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Three years ago, I wrote a piece called Through the Screen Door. It was written from a hospital bed, during a long admission that seemed to have no end in sight. Hope felt next to non-existent. I didn’t believe that I would ever get better, or be able to build the life with Kathryn that I had imagined.

That post was about picturing kids playing in our backyard, knowing that some day Kathryn and I would be raising those kids together. It was about imagining a time when mental illness wasn’t the driving force in our daily life, and about using all we had learned through my illness to teach little ones to live with hope deep within them.

We had gone to a fertility clinic earlier that year for an initial consult. We had also spent long hours researching and talking about the pros and cons of anonymous vs known donor sperm. We had not set a specific timeline in motion, but we were well on our way to beginning to grow our family. I remember Friday nights spent wondering how much sperm was being tossed away in houses all around us.

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was little. Probably since I knew that babies came from mommies’ tummies. I was the girl eager to babysit the neighbours’ kids, always volunteering in the nursery at church, enraptured by the pregnant women and babies that seemed to constantly flow through our community. I remember my grade one teacher, who had gone on maternity leave, bringing in her newborn infant for the class to meet and trying to get as close as I could to see the tiny one’s eyes, her lips and fingers. I was the little girl that imagined my wedding and picked out my kids’ names long before a healthy relationship was ever a reality in my life.

So when Kathryn came along and we got married, it seemed logical to start planning for kids almost immediately. I had a new motivation too – I desperately wanted to see her be a mother, and see aspects of her reflected in our children. I was in love with this woman, and couldn’t wait to nurture her through pregnancy and care for a child together. I probably would have agreed to pregnancy on the honeymoon if she was up for it. It’s a good thing she’s more practical about these matters.

But she was on board with planning for kids within a couple years of the wedding. She had never imagined getting married before she met me, and couldn’t imagine herself as a parent until I showed her what I saw in her. She developed a unique bond early in our relationship with my then ten year old niece. As more friends began having children, she too started to catch the baby bug. It was incredible to watch how children were drawn to her very laid-back approach. Even kids deemed timid eventually found their way into her lap.

And when that long year of hospitalizations came in 2014 and interrupted all our plans, it was painful for both of us. When our second niece was born that fall, my heart simultaneously burst and broke each time I watched Kathryn hold her, care for her, play with her and teach her things. I was so amazed (and still am!) at all the potential in her small body, at everything she had learned each time we saw her – to lift her head, or make eye contact, or roll over. The first time she said our names my heart melted.

But it wasn’t our time. I was ill, and getting better was the priority, and although it was the wisest thing to put off pregnancy-planning, it was still painful. So we actively imagined the future in order to build hope, we put the building blocks together piece by piece so that one day, it would be our turn. We bought a onesie and a teether together as a promise to each other that although the time was not yet, it would be.

Those items have been sitting in our cabinet next to my childhood stuffed bear and Kathryn’s stuffed lion for three years now.

And this spring, after a lot of processing with Kathryn and my therapist, we made the decision to let go of that promise. With the recent relapse of my illness came a realization that we may not ever be able to promise each other the stability that raising children would require.

A few people we have talked to have said, “you’re still young, you will change your minds.” Others have assured us that I won’t always struggle this way, that we can and should look forward to long periods of wellness. It’s also true that lots of people parent, and parent well, with mental illness.

There are a lot of reasons why we’ve made this choice, but here’s the key – even if I could guarantee five years or ten years of stability, the chances that at some point a deep struggle with suicidal ideation will re-emerge seems very likely. I’ve been dealing with suicidal thinking since middle school. And it seems that every time I finally begin to say I am free of the torment, it comes rushing back in to defeat me. I am not willing to put a child in a position where suicide is introduced to them as a way to cope or escape. It’s so fucking hard to reroute that neural pathway. And the stakes are way too high.

In some ways Kathryn has had an easier time accepting this new reality. Of course she has grieved through this process as well. But her world didn’t shatter the way mine initially did. It’s possible that part of the reason is because she had begun to question our plans earlier than I had. She says that her only desire is to have a fulfilling life with me, and that she’s spent a lot less time defining what that means to her. She also didn’t spend her teenage years imagining nursery colours or reading parenting books.

The message of a woman’s role as mother has bombarded me daily through this entire emotional process. The movies we watch, commercials on television, comments from others, and our own damn hormones all seem to reinforce motherhood as the ultimate definition and purpose of womanhood. I weep with all of you who have been accosted and accused by these messages. You aren’t alone in your grief, for whatever your reasons. We’re learning to sit with it too.

I don’t expect others to fully understand our decision. It’s true that things may change in the future, this isn’t written in stone. For now, for us, we decided we had to get to a point where we were okay with not being mothers, that our lives would not be defined by that role. And accepting that has been its own step toward hope. We’ve had to reimagine our future together. We’ve had to take apart all those pieces in order to find out what we have left to rebuild a new life.

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My heart bleeds with you when your pain demands to be felt.

And I know yours bleeds for me too.

Your breath surrounds me with the air that keeps me alive.

And I will keep breathing life over you.

The Bear, Part 1

Death consumes me.

I am fighting a bear that is 1000x stronger, 1000x more vicious than me.

They tell me to be brave, to have hope, to take one moment at a time.

I believe the voices that say I am stronger than him.

I tell the bear and he laughs and grows 100 more teeth to rip at my flesh.

He stalks me while I do the things that show that I’m still alive – while I put on clean socks, while I brush my teeth, while I try to sleep.

My death would mean less to the bear than a mosquito does to a windshield.

I beg the bear for a merciful death, for release. I can’t remember why I try to flee from him.

He does not show mercy. While he hunts me I can no more choose to die than I can choose to live.

The Bear, Part 2

Who is this bear that stalks me at night when I am alone, when I am most exposed?

Perhaps he is chemicals and broken synapses in my brain. A hallucination caused by disordered biology. I swallow the pills that they tell me will tame him.

Or, he is a loud roar, no more of a threat than the rolling thunder at night. A desperate cry composed only of Fear. Like dark clouds dispersed by a strong wind, he is quieted to sleep by their assurance that dawn will come and Love will Win.

Or, he is a fragmented part of me, a distortion in a fun house mirror. I invite him in, so that both he and I can become more whole.

Or, he is the escape I hold on to when being alive means experiencing pain. The dark shadows projected against cave walls intensify the size and threat of the bear. I have rejected my own nourishment so that he can grow stronger. I have given him more power than he deserves. When I call for help, the Universe answers with Light to help me see.

The bear and the terror are real. The struggle and the wounded flesh and the monstrosity of feeling caught between life and death are real.

Yet, even as he hunts me, I sharpen my weapons. I find strength left like bread crumbs by those who have been chased by their own bears. I reach through the isolation; my community is my arrows. I scratch my words into rock faces; my  voice is my spear.

I am hunted by him, but night by night I learn more of his secrets. For tonight, the bear and I will rest.

I am still alive. I can choose to live.

If You Feel Too Much

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of TWLOHA

If you feel too much, there’s still a place for you here.
If you feel too much, don’t go.
If this world is too painful, stop and rest.
It’s okay to stop and rest.
If you need a break, it’s okay to say you need a break.
This life – it’s not a contest, not a race, not a performance, not a thing that you win.
It’s okay to slow down.
You are here for more than grades, more than a job, more than a promotion, more than keeping up, more than getting by.
This life is not about status or opinion or appearance.
You don’t have to fake it.
You do not have to fake it.
Other people feel this way too.
If your heart is broken, it’s okay to say your heart is broken.
If you feel stuck, it’s okay to say you feel stuck.
If you can’t let go, it’s okay to say you can’t let go.
You are not alone in these places.
Other people feel how you feel.
You are more than just your pain. You are more than wounds, more than drugs, more than death and silence.
There is still some time to be surprised.
There is still some time to ask for help.
There is still some time to start again.
There is still some time for love to find you.
It’s not too late.
You’re not alone.
It’s okay – whatever you need and however long it takes – it’s okay.
It’s okay.
If you feel too much, there’s still a place for you here.
If you feel too much, don’t go.
There is still some time.

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I will tell my story.

I will open space for vulnerability where stigma and silence have reigned.

In this, I bring my darkness to light. In this, I find hope.

In this, I kindle a spark for you to bring your own darkness to light.

“You are alone.” “This pain will last forever.”

These are the two great lies of mental illness.

And so, instinctively, we fight or flee.

In telling my story, I challenge myself and you:

Stand still and hold the light.

Do what you can to take the smallest step towards light.

This is my new goal in difficult moments. Having borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that is still largely misunderstood and unknown in the public eye, means my day to day experience involves monitoring my vulnerability to intense emotions and using coping skills to avoid spiraling into despair. Despair is a familiar place for me. At times its embrace even feels like an old friend.

Sometimes it seems that my emotional memory is much stronger than my logical memory. The pain of past struggle feels fresh and new, when in fact I know it is just old scars. The pain pins me down, holds me hostage, and demands to be felt. And instinctively I resist.

Sometimes the smallest step towards the light is accepting the darkness. Letting it in, letting it whisper and rage and swirl and silence. Letting it crawl along your skin.

My own struggle against suicidal ideation is rooted in escaping emotional pain. The darkness flourishes in thoughts of endlessness, of inability to endure the darkness. The darkness tries to panic me, and as I try to flee, it solidifies its hold.

Everything I know (so far) about living with borderline personality disorder and depression is in these words by the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

I will let the darkness come if it must, as I hold within me the hope for light. When we ache in the absence of light, the ache in itself is a spark. My desire for light in the face of darkness is in fact a source of light. It shows me there is still life here. There is still some fight left in these bones. I will not give up, I will not give in, to the dark scars I carry.

Sometimes the smallest step from darkness is to accept it. If I can resist the desire to flee and allow it space to sit I may find my soul, much like one’s eyes, begin to adjust. Nothing can extinguish my hope. The darkness may call me stubborn, it may call me a foolish coward, but the embers of hope will still burn and this burning will lead me to light.

Let everything happen to you:

beauty and terror.

Just keep going.

No feeling is final.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

A dear friend, Karis, shared this quote with me awhile ago, maybe last year sometime.

I took to it and buried it deep inside and have come to it again and again (and still yet again) in my most difficult moments.

Everything I know and have learned about dealing with depression, borderline personality disorder and suicidal ideation boils down to this.

There is life in these words.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. If you know me, you know it hasn’t been an easy summer, or fall. There have been great things to celebrate, the birth of my new niece Abbigail, Kathryn and I painting our apartment, the beginning of hockey season and finally coming home from the hospital. And interspersed within these moments have been some very painful ones.

November 13th, 2008 was the first time I ever attempted suicide. I haven’t told very many people this. It’s not an easy thing to talk about. But if I want this pattern of emotionally difficult autumns to change, I need to process what happened on that day and what has been happening since.

I had struggled with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts for most of my teen years and well into university. Growing up, my family expressed strong emotions in response to pain, fear, anger, but also joy, hope and love. I learned to feel my emotions with my whole self. This has both its pros and cons. At times my life has been full of hope and love and peace and nothing can shake my confidence in the goodness of life. I am passionate, fun-loving, adventurous and compassionate towards others.

But when dark clouds roll in, it’s a whole different story. I struggle to hold on to the basic building blocks of my life – my relationship with Kathryn, the love of my family and the meaning I’ve found in the work that I do. I start to question everything I hold to be true and the very meaning of life itself. In 2008, in conversation with a close friend, I decided that I could no longer sit on the fence of indifference. I had to make a choice – to end my life then, or give up this suicidal thinking for good. I swallowed as many pills as I could find and waited, unsure of what would happen. Within a half hour I began to feel dizzy and nauseous and started to panic. I told my friend, and she and another friend came and took me to the hospital. It was my first experience with the medical system’s response to mental illness but certainly wouldn’t be my last.

Autumn has been a difficult time of year since that day and it seems November 13th has become a suicide prompt of its own. Even in years when my mental health has been fairly stable, the approach of this date has stirred up shame, fear and hopelessness. Rehearsing suicidal behaviours and thinking up elaborate plans to end my life becomes normal behaviour and my social world basically collapses. So many daily objects have become part of my unhealthy thinking, and now as I try to change these patterns and build new coping skills, I struggle to change the impact of these “suicidal prompts.” Everything from scarves and belts, to advil tablets and scars on my skin remind me of the struggle I have had to face against suicidal thinking and mental illness.

I quickly discovered that overdosing on medication that causes sedation is a very quick way to lose consciousness – a desired result when feeling hopeless as it reduces the likelihood of becoming scared and calling for help. During my various encounters with the mental health system, I have been given prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication that can have this result when abused. The part of me that is ill and is looking for escape from pain wants to save these medications, to hoard them, to keep them as my backup plan. My first choice is to live and live well but if that doesn’t work, at least I have a plan B.

There are a few problems with this plan and my illness does a good job with helping me cope with most of those problems, but there is one that I have never been able to accept the responsibility for. I have two nieces, Britney who is fourteen and Abbigail who was just born a few months ago. I know that I struggle with suicidality because it was introduced to me as a solution to emotional problems when I was at a young age. I never want these two girls to face the same struggle. Although my entire family would be devastated if I were to complete suicide, I think the pain would be hardest for these young ones.

The reality is that 95% of the time, I don’t want to die. I love my life, I love our cats, I love my family, I love my work and I love my city. Above all, there is Kathryn and she has given me a reason to abandon plan B and commit myself to journeying through whatever life brings us with her by my side. This is no easy task, these learned habits are hard to reverse and new coping skills are so difficult to implement consistently.

I’ve been given an opportunity to work through this process with a therapist while meeting with a group of individuals on similar journeys in a program called Bridge to Recovery. I really do want to use this program as a bridge from my stays in the hospital to the rest of my life. In order to do that, to give up plan B, I must reduce the power that various “suicide prompts” have in my life. I need to be able to face everyday objects like a scarf, and see reminders of my journey like my scars without the emotions of those memories returning and overwhelming me. I need to reduce my vulnerabilities but I also need to strengthen my response to crisis. Part of that must be changing the way November 13th impacts my life.

I met Kathryn on November 17th, 2010. This helps. This day that brought great joy and light into my life helps me to get through the difficult memories of the 13th. I hold on for her, for us, for our future. I hold on because I know that life with her is worth the bumps and hiccups along the way.

So this is my commitment, to remember that the morning’s light always follows the darkness. The love we share gives us strength when we are weary and although we are not perfect for each other, our love makes us whole. I look to the future and I know suicide has no place in my life, it no longer holds any power.

I’m not sure how to begin this post. I suppose I should start by telling you that I have been re-admitted to the hospital.  At the conclusion of my last round of ECT I was feeling good, stable, ready to take on the challenge of getting back to my life. Kathryn and I headed up to the cottage for a week of reconnecting and relaxing after such a long summer.  On the drive up, I compared how I felt to a leaf floating on a river, ready to go wherever the current takes me.  Calm, at rest, serene.

After our first night, my mom called us to say my pregnant sister-in-law (who wasn’t due for another two weeks) had gone into labour and asked if we wanted to drive back to be with the family when the new baby arrived.  Of course, we said yes.  We left our stuff, locked up the cottage, and hopped back in the car for another long road trip home.

And it was so worth it.  I will never forget the first moment I heard the sound of a baby crying in Bryan and Sarah’s room, or how we got to meet her when she was only 20 minutes old, or how when we visited the next day, my brother gingerly handed her to me and I felt her small little heart beating, watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed and marvelled at how somebody less than 12 hours old could have already made such an impact on our family.

Those moments with Abbigail, my brother and my sister-in-law, were pure bliss. We longed to stay and hold her forever, but we had a cottage to get back to, and she had some mommy-baby bonding time scheduled in her calendar. So we jumped back in the car and repeated the drive north with joy and peace in our hearts.

The more I thought about how good it felt to hold someone so little, so brand new, the more I longed for Kathryn and I to be at that phase of our journey together. We have talked about having kids, looked into our options, made some tentative plans, but the timeline keeps getting pushed back.  My insecure self wonders if Kathryn is dragging her feet because she may not really want children. But my true self saw the wonder in her eyes as she held our little niece and I know the mom desire is inside her too.

This is hard to admit, but it’s easy for me to get jealous of parents with small children, and especially newborn babies. The longing in my heart turns to pain and in jealousy I think, why them and why not me? Like a toddler, I want to sit on the floor, kick my feet and yell, “It’s not fair! Why does it have to be harder for us?! Why can’t I have what they have?”

Apparently this leaf isn’t quite so ready to go wherever the current takes her. Towards the end of our week at the cottage, I slowly started to experience all the symptoms I dealt with before ECT. My headaches returned. I couldn’t sleep at night and just wanted to sleep all day. I wasn’t hungry at all. I was short-tempered with Kathryn and pessimistic about our future.

It’s hard to say how much this has to do with my jealousy over the birth of my new niece. Please know that my heart is truly filled with happiness for them and I am excited to watch this little one grow and interact with all the members of our family.  If the symptoms returning were only about the baby issue, they would subside as I came to accept the reality of Kathryn and my situation, that now is just not the right time for us.  And my inability to manage the symptoms suggests that I have more healing to do before we bring a baby into our family.

Later, once we were home, more serious symptoms began to return – urges to self harm, inconsistency with taking my medication, suicidal ideation. Kathryn and I tried to cope, we tried to find hope, we tried to get through it. But it was as if that leaf had turned to stone and sunk to the bottom of the river. I wasn’t moving in any direction, I couldn’t handle the pressure, and I didn’t know how long it would be before I cracked.

We were so disappointed that the benefits of ECT had not lasted. This was not what we were told to expect. Although ECT is still widely misunderstood, even by psychiatric professionals, we felt we had been given good information about the risks and potential benefits, and thought we had come out of the treatments on the positive side.

When I really started to consider doing something to hurt myself, and started refusing Kathryn’s attempts to help me, she called a crisis line for advice. She was able to convince me to talk to the counsellor, who assessed the situation and recommended I go to the ER. She then told Kathryn that if I would not go willingly, Kathryn should call the police – the situation was that dire. Not wanting to be taken to the hospital by police, I went willingly.

Like most visits to the ER, it was a long night. I had to wait for a psych doctor to be available to assess me, and in the meantime, I alternated between periods of complete boredom, and long sessions of questioning from various nurses, social workers and interns. They wanted answers I didn’t have.  Why the dramatic shift in my mood? Did ECT really work, or did I just want to believe it did? Why aren’t the coping skills enough at this point? And on and on… and endless questions about my mental health history, which I feel I’ve had to repeat over a dozen times in the past few days.

By Sunday morning, I finally saw a psychiatric resident who agreed the change in demeanour seemed serious and extreme, and wondered if I just didn’t have enough ECT sessions for the effects to be long-lasting. After talking with Kathryn, who was legitimately concerned for my safety and well-being, he decided to have me admitted so I could be re-referred to the ECT program.

And so, here I am. Back in the hospital. On a different unit (due to bed availability), which means all new staff to get used to. Frustrated, disappointed, lonely and missing home. Kathryn still visits every day, and I’ve had various friends come to spend time with me, but of course being here is not the same as being at home.

But knowing I’ve been approved for another round of ECT treatments makes it worthwhile.  I don’t know if this time will be different, if I’ll experience long-lasting relief from the symptoms that have plagued me for so long. But I do have hope. I know what I’m in for, I know what to expect from the procedure, I know I’ll be okay.  And I hope that feeling of floating on the water will return, and this leaf can continue her journey home.

In light of my recent discharge, I thought this would be a good chance to allow Kathryn to share her experience of me being hospitalized.  Because Kathryn has seen the whole journey from beginning to now, she has a unique perspective to share. The following is her reflections on the questions that I have asked her.

Q: What different types of treatment were used (pharmaceutical, spiritual care, talk therapy, ECT), and was one emphasized more heavily than the others?

A: Ashley’s hospitalization this summer has been very different than all prior hospitalizations for this very reason. During past hospitalizations, psychiatrists have eagerly explored pharmaceutical treatments and very little else. This time around I noticed that the treatment Ashley was offered was quite varied. Spiritual care, pharmaceutical treatment, electroconvulsive therapy, art and music therapy, physical activity and easy access to fresh air and sunlight have all encouraged healing during this journey. I also sensed the psychiatrist’s determination to help Ashley navigate the darkness which was very encouraging to me, as this has not always been the case with prior hospitalizations.

Q: Do you feel the hospital is structured in a way that promotes healing, or perpetuates illness?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. Overall, I believe that the hospital Ashley was admitted to this summer does indeed promote healing. The reason why this is difficult to answer is because there have definitely been times in which I have disagreed with decisions that have been made, one of which being the stretch of three days when I was not allowed to see Ashley, simply because the psychiatrist felt it would be best for me not to visit. For patients who are actively willing and able to participate in their recovery, I believe that the hospital does promote healing by encouraging patients to have visitors and allowing them go out on passes, whether simply off of the ward to go to the gym or leisure lounge within the hospital or to go home and participate in ‘real life’ activities. For patients who are unwilling or perhaps not even yet able to understand how to actively participate in their recovery, the hospital feels like a revolving door. During the summer I have seen many patients be discharged and then shortly after, be readmitted.  It is a heartbreaking thing to see, but I do believe that it is safer to navigate the darkest of times within reach of medical professionals than all alone at home.

Q: How did you react when the doctor first suggested electroconvulsive therapy for Ashley?

A: I had a brief moment in which I was completely terrified but recognized that it was a fear of the unknown more than fear of the treatment itself, because I knew very little about ECT. The more we learned about ECT and its potential benefits from the medical staff, the more hopeful I became.

Q: What was it like seeing Ashley go through ECT twice a week?

A: On the day of Ashley’s first treatment, my stomach was in knots but I was relieved to be able to be by Ashley’s side the entire time. The moment Ashley drifted off under anaesthesia I was paralyzed with panic, unsure of what to expect next. The procedure itself is quite short – only about two or three minutes from start to finish but the prep and recovery take hours. As I observed Ashley fall asleep, I almost felt like I was in a dream where something terrible was about to happen and everyone else was totally unaware and going about their business. My eyes were fixed to the monitor which displayed her vital signs. The anesthesiologist casually administered the second drug which was a muscle relaxant and all of the staff around Ashley watched as her breathing slowed down to a turtle’s pace. Then the anesthesiologist moved to the head of the bed and began taking over for Ashley’s lungs, pumping oxygen into her using the handheld ventilator. After about one minute, a bite guard was inserted into her mouth and the staff all looked at each other and said “Ok go ahead.” As the electricity entered Ashley’s brain, the muscles in her face tensed up and her toes curled up tighter than I could have imagined.  The staff then continued their chit chat and all I could think was “This is not normal! How can you be talking about your weekend when my wife is having a seizure!” At first, the seizure was quite noticeable and gradually faded until I could only see small twitches of her toes. Within about a minute, her body naturally stopped the seizure and they quickly unhooked the electrodes, took out the bite guard and moved the ECT machine over to the next patient’s bed. The anesthesiologist and one other nurse remained by Ashley’s side and continued ventilating until began breathing again on her own. Now THIS was the worst part of the whole procedure. Often Ashley awoke, gasping and choking for air, asking for help and saying she couldn’t breathe. It was during these moments that I felt completely useless, not knowing what to do other than encourage her to breathe slowly and remind her that it will be easier to breathe momentarily. Although it was stressful to witness, I am so grateful that I was able to be by Ashley’s side through each and every treatment, offering her support and love and even a few laughs during her most vulnerable moments. And thankfully, she has no memory of the difficult moments waking up after her treatments.

Q: Do you think ECT was effective? In what way?

A: I absolutely believe that ECT has had a positive effect on Ashley’s journey towards health. It wasn’t until the last few treatments that I truly began to notice lasting changes. I started to notice Ashley smiling and laughing more. I would come to spend time with her at the hospital and our conversations would be focused more on hope and life rather than escape and darkness. Early on in her series of ECT treatments, she asked her psychiatrist how she would know if ECT was working and he laughed and said “You’ll just know.” It was at Ashley’s eleventh ECT treatment that I really felt like I could see this dark cloud lifting. After the doctor had said “You’ll just know” Ashley was quite skeptical and desired more concrete guidelines to gauge her progress. It was after her eleventh treatment, as she was recovering, that she said “I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel like it’s working. I just feel better.”

Q: What was the hardest part of having Ashley in the hospital for three months?

A: The loneliness was the most difficult part for me. Although we have only been together for four years, I don’t even remember my life before Ashley. I really feel like it wasn’t until I met Ashley that I was truly alive, so feeling so disconnected from her for so long was very difficult.

Q: What was the best part?

A: I wouldn’t say there was a ‘best part’ of Ashley’s hospitalization but the most positive things that came from the past three months are the people who have influenced her journey towards health and healing. There have been several patients and staff who we will always look back on with fondness and gratitude for making our lives richer.

Q: When were you most scared?

A: I was most scared when the dark cloud was at its darkest. When Ashley saw no hope, no light, not even a glimmer, when her illness was at its ugliest, that was when I was most scared.

Q: Did you notice a difference in how patients were treated based on their social, economic or educational background?

A: Unfortunately, I did notice a difference in how patients were treated based on different factors. Because Ashley is so intelligent, well educated and aware of her illness and how it manifests itself in her life, her psychiatrist and most nurses spoke to her candidly and honestly. Other patients who had come from different social, economic and educational backgrounds were not treated in the same way. Even patients with different diagnoses were treated differently depending on their ability to communicate.

Q: Did you feel staff treated you and Ashley differently because of your orientation or were you always welcomed as family and included in decisions that were being made about Ashley’s treatment?

A: I made my love for Ashley and my eagerness to do anything I could to help Ashley journey toward wellness apparent to all of the staff at the hospital right from the beginning. I came to visit Ashley once, twice, sometimes even three times a day and I always got the sense that the staff were happy to see me come and spend time with Ashley, comforting her and encouraging her to look towards tomorrow with hope. The nurses always kept me informed when Ashley was unable to contact me and I was absolutely always included in discussions about Ashley’s treatment goals and objectives. Occasionally the nurses would even turn to me and ask my advice on how we normally navigate certain situations at home and I would have a chance to offer my opinion on how different circumstances can trigger emotions and reactions when Ashley is most vulnerable. In those moments I truly felt respected and knew that my orientation didn’t matter, they simply saw me as a loving spouse trying to be as loving and supportive as possible.

Q: What “blessings in disguise” did you and Ashley experience because of her hospitalization?

A: Being able to be by Ashley’s side through her ECT treatments was definitely a blessing in disguise. No matter how difficult it would have been, I still would have gone to each and every treatment, but not very many patients had loved ones there for support during this process, which helped me realize how lucky we are to have one another.

Q: What signs have you seen that support Ashley being ready to leave the hospital?

A: Ashley’s general eagerness to get outside, experience what is left of summer and ponder the future and all of the great things it holds in store for us are all signs that scream “I’m ready!”

Q: How do you feel about Ashley coming home?

A: I’m so excited. I’m excited even about the mundane things like doing extra dishes and making bigger meals because it means Ashley is alive and home and ready for the next part of our journey. And it also means that I’m not the only one that has to scoop the cat litter.

Q: Has this summer changed the dynamic of your relationship with Ashley?

A: It hasn’t changed the dynamic of our relationship one bit. If anything it has strengthened our marriage. I always want Ashley to know that I made a commitment to her that I do not take lightly. I have promised to choose her each and every day, in health AND in sickness and I want to live out that commitment in every action and word. She is not her illness, I see far far deeper than that.

Q: What are some of the funniest things that Ashley said during ECT treatments?

A: After the sometimes painful transition from breathing via ventilator to breathing on her own, Ashley would have some comical things to say while still heavily sedated. Two of the funny things she said were:

– “My insides feel velvety.” (quoting Phil from an episode of Modern Family that Ashley and I had watched the night before)

– The recovery nurse said “It looks like she is becoming more alert now” and Ashley perked her eyes wide open and said “TIM HORTONS!? Is that what we’re chatting about?”

– Immediately after waking up from ECT one day Ashley complained of stomach pain and the nurse promptly went and got some anti nausea medication to administer. When she returned, Ashley asked what she was doing and the nurse said she was hooking up some medication to her IV to help her stomach feel less queasy. Ashley looked puzzled, obviously having forgotten that she had complained about her stomach hurting just moments ago and shrugged her shoulders and said “OK, I guess so.”

 

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