"You're so strong...You're an inspiartion" - I hear those words a lot from people and while I appreciate the sentiment, I have been feeling increasingly like a fraud when I hear them over the past month. This entry is to explain that despite having access to and knowledge of coping and support mechanisms, a strong community around me and a lot of positive events happening in my life, I definitely don't have my shit together, far from it, despite what I may display to others, or how they may view me. I hope it can act as a bit of a cautionary tale about how quickly we can slide into a very negative place when we stop looking after ourselves. A reminder to continually be kind, compassionate and gentle on ourselves and others.
On October 13th, 2021, at approximately 3am, I started to create this site/newsletter. I was dealing with some personal matters that were weighing heavily on my mind and heart, they ate away at me. Due to stress and a rising state of anxiety, I didn’t sleep for almost four days. During that time, a deep sadness took hold of me and I spiralled. I became my feelings, embodying them, getting weighed down by them rather than just experiencing them. Creating this site was meant to be a distraction from them, a way out from under them, a release. I worked maniacally, desperate for some relief, instead, I was just moving emotional sand that buried me deeper in my hole.
About six hours later, at around 9am, I was talking to a friend on the phone, I don’t remember what we were talking about. I don’t remember much from the previous sleep deprived days other than feeling more removed from myself and others and experiencing massive emotional outbursts. I had a nearly complete inability to emotionally self-regulate. As my friend and I were talking, I suddenly lied to her and told her that my mom was calling me. I hung up, hypnotically walked upstairs to my bathroom and proceeded to swallow every pill on my bathroom counter. This included some sleep medication, a small bottle of Tylenol and Advil, as well as a small container of CBD/THC droplets. As I washed this pill cocktail down with a mouthful of water from my faucet I got a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. It was a circular Ikea mirror that Laura had agonized over. As I looked at the sunken, sallow, reflection I suddenly realized I was looking at myself. A broken version of myself, but it was still me. The sight knocked me out of my stupor. I instantly realized I had made a horrible mistake. I ran downstairs, called my friend back – “I need help now.” – “What’s your address?” she asked going into instant action. I sunk to the floor as I told her, collapsing into a broken heap.
I pulled myself back up to my feet, ran outside to my neighbour’s. I didn't want to die. I was fighting for my life, trying to correct a potentially fatal mistake I had subconsciously made. She was working while looking out her kitchen window, she smiled at me as I ran up. Her smile instantly changed when she saw the look of terror and fear on my face, she ran to the door. “I fucked up; I swallowed a lot of pills. I need help now. Call 911!” I stammered to her, tears streaming down my face as I took short, shallow and rapid panic enduced breaths. She calmed me down, walked me over to her couch and she dialled 911. I lay there in a daze, going in and out of consciousness. I vaguely remember her speaking to the dispatcher – “He swallowed some pills. We are in Canmore.” – a moment later, the friend I had called came running over with her partner. I remember them talking, but I don’t know what was said. There were other people standing around too. I don’t know who they were.
Soon thereafter the medics and a police officer arrived. I recognized them as friends from town, but I couldn’t place them through the haze of the pill cocktail and shock of it all. I was rushed to the Canmore hospital where I placed on an IV. I don’t know if my stomach was pumped, but I don't think it was. I don’t remember much from those moments. After a while, I came to again and was aware of my surroundings. I felt embarassed, scared and very alone. I called another friend, a girl I had been seeing who had ended things between us but who had been a strong emotional support and close friend through much of the past two years. She came as soon as I called, concern plastered across her face. This wasn’t her fault, I needed her to know that. I didn’t want it weighing on her, I also needed comfort. She offered that. I was ashamed and angry at myself for hurting others, for hurting her, for not being strong enough to make better choices. “I’m sorry” I sobbed, “I’m so fucking sorry. I love you.” I continued. "Don't worry about that, just look after yourself", she said compassionately. We hugged each other, kissed and cried. It was all too much.
From there, we were separated and the paramedics took me to the Foothills hospital in Calgary. They recognized me and me them. I was once again overtaken by shame. Shame for trying to kill myself, shame for being weak. Once in the hospital, not being in a critical state, we had to wait outside. I was on a hospital bed in a sterile, souless, hallway as seriously sick and injured people were wheeled passed me. I lay there wondering how the fuck I let myself end up in that situation, taking resources away from people who needed them much more than me. We talked inanely about ice climbing in the hallway. I chewed on a mystery cheese sandwich one of them gave me. They were compassionate and non-judgmental. I appreciated that, I was judging myself enough already.
After an hour or so of waiting, maybe more, maybe less, I was wheeled into the emergency room. Once in there I had horrible flashbacks to my time in hospital with Laura. She had been flown to Foothills and treated there after her avalanche. I now found myself in the same place that I watched her heartbeat fade and I said my last goodbye to her. The last place I saw her. The last place I kissed her. The trauma of the moment was too much and I cracked again. Alone, I sobbed uncontrollably, ECG leads on my chest and the intravenous tubes protruding from bandages on both my elbows as patients in various states of distress wailed, sobbed and screamed around me.
The room was illuminated by incandescent lights and a low, steady hummm of machines filled the air as overworked and stressed doctors and nurses rushed around, or tried to steal a moment of calm to themselves, amongst the chaos and trauma of the room. In that moment, I was overcome with a sense of total despair and emptiness. It was a form of hell I hope to never have to experience again.
I lay there, alone, re-traumatized, consumed with the fact that I would forever have to live with the fact that I had just tried to kill myself. I knew it was something I would have to accept, live with and face if I ever wanted to heal. I lay there for an unknowable length of time until the ward psychiatrist, a resident, finally came around. I explained the trauma that the setting was inducing. He was sympathetic, but also somewhat hamstrung by the system. He explained that I was not being held in care under the Mental Health Act, so I was deemed voluntarily admitted and I was free to leave. He strongly and wisely suggested that I should consider staying for closer monitoring in a longer term treatment facility, but I knew that staying where I was not going to be healthy. He began looking at other hospitals and suggested that the Psychiatric Unit at Rockyview, a hospital a few kilometers away, might have space. However, it could take up to 48-hours for me to be admitted. Unable to think clearly, or rationally, I began calling friends for advice. Could I endure 24 to 48-hours in this hellhole, wracked by Laurs’s presence for the hope of some good care on the other side?
As I paced, talking nervously and in a highly agitated state on the phone, I listened to them. They all came up with great options, however after a lot of consideration, not easy given my mental and emotional state, I decided my best course of action was to remain in psychiatric care. It was late, I was tired and I clearly needed help. The psychiatrist told me that he would do everything he could to expedite the process.
Due to Covid and the strains of the past few years on people’s mental health, as well as a general shortage of trained psychiatrists, there is a long waitlist outside of the hospital for psychiatric care. I was incredibly tired from the stress of the day and just wanted to sleep. A few minutes later, a different pair of paramedics came by to take me the five or so kilometers to the Rockyview across the river. Noting my Arc’teryx pants, one of them asked me if I was into mountain sports. Randomly, we proceeded to talk about ice climbing and the upcoming season again as I bounced around in the back of the ambulance. Finally, I arrived at the Unit 45, the psychiatric ward at the hospital, where I spent the next 6-days.
My experience at the ward is one that requires its own entry. There were some funny moments, the sort of dark comedy that can only come from witnessing the harder corners of life, moments you can only look up at and laugh at when you are at the bottom of a pit because any other response would be too overhwleming to consider. My heart really goes out to my fellow patients at the ward whose lives are unimaginably harder and more complicated than mine. Many of them have to deal with a lifetime of addictions, struggles, childhood trauma, neglect. A life of institutions, from prison to hospital. For some, that unit was their best option in life, a place of safety and security, a place where people actually cared about them. For me, I knew it was a temporary stop. I forced myself to accept the experience and embrace it. I was careful to not judge my fellow patients, no matter how outrageous their behaviour may have seen from the outside. We were all in the same place, looking for help. I had a deep empathy for them.
It was often hard to accept that I was in a mental institution. There is a lifetime of stigma attached to places like that that I had to unwind, especially as my suicidal thoughts did not remain past my initial attempt. Still, I knew intuitively and intellectually that if I compromised on this crucial step, the foundation, I would likely short-cut future stages of healing. I did not want to repeat the mistakes and choices that lead me there in the first place. I forced myself to stay present and do some deep soul searching. Rock bottom does that to you, it humbles you in the most extreme way. I took the time away from the realities and stresses of my everyday life back home to slowly build a new base. A more stable one.
I spent my days on Unit 45 talking to nurses, other patients, counsellors and the psychiatrist. I journaled multiple times a day, I started sketching again, I walked a lot, I went for runs around the hospital. I was granted full liberties to leave the unit for an hour at a time. Not everyone there had those privileges. The weather was mercifully perfect and I would try and get outside to catch the sunset and sunrise across the water, gazing out at the faint outline of the mountains on the horizon. I did yoga, I meditated, I talked to friends and family, both in person and on the phone. I started a round of anti-anxiety and depression medications, which had the added benefit of helping me finally get some sleep. I made a commitment to heal. To not only do the work when things are rough, but to keep at it when my days became more routine and mundane.
I knew I needed to do this to be able to take more of the world in, to develop the tools to cope with difficult and unexpected life experiences when they arise, because they always will – I knew that it would be the only way to contentment as I move through life. I also made a full commitment to reconnect with the community that I had hidden from when I was at my weakest, when I needed them most. I stayed there until my psychiatrist and I were comfortable with me leaving.
Now, out of hospital, I am trying to move forward with that same attitude and commitment to long-term healing. In the last few weeks I have had some ups and downs as I adapted to the new mood medication and as I was confronted with some of life's harder realities again. Part of that included dealing with the reality that I had hurt and scared people I love. The problems that lead me to try to kill myself and into the psych unit were all also still present when I re-entered the real world, but they have all felt a bit less overwhelming and daunting. I have started the slow process of facing them and unravelling some of the deep seated issues that I need to address to move on with life. I have done that surrounded by community and love.
One big decision I came to has been to start clearning some of Laura's and my posessions from our home. I have also decided I need to move away from our house and home in Canmore. It's too heavily burden with memories for me. I moved in with friends and their family in town as I organized my life. I am so grateful for their love and generosity. I have since rented out my house and will be moving to Squamish for a change of environment, at least for now. I have been trying to spend more quality time with the people in my life who lift me up. I have also met some wonderful new friends and deepened connections with people who were once acquaintances. I continue to go outside and exercise every day. I write and journal daily and I am continuing with my drawing. I am getting regular counselling and continuing with the medication. I have stopped drinking and using pot and I am trying to listen to my needs. I have started working again and have volunteered some time, both of which add meaning and purpose to my life.
I don’t believe I actually wanted to kill myself that morning. I do really love life, but alone in my house, the house that Laura and I had designed together, surrounded by ghosts and memories of a life that wouldn’t be, and the reality and challenges of another broken heart eating at me, I didn’t want to live with the pain I was going through. I couldn’t face the suffering any more. I was re-experiencing grief and loss and it was too much to bare and I fell apart. The sleep deprivation didn’t help. In that brief moment, I lost the ability to cope. A moment of extreme weakness was all it took to make a potentially fatal mistake.
It really scares me to think how quickly that feeling swept over me. I truly hit rock bottom again. I was so deeply in the moment and that moment was nothing but pain. I couldn’t see a future without pain and rather than face the hard road ahead, I took an easy way out – or maybe it was a simple cry for help? One final desperate act of survival, scaring myself into finally doing the hard work of healing that I have been too afraid to really face over the previous months.
As I sit here, sipping a tea, looking out at the snowcapped peaks of the Fairholme range, I am incredibly glad that I did call for help. I am grateful that I get to see this view, to feel the cold air on my face and hug the people I love. The people who love me. I can see a future out the window, whatever that future may bring and I am nervously, but optimistically, excited about it.
I am incredible grateful for my friends and family who have reached out to me, sat with me, moved with me, held me and talked, laughed and cried with me in the hours, days and weeks since I tried to kill myself. I am grateful for my neighbour who called for help, to the paramedics, nursing staff and doctors who helped guide me through the medical system. To my counsellors who are helping me work through some deep seated issues and trauma. I am incredibly sorry that I hurt and scared so many people I love - I wish I could take my actions back that day and I also wish I could go back and change a lot of my actions and decisions that lead me to that point - but I can't go back - so instead, I promise you, them and myself, that I'll keep doing the hard work I need to do. The work I need to do to heal. I promise that I'll keep on living and enjoying life with you all by my side - both during the good and bad times. I love you all!