Mental Health Week blog: I need help and no one is listening to me

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Parties, dinners, nights out on the town – no matter the event, I was always there. I remember the last big event I went to – before things started going sideways. It was the massive refinery party at the Art Gallery of Alberta, ahead of Halloween. The crowds, the noise – it didn’t phase me. And then things changed. Some weird stuff started happening. I’d have a hard time just relaxing. My heart would start beating randomly fast. One morning, I nearly blacked out in the studio.

I didn’t have time for this. Work was really busy and a recent story had been weighing heavily on me. I was worried about a friend with cancer. And Christmas was coming up. I pushed through.

It was Dec. 27, 2016, when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I got to the newsroom just before 11 p.m. Within minutes I knew something wasn’t right. My heart was racing, I was sweating, shaking and feeling like I was going to be sick. A producer ending their shift asked if I was all right and offered to stay until someone else came in. I said no, that I’d be fine. And I was – for a bit. Shortly after my co-producer for that morning came in, it started all over again. I knew I had to leave.

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I took myself to the ER in Sherwood Park. After an ECG and some blood work, I was told there was nothing actually wrong with me and sent home. Hours later, I was back. Another couple ECGs, more blood work, a chest X-ray, constantly setting off the heart rate monitor – any little movement, my heart rate would spike and the monitor would beep like crazy. But again, I was told there wasn’t anything wrong and I should go home; frustrated, and still without answers.

I’m not fine, I know something is wrong. I. KNOW. IT. I’ve lived in this body for 30 years; I know when something isn’t working properly.

I went home and for a while things calmed down —  before starting all over again. I was exhausted, frustrated and scared. I called my mom. I remember telling her that I need help, I know something is wrong and no one is listening to me. I remember thinking to myself: “This is what it feels like to go crazy.” I couldn’t stop shaking and crying.

READ MORE: Alberta announces $5M grant to support mental health in schools

This time I went to the northeast medical centre. More waiting, more ECGs, more blood work. With all the sitting around, I did what any good millennial does, and turned to Dr. Google, who told me I was having a panic attack. Then the real doctor came in and told me he thinks I’m having a pulmonary embolism and I need to get to the Royal Alexandra Hospital right away for a CT scan. I gave him my Google diagnosis. He just looked at me and said: “You don’t seem very anxious to me but I’ll give you some drugs if that’s what you want.”

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And so, off I go to a CT scan and my fourth doctor in two days. A great big man came around the curtain and said: “I have good news.” I said to him: “No you don’t. I know you’re going to tell me I never had a pulmonary embolism and we’re just going to start this whole process over again.”

And he sat down on the end of the bed, and asked me to go over what’s been going on. And he listened — really listened — while I cried, and told him about everything.

When I was finally done, he said: “You know, I think you’re just a little stressed out and your body has had enough.”

He said not to worry, it happens to lots of people. I started to cry again (I cried a lot during this whole ordeal) and I asked if I could hug him because finally someone was actually, truly helping me.

My interesting journey through the health-care system didn’t end there. We’re fortunate to have a great mental health support system here at Global News. I was able to call the hotline and speak with someone right away, who set me up to meet with a counsellor in a few days. In the meantime, I felt like I needed to talk to someone right away. I found a counsellor close to home, who, within 20 minutes, told me she didn’t think there was anything actually wrong with me. Awesome. I didn’t see her again.

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But a few days later I had my first session with my through-work counsellor. He was great to deal with and very understanding. And over several weeks he helped me work out what was going on, eased my fears that I’d never be “normal” again, and gave me some great life tools to deal with stress and anxiety.

Between him and my regular family doctor, we were able to determine it was likely my sympathetic nervous system. That’s what is responsible for your “fight or flight” reactions, the one that gets your adrenaline pumping. It starts working during times of physical or mental stress. Because I was feeling stressed so much, so often, my parasympathetic nervous system – which has the opposite effect – basically gave up and quit. Starting work at 1 a.m. certainly didn’t help, as anyone who does shift work knows, messing with your circadian rhythm can cause big problems.

READ MORE: Musician who suffered PTSD after 2013 High River flood performs at benefit concert

Through it all, I found both support and discouragement. Facebook connected me with dozens of friends who shared similar stories about struggles with depression or anxiety or other mental health issues, while one friend suggested I was “attention-seeking.”

At work, after taking several weeks off, a co-worker asked how I was. Then they told me I shouldn’t be on anti-anxiety medication because it messes with your brain and it’s just a Band-Aid solution. At that time, the medication was the only thing making it possible for me to leave the house. I never intended it to be a long-term solution. Isn’t the point of a Band-Aid to protect a wound while it heals?

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I will say this: the support I got far outweighed the negativity. I did have many other co-workers who were very understanding, even when I felt like I was letting them down by not being able to come to work. My friends were also great at taking my mind off things and, of course, some of my family members, who endured my crying and frustration. I’ve had to learn to relax, realize I don’t have to go everywhere and do everything all the time. It’s a work in progress – I think it always will be.

READ MORE: How does using social media affect our mental health?

It’s been an interesting journey. And it took me a long time to realize how difficult it was to get that help. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a much more serious mental health condition and be stuck in the circle of being shoved off from one doctor to the next, being told there is nothing wrong with you or simply being loaded up with medication instead of seriously looking at why something is happening and if medication is the answer.

As a society, we need to do better when it comes to talking about mental health and support each other. It’s not a taboo subject, and there shouldn’t be a stigma. Why is it OK for people to talk about their cancer and not their anxiety? Honestly, what are we so afraid of?

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We are doing more harm by keeping quiet about these situations than we would by having open and frank discussions. There are studies that suggest treating mental illness properly can reduce the strain on the health-care system. Some have even suggested it will help reduce crime and poverty. Aren’t those things we’d all like?

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health supports, here are a few options:

Ashley Wiebe is a producer for Global Morning News in Edmonton.

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