My Depression Launched a Lifeline

new life

Success is one of those qualities that can be measured in so many different ways. Success at work. A happy marriage. A beautiful, healthy child. Harmonious family relationships. I was a successful entrepreneur who built her own thriving business from scratch. In fact, in 1998 I received the Business Excellence Award (Entrepreneurship Category) for Etobicoke. Happily married to Carlo for 12 years, with a wonderful daughter, loving grandparents and a supportive extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins, life indeed was enormously gratifying. By all measurements this was success.

Running my own business was very much a dream come true. I loved the challenges of the exciting, fast-paced industry in which I worked. Graphic arts was a field that was constantly evolving and required me to be flexible and open-minded. New equipment and software forced us to be continually updating and on the leading edge. Managing sixteen employees, the atmosphere was one of a close family that worked well together through impossible deadlines. I thrived on the intensity of dealing with a demanding client base in need of instantaneous solutions and producing a high quality end product. The hours were long and it was exhausting, but tremendously rewarding! There was a myriad of things to attend to from equipment malfunctions to staffing issues to making critical decisions that would move the business forward. Wearing many hats and constantly juggling the work flow kept my mind whirling but focused and clear.

Carlo, an intelligent and soft-spoken man, quit his full-time job and came to work with me. Shortly thereafter Carlo fell and seriously injured his head causing severe brain damage, seizures, a personality change, and the loss of hearing in one ear. Worse yet, it left him legally blind and unable to read or drive anymore. He had been an insulin-dependent diabetic for most of his life, resulting in the onset of many other illnesses. The next seven years involved a series of hospitalizations as Carlo’s health continued to decline. He suffered a heart attack requiring a quadruple bypass, was diagnosed with lymphoma (cancer) requiring radiation treatment, experienced erratic blood sugar levels and his kidneys began to fail.

During this stressful time with Carlo’s many health issues, I continued to run the
business, run the household, look after Carlo, take him to his many doctor’s appointments, and look after our daughter. I was now the sole support for our family, managing the business, caring for Carlo, driving our daughter to ballet, piano and swimming lessons; helping with homework; shopping and cooking; and sometimes entertaining. These were daunting times.

There is no one time, no one point along this successful line, no single incident that defined when I started to suffer from depression sending my life into a downward spiral and out of control. Like a single domino block that had been flicked to start the others to fall, the pieces of my life, one by one, started to
crumble.

At the office I began to feel the need to be alone and started closing my office door, where I remained in seclusion most of the day. I didn’t want to deal with the problems at work or the people. I began hiding at my computer, organizing my files and thinking about the need to go out and visit clients. But I couldn’t. Long intervals were spent in an inert state staring at the walls. Constantly tired and overwhelmed, I felt weighed down by all my responsibilities; I was unable to make the simplest decision. I had trouble sleeping at night, my mind would race all the time and I forgot everything. Scheduled meetings were forgotten and it became impossible to manage my time anymore. Soon, my lack of enthusiasm and interest in the company became evident to the staff and internal problems
surfaced. Sales and revenues dropped and I had constant arguments with Carlo about selling the business. My world seemed gray and empty. I felt like a huge failure and just wanted out!

crying

Upon hearing of a graphic arts firm that was interested in expanding their business, we met and within a month we were able to offload our business. My treasured business was lost! During this time there was much reflection, many frustrating arguments with Carlo, and our relationship became strained.

The relationship between his family and me also became strained. Carlo had numerous violent episoides due to his head injury instilling a strong sense of fear within my daughter and myself. I was frustrated, highly irritable, impatient, and had a myopic view of everything. I was not myself. I was depressed! Still unaware that depression was clouding my judgment, it was at this low point in my life that I made the horrific decision to separate. Our home had to be sold, as I could no longer afford to keep it. I lost our home; I lost Carlo and I lost the once close relationship with Carlo’s family. It was only nine months later that Carlo went into the hospital for a routine blood transfusion and the following morning, on April 18, 2001, he had a massive heart attack and unexpectedly passed away. I was devastated by his sudden death. I was numb!

In an effort to carry on with life, I returned to my relatively new job downtown not realizing that I was in no condition to do so. New stresses accumulated, tensions built and unknowingly my depression manifested itself in an unrecognizable manner. My work ethics had always demonstrated great patience and respect for my associates but now I found myself becoming too assertive, irritable and beyond impatient. Inner turmoil continued to grow until one day I awoke and was unable to go to work—I just couldn’t stop crying. My mind was blank and this empty, hollow feeling within my chest echoed a numbness and pain that I can’t begin to describe. I then took sick leave as I was diagnosed with major depression and put on a waiting list for a program at our local hospital.

During this time, my 12-year old daughter, faced with so many losses and changes, also became very depressed and suicidal. She complained about everything and couldn’t make up her mind about anything. She slept and cried most of the time away; she thought everything about her life was bad and we fought viciously. It was as if we were strangers. After great efforts, suitable medication and counselling were found and within two months my daughter was on the road to recovery and back at school.

My healing and recovery at the hospital started with the help of medication, group therapy and some very good nurses and doctors. A very important part of my recovery was the support and understanding received from my peers in the group therapy sessions. Knowing I was not alone—that others had similar experiences—allowed me to realize that I was not weak, not a bad person or a failure, but I was simply sick. I found hope and finally realized that I could recover.

After 11 months, I was able to return to work on a part-time basis, gradually increasing my hours until I was attempting full-time days. I was just starting to feel comfortable, when my team was informed our department was being closed and we were all laid off— immediately. Another loss!

Not wanting to go back on disability, I applied for various job openings with my existing employer, but it seemed I was either “under qualified” or “over qualified” for all the positions. Still quite vulnerable, I started to feel discouraged and unsure. Unable to keep up with numerous debts incurred during my last few years of depression and the downfall of my business, I was advised to file for personal bankruptcy. Another loss!

Throughout my healing process, I recognized how little was understood about mood disorders. Many patients I met had gone undiagnosed for years. Many of their families did not understand nor did their workplaces understand. There were those who were on the verge of becoming depressed but didn’t recognize the symptoms, as was my case. I recognized the need to provide a forum with an opportunity for professionals and individuals to educate, inform and give greater understanding to mood disorders — the need for Moods magazine and www.moodsmag.com — a platform offering a free exchange of information for service providers and those in need of information and services. Included is a detailed self-test developed by a world renown doctor, story sharing and other valuable resources.

It has always been my belief that everything happens for a reason — that something good comes out of something bad. Publishing Moods is very meaningful and fulfilling for me. My new-found-drive, resulting from my many losses and hopeless times, has evolved into a passion. A passion to help prevent others from experiencing unnecessary pain and suffering that can be avoided through understanding and healthy living. I have found myself and I have found my passion. Moods is now published on newsstands across Canada.

My daughter has now fully recovered. As a result of our difficult times, we have a very close relationship and are extremely supportive of each other. Moods magazine is now in its 12th year and has been well received both within the community setting and the corporate world. Moods now publishes an annual special edition in January cover Workplace Mental Health. Moods was awarded the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Media Award 2006 for its outstanding contribution to mental health issues. I sat on the Board at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario for four years and frequently volunteer on various committees for mental health-related organizations. In 2011, Moods was awarded the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention’s Media Award for Outstanding Work in Suicide Prevention. You can watch my video here. 

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