I could never say my childhood was completely unhappy. I was actually very fortunate.
Still, there loomed a dark cloud over my youth that would grow stormier throughout different points of my life. My parents divorced when I was in my early teens. Over the course of my youth I lived in absolute fear that they would end up fighting at every turn. That anxiety morphed into all out terror. Even when they finally did divorce, there was a constant tension as life seemed to go into a constant cycle of crazy that I could never explain. I was in and out of counselling and therapy. Constantly. I lived with worry constantly. Everything caused me fear. The fear caused me even more fear. My sleep was constantly disturbed. My ability to have normal relationships with people was affected. I tended to put everyone above myself and not give much thought to my own needs.
Throughout my life I have struggled with mental illness. Now into my mid-thirties I finally feel like I have some form of control over my life again. It is a battle that is not over. It may never actually be over. It took a tragedy to finally make myself step forward again to ask for help and seek a pathway to putting many things behind me and to equip myself with the ability to deal better with things.
On the evening of December 9, 2013, my Dad passed away suddenly. He had been in the hospital for two full days before anyone had even decided to phone myself or my brother to tell us he was seriously ill. On the drive up that morning an hour and a half from my home, I did my best to remain optimistic that he would pull through. Over the course of the last few years I was deploying whatever means I could to turn my thinking around so I could maintain the best attitude possible. I tried to remain optimistic. Even when the Doctor told me “He’s a sick man, I wish him well”, I felt some sense of optimism. That given the condition was treatable; he could somehow pull through. My wife joined me later in the afternoon to support me and the family. My brother despite being thousands of miles away, started a long trek down from the Northwest Territories so he could be around in case something were to happen.
Shortly after 7 p.m. that night, a group of us were in the lounge on that hospital floor. We were having tea and muffins, and were discussing who might stay around to be there in case they were needed. Suddenly over the public address system we could hear “Code Blue ICU”. I then saw staff running towards Dad’s room. His sister and common-law wife came running into the lounge in hysterics because the code blue was called for Dad. His system was failing fast.
This was a fight or flight moment that I would never forget. I plugged my ears and ran from the lounge. I ran to the elevator, going down and out to the parking lot. My wife came with me. I was terrified. I feared the worst. Crawling into the car I phoned my Mom, brother and one of my best friends to let them know what was going on. My wife went back into the hospital to see what was happening. She emerged several minutes later with my former Uncle to tell me that he had passed away.
I collapsed into the arms of one of them. I don’t recall much of anything else. Save incredibly enough for the kind and caring support of my wife and the mom of my other best friend. She coincidentally was in the ER that night and knew what was happening. My last memory of that night was picking up a few bottles to bring back to my Mom’s and drinking all of it quickly. I spent the whole night sobbing and trying to sort out what had just happened and what was about to come.
A few weeks and many events later, things had changed. Due to circumstances that really all started with the fact that no one bothered to tell us that Dad was in the hospital until the day he died, there were a few less “family” in our lives. Something I know now we are better off for. I willingly accepted the task of managing my Dad’s Estate on a full-time basis. I had to put much of my writing career on hold just to maintain and manage myself at my day job. Even with the day job, I was still dealing with constant emails and phone calls.
Other things were going on that I did not really take notice of. I was drinking more. My consumption had increased to a point where it was complete self-medication. Not that it was really doing anything to help. I barely slept as it was and constantly woke up with flashbacks of that horrible night. I would leave my desk at my day job and hide somewhere just so no one could tell I was hurting. I was embarrassed. I felt like all of the progress I made over the years was a complete waste of time. I felt like a failure.
Rather, it was a new wake-up call. Before Dad’s passing I was preparing to check into a counselling program to deal with my increased anxiety again. This tragedy gave me many more reasons to seek help. That help ultimately had to go beyond counselling. After many years of not being on any medications, I reluctantly accepted my doctor’s recommendations to go back on medication. I was diagnosed with PTSD due to the flashbacks and constant stress of managing the estate. I was a capable estate manager, but behind the scenes we were dealing with former family members who attempted to take advantage of myself and my brother during a time when they should have been there to support us. There were some very dark days during this time when despite all the great things I had going, I would go to sleep and hope I would never wake up.
I felt guilty for being diagnosed with PTSD. My thinking was that this illness only was a possible diagnosis for military personnel and front-line first responders. It almost felt like I had no right to have it because I was neither of those occupations.
Over time, I gradually accepted the diagnosis as part of my overall mental health picture. I feel much better today than I did a year ago, and two years ago. I wake up every single day determined to make my life better. As important as those closest to me are, I am learning to make time for myself. I have thrown myself back into my writing. I have accepted the reality of mental illness and learned to live life by working with it instead of against it. Through meditation and therapy I am learning to better deal with things that I originally could not deal with at all.
In the last few years, we are seeing an increase of information available on every type of media about mental health issues. As more people speak up and out, more people can tell their stories and maybe be helped. If you need help, ask. If you know someone who needs help, take action, because you could save a life.
The most important battle you can ever win is the war against yourself.
Dann Alexander is a Freelance Writer based in Nova Scotia Canada. He is the Author of “Planned UnParenthood – Creating a Life Without Procreating” and a collection of short fiction “Throwing Dice”. Both books are available almost anywhere online where books are sold.
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