Yesterday was a short ‘save my life school’ day, but we covered a lot of ground. Our main topic was ‘friendship’, and immediately I felt a bit out of place. I’m so lucky to have lots of amazing friends, and I know that many people here only have each other. That must make them sad. Well, as we went through the module, and asked ourselves questions like, “Do you have a best friend?”, “Is it better to have a lot of friends or just a few friends and why?”, I noticed from everyone’s answers that I had definitely, once again, made the wrong assumption, by thinking that I was any luckier than them. How many reality checks can one girl take in a week? Numbers definitely didn’t matter, and friends came in all forms. For example, one person was grieving over the loss of his best friend…a service dog. He had three of them (they are beautiful). His own words were, “I rescued them, and they rescued me.”… Cue tears!
So in the spirit of friendship, I have a very special blog to share with you tonight…written by my best friend Amanda Barrowcliffe. I know many of you have seen our FB posts, and have probably heard stories about our silliness, but you don’t know about how she came to learn that I have very dark days. She has seen the world my depression takes me to, and has put her pain aside when I am in that world, to hold my hand no matter what. She wanted to let families and friends of mental illness sufferers know that THEY are not alone as well. For every person battling a mental health illness, I’m sure there are 5 family members who watch their loved ones go through what to them is an invisible darkness. They may feel helpless and confused as to WHY this is even happening to their loved one. I have read her blog and it made me feel SO many emotions! Love, sadness, guilt… And I am so sure it will give everyone (sufferer or not) a glimpse into the cold, dark world of depression. Because Amanda IS my family, she has been brave enough to share my world, through her eyes. I love you AB!
From AB: I know Natalie loves sushi (it’s more like an out of control obsession). She has a sensitivity to clarithromycin. I know when she farts cause she giggles right after. Her eyebrows are serious business. We’ve literally laughed until our stomachs hurt. She loves school and furthering her education. She has a brilliant medical mind. When she’s having an anxiety attack her body seizes up so tight that sometimes she needs the bottoms of her legs rubbed. She uses the phrase ‘dingle dork’ and it drives me nuts. She always says she’ll be on time, but that usually means 15 mins late. She would do anything for me! I know she can’t lose her battle to mental health. She just can’t. I love her beyond measure, and I need her. You know that saying about friends being the family you get to choose … she’s part of my family!! This is a blog from the heart of her best friend. I’m Amanda … affectionately known as, AB.
I remember the day I met Kissy. Up to that day, she was just a voice and an OASIS number and one of the medics I dispatched. I knew her to be polite, and always thought she sounded like a little pixie on the air. We had talked on the phone many times as medics and dispatchers do … but that was about it. I knew of her through mutual friends, and it was when those mutual friends and I came together to plan a baby shower that I met her in person. We all agreed to meet at Jack Astors. When Natalie introduced herself it wasn’t’ just your regular ‘oh hi nice to meet you ’, it was a hug, a kiss on the cheek and an ‘omg I love you’ in the softest, most high pitch pixie voice! I think somewhere in there she said she liked my hair colour… and then BAM – instant friends!! If Bell ever tallied up our text messages it’d be in the millions, I’m sure of it!! Oh, I should mention … if you’ve ever received a text from Nat it usually includes a kissy face emoticon – which is how she earned her nickname, Kissy.
I didn’t know at the beginning that Kissy suffered from depression or anxiety. As hard as she worked to be a kick ass medic, she worked equally as hard to hide that side of her. She use to live seconds away from me and after we worked a day shift if she had a bad call, sometimes I’d stop by and see how she was doing. The day came where she had the kind of call that hurts her heart the most. A kid call. She was so sad, and it was THAT day that she started to open up. She told me about her childhood, she told me about her 3 day bounce back cycle (where it takes her 3 days to get the sad feeling out of her). We talked for hours. She didn’t easily trust. It was like she assumed if people knew she suffered from mental health issues then they’d leave her. Slowly but surely, she started to learn that she could tell me anything and I’d never judge her, that I’d always be there for her … that I’d never leave her. It wasn’t always easy though … when I knew she was ‘down’, and that things could go sideways she would still try to hide behind the façade that everything was fine, ‘I’m okay AB I just need to sleep’.
Fast forward (years later). September 7th, 2013. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AB!!!!!..- or not. Nat was having some rough days …but managing. That afternoon Nat and I were texting back and forth … I could tell she was off just by the way she was texting. But, this wasn’t uncommon. She sent me a picture of a sink full of hair. HER hair. She had told me she had taken a pill to help calm her and that she needed a ‘trim’. Good lord of all, it was more than a trim. Now, you have to understand, it’s a tricky road to navigate; I never wanted to treat Natalie like a child and wanted to trust her; our rule was that she always had to tell me the truth (re: taking pills, drinking, where she was on the anxiety 1-10 scale, etc). She told me she was doing okay and just needed to have a gumball (our word for nap). I trusted her words. So, I told her I’d check in on her later as I was heading out to dinner. Fine. Not fine. When I checked my cell after dinner I had 15 missed calls, too many texts to count, including one from dispatch that said ‘Mandy, I’m so sorry’. Without reading all the texts or even seeing who the missed calls were from … I knew it was Natalie. I felt sick. I needed to see her. Even now, the memories of that night bring tears to my eyes and the guilt I feel for not doing something earlier in the day haunt me. What if I could have stopped her? What if I could have gotten her help? What if something happened to her!!!! When I finally got the details of what had happened, I couldn’t breathe. She had taken a cocktail of pills in hopes of ‘sleeping it off’. Her boyfriend and brother had found her basically unresponsive and called an ambulance. At the hospital, she was placed in the mental health unit of emerg, then later transferred to a bed on 3NC where she stayed for a week …. and ….. she even landed herself in the lockdown unit. One of Kissy’s pattern’s is that when she starts to feel better she wants to put it all behind her, promises to never do it again, vows to drink less or stop altogether (which she does for a period of time). She likes to pretend she’s fine and can manage it all on her own. And from her perspective, she’s been managing it her whole life and survived … it’s all she knows. The hospital staff wanted her to join an out-patient program, but the start date was months away. WHAT!!!! We need her to have help NOW. What is wrong with our healthcare system!!! KISSY NEEDS HELP!!! So frustrating. After getting home, after time passing, life moving along and getting back to normal – Nat never followed thru with the out patient program.
Fast forward again, September 23rd, 2014 (she keeps saying it was the 21st but it was the 23rd) … well, you’ve read Nat’s blog … you all know it happened again. But this time it was worse. Kissy and I had been texting all day. She was telling me about the trial. She told me how surreal it was to see Mark Dobson (the murderer). The patient SHE treated. She was sick to her stomach. Then she attended a memorial service for her friend and colleague. Heartbreaking. Not an easy day for anyone!!! That night she started texting me, honouring our rule of ‘always being honest’. Her texts were scrambled. I knew she had done something! I called her. Her voice was empty and she couldn’t put together a sentence. I told her to stay on the phone with me and that I was going to have someone come help her. Behind the scenes, I called her sons Dad to make arrangements to have him pick Adam up for school in the morning. I tried calling Ian who was sleeping in the basement … but there was no answer. I gave a full history to Dave – the medic who I sent over to do a first response. (sidebar: .. Dave is an amazing friend and medic and took such good care of Natalie! His kindness and exceptional professionalism meant so much to all of us!!)..I left work immediately and met the ambulance up at the hospital. My co-workers were SO supportive and thankfully had my back when I needed to leave so quickly. The ambulance and I arrived at the same time, as did Ian. We parked and went in together. Did I forget to mention Ian woke up once Dave arrived .. lol. When we got to the ER there she was …covered from head to toe under a white sheet. I was like, NNOO – DON’T TELL ME SHE DIED? Oh thank the Baby Jesus … nope, she was just covered up to help maintain her privacy so other medics and staff that may recognize her didn’t see her. At that point she still hadn’t (fully) ‘come out’ about her mental health and she was paranoid about people knowing, so maintaining her privacy was important. They got her into a trauma room, I watched them as they did sternal rubs followed by, ‘Come on Natalie, breathe’. NOT OKAY. I stood there beside her and through tiny slits she glazed over at me with the most vacant stare and reached for my hand….she was so cold!! I’m not sure how I didn’t break her hand I was holding on so tight! The strangest things go through your brain when you’re in a ‘crisis’. Between words from nurses, “we have to monitor for toxicity”, “her bp is high” …. I’m looking at her thinking, what if this time she took that one pill too many …would I have to do a eulogy? What? AB stop – she didn’t die! Could I do it? No, of course not … I’d cry the whole time. What would I tell Caroline? OMG she’ll break into a million pieces … STOP IT AB SHE DIDN’T DIE – THIS TIME! How do you support an 18 year old who just lost her mom …. I’ll definitely need to be with her on her wedding day that’s what Natalie would want! AB, that’s enough!!! Shit, I have to make sure Nat’s eyebrows look perfect (it’s a pact we have … don’t ask). As time passed in the ER, and bag after bag of IV fluids passed thru Nat – and let me tell you they passed thru like the Hoover Dam breaking … her catheter bag was almost spilling over … is that TMI? Whatever, it’s part of the story. Slowly Nat started to make words again. Her words were mumbled and so faint you could barely hear, and there were no sentences, though in her world she would have said she felt like she was talking for hours. Her mouth would move as though she was quietly reading a book out loud but with no sound?!?! Does that make sense? You could tell when she thought she said something interesting cause she’d dart her eyes over to me and raise her eyebrows as if to say, “you know what I’m sayin, AB .. ya, that happened”. I engaged in her ‘conversation’ the whole time hoping to make sense of a word or two … and sure enough, I did! She’d say things like, ‘the knife’, ‘it was right there’, ‘her neck … it was twisted so bad’, ‘he’s guilty’. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! Here she is in a state of delirium post overdose and THIS is what is on the forefront of her brain. My heart was breaking for her. I was angry, and I was so sad. That sick sick man has NO IDEA how fortunate he was to have Natalie be the paramedic attending to him … she saved his life!. In part, because of HIM … we may have lost HER?? No, no … that’s not okay with me!!! SHE doesn’t deserve to be left with the horror from that scene and the details of that disgusting event; it is etched in her brain like a vivid nightmare. She has, on multiple occasions, told me about that call and what she walked into … I can’t even wrap my brain around it, I can’t imagine what it was like for all the medics, police, fire … the ER staff. Horror beyond horror. More faint whispers .. garbled words ‘I won’t to see him get married’, ‘I won’t get to see his kids’. Oh heavens … now she’s thinking about Bob (her friend and colleague who had days prior taken his life). These heavy thoughts swirling around in her head – compound that with her heavy heart about her break-up with Ian…it’s too much! Kissy was on overload, and she did the only thing she knew how to numb it all – she self medicated with pills and alcohol. She always says she never does it to kill herself … but I firmly believe if death was a side effect … during those terrible lows; she’d be okay with it. So, perhaps now you see why I’m as serious as a pantsuit about her not skipping ‘Save My Life School’ (I titled it ‘Save My Life School’ for a reason)… she doesn’t have enough tools in her toolbox (OMG that’s something Dr Phil would say – sorry) to help her navigate the lows, and I need – WE ALL need, Natalie to get help so she never secretly wishes for side effects.
The story doesn’t end there, the hospital released her the next day (Thursday September 25th) with no plan, and no follow up appointments. Ian and I were beside ourselves. (The break up may be happening but Ian and Natalie love each other … and his unconditional support for her is incredible). We knew she needed to be in the hospital. She NEEDED help like people need oxygen. Ian was trying to arrange for Natalie to go to a private facility but that would take time. We needed her to be safe until she had a facility/program willing to accept her. All of the options took time to co-ordinate; referrals, available beds etc. Why was she being discharged? Why wasn’t anyone recognizing the severity of the situation? Well, brutal honesty, Natalie doesn’t always tell the ‘whole’ truth. The doctors only talked with Natalie …not once did they come to Ian and I to fill in some blanks. So Doc, let me get this straight, you’re going to trust a patient who said she was fine and not suicidal but hours earlier asked you to make her an everything bagel with cream cheese in response to your question about whether she wants to be admitted?!? Right. Got it. Oh and P.S, this was the same patient who asked for MORE meds while she was lying in your trauma room … don’t worry though, I’m confident she was just hungry – we’ve got it. No no … you go, we’ll take her from here! DONKEY! Disclaimer: I’m sure in other situations he’s a wonderful and competent MD. So, Natalie gets home … has a nice, refreshing shower … meets with her counselor. Fine, right? Wrong! She wanted to come home and have a magic plan, a checklist of things to do that once completed would mean ‘she’s cured’. She wanted to prove to everyone she was fine and that …you guessed it, it would never happen again. As I was on my way over to her house, Ian phoned. I picked up and all I could hear was Natalie in the background sobbing. He simply asked, ‘where are you?. I was parking the car outside the house. I got upstairs to find Natalie sitting on the floor, balled up between her bed and the wall (about a two foot space). I sat down in front of her and reassured her that I was there. I held her tear soaked face in my hands and softly encouraged her to breathe. She was cracking into a million pieces …this never should have happened. She should never have been sent home. I told Ian to call Dave … again. She was going back to the hospital. She begged me not to make her go. She held my hand so tight as she was sobbing saying ‘AB PLEEEASE NO I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK’ She wanted to ‘sleep it off’. Sorry Kissy, I’d rather you be mad at me for going against your wishes than have you dead. Simple as that. Dave arrived and again, managed the situation perfectly. I didn’t care how she got to the hospital … I didn’t care if she was talking to me or not … I cared that she got there. She didn’t want to see anyone –myself included. I wasn’t hurt or offended .. I was relieved that she was going back to the hospital. Selfishly, I was relieved that I could get some sleep that night knowing she was safe. Natalie wanted to go to the hospital alone … but we needed someone there to keep her accountable and be with her when she talked to the ER staff … we got Nat to emerg, Dave followed her there and stepped in to help. When Natalie was done telling the nurses and doctors what was happening, I met Dave up at emerg and he filled me in. She was safe. She FINALLY admitted to the nurses that she was suicidal and it was documented. And she was safe … did I mention that!!! Dave asked me how I was holding up. WHAT? I said, ‘oh I’m fine…I’ve been dealing with this for years’. He looked at me again and said, ‘enough with the bullshit – how are you holding up?. That’s when my tough chick exterior cracked. I bit my lip, looked away in hopes of fighting off the tears … but no luck. I started to cry, he just stood there and hugged me. (thank you, Dave) I never really stopped to think about how it weighed on me. It seemed selfish to think about me when SHE was the one going thru it. I had thought about Ian and how hard it was on him. I thought about the Caroline and Adam … but, I never really thought about the impact on me. I drove home in the wee hours of the morning, plunked myself on my couch and thought …. OMG I need a cream soda, and I wouldn’t say no to a bag of Miss Vickie’s sea salt and malt vinegar chips. I was spent! There are SO many details woven into the ‘whole’ story … way too much to type in an already epically long blog (sorry everyone). But here we are … Kissy is getting help. She is hopefully soon on her way to Homewood. And after encouraging her to share her story, and allowing people to support her … she is writing this blog! (Please help me keep her accountable to stay on track with her treatment!!) Not only is she helping herself heal … but she is helping others – how amazing is that!!!!
I have learned that being a part of the frontline support team for someone battling mental health can be exhausting. It can rob you of sleep, make you sick with worry, and make you angry (and it’s okay to be angry). I have learned that taking time to nurture yourself doesn’t mean you love them any less … it just means you have enough wisdom to know you need a break; you’re no good to them, if you’re no good to yourself. I have learned that I have the potential to unleash nasty fury towards anyone who judges depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any branch of mental health. I have learned that it’s important to educate myself … for Natalie and everyone else suffering so I can better understand this disease. Frontline supporters … don’t be afraid to tap out of the ring for a bit!!! If you need to talk, I know what you’re going thru, and I’m here! AB firstname.lastname@example.org.