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Suicide crosses all cultural, economic and social boundaries. Many people who die by suicide appeared to be functioning well prior to their death. It can happen to anyone.

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Story 204

I would like to describe my journey with mental illness, talk about what it does to me, and then conclude with some of the things I do to help get me through my days. The best place to start is right at the beginning. I was raised on a grape farm in Ontario and had a very rewarding childhood with a number of pets and a warm supportive environment with my parents. I was active in boy scouts and 4-H and belonged to several extra curricular groups in High School. I attended University for an agriculture program and at the age of 24 I bought my own farm, I loved the pride and challenge of operating my own business.

Shortly after I bought the farm I married and in the early 70’s my first son was born followed by a second son two years later. These were not particularly happy times for me as the woman I married was unable to cope with the children. In the late 70’s we separated and subsequently divorced, I retained custody of my two sons… I was certainly the proud parent of these two fine boys. Some months later I met another lady who also had two sons and we were soon living together enjoying our young family; we married in the early 80’s. Life was hectic but rewarding with the demands of the farm and family, but I sailed through all this with no problem. 

About this time I became active in community and farm organizations and I thrived on the challenge of working on boards of directors whether as a director or as president or chairperson as the case might be. I was able to work with boards to find common ground to advance the interests of the organizations and was very proud of my achievements. I also took a job selling agricultural supplies and did very well at it and was promoted to the position of plant nutrient manager for a large part of Canada. I was extremely busy but loved the pace and rewards of my busy schedule. Then late in the 1990’s I began to lose the enthusiasm that had been so characteristic of my life. As I came up for re-election on the board, to the surprise of many I simply did not let my name stand and eventually withdrew from all outside activities. As well at the same time I was starting to have trouble keeping up with the farm work and two of my sons took on a more active role.

In the early 2000’s my wife was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and had it successfully treated; but even in light of that successful treatment… I was on my way to work one morning in the fall of that year when I crashed! …I simply could not stop crying, no matter how hard I tried. I went to my family doctor and told him I had no idea what was wrong but I simply couldn’t stop crying. He told me I appeared to be suffering from depression and advised me to take time off work and prescribed an antidepressant for me. He sent me to see a psychiatrist and I started counseling with the psychiatrist’s nurse practitioner. Soon I was able to resume working and my daily activities; I seemed to be managing with my depression.

But two years later I was not doing so well and my depression became deeper in spite of the medication and the psychotherapy that taught me how to best live with depression. As a result my psychiatrist suggested I try Electro Convulsive Therapy, or ECT, to try and alleviate the worsening symptoms I was experiencing. ECT is a treatment done on an out patient basis where the patient is given a short-acting general anesthetic and while under the anesthetic an electrical shock is administered that induces a convulsion in the patient. Although this sounds painful about all I felt was some mild muscle fatigue after each treatment. Initially this worked very well for me and I was even able to resume reading books, something I dearly love but had been unable to do since the onset of my depression. Unfortunately this did not last for me either and after nineteen treatments we decided more treatments would be futile.

Two things had become clear by this time, that my depression was what is called treatment-resistant depression and that my symptoms were gradually becoming worse with time. By this stage I was on disability and just completely unable to cope with working on any kind of a regular basis. The frustrating thing for me was that I had absolutely no reason to be depressed: I have a wonderful family, a devoted wife, and until my illness, a job I loved and that I was very good at. Three years later my psychiatrist at the time decided there was no more he could do for me and discharged me from his program leaving me with no support. At this point I felt absolutely hopeless and could not face living like this for the rest of my life. Every time any issue arose the only thing my sick mind could think of to solve it was ending it all… suicide appeared to be my only option. That is why I attempted; …not thinking of anyone, especially of those I would hurt that were left behind. For some reason after lying unconscious for thirty hours I regained consciousness and ended up being taken to the hospital where I met a very skilled psychiatrist. Although my depression is as bad as it has ever been, with the help of my psychiatrist and the counselor I see regularly I am still here and part of my wonderful family. I have had to give up the farm I had always dreamed of but it was no longer fair to expect my sons to take care of it; they all have their own families and lives.

How do I describe depression to you? To define depression it is simply a chemical in-balance in my brain… Having said that however, I will try and describe how this mental illness makes me feel and how it impacts my daily life. Depression is much more than just a very deep sadness. For me depression is about the loss of many things that I held enormously valuable; the loss of feelings and the joy of anticipation… the loss of a sense of reward and achievement… the loss of the ability to make up my mind; all this combined with an anxiety overshadowed by a sense of impending doom. These shortcomings all lead to both a flatness and an unease in my life that makes it extremely difficult to get through a daily routine. The smallest day-to-day chores have become insurmountable challenges as my mind wrestles with minor issues that I once took for granted and solved with no effort. During periods of severe depression the thought of suicide frequently enters my mind, it is not that I want to die, it is simply a need for the mental pain to end. I just want to quit everything… To help you understand this pain it is like you are experiencing the worst thing that might happen to you or your family and how that might make you feel. This then is the type of pain I feel mentally… but for absolutely no valid reason. I cannot reason through it nor change anything to make it go away. The only solution that seems workable when it is at its worst is to go to sleep forever.

Fortunately I have now developed tools to get me through these times… I now know suicide is NOT an option. For me picturing how it would be to tell my mother, my wife, or my little granddaughters that their papa killed himself stops me from acting on any impulse no matter how strong. I have also committed to my psychiatrist that before I do anything destructive I will go to the emergency at the hospital and tell them what I am about to do. The other thing that helps me when I am feeling very bad is to know that eventually this will ease if I just get up and do something… no matter how badly I feel. If I can just get through the next few minutes… do something… forget about the rest of the day. At times like this I often go for a walk, I start by merely putting on my shoes… that is good enough for now… after that is complete I go outside… then simply start walking towards the corner. I sometimes walk as much as five miles but only taking it in the small stages I have just described; only worrying about right now, certainly not the rest of the day. It is exactly this process that allowed me to write this; if I had thought about everything involved in doing this I would have become overwhelmed and discouraged.

I hope this gives you a bit of an insight into the daily challenges faced by a person suffering from depression. There are many other forms of mental illness and the difficulty living with some of the others can be even more overwhelming. In many cases, what is referred to as recovery from a mental illness is simply learning to live with and manage the symptoms like I have just described. My purpose in telling you all of this is to help you understand some of the challenges faced by someone faced with one kind of mental illness.

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