Sleepless in Toronto: How I Learned to Respect the Importance of My Health

The truth about my experience with mental health, is that I never quite understood the magnitude of its possibility to devastate, until I was faced with acknowledging its affect on my own life. I grew-up watching family and friends’ battle to gain control over various mental ailments. While some triumphed, others never firmly confronted the invisible demon head-on. Sure, in my subconscious there was always a small fear of knowing my family history, that one day I too would succumb to this fate and whether I’d be strong enough to face ‘it’. However, from my perspective I seemed quite sound in mind, so I didn’t dwell on it. I thought my part for the campaign of championing mental health awareness was to empathize with those who were struggling and provide positive support. But in Fall 2013 my mental well-being took a mighty blow, and my passive fear became a present and aggressive reality.

I don’t understand – why can’t I fall asleep? So it all began with a few nights of no sleep, which eventually extended into weeks. Any issues I faced in the past I`d surpassed with a good cry, music, some blogging and little help from my family and friends. However it was becoming increasingly difficult to meet the needs of a demanding and stressful job that involved helping others. How was I going to help others if I couldn’t help my damn self?

Meditation and yoga ceased when anxiety around sleep became perpetual. The impact sleep deprivation had on my general state from moment-to-moment was becoming debilitating. I had forgotten how to breathe. I felt numb, yet everything hurt. I realized the urgency of my issue and began trying a holistic approach. I turned to acupuncture and consulted a naturopath, but the treatments barely made a dent. I recognized myself less and less. Reluctantly I decided to try pharmaceuticals.

My doctor was surprised I was functioning off merely micro-sleeping. Enter sedative-hypnotics and psychoactive drugs. I tried many types over the next months, but none provided an escape from perpetual
wake. In fact, the side effects of grogginess and the level of drugs in my system mutated me into a zombie.

By December 2013, I had hit a moderate-severe depression. I had lost 10 pounds and could barely get out of my house. Not eating regularly had always been an unhealthy pattern connected to stress for me. I felt like I was in an awake state of daze, knowing what I had to do, but not having the energy to do it.

Understanding my doctor’s frustration with my lack of response, I mentioned a pill that had worked for depression on family members– she hastily wrote the prescription. Two days later I sat on the floor shaking. I was having an adverse chemical reaction to the anti-depressant. I told my sister I wanted to explode. That was the scariest day of my life, period. When I finally was able to consult a mental health professional, he was shocked considering my family
history and severe anxiety, that my doctor had prescribed this particular pill. I had trusted my doctor with my health and she had put me at-risk.

Soon after, work became unbearable. I took a 2-month sick leave. I
needed to take charge of my own health, or else. On Christmas Day I woke to have the most touching spiritual experience of my life, and I realized I had to keep alive the love inside. There is always a light, no matter how bleak the present seems. January 2014 , things started to slowly turn around. I found a new doctor, one who was confident in her work – she helped me gain some sleep and more importantly, the self-esteem to conquer this invasion.

Soon after, I saw a counsellor through Toronto Western Hospital`s free Community Mental Health program. My shrink gave me medication that decreased my anxiety, but most importantly, I started talk therapy with my amazing counsellor. This has worked wonders in helping me identify negative cognitive thinking and unhealthy life patterns activated by stress.

Recently, returning to my faith in alternative medicine, I started seeing a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, and weaned off medication. The herbal tea doesn’t taste good and is not cheap but alongside acupuncture, it has tremendously helped my sleep. My TCM doctor proclaims that stress has manifested into energy stagnation in my stomach, which is why iron deficiency and lack of appetite persist. I’d never heard that theory before but, when she pressed on my belly and I reacted in pain, I went home and cried. She had given me access to a diagnosis that connected with me: the physical impact of stress and anxiety infects the flow of core energy; it is not all in the head. With gaining some more rest, I’m encouraged that I’m healing slowly but surely.

I still have ups and downs, but I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I try and remember that like a physical injury, regaining mental resiliency takes time and effort. There is freedom from the chaos if we are resourceful enough to find the way.