For those who follow my blog, you might be scratching your head a little by the title of this feat. In my last post, my upcoming activity was listed as “a little live history at the Niagara Falls Battleground Museum.” However, as happens in life, the Universe decided that this week’s adventure would involve an entirely different kind of event.
On Saturday, I purchased my tickets, and was spending time with my older son trying to cajole him into coming with me on Sunday, both for company and as a potential way to lift his mood a bit. He lives with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder and, while he lives well despite some of the limitations of his illness, there are times when his fluctuating moods, particularly the depression, can be difficult. In the previous month he had been very energetic, even working extra hours at his part-time job. However, as is often the case, it is likely that this burst of vigor signaled a hypomania that is typical of his Bipolar II. Over the last couple of weeks, he had been experiencing the down side that often follows these episodes of elevated mood – sleeping up to 18 hours a day, high anxiety, depressed mood.
I received a phone call from him around 11 p.m. on Saturday night. He and his Dad were on the way to the hospital; the fear of hurting himself had surpassed his dread of hospitals. I met them in the emergency waiting area and thus began our adventure in hospital-land. I describe it as such not to make light of a serious situation, but as a coping strategy that both my son and I use frequently when we are dealing with anxiety – good old, sometimes incongruous, humour. As we were in Niagara Falls, and the mental health facilities for the Region are now housed in St. Catharines, we were placed into the hospital wheel of acronyms to access PERT on the OTN (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team over the Ontario Telehealth Network video conferencing). It was a busy Saturday night, and it would be 3 a.m. before the PERT Nurse was able to contact us. The emergency nurses kindly gave my son a bed so that he could sleep a little while awaiting the call.
During the phone conference, my son expressed his ongoing fear of being left alone because of his suicidal thoughts. He then was given several options including access Safe Beds. where he would receive therapeutic support in a protected environment, or awaiting a consult with a psychiatrist. After a short discussion, he decided to talk to the psychiatrist. Unfortunately, it would be 8 a.m. before a psychiatrist was on shift in St. Catharines. The lovely nurses in Niagara Falls set us up in a room, and brought in a reclining lounge chair so I could stay with him until the psychiatrist was available via OTN.
We were fortunately tired enough that we both slept on and off until the psychiatrist was available around 10 a.m. He was attentive to my son’s distress and suggested that given his state, and the fact that he did not have any psychiatric services working with him currently (he has been on the wait list to return to the Mood Disorders Clinic for over a year), it might be helpful to be admitted to hospital for a few days. My son had always described admittance as one of his worst nightmares, but, to his credit, he was insightful enough to know that he needed something to change for him to remain safe and become well again.
Several hours later he was transferred via ambulance to the St. Catharines site in order access the Mental Health Unit. While his admission was voluntary, it didn’t change the fact that he was now in a facility that restricted his ability to come and go. Being on the inside of a locked unit is a scary feeling for anyone; for someone who struggles with severe anxiety, the discomfort can increase exponentially. As a mother, I felt moments of helplessness when his fears were especially heightened. But, we knew we were in the right place for him to get the the professional support he needs. I tried to lessen his fears by looking of the positive side of things. However, he sometimes articulated his need to just be in the negativity; it didn’t matter how nice the room was or how pleasant and supportive the staff were when I finally had to leave him for the night.
You maybe asking yourself, how does this experience qualify as a “fabulous feat?” It is definitely a novel, intentional activity, but where’s the positivity and the fun? Despite the challenges of the last week, the upsides of this adventure are significant. We know that my son is in the best place, with experts who can support him through medication and counselling to return to a place of wellness. My son has shown to himself and others the incredible resilience he is capable of through the sheer act of voluntarily admission. As well, he continues to fight against the stigma associated with mental illness by his willingness to be open about his situation; he posted on his Facebook page that he was in hospital and was very clear that there was no shame in needing support for his mental health challenges. Despite being in hospital, we continue to share small moments of laughter and love each day. Finally, I make a point to be mindful of the positive things around me: the lovely aroma of the peonies on my walk in from the parking lot; stopping for a quick second to enjoy the feel of the sunshine on my face; a bit of “fuzz therapy” from my dogs when I got home after a long day.
As I write this we are on our way out for a day pass. He is progressing well – gaining some coping skills from groups, meeting with and learning from other young people who are experiencing similar difficulties with anxiety and depression, and benefiting from adjustments to his medications through his access to a hospital psychiatrist. I am confident that the process of recovery will continue for all of us, enhanced by the experiences that could only have been acquired by an adventure in hospital-land.
Next up: It’s time to convocate