If you’re wondering why I’m posting this today, it is Bell Let’s Talk day here in Canada. An initiative by the Bell telecommunications company to bring awareness to mental health and breakdown the stigma associated with it. I wanted to share my experiences last year to hopefully help you.

2019 was a hell of a year for me. It feels like for the last several years all I’ve been doing is going to various doctors trying to figure out whatever the new ailment is that is afflicting me.

Last year started out very similar but then in the middle of March I threw my back out with a herniated disc and right above that a secondary disc bulge. The discs also affected my sciatic nerve, which went all the way down my right leg. The pain was excruciating, and I could barely do anything. Several trips to my family doctor, x-rays, two trips to emergency (one by ambulance), a couple injections of high grade narcotic for the pain, an MRI, two emergency doctors taking time to help sort out prescriptions and recommendations I finally had a wild cocktail of drugs to take (that required the pharmacist to give my mom two Naloxone overdose kits) and definitive order to get to physio therapy.

In between the two emergency visits (a Wednesday and a Friday) my parents moved me back in with them, if it was hell for me, it was also hell for them and I cannot totally express my love and thanks to them for what they did for me in 2019 and what they continue to do for me now. They went to every appointment with me, taking notes, asking questions, holding my hand when I cried. I don’t know how I would have survived without them.

I definitely want kids now so that I can impart onto them how great my mom and dad, their grandma and grandpa, are and hope that my kids become equally as great my parents. If that’s the only major thing I accomplish in life it will be the greatest thing ever.

The following months, while still incredibly painful, were made all the easier by the sacrifices my parents made to help me. I have a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, not the extreme version but a version just enough to make things problematic. This meant that for physio we had to find a specialist who had experience with EDS. Thankfully dad had been to a physio nearby their place and they had someone who specialized in that. I could barely walk when I first saw her, that first appointment was rough. She took her time and was extremely patience with me and my dad, who was asking all the right questions. Dad took copious amounts of notes and between continued visits to physio and dad’s consistent assistance in doing my exercises at home one day towards the end of April or the start of May (time was fuzzy with the cocktail of drugs) I stretched my right leg over my left and it was like somebody pulled the zipper back into place. The relief I felt from that action made me groan so loud that mom and dad thought something horrible had happened, but as they came rushing into my room I just stood up. Without assistance, without debilitating pain, I stood up. Granted I was still a mess, things were still tender, and I had to be careful with what I did but things were finally looking up.

Annnnnnnnnd then I thought I had eyelashes stuck in my eye but instead it turns out I had developed swollen optic nerves. We’re still not sure why I got them, prevailing theory is a combination of the drugs and pressure on the spine from the herniated disc. Anyways, that necessitated an emergency trip to the Eye Institute at the General Hospital. Four different doctors looked at me, they sent me downstairs for a CT scan and scheduled a follow-up appointment with the top neuro-ophthalmologist in the city. Several blood tests, more x-rays and another MRI of my brain we still weren’t sure what was going on. They scheduled a lumbar puncture to test my spinal fluid. In the meantime, I was put on another cocktail of drugs to try and reduce the pressure in my brain that effectively turned me into a zombie.

In-between all the above, the first love my life, our beloved family dog Mandi had to be put to sleep. She lived a good long life, but age and pain were getting to her. She brought so much joy and love into everyone’s life that interacted with her and she was loved so much in return. As is shown by how many extended family members got puppies after spending time with Mandi. Again, words cannot express how much she meant to me. That constant reassuring presence will forever be missed.

I had been well on my way to recovery from the herniated disc, but those drugs for the pressure in my head just wiped all that out. The lumbar puncture, just before my birthday, went clean and fine. Doc even said it was one of the easiest ones she had ever done. However, given my luck last year I developed complications from it.

One Wednesday July 3rd, I had an existential breakdown. All the pain finally brought all my fears and emotions out and I lost it. I can still remember sitting on the bathroom floor by the open toilet ready to throw-up as I sobbed uncontrollably, my dad sitting there with me just listening to my ramblings and offering his thoughts as needed. It was not a pretty day.

The next day we went to see my family doctor, again, and she sent me straight to emergency, again, where they determined my current state was because of complications from recovery of the lumbar puncture. Two IV bags of fluids and another set of doctors later I was back at home having to remain as horizontal as possible for three to four days while taking caffeine pills to help normalize my spinal fluids. Probably the most fun I had while laid out as mom and I were just laughing at the ridiculousness of being unable to sleep from the caffeine while not being able to leave the bed.

I had been on track to return to work before the lumbar puncture, but this set it back yet again. Throughout all of this, my boss and other work colleagues had been keeping track of me, even coming to visit on several occasions to help raise me spirits. As I gradually returned from work all my colleagues kept an extra special eye out for me, because as I learned it had not been easy going while I was on leave and now that I was back everything could start returning to normal. So, a recurrence was definitely out of the question and everyone at work was going to make sure I behaved according to my doctor’s instructions.

There were other family and friends as well that reached out, too many to name individually. The outpouring of love and support I received was beyond anything I could have imagined. My Aunt and cousin coming down to visit me for a few days, texts back and forth with family and friends all over the world. I was even messaging with my video game internet friends who were keeping an eye on my progress and making sure I had even more people to chat with. I had so many people cheering for me that I couldn’t not feel good as I recovered.

Then to end the year there was a restructuring at work and I lost the best boss and mentor I have ever had, as well as some really great individuals. People that didn’t have to, but had taken the time to care about me. Add in a couple more MRIs and it was a shitty end to an especially craptastic year.

The ups and downs last year highlight that no matter how good you feel there are always the dark times. The times when everything sucks and nothing feels like it’s going to get better. But there will also be just as many bright times. Through laughter and love there are moments where everything is awesome. Since turning thirty I have done a lot of introspection on my life and what has defined me to become the person I am today. Last year I finally acknowledge, through all of this and even before it, I had some form of depression. Accepting it has done wonders for me. It sucks, there are just as many bad days as there are good days and the chronic pain I have in my joints and muscles doesn’t make it any better but accepting the depression means I can finally confront it properly. I still get anxious and depressed. I talked to a social worker, am on medication for it and have become much more open about my struggles and have a greater appreciation for anyone else going through.

I am now a very big proponent of talking it out. No matter what you are going through find time to talk to someone, anyone. Family and friends are there for you, there are anonymous helplines, work may have a program that can help you find someone to talk to. There are so many options out there, you just need to acknowledge and make the decision to ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, absolutely none. We weren’t designed to go through life alone. We need each other to survive.

The key thing to remember that sometimes is lost in all this positive mental health is to understand that whoever you talk is also going through their own struggles. They will do their best to help you in anyway that they can, just sometimes it will be too much for even them and they need a bit of space. Talking it out must be equal parts give and take. Be strong for each other just as often as you are vulnerable. The cycle will feed into itself and you will all become stronger for it.

I am still broken. Not as broken as I was at my lowest points last year, but still a mess. The important thing though is that I know and have accepted all this and am working on not so much fixing myself but transforming myself into a better version of me. I am extremely lucky to have the family and friends that I do. There are too many to list but know that I love you all very much. Whenever you need me, I’m always here for you.