Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey


October 18, 2014

Anxiety To Panic

16,984…that’s how many people from all over the world have read my blog so far! People from France, The Cayman Islands, Italy, New Zealand and more, have taken in my story and supported me along the way…thank you! I’m not going to lie, it’s a wee bit overwhelming. The pieces of myself I’ve divulged on this page are ‘out there’; I can’t take it back…but I wouldn’t want to. The feeling of freedom I am beginning feel, now that I’ve been sharing my brutal truth, is something I’ve never felt before. It’s empowering and fills me with so much gratitude. Before this blog, I lived a secret life of, “Ian, don’t talk about anything if anyone is around you”, and “I hope no one ever finds out because they will never see me as strong again”. Looking back now, I can see that that point of view was a huge waste of my time. For 37 years the mental illness stigma controlled my life because I felt the truth would ruin my world. It’s still a daily battle, each post cautiously spilling out another piece of my life…but when it’s all said and done, this is who I am.

I have yet to receive one negative comment about my blog, (now granted some people may just be biting their tongues), but what this experience has taught me so far is that my opinions and feelings mean something to people. So once again, in the interest of brutal truth, I want to share my story about what happened on September 7th, 2013; the first time I overdosed.

I had been under a lot of stress at work. My supervisor was excellent and tried everything to help me through this time, but there’s only so much one can do. Day by day work turned from a place I enjoyed going to, to a place I began to dread. I still loved many aspects of the job, especially teaching, but when stress hovers over everything you do, there’s only so much you can continue to love. I began drinking quite a bit as soon as I got home…It was my only way to relax. I noticed that on my days off my anxiety slowly got worse and worse…I never really felt like I had unwound from work. The stress was always on my mind. Noises started to bother me to the point of nausea. I couldn’t sit in the room if the TV was on, and I plugged my ears when anyone yelled. There was a tractor that drove around our neighbour hood every day, every few minutes, from 0700-1700, and I couldn’t take it! I hoped to see another neighbour run outside and stop the driver because they were going crazy too…but no, it affected me alone. What the heck is happening to me? I even asked AB, Ian and my daughter to go outside and yell at the driver one day. They all looked at me like I was crazier than a Saturday at Costco…but I was serious, I was about to chain my body to the back hoe. When that plan didn’t work, I had the brilliant idea to call the builder and lie, pretending that the tractor was waking up my small baby. Good Lord, what was I thinking? I begged that he started to take a different route and thought the ‘desperate new mom’ image would pull at their heart strings. Well it didn’t work. I’m such a bad liar…damn it. 

As the tractor continued it’s tour of my neighbourhood, I started wearing ear plugs…but I could still feel the house shake when it went past, so it frustrated me even more. I downloaded peaceful music and tried to listen to that…it was futile. The only thing that got me away from the noise was not being in the house at all. Why was something like this affecting me so much? Why couldn’t I just come home from work and feel relaxed? To top it all off, being a shift worker meant that I needed sleep in the day. Well when I came home from an already stress filled night shift, my anxiety would shoot to the moon when that tractor started up! I had no peace! I couldn’t sleep! I was living in stress 24/7… at work and home! I felt myself getting angry and numb. Then one night, while trying to listen to my peaceful music before work, something happened. I couldn’t put my uniform on! There was no way I could! I cried uncontrollably and felt like a fool. I was angry, frustrated and exhausted. Then finally my frustration spiralled into a full blown panic attack! So for those of you who have never experienced one, for me it feels like my brain is running a never-ending marathon that I can’t keep up with. I breathe so fast, my muscles tense up, I feel paranoid and like the world isn’t real. I’m hyper vigilant because I don’t feel safe. Like with my deeper layers of depression, all logic disappears, and sadly it needs to run its course. After 10-15 minutes once I’m finally calm, I’m exhausted. I want to sleep for a million years, but after pumping so much adrenalin into my bloodstream, I can’t sleep…it will take days until I feel back to my normal myself…whatever that is.

Once I got through the panic attack, Ian took me to the hospital as I continued to cry. He couldn’t bear to see me like that; I needed something to calm me down. I was SO embarrassed and paranoid that I would run into any of my co-workers. It was bad enough that I knew most of the nurses and I couldn’t avoid that. I wanted to be invisible! Ian scoped out the place before I left the car. What an ordeal! The elaborate planning that went into hiding me every hospital visit because I was embarrassed about my mental health illness was exhausting! Not only for me, but for anyone who went with me. I would think, If only I had a broken leg! I wouldn’t need to hide. People would never look at me differently, because a broken leg could happen to anyone. What naive thinking! I knew that what was happening to me could happen to anyone else too…but I still thought this panic attack made me weak.

After completing our ‘Mission Impossible’ task of getting me to the mental health unit undercover, (we actually snuck through offices and went through back halls with security so that I wasn’t seen), the doctor assessed me and referred me to see a psychiatrist in a few days. I got a small prescription for Ativan, but when I tried it, it didn’t help me at all. Of course! So my only hope was that in a few days the psychiatrist would have the answer I was looking for (to what question I didn’t know…I was a mess). He will fix me! That’s his job right?

The day of the psychiatrist appointment finally arrived… I was nervous but hopeful. After waiting over an hour to see him, Ian and I sat down in his office and tried to explain over the span of a few minutes what had transpired. My legs shook in the chair, and I stared out the window. I was on the brink of crying when he had the nerve to give me the, “just think of positive things” speech! I immediately lost all confidence in him, so Ian had to take over answering the questions. After what was maybe a 15 minute appointment, he wrote me a prescription and told me to come back in a few weeks. Are you kidding me? I actually had a PSYCHIATRIST tell me to ‘just think of positive things’! I just positively wanted to punch him in the face!  I was devastated, crushed and deflated. I knew that there wouldn’t be a magic pill to fix what I was feeling. I needed something more, but at that point I didn’t know what.

That night I took my first dose of Seroquil, Clonazapam and some trial drug I can’t even remember the name of. The best way I can describe how it made me feel was like a zombie! Ian kept asking me if I was ok… I could barely reply. My lips couldn’t make the sounds I needed them to. I couldn’t align my thoughts, let alone walk in a straight line to the bathroom. I didn’t like it AT ALL. “Maybe tomorrow you should just take half”, Ian suggested. So the next day I did just that. But half of each pill STILL made me feel spaced out. I would learn latter that I apparently made a sandwich and left it on the counter with one bite taken out of it. I’m surprised I even got that far!

The day turned into night and I felt no better. When Ian asked how I was doing before he went to work, I lied like usual and said I was fine. “Put your headphones in and try to get some sleep”, he said. So thinking that I would be ok, I was left to my own devices, alone, and feeling like I was on another planet. I remember thinking that I just needed to sleep it off. I also remembered how the Ativan I had taken before did nothing for me…so I took a few Clonazapam. I listened to my music and drifted farther into outer space. I was SO far gone that I thought it was a BRILLIANT idea to shave the sides of my head! So while rocking out to I think Miley Cyrus (don’t judge), I took Ian’s clippers and buzzed both sides of my head. (I’m shaking my own head right now). Time elapsed and I drifted even further away…apparently I took some selfies, proud of my new hairstyle, and sent them to AB. She later showed me the texts and pictures…I was devastated 😦 The rest of the night is gone…I don’t remember it at all. When Ian, my brother and AB got to the house I was unconscious. I had taken almost the whole bottle of clonazepam, wrote in my journal and left piles of hair in the sink. AB described my room as “truly an awful scene”. She said, “it was like the aftermath of an MVC”…except it was my house. “Hair in the sink, journal out with the pen dropped near it. Crumpled up Kleenex. The earphones telling (her) that I was trying to zone out with my duvet all dishevelled”.

I was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and when finally conscious enough, I was put on a voluntary form. I then shamefully earned myself a minimum of 3 days in 3NC. Sad as this may sound, all the embarrassment aside, when I was able to put my thoughts together, (and look at my horrible hair in the mirror), a part of me was happy to be there. It would be quiet and I could sleep…it was what I wanted all along; my mind to rest. How has the hospital become my save haven? How did I get here? How do I move on? Well, I’m still learning those answers today…

Day 9 – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Over the past two weeks there have been a lot of powerful analogies put forth in class; today was no exception. Our teacher in  ‘addiction class’ asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” …Complete silence in the room…we knew there was a catch. He continued on to say, “People recovering from mental health illness and addiction exhibit many of the traits an adolescent does”. Oh goodie! I hated being a teenager. If anyone says high school was fun, I might punch them in the throat. Ok, realistically, I could tell where he was going with this. Every one of us could relate to the following adolescent feelings; insecurity; not knowing where we belonged in the world; we experienced moods swings like a pendulum; we felt isolated and definitely misunderstood. But on a good note, similar to an adolescent we (once again) had the opportunity to decide ‘who we wanted to be’. Did we want to be an addict, or not? Did we want to heal from our illnesses, or not? What future did we see for ourselves? So that’s it? We just DECIDE? Let’s get real, we were all light years away from celebrating at ‘sobriety prom’.

The class started to express their frustration in how easy the teacher made this decision sound. The reality was that deciding who we ‘wanted to be’ was often a minute by minute choice; did he know what that felt like? Similar to an adolescent we all had constant internal battles. To carry on with the analogy, we all had a high school bully living inside of our heads, trying to convince us to numb the pain we feel from our mental illnesses with alcohol or drugs. It’s what we all did in the past…it’s how we coped…and how we almost died. And honestly, that bully is SO convincing. He tells us one drink will be ok…that we’re adults and can make our own decisions…that no one needs to know about it… that everyone else is just overreacting. I wanted to hear the teacher say that the bully would eventually leave. That with time and hard work we could all have complete inner peace…but that was wishful thinking. Apparently he will always be there, lurking in the back of our minds. But we can control how much power we give him. Putting ourselves in situations where people are drinking (or ‘using’ for many of my classmates) will make the bully stronger, more tempting and easier to give in to. However, living a healthy well balanced lifestyle will kick the bully’s ass significantly. But alas, it…will…take…time.

Sadly, many of my classmate’s bully’s had been too powerful at one point in their lives. Some had relapsed after 25 years of sobriety (heartbreaking). It wasn’t going to be an easy road; it hadn’t been so far. But at least for today we choose who we wanted to be; a healthy human being…that’s why we were there. Together we already had our ‘click’, with no peer pressure, just acceptance and support. Now that’s my kind of high school.

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