not wavering in my solid convictions with regards to trying to help others, getting the messages out to the public that mental health illness is serious, and very real. People need to be educated, and we MUST talk openly and honestly instead of denying, or looking the other way in the hopes that if we do, the many all encompassing issues surrounding mental illness will disappear, or go away. Many do not realize the severity of the challenges that we face, and many others do not even realize just how close these issues might be to either themselves, or a loved one. They might be staring these issues right in the face and not even realize it, or understand it.
I do know though, that the challenge that is facing me, the fears and emotions are very real , raw,and terrifying. This is my reality, as is others who are like me, the other 1 in 5's.
When I was nearing the end of my treatment and therapy to help overcome the issues and challenges I had fought with for so long with PTSD, I realized that I had another "calling" in life. I had been given a gift, a new life and beginning, and a chance to turn the nightmare I had been living with for so long into a opportunity to help others. Nothing was going to stop or prevent me from doing so. I had been blessed with the opportunity to help others everytime I went to work and went out on a fire call. Now I was going to be able to help others such as myself, I hoped, by taking my experiences with suffering from a acute mental illness such as I had, and using the experiences and knowledge I had gained to help others.
So I started searching and waiting for an opportunity to allow me to accomplish this. Enter Mr Alfredsson. Here was my chance, because if he said it was okay to talk and not be ashamed, then I would have someone in my corner, so to speak, by my side.
I have been afforded the opportunity to help others with my writings, and chatting on this blog. Although people do know that I am a firefighter, and they do know my name, nobody but a select few know the person, the face that is behind these efforts of mine. I am anonymous, and have been for quite sometime. That's the way I like it, as I prefer to stay in the background, under the radar so to speak, because I am not looking for any recognition, I just have a desire to help others, and I am hoping that I have been able to do this "very quietly" "anonymously" because it's not about what I am, it's about the person that I am, and what I am trying to do for others.
I have shared my many struggles I and my loving family have faced, (there's lots more to share with everyonestill) but I have also been able to share my many triumphs, in the hopes of instilling these "feelings" of HOPE that I have, to others, as well as my sincerest and humble hope of helping and reassuring them also. I had NO HOPE before, but I do now, and I want others to know that there is HOPE for them also.
I had the honor of being asked to sit down yesterday with a lovely and caring lady by the name of Paula at the Ottawa Citizen and do an interview with her to try and explain a bit about my story, my mental illness and its challenges,and my desire to help others by coming forward, sharing with them through my writing, and how this has all come to fruition through the efforts of the many caring people at the Royal Ottawa Foundation, Mr Alfredsson, and numerous others too long to mention who are working tirelessly behind the scenes anonymously as I have been , because they too believe, and have been touched in one way or another by mental illness.
Along with the interview, I was asked if they could take pictures of me, and of course I readily accepted, though being very very shy it was hard for me. As I said, I prefer to "fly under the radar". This will be in mondays Ottawa Citizen, and I'm hoping I did okay, but am very nervous as obviously it was difficult, emotional, and I've obviously never talked this publically before. But, the message has to get out in order to help others.
As I was preparing to leave for the interview, and from there directly to work at the fire station for a night shift, my family asked me why I was, as I call it "wound for sound". You could peel me off the ceiling so to speak. I was anxious, scared, terrified, tearful, all rolled into one big storm of wild emotions. So I tried to explain to my wife and three girls just exactly what was going on in my little brain. What follows is how I tried to explain it to them, and my reasons why. Hope you understand, as it is somewhat shorter and paraphrased for length.
People need to know that mental illness is real, and if affects real people. So, my feelings and thoughts were that people needed to "see" a real person, me, Larry, and be able to put a face to the story of my mental illness that I write about, and hopefully this would help to make it clearer to all that we ARE real people, us 1 in 5, in need of real proper professional help. This way it might help everyone to understand better and to realize just how real this all is.
Now, I must wait and see what troubles will await me at work, but I am not optimistic at all I'm sorry to say. I have a feeling, and it is NOT good,as there's only one other firefighter that knows what I have been trying to do "anonymously, quietly behind the scenes and below the radar" in order to help others. I didn't want anyone to know because I am truly very scared with regards to the many unfortunate stigmas that people have, and I in my own way, deliberately decided that I would "avoid", which is very common with having PTSD , as we practice avoidance extremely well in order to not have to deal with it. Sometimes, old habits die hard though, and I make no apology's to anyone for this. This is still who I am. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to survive for just a little while longer, in the hopes it will all go away.And yes I do know that it will never go away, without her(psychologists) help. My angel as I and my family refer to her.
So, I don't know what will become of me, nor what challenges I will have to fight now, though I have a very good idea, and can imagine. I have said to my family, and my psychologist, as she knows everything I do, she's my security blanket and helps to keep me going, that I do indeed have a calling, and they support me in this calling, because, "Sometimes when you hear the call, you have to answer that call, no matter what the consequences!"
This is also why she knows(my psychologist), that I will be sitting on my "park bench" that has my name on it, as did my hero General Romeo Dallaire, who had his own "park bench" with his name on it, who was the pioneer spokesperson and example for me with regards to PTSD and my mental illness, whom unfortunately knew what the right thing to do for his soldiers was, though by battling on for what he believed in, unfortunately relapsed, and sat on his "park bench", and as do I with regards to helping others, and my fellow firefighters, and I know she (my angel, psychologist)will find me, and we'll talk quietly, and get ready to push the snowball up the mountain again.
Thank you for allowing me to write and express my thoughts about this challenge, but I assure you that I have no regrets, because in the end it will help others. Mission accomplished, so to speak.