Mental health is something we don't talk about often enough. This will be long, but I hope you'll read it. When we're in physical pain or we have an injury, we share it with our friends and family. When we're in mental pain or crisis, we keep it to ourselves. As much as we want to believe that there's less stigma around mental health, it's still hard to talk about. The first step in dealing with the stigma is talking about it and breaking the barrier.
In the last year, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about the mental health system here in BC. I shared my journey with a select few people and did my best to hide it from the rest. I was honestly terrified of the stigma I would face by being honest about my situation. Now that I'm on the other side, I know that I need to share my story to help break the stigma.
Last summer, I stopped sleeping. Previously, I had been getting an average of 4-6 hours a night, not always great, but enough to get by on. When I stopped sleeping, I was getting less than 2 hours a night, often going days without any sleep at all. I tried everything and nothing helped. As this was happening, my anxiety was getting worse. I was anxious and worried all the time. A month after I stopped sleeping, I saw my GP. He prescribed me sleeping pills for a week to "reset" my circadian rythm and referred me to Mental Health. The pills didn't work. After I stopped taking them, I stopped sleeping again.
I had my intake call with mental health. We talked about everything that was happening and my history and she determined that I should probably get in to see someone sooner rather than later. A month after my first appointment with my GP, I saw him again. He prescribed me new sleeping pills. These worked fine for a few days, then slowly stopped working. After two and a half weeks, I was getting less than 4 hours a night again, so I stopped taking them and went back to not sleeping.
Around this time I started hearing things. The only one that stands out was someone yelling at me to get outside. No one was there. I started hearing the radio when it was off and things moving or falling when nothing shifted. People calling my name when no one said anything.
I started school. It was my final semester, three classes all electives and I was enjoying all of them. I did my best to stay on top of assignments and attend classes. I would miss a morning class by sleeping in on random days where I got slightly more than 2 hours of sleep. I missed deadlines by not being able to remember if today was wednesday or thursday. I went to the counsellors at the college and asked for help.
The counsellor was great. She helped me outline a plan of action for dealing with the classes and getting assignments dealt with. I talked to my instructors and got leniency from two of them. The third wouldn't budge.
Around this same time I started seeing things. They started out little and I barely noticed. Movement out of the corner of my eye. It started getting more noticable though. I saw people peering in my window. There were always spiders on the carpet. The floor in my classrooms turned into many little snakes. I started feeling things too. Usually it was the cat. I'd be staring right at her across the room and feel her brush up against my leg. Or she'd be curled up asleep by my head and I'd feel her jump on or off the foot of the bed.
It terrified me.
I had called the clinic my Mental Health file was associated with a couple times but hadn't gotten through to anyone. When I started seeing things, I started calling almost every day. I got told they would look at my file on the Friday and call me by Monday. After not getting a call, I'd call them back on Tuesday and they'd say they hadn't had a chance to review my file. It went on for weeks.
By this point, I was having full blown panic attacks that lasted hours. I didn't know who to turn to or how to get help. The people who were supposed to help me were ignoring me.
I saw my GP again. I told him about the hallucinations and what the situation was with my Mental Health case. He didn't have any suggestions, but he was very concerned. He prescribed me a new sleeping pill and sent me home. These ones worked. Finally, I was sleeping.
Because of my work schedule, in order to have a regular sleeping schedule, I took the pills daily at 1am. and went to bed then.
I kept having panic attacks. I kept hallucinating. I still couldn't track dates well enough to get assignments in. I saw the counsellor at the college again and she told me to call the crisis line. We worked out a plan to finally get me seen by mental health professionals. It was a last resort.
I gave Mental Health one more chance to review my file. They didn't. That night I had a panic attack that made me late taking the sleeping pill. The next day was a day off. I packed my backpack, got on a bus, and started heading downtown, towards the hospital. I called the crisis line and told them what was happening. They stayed on the phone for most of my trip and talked to the hospital for me.
When I arrived at the ER, they rushed me into the psych ward. I was finally being taken seriously, four months after everything started. I stayed overnight, talked to residents and doctors, didn't sleep, and was prescribed an antipsychotic. They also gave me a referral to Mental Health.
I saw my GP two weeks after I went to the hospital. My hallucinations were better, but they were still there. He doubled my dose of the antipsychotic and didn't renew my sleeping pills. I'd run out before the appointment and slept just as well on the antipsychotic alone. The less in my system, the better. Within a week of doubling the antipsychotic, the hallucinations were gone.
I got in to see Mental Health. Things moved forward. I got the help I needed.
I finished the semester at college and failed one class, passing the other two with really good grades. I registered for the next semester, determined to finish.
My doctors started stepping down my antipsychotic and I went back on the sleeping pill. I stayed sleeping fairly consistantly and the hallucinations didn't return. My anxiety got better and things looked positive.
The consensus is that the hallucinations were caused by lack of sleep. We still don't know why I stopped sleeping, but are working on that now.
Through this nine month process, I was terrified. What if people found out. What if it was worse than just hallucinations. What if I didn't get better. What if people found out.
If I had been able to be honest about what was happening, I might have felt better about asking for help. It took strength of will to be persistant about getting help and to finally get it. I no longer wonder how people slip through the cracks of the mental health system, it's very easy. Maybe if we make it easier to talk about the hard mental health topics, it won't be so scary and lonesome to experience them.
Thanks for reading and sharing my story. I hope this helps you understand and maybe share your own stories.