Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rachel's Story - Difficult Time of Year

For some of us who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety, the holidays can be a very difficult time of year. The extra socializing and shopping in crowded malls only serve to heighten our anxieties. Seeing other people enjoying themselves at holiday parties while we are feeling desperately sad on the inside only serves to deepen our sadness (I always feel somehow inadequate that I can’t seem to join in on the holiday fun). Just remember, you are not alone. And try and do something for yourself EVERY day. You’ll get through it!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rachel's Story - Accepting the Diagnosis

Someone asked me this week how I originally accepted my diagnosis. On the one hand, I was very RELIEVED when I was diagnosed. I remember how good it felt to finally have an explanation for the way I felt. It took away some of the shame and embarrassment associated with the dark feelings I was experiencing because I finally had a name and a reason for what was going on inside of me. And perhaps most importantly, I realized that there were others who were going through the same thing. I WAS NOT ALONE.

On the other hand, I was (and still am, sometimes) ANGRY. Why me? All I could see were the ways in which my life would have to change. From now on, I would have to be more careful about my sleep, constantly watching my moods, taking meds, participating in group therapy, seeing doctors regularly, having regular blood work, etc. When my mood starts to slip, my psychologist encourages me to do my “homework” (work on thinking patterns) and sometimes I just get so tired of it, I’m desperate to be “normal”. All of the effort involved in keeping myself well seems totally overwhelming and, on the bad days, I resent it.

How do others feel?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rachel's Story - Brunch & Learn Nov. 29th

On Sunday November 29th I will be guest speaking at a Brunch & Learn about Bipolar Disorder. It begins at 9:30am and is at Agudath Israel Synagogue (1400 Coldrey Ave., Ottawa). I would love to see you there!

Here is the blurb about the talk:

Bipolar Disorder; When is a mood swing a problem?

We all have bad days, good days and, every once in a while, great days. Our moods come and go, like clouds in the wind. So when is it a problem? It’s a problem when our mood swings affect our ability to function, when they wreck our relationships, get us in trouble at work, and make it hard for us to focus in school. It’s a problem when we lose perspective and we lose our judgement, maybe do things that are very out of character, and sometimes suffer serious consequences as a result. In Bipolar Disorder, the “highs” (mania) are more than feeling great, and the “lows” (depression) are more than the blues. The symptoms that are part of this disorder can cause us (or others) terrible distress.

In their presentation, our speakers will try to shed light on Bipolar Disorder, what it is, what it feels like, and some psychological adjunct treatment approaches. Rachel Scott-Mignon is 27 years old and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in the fall of 2006. She has an Honours Degree in Theatre and Communication from the University of Ottawa. Rachel is a spokesperson for the Royal Ottawa's Foundation for Mental Health and writes a blog about living with a mental illness at www.youknowwhoiam.com. Dr. Connie Dalton is one of the co-founders o f the Ottawa Institute for CBT. She is a clinical psychologist specializes in the treatment of Depression and Bipolar Disorder and supervises psychiatry residents in cognitive behavioural therapy. Dr. Irit Sterner is a clinical psychologist, affiliated with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, and as a Clinical Professor at the University of Ottawa. She is currently working in the Mood Disorders Program, where she provides specialized assessments and treatments in individual and group CBT for mood disorders and supervises doctoral students in psychology.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rachel's Story - Balance

Life is so busy – especially when you’re young and your friends want to be socializing many nights and you have work commitments and exercise routines to fit in and family engagements…pretty soon there are so many demands on one’s time that it becomes stressful for anyone, let alone someone living with a mental illness. I know from experience that a big part of staying healthy with my bipolar disorder involves getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night and maintaining a healthy balance in my life (ie: not working too much, not socializing at the expense of my sleep, making sure I get regular exercise, etc.).

In the beginning, it was difficult for some of my friends to understand that occasionally I had to turn them down, choosing instead to stay in and get some rest. My true friends, though, have learned to accept this over time and it helps me to create a balanced lifestyle.

The exercise piece is difficult sometimes. When I’m really depressed, the last thing I feel like doing is dragging myself out for a run or to a yoga class. But when I’m feeling good or only mildly depressed, exercise can keep me from spiraling down. It definitely helps me to de-stress and to sleep better.

In combination with meds and regular visits to my psychiatrist & CBT, these are the elements that seem to be keeping me relatively healthy and balanced these days.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rachel's Story - Panic

I just started a new panic group at the ROH to try to deal with the panic disorder I’ve been experiencing. Apparently, panic disorder is present if panic attacks are accompanied by a persistent anxiety or worry about having another attack, are associated with a fearful interpretation of panic symptoms or result in life changes as a result of the attacks. I’ve been experiencing several panic attacks lately, predominantly at bedtime. I suddenly become very fearful, my heart begins to race and pound, my body trembles, I sweat, feel dizzy, feel short of breath and have thoughts that I am “going crazy”.

Due to fear of panic attacks, I have often avoided certain situations. These have included public places where lots of people are in a small space such as public transportation (buses, subways), concerts, parties, shopping malls, etc.

Historically, to deal with my panic attacks, I have frequently depended upon self-harm (which I realize is destructive and not a good solution) and medication (clonazepam and lorazepam). I am hoping that the group I’ve just started will provide me with some good alternative solutions. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rachel's Story - Friendships

It is sad but many of my friendships have suffered as a result of my illness. I was asked this week what I have lost due to my illness and friendships would be at the top of my list. Because my natural instinct is to isolate myself when I’m feeling down, this breaks up my connections with other people. Some friends understand this and those are my best friends (the friendships I’ve managed to maintain). I truly appreciate them. But because when I’m down I find it excruciatingly hard to reach out to others, it’s difficult to make links. Over the years I think I have lost many opportunities this way.

Recently though, I have made some new friends through the course of my treatment at the hospital. They are others, who, like me, are struggling with a similar illness. I value these friends because they truly understand what I’m going through and they give me HOPE to continue my battle. We are able to share stories and symptoms in a way that others cannot understand. I am so thankful to these friends (you all know who you are) and urge more people to come forward here on the blog and share – it really helps!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rachel's Story - Dark feelings

It’s amazing how difficult it is to talk about some of the feelings I have. The darker the feelings, the harder it seems to talk about them. This is why, for years, I didn’t tell anyone about the way I felt; I desperately hid everything. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was picking up the phone the first time I ever called a psychiatrist and admitted I needed help. I felt so embarrassed and alone. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done because it got me some much needed help and, ultimately, saved my life.

Even recently, though, I have struggled when it comes to opening up about the dark feelings inside of me. I have felt ashamed and embarrassed. This is why I sometimes have harmed myself rather than asked for help. But do you know what? When I have asked for help, I have NEVER regretted it. And it has frequently served to remind me that I’m not alone.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rachel's Story - Patience

Over the past couple of weeks I have caught my mood slipping a little bit. I am beginning to wonder if this is at all seasonal (as this is exactly what happened last year at this time: it started in September, snowballed in October, and I ended up in hospital in November). I think it’s a really positive sign that I caught my mood slipping. I was able to recognize the signs this year really early and tell my doctor. Therefore, he raised my medication and I thought all would be well! But things are never quite that simple; I have developed an allergic reaction to the medication when at a higher dose. And this will doubtlessly mean more trial and error to find another medication to take its place.

That’s one major difference between being hospitalized and not: when I was an inpatient my doctor put me on and off different meds very quickly because I was in the safe environment of the hospital, under the constant supervision of the nursing staff. As an outpatient, the process is much slower, taking weeks at a time to test one single medication. I keep telling myself to be patient and that we’ll eventually find the right combination of meds, but sometimes it’s hard to believe. Those are the times when I feel especially lucky to have some amazing, HOPEFUL people in my life (because they keep believing in me and for me)! Many of those people spent hours visiting me at the Royal when I was an inpatient, encouraging me with compassion, understanding and hope through my roughest times and I am very grateful.

Monday, September 7, 2009

You Know Who I Am links

Our FaceBook YKWIAM Page is located at http://www.facebook.com/pages/You-Know-Who-I-Am/78035047062

Our FaceBook group can be found at:


Friday, August 28, 2009

Rachel's Story - Relief vs. Fear

I felt mixed about my admission. Part of me was relieved that someone was stepping in. That my collection of prescription drugs and razors and anything else that could cause me any harm was being taken away from me. That from now on the focus would be on rest and rehabilitation. Another part of me, though, was scared. Even though I had been hospitalized before, it was in Toronto, never here. I didn’t know what to expect. What would the staff be like? What would the other patients be like? Would the food be good? I was also keenly aware of the stigma associated with yet another stay at a “psych ward”. What did that say about me? Am I crazy?

As it turned out, I had a room to myself and I bonded with my primary nurse almost immediately. I really felt that she was on my side and willing to do whatever she could to help me. During the first few weeks of my hospitalization I kept pretty much to myself, staying in my room, sleeping. I was heavily medicated (this made me really tired and also makes it quite difficult for me to recall this period too specifically). I remember being somewhat impressed by the quality of the food, though! I was encouraged by my nurse to spend some time out of my room so I would watch some TV in the common area, but mainly I was too tired to focus. I slowly began to make friends with other patients and we would compare symptoms, meds and side effects. It was comforting to speak with other people who were going through similar struggles.

To be continued...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rachel's Story - Emergency Last Fall

As September approaches I find myself looking back to last year at this time and I am very thankful to be where I am now. This year I am very fortunate to have a whole new set of skills as a result of the various groups I have participated in at the Royal Ottawa. I am better able to recognize my mood symptoms and catch myself before I fall into a deep depression or rise into mania. Admittedly, I was apprehensive about joining the groups because I am quite shy but I quickly got over that when I discovered that everyone there was like me, seeking to learn more about their illness. If you have the chance to participate in any of these groups, I highly recommend that you do. Now I’d like to share my story.

Last year at this time I couldn’t see myself falling. I was slowly losing interest in my friends and my formerly pursued activities. Getting out of bed everyday became a bigger and bigger challenge. My thinking and speech became slowed-down. I felt sad and tired much of the time. I had no interest in food. Living life seemed to require a BIGGER effort than I could muster. These symptoms started on a small scale (in September) and escalated until I was thinking of suicide or death every day (by October). I was relieving my anxiety with self-harm (cutting). I was collecting prescription drugs with the intention of over-dosing. Thankfully, my family stepped in and took me to the Civic’s emergency where I underwent a series of mini assessments with nurses and a psychiatrist. I was pretty out of it. All I knew was that I needed to end the pain somehow. I felt like I was being tormented and I couldn’t take it any longer. I was admitted on the eve of my 26th birthday. I remember that all I wanted to do was lie in the dark, but because I was under observation, they wouldn’t let me turn off the lights. It was bright and loud and I couldn’t wait to be transferred from psych emergency to somewhere less temporary. I was supposed to be moved up to the Civic’s psych ward, but fortunately I got the news that a bed was available at the Royal and that I would be transferred there later in the day. So the day after my birthday I was transferred by ambulance to the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I was a little nervous, as I’d never been hospitalized there before.

To be continued…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rachel's Story - Taking Meds

It's summertime and my schedule is a little more laid back. That being said, I'm finding it hard to keep to a strict routine when it comes to taking my meds (especially my morning ones). I sleep in some mornings and then I take them a little later or forget altogether! Before, when people have expressed having difficulty taking meds, I have never been able to relate, but now I definitely can. I've tried leaving them right out on the counter where I can see them first thing in the morning and I've tried setting a watch alarm (which I have proceeded to sleep through!).

Then, I also have the problem where even if I think I've taken them in the morning, I'm not absolutely sure and wonder if I should take them again later on. I guess I need one of those pill boxes with the times of day written on it.

In the winter, when I was first discharged from the hospital, I was really vigilant and never ran into these problems. My schedule was a little more consistent then and the meds were easier to keep track of. Does anyone else have issues like this, other issues related to meds or solutions to these issues?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rachel's Story - Back to work

I went back to work two weeks ago.  I don’t know what I expected exactly.  I was looking forward to it though.  I had become increasingly bored of being at home every day with nothing to do.  My days consisted of watching TV and walking my dog and not much else.  So going back to work seemed like a great idea.  And it has been positive to a certain extent.  I enjoy being back with all my friends.  The social aspect is a big plus. 


But the big shock was my loss of confidence.  I didn’t expect that I would feel so lost in a job I’ve been doing for nearly 3 years.  In the beginning, I couldn’t help feeling that I was doing things wrong; that I had everything backwards somehow.  Going to work was filled with fear.  I felt different.  Like every client knew what I had been through and that I was no longer competent or qualified to do my job.  Almost like my hospitalization had stolen my good qualities and left me bereft of confidence.


I was also dealing with feelings of paranoia; I felt that at any moment I was going to be given a warning or be fired for my poor performance, despite a lack of evidence to support this: I wasn’t being given any negative feedback.  Slowly now, shift by shift, my confidence is coming back.  I am a little relieved to see that I can handle things and that I am good at what I do but it is still a struggle every day. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rachel's Story - The Monster That is Anxiety

Lately I have a hard time taking a full, complete breath.  I feel a bit like I'm suffocating much of the time.  I often wake up about an hour after I've gone to bed, panicked, overheated, sweaty and desperate for air and water.  Strangely, I feel like I'm drowning.  I've fortunately never had the terrifying experience of almost drowning before, but this is what I imagine it must be like.  I'm gasping for air,  my heart is pounding, I'm convinced I'm going to die.  It's like I can't find the surface to take a big gulp of fresh air.   At the same time I am excessively thirsty.  I run to the kitchen and pour myself a giant glass of fresh, cool water and drink it down.  At last, my heart begins to calm.  I've been experiencing lots of panic attacks over the past few weeks - no doubt these must be part of that.  They are really terrifying.  I'm learning to depend a little more on Lorazepam now and things are beginning to straighten themselves out.  It's really easy to feel alone with anxiety which is why I wanted to share my story.  You are not alone.  Please feel free to share your story too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rachel's Story - Pet Therapy

I was discharged from the hospital a little more than 4 weeks ago.  The absolute best thing about being home is being with my dog every day.  As an inpatient, I missed him more than I thought possible.  There is something so calming and comforting about an animal – there’s nothing like it.  My dog radiates unconditional, non-judgmental, pure LOVE. 

 While I was in the hospital I noticed a woman with a therapy-dog.  She was visiting the Geriatric Unit.  What a wonderful idea!  I wished she had also visited the Mood and Anxiety Unit (where I was) because I love animals so much and I know it would have benefited everyone on the unit.  There’s nothing like an animal to lift people’s spirits.

 On days when I’m depressed and getting out of bed seems to require a Herculean effort, my dog really inspires me to get up and stick to a routine.  I have no choice but to get up and feed him and take him for a walk.  And, inevitably, I love walking him.  It’s one of my favorite things to do (especially when the weather is nice).  So I owe him a debt of gratitude.  I’d love to hear from others who are struggling with mental illness…how have your pets helped you?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Facebook Group Re-launched!

Our Facebook group for youknowwhoiam.com has been relaunched after some technical difficulties. Search for "youknowwhoiam rohcg" on Facebook to join in. Please come and contribute!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rachel's Story - anxiety & depression, a vicious cycle

I always hear psychologists say that anxiety and depression go hand in hand.  That they tend to feed off of one another.  I have always believed this to be true in my case since I do suffer from long bouts of anxiety coupled with my depression.  In fact, before I was ever thought to have bipolar disorder, I was diagnosed with unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder.


What I have discovered recently is that, at their worst, depression and anxiety do not coexist simultaneously for me.  That is to say, when I am severely depressed, it seems that my mood is so low that I don’t care about anything.  Nothing worries me.  Everything seems inconsequential.  There is nothing for me to be anxious about.


When I am less depressed I have more energy, which translates into anxious thoughts.  Anxiety is terrifying.  I’m always on the defensive, in panic mode.  I become paralyzed.  I’m afraid of the simplest things.  Lately, I’m fearful of being a passenger in the car in icy weather conditions.  I can’t stand being in stores with bright lights and loud sounds and lots of people. Panic sets in.  My heart starts pounding and I feel like I can’t breathe – I’ve got to remove myself from the situation.  Even small holiday gatherings put an amount of stress on me that exceeded my limit…socializing always tends to make me anxious.  I’m trying so hard just to control my symptoms that I cannot focus at all on the conversation or fun that is being had.


So I don’t know which is better.  Depression and anxiety are both scary for different reasons and they seem to cycle back and forth unless you stop them with meds and/or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  In my experience, CBT has only been somewhat helpful…I’ve only had one session so far, I will be continuing in a few weeks.  Has anyone else found HOPE in CBT?


Happy New Year!