Friday, 28 June 2019

Another Birthday Without You: Frozen in Time

June 28th would’ve been your 19th birthday.  It represents the fifth birthday that you have not been in attendance for.  It represents the fifth birthday that I haven’t been criticized for the present I bought you.  It’s the 5th year that I didn’t receive flack for wanting to have my picture taken with you.  Your 19th birthday is supposed to a celebration but today it represents only a milestone to what should have been.

A 19th birthday is supposed to represent an emancipation, a coming of age.  It’s supposed to be a coming together with friends and family for your first “legal libation”.  It’s supposed to represent a homecoming from your first year at university, talking about the experiences, your independence away from home and the plans for the summer ahead.  It represents a culminating of new friends and old friends coming together to celebrate you.  People get together to laugh, share stories and join in a love for the honouree of the day.  This is the fifth year that the honouree will not be attending.

But instead of a celebration, it has become a solemn affair.  It means a quiet visit to the cemetery where I sit cross legged, play music that you loved and have a quiet conversation with the most important female that has ever touched my life.  I ponder where you would’ve gone to university and what program you would be enrolled in.  I think about whether you would’ve had a boyfriend and whether he would’ve been worthy of you.  I think about the influence and the impact that you would’ve had upon your brothers.  I think about how you would’ve positively influenced society and the footprint that you would’ve left.  I think about how curious you always were and the unrelenting questions that you would continue to ask.  I think about your strength of character, your wicked sense of humour and how much conviction you held about things that meant so much to you.

I’m forever looking at pictures of you growing up.  You will remain forever encapsulated by youth.  Life goes on, people age but you will always be frozen in time.  Today, Zac is three years older than your last day alive and Sawyer will equal your age in a few months but you will always remain my eldest child and their big sister.

"Others have seen it as their duty to carry on your message"

Although going to your grave is a terrible way to spend your birthday, it does make me feel grateful for the time that I did get to spend with you, albeit too short.  You were taken from us far too soon, your legacy was achieved earlier than most.

Your 19th birthday is supposed to be one of liberation, that last real bridge between being a youth and an adult.  In your passing, so many of your friends, from so many different places in your life have been united solely because of their association with you.  The influence and the impact you’ve had upon the lives of so many, are still being felt today throughout our community and beyond.  Your presence is still felt and heralded by your brothers and friends, and the impact that they are making to society today in your honour.

Although you, our guest of honour is no longer present on this earth, we salute you and honour you for all you have contributed in your absence, and the conversations that have become more significant and meaningful in your wake.  Although your presence is missed on a daily basis, others have seen it as their duty to carry on your message.

Cheers to you, Maddie.  I look forward to having a drink together today.  Happy 19th birthday!

Thursday, 11 April 2019

What Does Maddie’s Angelversary Mean to Me?

 This week is the hardest week that I face all year.  There are holidays and birthdays that are tough to handle, but this week in particular affects me the most. April 11th marks the 4th anniversary since we lost my daughter Maddie to suicide.  April 11th, 2015 will always be the saddest day of my life.

Four years without Maddie has taught me a lot about myself and about mental illness.  Mental illness is far more prevalent in society than ever before, but the availability for help is more apparent than ever.  The help doesn’t come from government spending but instead spreading organically through word of mouth of those touched and affected by someone suffering from mental illness.

It may be because of my sensitivity to the subject that makes me more present, but I believe there’s a much more acute awareness to people being open to talking about it.  It’s my belief that the various levels of government are failing miserably in this area.  This organic movement allows people to talk more openly about depression than ever before.  The largest area of sensitivity and support for mental illness is coming from our children.  Our youth are standing up and supporting one another in dealing with personal struggles and hardships.  They are helping by demonstrating empathy and compassion toward one another.

It's initiatives like the Maddie Project and that continue to bring awareness to youth mental illness.  The messengers are kids….talking and relating to kids.  The messaging is simple and transparent; to help and support one another…always.  

To think we will save every soul is naïve but to save at least one more soul than we did last week is achievable.

My children, Zac and Sawyer are both Ambassadors of the Maddie Project.  Zac, in particular has spoken before more than 10,000 students and faculty across more than 25 schools in the GTA.  Everyone that sees him speak, talks about his strength in being able to address such a difficult and personally painful subject. As difficult as it is for him to talk publicly about it, he does it because he believes that kids can make a difference.  No one can relate more to a teenager than a teenager.  He feels it’s his responsibility to tell his story in hopes that it can change even one life.

This week, will be difficult for both of my boys, but in particular for Zac.  Zac is always seen as being so calm, so collected, so stoic. On the inside, is a kid who misses his sister more than anything in the world and would do anything to prevent another kid from experiencing the sense of loss which he and Sawyer have both endured.  They have both been forced to grow up so quickly and deal with something that no child should have to deal with at any age.

" Zac is not only speaking on behalf of  The Maddie Project, he is speaking on behalf of Maddie"

I don’t receive the same number of texts, calls or emails asking for help, either dealing with a personal struggle or the struggle of a child or loved one, but I still receive enough of them.  People are always so apologetic about reaching out and that they hope the discussion doesn’t open up the wounds of my past.  In fact, just the opposite is the case.  I’m happy to help and it makes me proud of how much of a difference all three of my children have made in helping others.

We still get requests from throughout Ontario to see if Zac can speak to their schools, support a mental health initiative or see if they can designate The Maddie Project as their school charity for the year.  More importantly, people continue to talk and seek help.  Many continue to struggle and suffer but fewer are suffering alone or in silence.  As someone who has been quite candid about my personal struggles with depression, eventually I hope everyone has the ability to ask for help. 

Although I can’t take any of the credit for the Maddie Project, there is an immense pride when Zac speaks and watch the kids and parents come up to him afterwards incredibly moved by his words and his passion for the cause.  Last weekend, former Premier Kathleen Wynne, who spoke on stage with Zac, came up to him after his speech, shook his hand and said thank you and good luck.  These are the moments of pride that a parent hold onto forever.

Today will be a difficult day.  There are days that I wake up sad. There are days that I wake up angry.  There are days where I wake up grateful.  After four years without Maddie, although difficult, I try to only cherish the moments that we had together.  For the times that will always bring a smile to my face or the times that will make me immensely proud.  There’s a part of Maddie that live in both my boys and in everyone that knew her.  When Zac goes up on stage, he is not only speaking on behalf of  The Maddie Project, he is speaking on behalf of Maddie. 

Friday, 16 November 2018

How I Kicked Anti-Depressants By Accident

I've written in the past about how important a role anti-depressants have played in my life.  They had become a necessity to my functioning after Maddie's death. I've written blog posts about the merits of anti-depressants. There comes a time when change is needed and time to explore alternatives.  Anti-depressants are not without side-effects.  Anti-depressants are not a magic pill that makes everything bad in your life go away.  I don't believe life for any of us is written that way.  Finding an anti-depressant that had less side-effects than others was my original goal. I finally found an anti-depressant that benefitted me more than it limited me.

For those of you who don't know my story, I have situational depression.  This was brought on by the loss of my business, a failed marriage and ultimately the loss of my fourteen year old daughter, Maddie, to depression.

I always resisted going on anti-depressants.  Partially because of the stigma, mostly because of my ego telling me I could lick this on my own.  In the end, I relented after deciding that this was too big for me to tackle on my own.

The world of anti-depressants can be overwhelming. There is no one-pill-suits-all solution. Some anti-depressants I'd need to take in the morning because they "jacked me up" and I found they left me edgy, irritable and agitated.  They also made it difficult to sleep.  There were others that I took at night that completely knocked me out and left me foggy and indifferent which made it difficult get out of bed and slowed your metabolism to a point which led to weight gain.  Others didn't make me feel right in the head.  They were almost personality altering.  The first one I tried gave me suicidal ideation.  Needless to say, if I didn't like the result or the way these anti-depressants made me feel, I'd stop taking them.  Unfortunately, I'd go back to my psychiatrist and we'd go back to the drawing board and try to find another without these debilitating side-effects.  It was a trial and error approach.  I finally found Trintellix which had fewer negative consequences and more positive ones.  Trintellix had side-effects but one's that I could live with and function as closely as I could prior to my daughter's death.

Dr G called my anti-depressants my insulin, citing if I was a diabetic this was my life-line for the rest of my life.  She had said that this was something that I would require indefinitely and that there was no finish line in sight and that popping a pill for my depression likely would become a part of my daily routine for the rest of my life.

Anti-depressants are peculiar.  How does one drug affect an individual so differently than another?  Prozac, which gave me suicidal ideations, works with 80% of the population without many of the harmful side-effects that I had experienced.  The brain and how chemicals respond to an individual's physiology is highly unpredictable.  If one drug worked for everyone, depression wouldn't be so challenging to address.

I've had friends who don't understand depression.  It's not that they are unsympathetic but they have never experienced an episode of sustained unhappiness in their lifetime.  For others, it's a battle everyday.  They've adopted various coping mechanisms in order to deal with the highs and lows they feel on a daily basis.  Medication only addresses one part of the problem.  Daily exercise, regular counselling, diet and other factors help to keep things in check.  Finding sustained happiness is a constant battle and requires constant fine-tuning. Even the perfect patient experiences periods of sadness on occasion.  Sometimes acknowledging they will creep into your life on occasion better prepares us for when they occur.

Not to intentionally spite my psychiatrist's warning to prepare to deal with my depression for the rest of my life but I've always been one to challenge the accepted norm.  I still didn't love being on anti-depressants but had tried giving them up in the past only to discover that they did promote a happier version of me.  Then I discovered that I required hip replacement surgery.

Requiring hip replacement surgery was the only option for me.  The intense sustained pain, lack of mobility and limitations it placed upon my day to day life meant this was going to need to be addressed sooner than later.  Also, I found my mood was heading into a downward spiral as the pain increased and the impact it had upon my life became more evident.  I went to a very dark place.  Darker than I had been for some time.   I did my due diligence with researching different hip replacement procedures, booked my consultation with the hospital and met with my surgeon.  We booked my surgery for September 17th.  This was in April.

The surgeon suggested a nerve block to essentially block the pain.  This was a temporary remedy.  The nerve block was likely to last anywhere from two weeks to two months.  The nerve block lasted two weeks to the day.  The pain was ever-increasing and couldn't see lasting until September with this.

Someone I talked to suggested trying Cannabidiol (CBD).  CBD is a cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not make people feel “stoned”. The fact that CBD-rich cannabis is non-psychoactive makes it an appealing option for patients looking for relief from inflammationpainanxietypsychosisseizures, spasms, and other conditions without disconcerting feelings of lethargy.  

I started taking CBD every morning.  My pain was less intensive and my outlook upon life improved significantly.  I remained taking my antidepressants in addition to the CBD.  I did this for about a month until I decided to forgo the anti-depressants altogether. I woke up every morning thinking that the dark clouds would start to close in, but the darkness never came.  The side-effects I had from taking the anti-depressants also disappeared.  I became more focused at work and my productivity increased exponentially.  CBD became a new coping strategy for me.

Surgery is now behind me (although I've not been without my share of setbacks).  I still take my CBD every morning and given what I've been through the last seven weeks post-surgery, my outlook on life still hasn't changed.  My attitude has been relatively positive (my physio setback after surgery means I'll likely be on crutches for another two months).  I remain focused on my boys and on work. I'm set on resuming my normal life as soon as my body permits.

This is not intended to be a promotional advertisement for CBD.  I was skeptical at first.  I did my research and had talked to others that had benefited from the merits of CBD.  My getting off anti-depressants came as a complete accident but the longer I've been off them, the better I feel about having made the switch.  I'm not advocating for everyone to do as I have done but it may make sense for some.  This shouldn't be done without the advice of your medical practitioner and should be transitioned over time.

CBD has become my new anti-depressant.  One for me that affords a more natural, organic approach to my mental well-being and a number of other benefits that come as a consequence.  I often think if CBD could have had a positive effect upon Maddie and how she dealt with her depression.  Personally, to not share my experiences with CBD may stand in the way of another individual not benefiting from its healing powers.