Inpatient bonds.

20160727_214408[1]One of the bright sides of spending so much time in hospitals during my teens and early twenties is the people I met there.  Some of them became lasting friends and the bonds between us defied understanding by outsiders.

If you’ve never spent a significant amount of time as an inpatient in psychiatric wards and mental health treatment facilities you probably won’t understand.

I’ve had people close to me tell me that I “shouldn’t have so many friends with problems” or that I should “try to make healthier friends” or that I “shouldn’t talk to people who depress me.”

These comments miss the point for a number of reasons.

First of all, if my “friends with problems” aren’t worthy and I shouldn’t be friends with them, does that mean nobody should be friends with me either?  In case you hadn’t realized from reading this blog, the secret is out.  I identify as living with mental illness! I’m not exactly 100% well myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have been in the hospital in the first place!  Does this make me less of a good friend?  Does this make me a person who should be shunned and avoided?  I certainly hope not.  I would like to afford my other hospital friends the same courtesy.

Two, it’s hard for people who are mentally well, neurotypical, never struggled with severe mental illness to understand me.  Sure, I have well friends who empathize and who don’t judge me.  But the bonds and mutual understanding I’ve shared with other people who struggle with PTSD, eating disorders, depression and suicide are very strong.   It’s like I can breathe again, when I talk to a friend who I know “just gets it.”

Three, when you are living in a hospital ward, you naturally form friendships and alliances with the people you are living with.  Some of them become friends.  It happens and it helps us survive.

So please, don’t judge these special friendships.  Even when I’ve lost friends to suicide, even when I’ve been triggered by friends and had to set boundaries, even when it feels like listening to their struggles is too much to bear, I never regret them.

My dear friends who are gone.  I desperately miss that feeling of belonging I had when I talked to you, laughed with you.  MJ, there was never anything I shared about PTSD that you hadn’t breathed and experienced yourself.  I never had to explain myself, you just knew.  This blog entry’s photograph is a picture of all the cards you wrote to me during our friendship.

Who else could I share my strange experiences with?  When I told her one day, crying in the bathroom in my ex-husband’s house, that I was scared because I thought I was seeing X everywhere.  I literally thought I could see him all around the city.  Intellectually, I knew he wasn’t there, but it felt real and my heart skipped a beat each time.   She almost laughed and said, “It happens to me all the time.  I see everywhere too”  We breathed out together, suddenly this PTSD symptom was normal and okay.  We understood each other, we weren’t crazy.  I loved her for this and I know she loved me for it too.

When I was in treatment for anorexia when I was 17, I met another young woman named M.  She and I were stuck on the eating disorder for 5 weeks together, while other patients attended groups.  We were on “modified activity phase” until we gained a certain percentage of our goal weight and it took forever.  During this time we talked, bonded and sometimes sneaked around doing things we should not have.   She was painting rocks when I got there.  I asked her what I was doing and if I could help.  She told me she wanted to paint 1000 rocks so her wish would be granted.  Soon, we had an assembly line going.  We would fill our pockets with rocks on our 15 minute outside break, sometimes walking further than we should have away from the break area.   Once inside, I would paint the rocks a solid colour, then when they dried she would write “Expect a Miracle” in careful lettering on each one.  The final step was applying a clear glaze once all the paint was dry.   We painted so many rocks, I don’t remember how many we had finished when I discharged myself 3 months later.  I still have some of them in my bedroom almost 20 years later.  I’m still waiting for a miracle.   I often wonder what happened to M.  We lost contact and I still think of her often.  I wonder if her miracle came true and I wonder if she recovered.

I met my friend Lexi at a support group in my city.  It was the first place I really talked at any length about leaving my ex-husband and what was going on in the marriage.  Lexi loved to crochet and knit.  She loved her family.  I used to go to her apartment sometimes and we would chat about all sorts of things.  Sometimes we shared stories of our trauma and sometimes we joked and laughed about our future.  I was inspired to try online dating because of Lexi.   I lost her suddenly last summer, about  a year ago now.  I still miss her.

Darlene, whose story I recounted in another blog post, her anniversary was this week.  14 years ago I lost her.   I wish I’d had the chance to know her better, but I won’t ever forget her.

Some friends like my dear sister LJ, I have kept in contact with for over 12 years, through email, fb, text and phone.  She lives in a different country, but she calls me sister.  I miss her and I hope to see her again one day.  I have ever letter and card she has ever sent me. She has inspired me in many ways and her commitment to recovery and to survival is tremendous.

My friend John, he is also gone now.  But his music lives on and I have his CD which I listen to from time to time and remember his gentle courage.

I will never forget the stories of survival I heard and witnessed during my hospital stays.  I met so many survivors.  I met war veterans who were kind and brave enough to share small details of their own private hells with me.  I met residential school survivors who shared with me the abuse they endured.  I met childhood abuse survivors who overcame.  I met women who were admitted to the hospital in full psychosis, speaking in delusions and making little sense.  I saw those same women, mere days later, completely calm and rational again after taking their medication.  I met people who had lost family members in tragic circumstances.  I met people who had nearly died from multiple heart attacks due to anorexia and bulimia and some of those women have children and are well and healthy today.

These friends give me hope.  They remind me that I’m not alone.  They remind me that recovery is possible.  And the ones that have died, I will hold in a special place in my heart forever.

Inpatient bonds are something to be celebrated.

Don’t look at me.


One of my clearest memories of the abuse with X, is also one of the memories which triggers the most flashbacks.

It’s the reason I don’t like to be looked at, why I sometimes wish I was invisible, why I have hated my body for 20 years, and linked to why I started down the road to anorexia.

It was evening, that time between the brightness of day and the deep darkness of night.  We were in his room, listening to music and…I don’t know what words to describe it with…if it had been consensual I would describe it as “fooling around” or “making out”  but in this case those words don’t have an accurate feel.  We were alone in his room, in the dark and he was abusing me.  Sarah McLaughlin was playing on the CD player “hold on, hold on to yourself, for this is going to hurt like hell…

I remember the blinds were dark,  maybe navy blue, they were shut, but a small amount of light came in between the cracks.  The head of the bed was directly to the right of the window.  I remember the bedspread being navy as well.  There was a dark mood to the space.  So often when we were in his room, his family was home.  Technically if I had screamed, yelled, or run away, someone would have heard.  We were rarely completely alone.  But I felt so much shame, I blamed myself, I felt dirty and I felt like it was my fault.  It never really occurred to me to tell his parents, I felt they would blame me, or not believe me, that they would tell my parents, that somehow I’d be in trouble.  So I learned to disassociate, I stayed quiet, I did what he wanted.   Sometimes I said no, but I never fought back or physically resisted.  I learned quickly that my “no” meant nothing to him.

That evening, he wanted to look at me.  He made me take off my clothes, except my underwear which I always stubbornly refused to remove.  I was afraid to get pregnant and I somehow felt like keeping them on would protect me.

He made me stand across the room from him.  He lay, semi-reclined, on his bed, staring at me.  Just staring.  I felt like an object.  I felt like this one moment solidified the sense of shame that had been growing and building inside me, like dark twisty vines blocking out all the light of my once bright self esteem.  I crossed my arms across my chest, trying to hide myself from his prying eyes.  I felt his actions were motivated by lust. I didn’t feel loved or cared for.  I felt afraid and I felt ashamed.   I don’t know how long I stood there for, but it felt like an eternity before I was able to hide under the duvet again.  I don’t really remember what happened before or after.  I only remember those moments of exposure.

Years later, much more recently, I was dating someone.  The first time I took my clothes off, in my own room, safe and because I wanted to.  He looked at me, and I had flashbacks so intense that I almost passed out.  I had to sit down, suddenly on the bed.  The room was spinning, my heart was racing, I was so dizzy I felt blackness around the edges of my eyes.  And I was trembling, shaking really.    It took a few minutes of lying down for my body to return to a normal state.   This is what PTSD means to me.  The rapid trip between enjoying a sexual moment and being almost paralyzed with extreme physical symptoms.  The panic/flashback is often followed by tears, physical pain and nausea.  I sometimes have difficultly talking or expressing what is happening.

Because of this I have to take time to educate people who are going to be close to me. So they know what is needed to help in those moments when it’s difficult for me to help myself.  It’s important for others to realize that in the midst of a flashback I can’t consent, I can’t think, I can’t communicate clearly, and I need help getting grounded, or I need the space to do so myself.

I often wonder, if people who commit acts of sexual violence realize the impact they are having on the victim’s life.  I wonder, if abusers knew that years later mere reminders of the abuse could have such severe consequences.  I wonder if people would stop and reconsider pushing past “no.”  I wonder if all the law makers, judges, police and lawyers had to live with PTSD related to sexual violence for just one day, they would reconsider letting the majority of reported abusers walk free.

The abuse may only last a few moments, but the impacts can last a life time.

P.S.  Please feel free to share this blog if you are enjoying it!

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)


“Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy, and often referred to as shock treatment, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses” -Wikipedia

Basically, ECT is a treatment by which patients consent to have seizures intentionally triggered by electric shocks which are applied to the brain.

When you put it that way, it sounds barbaric and unnecessary.  Why would someone consent to have electric currents put through their brain under general anesthetic and undergo seizures?

The desperation and intense suicidal ideation that can accompany treatment resistant depression can be unbearable and even fatal.  Given the choice between suicide and ECT, some people choose ECT.  I was one of those people.

In 2011, I was caught in the grips of one of the worst depressive episodes of my life.  I was fighting off constant thoughts of suicide and severe self harm.  I was having difficulty functioning in my day to day life.  I had tried every medication known to human kind.  I was truly desperate and ECT was a last resort, something I hadn’t tried and something I hoped would provide even brief respite from my suicidal depression.

Over the course of about 8 weeks I received 15 electroconvulsive treatments.  This means I was put under general anesthetic 15 times and I had 15 seizures.  Some were unilateral (one side of the brain) and some were bilateral (both sides shocked simultaneously). I received the treatment as an outpatient, twice a week, Monday and Friday mornings at a hospital near my home.

Each morning I would report to the inpatient psychiatry floor around 6:30AM.  I would change into a hospital gown, remove my jewelry and be taken on a stretcher, by an orderly, down to the surgical area of the hospital.  I would wait in the semi-darkness, dimmed light of the surgical recovery room.  While in this room, nurses would place an IV into my hand so the necessary medications could be injected.  I was hooked up to heart rate monitor and other monitors.  There were usually 4-6 of us lying there, side by side, waiting our turn in the treatment room.  As I would wait, I would see the previous person being wheeled out of the treatment room, unconscious.  It was unsettling, as I knew my turn was coming soon.

The ECT room was a small procedure room attached to the surgical recovery room.  It was just large enough for a stretcher, the medical professionals and the necessary equipment.  It was bright and clinical.

Nurses and doctors began to work on me quickly.  I had the impression of an assembly line, a schedule being kept, patient in, treatment given, next patient in and so on.  My temples were wiped with alcohol swabs and electrodes attached.  The anesthesiologist talked to me about the medications he was going to administer.  A nurse would often hold my hand, there to keep me calm as everything was arranged.  The medications were injected one by one through the IV.  I could feel the cold fluid entering into the veins in my left hand.  I would keep my eyes fixed on the clock, trying to remember the time as I went unconscious, to later compare to the time on the clock when I awoke.  Sometimes I would lose no more than 15 minutes of time, the procedure was very quick.

I remember feeling afraid.  The nurse asked me to count backwards.  An oxygen mask was applied to my face and nose, ready to breath for me while I was unconscious.  The medications worked quickly and then nothing.  There was only one time of the 15 when I was aware of part of the process.  The medications they injected to relax my muscles began to act before I was unconscious, I felt like I was suffocating.  I couldn’t breathe and I started panicking.  I literally couldn’t breathe, but I was awake.  I could hear them talking and feel the next medication being injected and then nothing.

I would wake up 15 minutes later.  Back in a different curtained bay of the recovery room.  I could hear the nurses helping the other patients on either side of me, also recovering from ECT.   This was the part of the treatments that I hated most.  I had to stay in the recovery room for 30 minutes following the treatment, as they monitored my blood pressure and other vital signs.  I felt trapped.  I was hooked up to machines.  I often had a sense of panic and wanting to flee, to leave, to be outside.  Sometimes I would cry and I don’t think the nurses understood why.  Eventually the Doctor would come, talk to me briefly and I would be released.   The first time I could barely walk and the nurses wheeled me to the entrance to meet my family member.  I was usually home by 9 am.  The whole process taking 2-3 hours.

Usually I would stumble, drowsy and disoriented to the car.  I would be driven home and I would go straight to bed.  Usually I would sleep and rest for most of the day.  I lost a lot of weight over those few weeks because I ate so little due to missing breakfast and then being nauseous from the medications.  I also had severe headaches due to the shocks, and many side effects from the medications.  I felt like a zombie.  My short term memory was foggy as to the events during those 8 weeks.  During that time, my grandmother passed away and the experience was surreal through the state of mind I was in.  I have no memory of my own birthday that year, and few of my daughter’s.

In terms of long term side effects from the treatments, I found that the area of my brain which recalled the order of the months of the year and the seasons of the year were impacted.   If someone asked me “What season comes before Fall?”  I would feel confused and have to think very hard to answer “Summer”   Similarly with the months of the year and the order of the holidays in the calendar.

Overall I don’t think I suffered any major memory loss.   At the time I thought that the treatments helped my depression a little.

Sadly, I only realized about 9 months later that a large portion of my depression was situational, related to my abusive marriage.  In the end, the treatment for my depression was to move away from him.

If I’d realized this sooner, I probably would not have endured ECT.

Looking back on the whole series of treatments, it feels unreal.  It feels traumatic.  It feels strange and difficult to process.

In what world does it make sense to further traumatize a traumatized brain?  But desperation will make a person take desperate measures.  I survived and that is what matters.

Writer’s Block.


I haven’t been blogging very much recently.

One reason is that I’m incredibly busy working full time and single parenting full time.

Another reason is that I have both so much to say and so little coherent to say.  I have all these ideas, memories, flashbacks, feelings and thoughts floating and swirling in my head, but haven’t been able to conceptualize a theme for a single blog post.

I started writing a post on Tuesday, which was the three year anniversary of my separation.  The day I told him I was leaving.

I never do well with anniversaries.  My PTSD gets worse, my flashbacks get worse, I think a lot about the past, my progress, where I have been and where I am going.  I am particularly impacted by holidays and anniversaries.  This is common for many people with PTSD because we don’t just remember things, we relive them.   Thus certain anniversaries of traumatic events are literally unforgettable.  I navigate my year around the anniversaries of various traumas, the deaths of my friends and family members, their birthdays, times when I was abused, anniversaries of meeting and leaving my abusers…it’s all stored in there.

The post I started was going to focus on how far I have come and the things that I have gained since leaving my ex-husband.  I was feeling particularly discouraged and demoralized after experiencing re-traumatization and further abuse from CAS and indirectly from my ex-husband.  I was beginning to feel like my entire life would be controlled and navigated by his abuse, until either he dies or I die.

But this week I feel a bit more hopeful.  Having a plan of action, even an imperfect plan helps ground me.  I wanted to write a bit about what I have gained through this three year, ongoing leaving process.  But even those thoughts weren’t properly formed and they were marred by intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.

I wasn’t sure if I should just write down a disjointed list of some of the flashbacks I’ve been having.  Because a disjointed post might accurately represent the way I’m experiencing life right now.  On the other hand, I really wanted to write something infused with gratitude.

In the middle, the blog post will meet here: a description of a flashback and why PTSD is so damn challenging, which will flow into some ways in which I am now better able to cope.

I want to describe the utter banality of some flashback triggers, because it illustrates how very unpredictable PTSD can be.   We all think of the obvious triggers, seeing the perpetrator, seeing people who look like the perpetrator, someone smells like the perpetrator, events remind you of the abuse etc.  But triggers can be literally anything.

Last week I was driving downtown and I saw a man walking down the street.  The man was unremarkable.  He was wearing a hospital bracelet on one arm and was gingerly holding his other arm which was wrapped in a clean, white gauze bandage.  He didn’t look unhappy or upset, he didn’t look like my abuser.  It was clear he was walking home from receiving treatment at the emergency room.  Nothing unusual, strange or threatening about it.

But I had an incredibly intense flashback which engaged all my senses.

I was back in time, I was leaving the hospital myself after receiving stitches for self harm.  I could feel the numbness in my arm from the local freezing.  I could smell the gauze and the tape they use at the hospital to secure the bandage.   I could feel the pain in my arm from where the stitches went in, as the freezing wears off and the swelling and bruising begins.  And I was overcome by an extremely intense urge to cut myself.  So intense that I felt dizzy.

Realize that all this took place in a matter of a few seconds.  The only trigger was seeing the man with the bandage and I had a complete physical and emotional reaction. Body memories, emotional feelings from the past and a motivation in the present to harm myself.

It’s quite incredible to me that this happened.  But this is what PTSD is.

And now the gratitude.

Living away from my ex-husband has given me the strength and motivation to resist those urges to destroy myself.

4-5 years ago if I had that strong an impulse to cut, I would have acted on it.  I would have used the flashback as an excuse…I had to do it….I would have given my power away to the urges.

Now, in recovery I can rationalize with the urges and I can ground myself and make an empowered choice not to harm myself severely.

I never could have made these shifts living in an abusive home.  I didn’t realize how unsafe I felt 24/7 until I moved to my new home and suddenly relaxed.

I have so much gratitude for being able to sleep at night without being assaulted.  I have gratitude for being able to make choices based on what is good for me.

I am so thankful for my ability to work.  Essentially, leaving my ex-husband allowed me to go from being psychiatrically disabled, to working full time in a demanding, challenging job, within a little over a year.

I love being employed.  I love having the privilege to help other women survivors.  I love being able to enter spaces where before I never would have been taken seriously, and be seen as a colleague and sometimes even an expert.   I occupy this mysterious space.  I am a psychiatric survivor and a service user while at the same time being a mental health service provider.   This is  a gift and a privilege that  I never forget.  Every single day that I work I am grateful for the opportunity to turn my negative experiences into a powerful way of finding meaning in the suffering I endured.  I find meaning in knowing that what I have survived has allowed me to help others with empathy, compassion, wisdom and joy.

Most people who know me now would have a hard time believing that 5 years ago I was unable to work, dependent, depressed, self destructive, suicidal and being abused.

Sometimes people who know me now forget.  They see me functioning and they forget that I struggle and constantly grapple with PTSD.  I function well with a very high level of symptoms and for that I am also grateful.

Ultimately, the last few months have been extremely difficult for me.  I’ve felt lost, depressed and hopeless at times.  But I have gained so much since leaving.  I have gained not just a career, but job that brings meaning to my life.  I have a safe home.  I am able to keep my children safe much of the time.  I am able to raise them with the values of social justice, equality and openness that I believe is right.

And even if this post is disjointed and unfocused, it is written, and for that I am thankful.

The leaving.


When I was 19 years old, I made the biggest mistake of my life.

This mistake potentially changed the entire course of my life until my children are adults and possibly longer.  I was a teenager.  I was in fragile recovery from anorexia and depression and had not yet been correctly diagnosed with PTSD.  I was living in a city away from my family and the majority of my close friends.  I was happy that year, doing well and enjoying life. I had taken up swing dancing and I loved it.  I’d made some friends and we often went out dancing together.  Shortly before my 20th birthday I met him.  He proposed to me after 3 months.  It was one of the worst moments of my life.  I remember physically shaking, thinking frantically in my head “oh my god, this can’t be happening, why is this happening, why is he doing this, why, what should I do, what will I say, why is this happening right now!!!”  In the moment I didn’t want to break up with him, so I said yes.  I honestly figured I had lots of time to get out of the promise, but life didn’t turn out that way.

Thirteen years passed.

Three years ago this week I made the biggest and most complicated decision of my life.

Ironically, the things that ended my marriage came together in a culmination of empowerment and decision for me.  I’d been battling with thoughts of leaving for over a year, slowly gaining strength, processing the ideas and planning.

The soul crushing depression I’d been living with for a few years slowly began to lift about a year before I left him.  I began to see options for myself.

For many years I had seriously considered suicide.  After trying ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) and slews of meds, I believed I had exhausted all options for treatment resistant depression. I was ready to give up and only my children held me to this world.  I had irrational, almost psychotic thoughts, in the depths of that depression.   But in my mind, when I was thinking more clearly, I told myself that suicide was only an option for those who had literally tried everything, people who had no other option.  Sometime in summer 2012 I realized that wasn’t my situation:  there was something I hadn’t tried.

I hadn’t tried moving. Living in my own house away from my partner.  I hadn’t tried starting over, changing my environment, removing myself from the ongoing sexual abuse which I knew was both triggering me and traumatizing me in equal measure.

In 2012, I was experiencing terribly severe migraines which at times left me unable to function.  I remember throwing up in the parking lot of a restaurant on my daughter’s birthday.  I went to the ER at times to receive IV pain meds.  Around that time I began taking a medication called Topimax for the migraines.  And suddenly, my depression lightened.  My obsessive compulsive suicidal and self destructive thoughts relented almost immediately.  I never self harmed in a way that required medical attention again. My migraines improved.  I began to see colours again.  I noticed the world around me.  I began to re-emerge into the world of the living.  And I started to consider my options for leaving my partner

As I grew stronger over the course of the next year, I started talking to more people in my life about the abuse.  I chose very carefully.  I told people who didn’t live in my city.  I told counselors and doctors who were sworn to keep confidentiality.  I was careful, but I started to talk.

I had some good friends who began to tell me that what I was experiencing was not okay.  Friends encouraged me to leave, to tell my parents, to get more counseling and they empowered me.  I started volunteering at a women’s organization. It happened gradually, slowly, almost imperceptibly.

In the end, the last time we had sex was the end of that marriage.  I made the decision the next day and told him a few days later.  That night he initiated sexual touching while I was asleep and drugged.  I woke up with him touching my breasts.  Maybe he had been touching me for a while before I fully responded.  On that occasion I woke up and was lucid enough to respond.  Because he had been touching me (without consent), I said yes to sleeping with him.  I verbally said yes.  We had sex and I felt disgusted.   Even though I said yes to the sex, I knew in my mind that I had not consented to the touching. I knew if he had asked me when I was wide awake I would have said no.   I realized that even IF I said yes, I still wouldn’t feel safe, comfortable or at all okay.  I knew it was over.  I knew that would be the last time.  So many times, when I was lying awake at night after being assaulted, I thought to myself “this could be the last time, I could get up and walk away” but I never did.  I was always afraid and I didn’t want to leave my kids.

There are a lot of reasons why people who are being abused do not leave.

And at the end of the day, it only takes one reason to decide to leave.

Leaving an abusive relationship can’t be rushed or forced.  The person being abused has to hit a breaking point and decide that “enough is enough” and that point is different for each individual survivor.

This happened three years ago, but anniversaries are always difficult for me.  I feel it all again.  I have more nightmares, more anxiety and lower self esteem.  I don’t believe in myself.  I have difficulty trusting. I hate my body so intensely that I struggle to look in mirrors or wear certain clothes. I don’t feel safe or relaxed anywhere.  I return to the automatic living, zombie like state.  I have trouble remembering things and difficulty concentrating.  I sometimes wonder if it has been worth the fight.  The suicidal thoughts creep in suddenly, ambushing me in my day to day life.

But at the end of the day, I have to remember that there were only 2 options left for me:

  1. Leaving
  2. Suicide

As difficult as my life is, and as much pain as I’m in, I believe I made the right choice.

I’m still alive.