Tag Archives: mental illness

Broadview Signal Boost

“Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime”. Motto on Broadview’s website

There’s a town in Eastern Saskatchewan called Broadview. Why it’s called that I don’t really know. Truth be told, there is a lot of Saskatchewan (and Manitoba, and Alberta for that matter), that could boast of “broad views” in that there isn’t a whole lot to block a view. What you’re viewing, nobody knows. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it is a broad one.

There’s not really a lot to see from the highway, to be honest, and despite an impressive website for a community of its size, I remember it made the news a few years ago when it came out that bored residents got their entertainment by listening in on passing truckers’ CB radio, and scolding them for using bad language. Of course I can’t find a link to that story now, but you’ll just have to trust my memory that it happened. If you DO take time to visit the Broadview Museum, you may see the stuffed corpse of “Sargent Bill” an honest to goodness Billy Goat who was the town’s mascot in WWI. This goat must have had some kind of winning personality because not only did they decide to stuff him after he died, the Army gave him a medal for war service while he was alive. I didn’t know they had goats over there as mascots or what the hell a goat could do to earn a medal, but if a guy can buy a bear at a train station and take him overseas #winniethepoohref then anything is possible, I guess. What a world.

Anyway, my first experience with Broadview stretches back to more than 20 years ago. My Mom, brother and I were driving home from a family wedding in Alberta and we had been on the road for about 10 hours at this point and quite punchy. My Mom was thinking of getting a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier as a pet, and she wanted to stop in to visit a SCWT breeder in Broadview. She had the address, and Broadview isn’t that big of a place, so it didn’t take very long to find it. It was one of the few times that day we were all out of the car to stretch our legs, and like I said: my brother and I were pretty beat. When my Mom rang the doorbell, we knew we had the right house from the chorus of barking erupting from within. After a minute, there was a woman at the door with two of the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen in your life in her arms. She apologized for the noise. My Mom introduced herself and the woman remembered her from a previous phone conversation.

“Would you like to come around the back and check out my BITCHES??” the woman asked us out of the blue, and that was all it took for my brother and me to just lose it and start laughing hysterically until tears were in our eyes. Yes, I knew that female dogs are called “bitches” and I also sort of knew that breeders use that term all the time and they don’t think anything of it, but it was so unexpected to see this otherwise normal looking lady use that word that my brother and I couldn’t even.

My Mom shot glares at us which meant, “Smarten up. What are you, twelve?” For the record, I was 20. We managed to pull it together for just long enough until one of us looked at the other and then a fresh round of hysterics would explode from us. From that day onward, “Do you want to come check out my BITCHES?” entered our family vocabulary.

Where’s my cute bitches at?

So let’s fast-forward to the present day. My wife has a notoriously tiny bladder. Everyone knows this, and so on road trips you gotta factor in an additional 10% of time for extra washroom stops over and above the NORMAL amount of time for people with NORMAL bladders. It got so bad on this trip that I was forced into a village that had no gas station or any real services. My wife was so grateful that this little café let her use their facilities even though they had a “Washrooms are for Customers Only” sign out front, she bought a jar of Saskatoon Jam, so what I’m saying is that frequent pee stops aren’t always a bad thing.

So we had a pee stop in Broadview on our drive home over the weekend. This CO-OP gas station had what I thought was a door man, but in fact it was just the guy who pumps your gas, and since no one usually stops in Broadview, he was just standing by the door, looking forlornly out at an empty parking lot. Since he wasn’t allowed to check his trucker CB frequency while on the clock, he passed his time at work by opening the door to people like my wife who were only there for the toilets.

I hung out in the parking lot (because I am not even joking when I say that we stopped maybe an hour before in Moose Jaw for gas and pee), and I saw a strange sight. It was a bicycle with a baby chariot attached. That in of itself isn’t all that strange. You see long distance cyclists use them from time to time, if not for actual babies, then for their gear and whatnot. What was odd about this situation was that there was a full-grown (and quite elderly, by the look of her) Golden Retriever curled up in the back. It’s owner must have been in the store getting snacks.

When my wife came out, I saw a peculiar sign on the other side of the gas station that I thought would be fun to take our daughter’s picture with. In the interests of privacy I shall not name that sign nor shall I show that picture, but I WILL show platinum subscribers during the next pledge week. After I took a couple of pictures, the guy with the dog in the baby carrier pedaled up to us and offered to take a picture of all of us together. It’s rare to get a pic of all three of us that isn’t some kind of cramped “selfie” affair, so we took him up on his generous offer.

He seemed to have some kind of signage on his bike that I didn’t notice before, and I asked him what his deal was. It turns out he is pedaling across Canada with his dog, Ginger, to raise awareness of Juvenile PTSD and mental illness. He started in PEI in June and plans to make it to Victoria by October. He gave us his card, told us his dog’s name was Ginger, and we parted ways. There’s something special about someone doing an extraordinary act (like biking across the country) to raise awareness for a cause in which they believe. I didn’t really think of PTSD as something that kids could experience, but why not? Any traumatic event could trigger it, so it’s prevalence is probably grossly under-reported and greatly misunderstood.

His name is Brian Nadon, and he is the Founder and Director of the VATIC foundation. (Value, Achieve, Take Part, Inspire, Community) and he hopes to raise $150,000 this summer for a post-secondary scholarship fund for young people who suffer from PTSD and mental illness. I liked the cut of his jib, and I wish him the very best of the rest of his journey (especially that part where he goes through the Rocky Mountains). It made me reflect on my own experiences with mental illness, which I wrote about once here and also here.  (#shamelessblogpostbuzzmarketing) Brian seemed like a friendly guy, he had a Kansas City Royals ball cap affixed to his bike, which is a surrogate team for me when the Jays are out of it, and anyone raising awareness of mental illness is a kindred. Also, I love a good acronym.

When we got home I googled “Bike Riding for PTSD” and was surprised to see that Brian isn’t the only one riding across Canada this summer for PTSD. There’s another guy who’s doing it on Motorcycle. Michael Terry, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan is riding to raise awareness of PTSD in the military, specifically. Who knew? Is this just like the summer of ’97 where we had to choose between Dante’s Peak and Volcano, or the following summer where we were forced to choose between Deep Impact and Armageddon? Or the constant decision we are forced to make EVEN TO THIS DAY whether we are fans of Josh Whedon or fans of J.J. Abrams? BUT NOT BOTH?! (For the record, I’m a Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak and J.J. Abrams man all the way and shan’t hear it any other way).  But since Brian is doing it on a bicycle with a dog and I met him, I consider him the Terry Fox of PTSD awareness and the Motorcycle guy merely the Steve Fonyo. (Still good though! And gosh, more than I could achieve believe me. I don’t want to badmouth anyone who is following their calling and who has served our country and suffered for it and Lord knows mental health needs as many advocates as possible and I think there’s plenty of room for bikes, motorcycles and even a guy in a borrowed CR-V on the TransCanada this summer).

If you’d like to read more about Brian’s journey,  learn about PTSD, and feel moved to make a donation,  you can check out his webpage at www.vaticfoundation.com

He’s also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @vaticfoundation if you’d like to cheer him on.

Consider this a signal boost from Broadview, the home of bitches and dead goats, where “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime” sounds like a threat, not a promise.

Brian and Ginger in Broadview, SK



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The Coolness Outside

“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.” Paul Simon

“I hear voices. Ridiculous voices”. U2

I read two stories the other day via Twitter that stopped me in my tracks. Both were retweets by Roger Ebert. The first was about a former ABC anchorman, Kevin Roy, who lost his job in 2010 due to his inability to turn up for work and other issues. He’s battling mental illness. He says he’s “97% there” but you can tell that the last 3% is going to be tough. He’s had trouble with alcoholism in the past and you can see from the article that he’s still suffering from paranoia and delusions. The line that struck me most was that he said his mother committed suicide at age 51 sixteen years ago and that he believes his Mom would be alive today if there wasn’t such a stigma against mental illness in our society. The second retweet simply said :

Something told me I’m supposed to be writing about suicide and Depression this week. I’ve got a lot to say on this topic, and I probably won’t fit it all into a single blog post. I’ll probably post this and then think, “Damn, I shouldn’t have said that.” Or “Shoot, I should have said this” but let’s give it a go, shall we?

Here we go.

I could relate to the news anchor’s story because I too lost a parent to suicide. My Dad died 21 years ago at age 50. At the time, he was being hospitalized for Depression but was out on a day pass because his doctor thought he was “doing better”. We now know that sometimes depressed people will start to show signs of recovery when they’ve actually made a decision to end their life, and I really believe this is what happened with my Dad. It feels a little weird to admit that my Dad killed himself, because it was never really officially ruled a suicide and I don’t think my Mom and brother have ever really come to terms with the truth. It falls into that “not talked about” territory that every family has.  I’m not going to go into the details of the morning he died, except to say that you could make a case for “accidental death” and still live with yourself. In fact, I lived with “accidental death” for a couple of years as a coping mechanism, but it took me getting diagnosed with Depression myself two years after my Dad died to realize the truth. I was hospitalized at age 19 from December 1993 to March 1994. I was on a psych ward: sometimes in lock-down, other times given more freedom, sometimes confined to bed, other times up and interacting, but always wearing a hospital bracelet and under the watch of some pretty amazingly dedicated and caring people. I truly saw the best and worst of humanity during those four months and maybe one day I’ll talk a little more about my time there. They tried a number of different medications and treatments to make me better, and when nothing worked, the doctors decided to try ECT treatments and by the grace of God I got better. I’ve been off and on a number of antidepressants, and I was lucky enough to find one, Zoloft, that worked and works for me. I remember being visited on an almost daily basis by four people: my Mom, my Uncle Barry, my best friend Ed, and my minister, Allan. I remember years later that Allan told me he was suffering from a crisis of faith at that time and he prayed that if I got better, his faith would be renewed. I’m kinda glad I didn’t know that then. That would have freaked me out a little bit.

The late summer and early summer when I was getting sick, I was listening to a lot of Zooropa, U2’s newest album at the time. It was the follow-up to their best record ever, Achtung Baby, and I just couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm for Zooropa as I did two years earlier for Achtung Baby. To this day, I don’t know if getting sick was why I hated that CD so much, or whether it really wasn’t all that great. I’ll never know, because I can’t go back (thankfully) and recreate that time. All I know is that hearing a full live version of Zooropa played last May in Winnipeg, standing 15 feet from the stage, confirmed the nightmarish power that song still holds over me. It sure didn’t help that I actually was hearing ridiculous voices when I first heard Bono sing those lyrics 19 years ago.

It’s been close to 20 years since I was in the hospital for Depression. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been on medication for it, although I still check in with my psychiatrist once a year. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times when I’ve felt ill since then. There have been times when I’ve had to “up” my medication, but so far I’ve avoided a full-on hospital stay. I still dread the autumn. If I’m not going to feel well, chances are it will happen then. Maybe “dread” is too strong a word. “Respect” autumn may be closer to it. “Being aware” of how I’m feeling in the fall, maybe. My doctor thinks the change of season can be hard on some of us who are susceptible to Depression. For my Dad, his Depression was always worst in the Spring.

I like to use the analogy of someone who’s had a heart attack. The first time you have a heart attack, you have no idea what’s happening and it’s really scary, but if you’re lucky enough to survive the heart attack and recover, you’re in a much better position to survive subsequent ones. You know the early warning signs, you can make lifestyle adjustments, and you know there’s a team of medical professionals there to help you if and when you need them. You could say I am in remission.

Having been through it myself, I had a much better idea of what my Dad experienced. His last hospitalization was his second time in for Depression. He had been ill and hospitalized 5 years before for a few months and made a pretty good recovery in the interim. In those five years, from age 12 to 17, I had an amazing fun-loving father who just happened to suffer periodically from a terrible disease. When he got sick the second time, I thought “no big deal”, as I truly thought we’d just have to wait this out like last time and we’d get my dear old Dad back again sooner or later. Life turns on a dime and that sadly didn’t happen.

For me, it was different. I had the same nurses and doctors that he had, I had the very same illness, and I too, many times, stood at the abyss and contemplated suicide. Not just contemplated, but truly wished I was dead. I hold no animosity towards my Dad. It’s not that he was weak and I was somehow strong. It was just the opportunity presented itself and he took it. I often think of this analogy: Imagine you’re in a really hot, stuffy room. Maybe you’re at a party with a bunch of people you know and love, maybe not. The room is really closing in on you, and the damn radiator must be broken because you can hardly breathe in that room. All you can think about is leaving that room somehow. It’s become unbearable and you just need to leave and get to the coolness outside, you’re not thinking about the people you’re going to leave behind at the party, you just need to get out. Is that being selfish? I don’t know. I think it’s called doing what you think you have to do to make things better. To me, that was how it felt to contemplate suicide, and although I’ll never know what was going through my Dad’s head those last few days, but I think I understand and I certainly forgive him. He just had to get out of that unbearably stuffy room and get some fresh air. The consequences never even went through his mind, I’m sure.

ECT undoubtably saved my life. For those suffering from Depression, it can LITERALLY be a game changer. This may sound cheesy, but I was born in 1974 but I genuinely feel like I was reborn in 1994. That means I’m actually just turning 18 this year. Just a few more weeks til I’m legal, girls! The only side effect for me from the ECT treatments was a little short-term memory loss, and as one of the nurses said to me, “It’s probably not a bad thing that you don’t remember all of your hospital stay here anyway”. A few months after I got out of the hospital, my girlfriend at the time and I went to a midnight revival of “Jurassic Park” at a local theatre that would often show reruns. One of the trailers was for Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia”.  It actually was the music video for “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen with a “Coming Soon” card at the very end. I turned to my girlfriend and said “That looks amazing, I can’t wait to see it”. She said, “You did see it, last year. And you hated it.”

After I got better, I tried to learn as much as I could about Depression. I’m not going to lay a bunch of stats about the percentage of the population that suffers from it. Those numbers can change and you can look them up if you’re interested. The best book I ever read on the topic was William Styron’s “Darkness Visible: A memoir of madness”,  in which he chronicles his own bout with Depression. It most closely resembles my own experience with the disease and I always direct people who ask me “What was it like?” to it. He’s way more eloquent than I could ever been on the subject.

The most accurate description of Depression I've ever read

Rob Delaney is this funny dude I follow on Twitter, and he posted something on his Tumblr account a couple of years ago that I think took a lot of courage and also jibes with how I feel about this terrible, potentially deadly disease. You can read it here.

Rob Delaney "For most of my life, I’ve been a happy, optimistic guy. But for whatever reason, I’ve had depression of a serious, life-threatening nature rear its head a couple of times."

People like Rob Delaney and me are among the lucky ones. We got sick, but we also found treatment and medication that worked for us and we got better. How many more people “out there” are suffering quietly without seeking medical help, or who are being treated but just haven’t hit upon that magic formula of medication and treatment that works for them? The bottom line is that Depression can kill, but it is also treatable.

Do I worry that I’ll get sick again? Of course, although I try not to let the disease define who I am or cloud what can often be a wonderful life. Will I need to go on medication or even be hospitalized in the future? Only time will tell. No one has a crystal ball, and I have a brilliant psychiatrist who has put up with me for almost twenty years. I’ve also got a great family and super awesome friends. I’d say I have a fighting chance.

“And if, and if the night runs over. And if the day won’t last. And if your way should falter, along this stoney pass. It’s just a moment. This too shall pass.” U2


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