Category Archives: My Book

Chapter 7: Part II: Warning Signs


I don’t exactly know where to start with this. As I mentioned, I was certainly keeping myself busy leading up to the anxiety attacks and depression. I’ve always been a person with many hobbies. I like to write. I like to play guitar. I enjoy reading and home DIY projects. I exercise regularly and love spending time with my wife and kids. I usually adore my hobbies and my life. The thought of having some time to do one of my hobbies after work or spending time with my family would typically put a spring in my step. But I had noticed a change. I had noticed that the thought of these things didn’t excite me in the same way as usual.

I know we all get tired and run down. We all have times where our job feels mundane and life becomes somewhat routine and hum-drum. However, somewhere an alarm bell was going off in the back of my mind. I wasn’t enjoying life as I normally did. Nothing seemed to be firing sparks of excitement anymore. Exercise, music, family time, DIY, reading, writing, none of it was working for me. I was not feeling sad, but I was not feeling happy. The people that work in the enjoyment sector of my brain had clocked out and taken an extended vacation.

“I wasn’t enjoying life as I normally did. Nothing seemed to be firing sparks of excitement anymore.”

I noticed the change. I noticed it explicitly. I actually went to my family doctor about it. I believe that I described it to him as feeling ‘flat’, like I wasn’t really feeling anything. He was concerned. He mentioned depression as a possibility. He said we should monitor the situation and that I should come back in 4 weeks. I didn’t. Mistake. Big Mistake.

“I was throwing myself into my hobbies like never before, but not enjoying them.”

During this time and in the weeks that followed this appointment, I now realize that I was feeling something. It was a rancid mix of emptiness and frustration. I was throwing myself into my hobbies like never before, but not enjoying them. Everything I did had to be perfect. I felt that I had to do a full workout everyday, even if it meant getting out of bed at 5a.m. I had to swim at least 3 times per week or I believed that I would not see any improvement. I would practice my guitar, but not for fun. I practiced to become a better guitar player and became irritated when I was lacking either the time or energy to rehearse my skills. My job was leaving me feeling unsatisfied, as was my marriage. It was like I couldn’t find anything to make me happy or maybe anything that would give my brain the dopamine reward that it craved. I attributed the cause to the activities. I told myself that I had just had enough of my job. It was bland and unfulfilling. I believed that challenges in my marriage were not my fault and were beyond my control. My unsatisfying job was leaving me with insufficient time to spend on my fitness, music and DIY projects. When I did find time for my hobbies, I was always thinking ahead, never enjoying the moment. I felt rushed and focused on what was coming next rather than what I was doing. Things were racing out of control. I was running from an avalanche that I couldn’t see, toward a cliff that I didn’t know was there. The glass was not just half-empty, but half-filled with a toxic mix of hollowness and despondency. My perceptions were altered and wrong. I can see that now.

Coming Soon… Chapter 7: Part III…

Chapter 7: Warning Signs


It Felt Like Being Hit by a Bus, But The Warning Signs Were There…


Wham! Should have been looking where you were going! When that bus hit, it hit hard. I had no clue where it came from. I was exhausted, confused, crying, riddled with self-loathing and regret. I was convinced that the world would be a better place without me. Where the hell did this come from?

 “I was convinced that the world would be a better place without me.”

I was fine last week, wasn’t I? I mean, in the weeks leading up to this, I was helping out with the school’s winter concert. I was working out. I was constructing a built-in desk in the basement of my home for a new music room. I was practicing guitar every day. I’d recently started writing again. I was writing humorous poems for kids. For the first time in months, I’d written a new song called ‘Bohemian Girl’ (you notice I say ‘new song’, not ‘great song’!). I’d been running regularly and entered a local 10km race. I was determined to improve my swimming skills and was trying to hit the pool frequently. And of course, I was being both father and husband in amongst all this. This self-imposed definition of ‘fine’ was actually a potential road sign as to what lay ahead for me.

My point is that leading up to this ‘crash’ I perceived that my life was going along just fine. Well, at least somewhat. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, that’s for sure. The truth is that if I take out my Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass, there were some clues lurking there that hinted at what was on the way. In fact, as I look back now, some of those clues were not so much hinting as they were screaming, whooping, and hollering.

Check out Part II to find out what some of the warning signs were.


Coming Soon… Chapter 7: Part II…

Chapter 6: Part IV: The Good, The Bad, And The Psychotherapy

…So is this all I did? SSRI from my GP and a bit of counselling? Heck, no! The big P was the best of all… My Psychiatrist.  For me, the word generates one of two stereo-typed images. One: of bouncing around in a padded cell while the psychiatrist, wearing a white lab coat, stares at me and recommends injections of various chemicals and varying degrees of electric shock therapy. Two: of lying on a comfy leather couch, in a room where the furniture is finely polished antique oak, and the walls are adorned with row upon row with highbrow books discussing the science of the human brain. On a seat next to the couch sits the psychiatrist, asking thought-provoking questions and providing deep insights into the workings of my mind. This may well be your experience if you also drive a Rolls Royce, have your own luxury jet, and holiday on expensive private islands in the Indian Ocean. However, this was not the case for me. Neither was image number one. My psychiatrist’s office was just off the emergency ward of my local hospital. She did not wear a white lab coat and nor did she have a leather couch for me to lounge on. I waited about six weeks for an appointment. Her waiting room was shared between herself and two other doctors (these ones were not psychiatrists). The waiting room was small – only three chairs for the patients! The other patients always seemed to have knee or leg issues and so were in much greater need of the seats than those of us with ailments of the mind. I assume that one of the other doctors was some sort of knee surgeon or leg specialist (does such a thing exist?) Anyway, none of this prepared me for what lay ahead.

“…she reassured me that I would get through this depression and I believed her.”

Clark Kent worked in a run-of-the-mill semi-open concept office and wore a bland combination of shirt and slacks, yet underneath it all he was Superman. Batman hid his superhero talents and paraphernalia in a plain old bat cave. My psychiatrist reminds me of these guys. She was a superhero hiding out where you’d least expect to find her. She rescued me and saved my life… well sort of. When it comes to a heart surgeon reattaching my aorta, I don’t really care about his/her personality. I’m just interested in their skill set. I want the best surgeon for the job, even if they’re grumpy and disagreeable! However, with a psychiatrist, you need both – personality and skill set. She had both, in abundance. Dr. K. (as I will call her for now) was my superhero. Hiding out in a plain old, slightly cramped office next to the busy emergency ward was a woman who I will never forget. Combining the medical understanding, prescription-writing super powers of the doctor, with the expertise of a counsellor, she patiently listened to my story and delicately asked sensitive questions to get all the information she needed. She provided logical, scientific explanations for the way I was feeling, expressed in terms that I could understand. She conveyed a sense of truly caring about my condition. She carefully explained her plan, and always included what we would do next time if I wasn’t significantly improved – the contingency plan.

She prescribed meds, adjusted doses, recommended lifestyle changes, health supplements, and local counsellors and psychologists. Most importantly of all, she reassured me that I would get through this depression and I believed her. My appointments with Dr. K. were full of plans and actions to address my situation. When I left the appointment, I always felt better informed and better equipped to deal with what lay ahead. I felt confident that I would get well again. Thank you Dr. K.

“Acceptance is hard and requires the patient understanding of everyone around.”

Indeed, I did continue to get better. The meds, the counselling, the lifestyle changes. They all added up. But the purpose of this chapter is to pass along what I learned through this stage of the journey. Firstly, you have to accept that something is wrong with your health – your brain health. This acceptance isn’t easy. If you are the friend of someone who is depressed then prepare yourself for some serious frustration, while they come to terms with what is wrong. Acceptance is hard and requires the patient understanding of everyone around. Secondly, have an open mind. Get rid of any notions you have that counselling and medication are for the weak. Would you suggest that someone with another life-threatening illness such as cancer try to get through it on their own? I didn’t think so. I tried my family doctor, psychologists, social workers, and my favourite, the psychiatrist. Accepting all of this help, enabled me to ultimately get through this. There’s lots more out there that I didn’t try – acupuncturists, naturopaths. You probably don’t have the time or energy to try it all, but keep your mind open to the possibilities. There is much out there that can help you and you should accept all the help you can get – you need it, trust me.


Chapter 6: Part III: The Good, The Bad, And The Psychotherapy

Was this SSRI all that I did? Was it my miracle cure? Heck, no! Though I would say that it did the lion’s share of the work. I also went to counselling. Did I want to go to counselling? Heck, no! Well, not initially. The idea of talking about seriously personal feelings and weaknesses with a complete stranger… not appealing. Did I do it? Heck, yes! Why? Because other people, smart people like doctors, said it would help me and I wanted to get better. I really, really wanted to get better. So, I accepted that other people knew more about this than me and I heeded their advice.

Finding a counsellor is interesting. It’s all about personality and knowledge. What’s a good match for one person might be a terrible match for another… and finding a good match is so important. I tried a couple of different counsellors before settling on one that I liked. She was also the cheapest, which I don’t mention because it was a factor in my decision of who to go with – it wasn’t. I mention this because I want to make the point that where counselling is concerned, more expensive does not necessarily mean better.

“…where counselling is concerned, more expensive does not necessarily mean better.”

Counselling sessions lasted an hour. The counsellor went through CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) strategies with me, helping me to identify distortions in my thinking that were either caused by, or contributing to, my depression. This includes things like only paying attention to evidence that supports the negative and ignoring evidence that supports the positive. Or, magnifying the negative to make small issues seems like major catastrophes in my mind. They also talked about learning to live with uncertainty, such as in the case of our health (we never really know exactly what is going on inside our own bodies). Mindfulness strategies and resources were introduced to me to help keep my mind in the present moment rather than thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. Issues were discussed from my past to see if any of these could be affecting me now. Sometimes our talk was useful and enlightening. Other times we explored areas that turned out to be less relevant.

“Sometimes our talk was useful and enlightening. Other times we explored areas that turned out to be less relevant.”

That’s the nature of counselling – not all sessions are created equally. Some will be more productive than others. I was given homework; things I should try to do before my next session to get me back to my regular daily life. Things like going on a date with my wife, taking a family hike in the countryside, or picking up groceries on my own.

Counselling helped. I don’t think it would have helped me before starting my medication, but it definitely helped speed-up and secure my recovery.


Coming Soon… Chapter 6: Part IV

Chapter 6: Part II: The Good, The Bad, And The Psychotherapy

It’s hard, I know. Whatever the reasons, it is difficult to admit that something is wrong with our mental/brain health. Embarrassment, weakness, depression itself… the possible reasons go on. Yet, accept it we must. For me, accepting that this had happened allowed me to move out of a period of denial. I was able to give up this battle with myself, this period of trying to hide my pain from everyone else, and move on to getting the problem fixed. Did I want to take medication? Did I want to have to put these feelings into words? Did I want to rip open my soul, expose every nerve and weakness I have, only to have them prodded and poked by the medical profession and those around me? No, I didn’t want to, but I would if that was going to help me. I reached a point where I was willing to do absolutely anything to get rid of the feeling that was rotting inside of me.

“I reached a point where I was willing to do absolutely anything to get rid of the feeling that was rotting inside of me.”

So I did. Prescribed by a doctor in the Emergency ward, I started taking an SSRI pill (I think that stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor… but don’t quote me on that). These pills increase the levels of serotonin in your brain and can lead to improved activity in the happy parts of your grey matter. The effect is usually slow and subtle. Typically, you begin on a low dose which can be increased after a couple of weeks. The increase continues until eventually you arrive at a ‘treatment’ dose – the dose that seems to be having the desired effect of improving your overall mood. You will likely stay on this dose for at least a year. At which point, it might be tapered back. You may eventually taper right off the treatment or you may take a low amount daily for the rest of your (hopefully) depression-free life. Just like there are many shades of depression, there are many different SSRIs and what works for one person might not work for another. In my case I took Prozac and it took about six weeks until I noticed even a slight improvement. It took another 6 weeks until I would say I was approaching anything resembling my ‘normal’ self. This may not seem like a long time, but when you are depressed, every day can feel like a torturous eternity. If a depressed person switches from passive to active thoughts, then any day can be their last.  Remember, depression is a potentially fatal illness and every day, hour, minute, and second matters more than you imagine.

“… depression is a potentially fatal illness and every day, hour, minute, and second matters more than you imagine.”

There are many drugs other than SSRIs that can be used to treat depression, depending on what the cause may be. However, I can only speak for myself and say that the SSRI helped me so I never got as far as exploring other options.

Coming Soon… Chapter 6: Part III

Chapter 6: The Good, The Bad, and The Psychotherapy



Remember the things your mind tells you when you are depressed? Remember item number six? It states that “you should deal with this on your own”. I don’t really know why this feeling is there. Is it because we don’t want to have to admit to other people that something like this is wrong with us? Is it the stigma? Are we embarrassed? It is because we don’t want to have to admit to ourselves that something like this is wrong? Does seeking help for this issue mean admitting defeat? Does it mean finally holding up your hands and saying “yes, something is wrong with my mental health”? Is this something we should be ashamed of? Is it, in fact, the result of chemical imbalances in our brain creating this feeling of being alone? The reason eludes me, but the fact remains that it is difficult to admit that all is not well in this domain.

Perhaps there are still some issues with the language we use around mental health. The word ‘mental’ itself is used quite colloquially with a somewhat negative connotation. For instance, the phrase, “he went mental” might be used to describe the actions of a serial killer who goes on a rampage. An extreme sports enthusiast might watch a downhill mountain biker perform a backflip over an immense drop and say something along the lines of, “that was freakin’ mental!” While meant as compliment, the latter still suggests a sense of being challenged in the sanity department.

“Maybe if we referred to our ‘brain health’ people might find it easier to accept .”

Maybe it is time to drop the word ‘mental’. Maybe if we referred to our ‘brain health’ people might find it easier to accept (both in themselves and in others). Somehow, ‘brain health’ seems more accurate, more biological. It seems more indicative of what is actually wrong – chemicals in our brain are aren’t quite at the right levels and are affecting our thoughts and behaviour. Our brain health is affecting our emotional health. Correcting these levels in the brain is going to help make us better. Oh, and as with many health issues, some sort of counselling is also going to be beneficial in facilitating our recovery. After all, many cancer patients undergo counselling/therapy as a part of the complex jigsaw that makes up their treatment. Surely nobody would suggest that they didn’t make use of this support?


Coming Soon… Chapter 6: Part II

Chapter 5: Part III: 10 Things Not To Do When You Are Depressed

I don’t intend this list to be considered ‘rules’. Depression has many causes and comes in many shades of grey (she totally ruined that phrase for me). People experience depression in their own way and what works for one person may not work for the next. This list represents things that were a bad idea for me to do during my last depression. I did each of them at least once and so learned my lessons the hard way. 

If you are experiencing depression now and your experience is anything like mine, then I suggest trying not to:

(Pause… Alternatively, if this is the future me reading this, and your depression has come back… then make darn sure that you don’t do any of these things!)

  1. Research your symptoms on the Internet (did I mention this yet?) Your judgment is currently flawed. Discouraging information will have a more powerful impact on your mood than any encouraging information.
  2. Stay in bed for too long in the morning. During this time your mind is a magnet for negative thoughts. Wake up and get up. Go about your day as soon as possible so as not to spend too much time inside your own head.
  3. Spend too much time alone. This is for the same reason that staying in bed too long is a bad idea. Being around people can be exhausting as you constantly ‘fake’ feeling fine, so there is a balance to strike here. However, if you’re going to move from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ thoughts, then it’s much better to have someone around.
  4. Watch emotional moments on T.V. While depressed I would cry during scenes that would normally leave me unaffected. Stick to comedies.
  5. Stop eating. You might lose your appetite, but keep fueling yourself. Those shakes that are a meal in a bottle… the one’s people use to replace a meal when they are dieting. Force one of those down if you can’t face eating a meal. You need nutrients.Without the necessary nutrients, you will be unable to manufacture all those ‘feel good’ chemicals that your brain needs.
  6. Regret the past (easier said than done)
  7. Worry about the future (also, easier said than done)
  8. Stop working completely. Work can be exhausting, but it does give us a sense of self-purpose (some jobs more so than others). Consider dropping from full-time to part-time. Half-days can get you up and going in the morning (see point 2), but give you time to rest in the afternoon. Also, when the time comes it will be easier to transition back to work from half-time to full-time, rather than not working at all to full-time.
  9. Stare off into space. My friends and family just called this ‘the stare’. It was a look that would come over my face when I was thinking about terrible things. It was not the stare itself that was the problem, this was merely a sign of the carnage that was going on inside. Knowing that I did it, sometimes helped me and others to spot when it was happening and move to something more useful to do.
  10. Try to solve this whole situation on your own. I don’t know why, but you will likely feel like you have to do this on your own, but please, please, please accept all the help you can find (see the next chapter!)


Coming soon: Chapter 6: The Good, The Bad, and The Psychotherapy…

Chapter 5: Part II: www.keepoffthe

Search for “depression” online and it can be reassuring to find so many other people with similar tales. It helps you to realize that you are not alone. You become aware of how common an issue it is and of how successfully it can be treated. But… there are also stories of people with depression who discovered that it was only the tip of the iceberg. It was an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease or a brain tumor. Or it was never cured and resulted in the “unmentionable” … suicide (yep… said it!). The depressed person’s brain often magnifies the negative and ignores the positive. I found that the undesirable stories stuck like glue in my mind, while the positive stories just drifted away down stream. The question is, how to access reassuring, factual information without dragging yourself further down as you fixate on the negative? Not that all of the negative should be ignored at the risk of not getting an accurate picture. My initial advice here is trust the professionals. Leave it to the doctors to analyze your symptoms. However, if you find this hard to do, then don’t worry, for I have a solution… the ‘Interweb Buddy’.

“During my depression, I had a friend who went above and beyond to help me get through.”

During my depression, I had a friend who went above and beyond to help me get through. She kept me company when I couldn’t get myself out of the house and my wife couldn’t be there. She made so many cups of chamomile tea for me (it’s calming, O.K.!) that she nearly wore out our kettle. She answered despondent texts in the middle of the night and constantly checked on me to make sure that I hadn’t switched from ‘passive’ to ‘active’. How does this relate to our Internet issue? The answer is that she became my human internet filter. I would give her a list of my symptoms. She would then look them up, use her somewhat balanced, rational mind to filter through all the information and give me an equally rational overview of all that I might need to know. It was perfect. I trusted her analysis of the information and she became adept at knowing how much or how little material to share with me in order to preserve my peace of mind and yet ensure that I was well-informed.

“It can pull your mood down quicker than a knee to the groin.”

So, my friends, step away from the laptop, put down your tablet, and pocket your phone. In fact, refrain from all digital surfing for the time being and hand that duty to your ‘Interweb Buddy’ – the friend or family member whose judgment you still trust.

Trust me, depression makes you fragile. Negative information can pack a hefty punch. It can pull your mood down quicker than a knee to the groin. Keep away from it. This is not the time.

Chapter 5: www.keepoffthe



Let me start by saying that I love modern search engines. You type in a word or two and they search millions of websites to find everything that might be relevant. They work like magic. The internet is this huge unfathomable jumble of information and yet search engines help me find exactly what I need in under a second. Require a picture of a rare sea crustacean? You’ve got thousands to choose from. Need to know who won the world cup in 1958? Brazil! Done! Got a rash you’re unsure off? Images galore (never happened to me – honest!) Thinking of replacing the tap on your bathtub? The how-to steps are right there, with pictures, and even video if you need it. It’s amazing. It makes me feel way smarter than I actually am. My general knowledge of this world is appalling, but thanks to modern search engines I can find the answer to pretty much any question in a split second. As long as the internet is in front of me, I’m a modern day Albert Einstein… aren’t we all?

“During my health anxiety phase, I would research my symptoms on the Internet. It was a bad idea.”

Nevertheless, when you have depression or anxiety, my advice is to keep away from searching the wonderful worldwide web. During my health anxiety phase, I would research my symptoms on the Internet. It was a bad idea. You see, the problem, when you do this, is that even a slight twinge in your abdomen can be linked to all manner of hellish maladies when looking online. While the odds are in favour of the twinge being nothing to worry about, you can be sure that someone has blogged about a friend who ignored such a twinge and then died a slow and painful death shortly after. These are the stories that I would relate to. I would ignore all the information that suggested that my symptoms were nothing of concern and get hung up on the stories that hinted at my impending grizzly death.

Check out my suggested solution for this problem in Chapter 5: Part II…

Chapter 4: Part IV: Unhelpful Things That I Told Myself When I Was Depressed.


Many of these comments were said to me during my depression. Many of them, I actually told myself. They were not helpful in any way, shape, or form. They were also not true, and revealed just how poorly I understood mental illness. My poor understanding stemmed from never having been taught about it. As a child or an adult, I had never heard people talk of it. I had never been part of a discussion where people had described their experiences. I did not know how common it was, what to expect, what symptoms to look out for, or what treatment might involve. I felt the same shame that had caused others to hide their experiences. The same shame that ultimately lead to my own poor understanding of depression and other mental illnesses.

I told myself…

  1. That I should snap out of this.
  2. That I had no reason to feel sad – there was so much good stuff in my life.
  3. I should try to distract myself.
  4. That this was the result of my own weakness.
  5. This was sooooooooo embarrassing.
  6. I didn’t need medicine; I just needed to stop thinking so negatively.
  7. I really should snap out of this.
  8. Try to think positively.
  9. Everyone gets sad sometimes, but not everyone lets it get to them.
  10. No one ever died from feeling sad.
  11. For goodness sake, snap out of this.