Me + You = Two.

Life’s Lessons.

In my younger years, like many other twenty something’s, I thought I knew everything I needed to.  I was set. Good job that I loved, nice apartment in a great city, awesome friends, car to drive, money in my pocket, college diploma, professional designation, weekend parties and Sunday(and Monday) hangovers. It was great. Ahhhh the memories. At that time in my life I was also strongly opinionated, a bit closed minded, emotionally shut down, maybe a tad pretentious and was wearing a large chip on my shoulder. Never the less, I was on top of the world.

A colleague of mine suffered from migraines. She had to take medication, everyday, and even leave work early. If she felt an episode coming on, we had to turn off the radio, turn off all the lights and she dimmed all the computers in the office. Honestly, I thought: “For a headache; take a few ibuprofen or naproxen with a big glass of water and get over it”.  This colleague, let’s call her Jane, talked about some of her “triggers” such as chocolate, cheese, the barometric pressure, stress, lack of sleep…blah blah. I never really gave her my full attention. She went on and on about twitching and auras and sensitivities and how these migraines were diminishing her quality of life. I secretly thought she was making it up.  Seriously, how bad can a headache really be? I had no sympathy for Jane. None, not even a little. While she tended to her headache – or “migraine” as she called it, I plowed through my work and would do some of her work if there was absolutely nothing else I could do. Back then, I had no idea and didn’t even try to learn how bad her migraines really were.

That was, until I started having them myself. Oh ya, good old Karma got me again. I had had bad headaches in the past. I recall having an aura – although I didn’t realize that what it was at the time, I just thought I was going blind.

Shortly after I returned to work from my first maternity leave, we bought a new van. Looking back, a lot had happened from that Wednesday I called the dealer until the Saturday we picked it up. Wednesday night we went in and signed the papers for the van – never test drove it, never looked at it, picked the color and price and signed where needed. Thursday afternoon, my husband was rushed to the hospital by ambulance as the doctors thought the scar from the hernia repair he had done in June had opened and was strangulated, cutting off circulation to the bowel …which happens to be life threatening. Turns out, it did rip open, but was not strangulated, thank god.  We waited in the ER at the city hospital for about 9 hours before he could go home. The surgeon told us to wait by the phone and he would call us to advise when he could repair it. I would be less than a week and definitely before Christmas. The tear was still urgent and needed surgery to be fixed. Oh yeah did I mention this all went down in December about 2 weeks before Christmas??

Friday night I went solo to my work Christmas party. I was exhausted, but was not missing this event. I had just been promoted and wanted to show I was a committed employee, even after hours.

Then finally on Saturday my husband and I went to sign the final deal and pick up the van. I wasn’t feeling too great. I had no idea what the sales person said. I could not sit still. I felt very nauseous. I was not hung over – I didn’t even drink the night before. My focus was off, even when wearing my glasses. I was sweating and shivering at the same time. Noises became louder, lights became brighter. I ate a granola bar to help. I drank water, milk, apple juice, coffee. Nothing helped. By the time we got to my parents to pick up our daughter the right side of my face felt like pins and needles. I was frantically searching my purse for the medication I was taking for depression. I thought maybe I had forgotten to take it and was starting withdrawal. Dizziness set in, and then retching and vomiting so bad, so much that bile came up. My face looked like I had taken a red pen and scribbled all over it because so many capillaries had burst from the force of the vomiting. I overheard my dad say “she has buyer’s remorse”; my mom “she is just over tired”; my husband “I don’t know, maybe too much to drink last night”.

It was none of those. It was my first full-fledged body shocking, mind altering and serious migraine.  I took copious amounts of Tylenol 3, anti-nausea medication and ibuprofen. It helped me pass out for a few hours. I woke up with an absolutely horrendous skull splitting headache. It hurt me to move, even slightly. Any miniscule amount of light was blinding. The sound of the bedroom door opening felt like it was shattering my ear drums. Simply put it was fucked up.

Now, I think about Jane and how I made an assumption about how she felt. I think about her pain, reality and loneliness from her experienced from her persistent migraines. My god, I thought she was just slacking. What a wake-up call.  Like so many others, I am now the Jane in this story. I get a lot of well intentioned advice from people trying to help me with my mental illness. I also get a lot of rolled eyes, a lot of “oops sorry – we thought you would be too tied to come” explanations, a lot of blank staring and most heart breaking so much misunderstanding.

I could never know exactly how Jane felt. I am not her. Now, I empathize with her. I understand her perspective and I have done a lot of reading about migraines. People, even those closest to my heart, will never know exactly how living mental illness has changed my life. Or how it feels to intellectually understand and comprehend what I should feel or why I should not be afraid of the dark, or that I am not the voices in the mind, or how mental illness is a definition, not a sentence. I know I am not a victim anymore, I am a survivor. Emotionally, my brain doesn’t get it. Emotionally my brain is broken. Emotionally I am on a roller coaster. My emotional brain does not connect with my intellectual brain. After trying to fix this on my own and with patchwork for more than half of my life, both sides finally snapped and inevitably led to my 2010 meltdown.

I need medication – a few medications – every single day to remain level. As my body changes, the medication needs adjusting and tweaking every few months. The drugs are not a quick fix. They take a while to work, and there is no magic pill or cocktail to take. The medication is not a cure. The drugs are not something to be afraid of. The drugs saved my life and saved me from myself. It is not perfect. It is better than not being on them. I still cry. I can still create. I can still laugh. I still feel. I feel like my normal, at least some of the time.  Drugs were not enough for me. I also have been participating in a few other forms of treatment and therapy. Keep watching the blog; more to come on those.

For now, my message is simple. Mental Illness is personal. It manifests, presents and affects each and every person who has it differently. Why? The universe did not make any two persons the same. Every single one of us on this globe has experienced life personally and differently. Because you are you and I am me.

My sister summed this up last week to me in an e-mail:

When you don’t have mental illness, you don’t get it so I need to tell you that I won’t try to get it.  It’s very frustrating as a loved one to see you as a victim.  I’m hopeful for you:)” – Sarah Payne – used by permission.

If you are concerned for someone who has a mental illness, or if a loved one of yours suffers and you do not know how to help them. Know this: you cannot fix them. You cannot change them. What you can do is educate yourself. Get the help of a professional. Listen and be a friend – even when it gets really tough and it does. Give them a hug, and tell them you love them, without conditions. Even if the person doesn’t believe you at the time, do it anyway. Do it over and over again. I promise those are the best gifts you can give to a person suffering with mental illness.

Keep in mind, a person who is struggling with mental illness will not likely be able to provide support to you about how your life as an observer has changed. It is so hard to know someone is hurting and not be able to make it all better. Get help, talk to your doctor, therapist, best friend, someone you trust, another person you know openly dealing with mental illness, inquire about the counselling services provided by your employer or your school. Call the nearest centre for mental health listed in the phone book.

I don’t want to hear – we don’t know what to do. Or what should I do?

I cannot accept that anymore. Reach out, keep reaching and reaching until you find the right hand or hands that reach back. There is no one who can help you effectively until you admit you need help and you begin to help yourself.

Please see the resource section of my blog for information on where to go, where to read, get information and educate yourself on the realities of mental health.

Your eyes do not need to be open to see, your mind does.

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