Throughout my life, I repeatedly told myself I could never
be depressed. Never. I have so much to be thankful for. I
mean, just look at the love and support I had as a kid, when
I needed it the most. I had a wonderful family who did everything
for me. Sure, I have a disability, but so do millions of other people.
I told myself I had nothing to be depressed about.
Depression, though, was in my genes. My maternal grandfather
would sit for months, head down, and not talk to anyone. I
tried to fight it as much as I could. There were times—many
times, in fact—I did feel down. But I always had something—a
hockey game, an interview, a date with Joan—to get my mind off
things… until the summer of 2002.
I told myself I was tired and needed an entire month off to
recover from what I had called a gruelling winter in the Journal
newsroom. I asked my editor, Barb Wilkinson, if I could take
four weeks off. There were, after all, five weeks of vacation time
owing. Our family cabin in Meota was empty in May. Perfect! So
Joan loaded the car and off we went. Our cousins from across the
street greeted us the evening we pulled in.
“We’re here for a month,” I said as I got out of the car.
Meota has over two hundred people. It’s quiet and has deep
family roots, as my father was born there. Our family had spent
summers there since 1972 when Mom and Dad bought a lot with
a 16×12-foot house built in 1911. There was no indoor plumbing
but the price was right—$1,500. Shortly after, Dad constructed
one hell of an outhouse. It wasn’t right on the lake; it was on a
cliff, behind a road—but had a beautiful view of the lake. When
Dad retired in 1986, construction began on our original lot for a
beautiful two-storey house overlooking the lake.
I thought a month off at the lake would be great. And, for the
first week it was—sleep-ins, not shaving, afternoon naps and so
much more great relaxation. Hell, I even got into my wife’s favourite
soap opera. The second week was good, too, with quality rest
and visiting the Tait cousins. But, somewhere in the back of my
mind, I was dreading the next two weeks. We had driven everywhere
we wanted to go, seen all the people we wanted to. Two
words: Now what? I was ready to go back to work, but thought
since I had asked for a month off, I’d better use it.
The third week was hell. Pure hell. I woke up every morning,
just after four, unable to go back to sleep. The more I tried, the
worse it was, creating more anxiety. I didn’t realize it at the time,
but I was bored. Sure, I had packed my laptop and there was lots
I could write. But I was on holiday, right? Sleep was getting to be
a bigger issue. One night, I got up five times between 3:00 and
4:00 a.m. I tried turning the clock radio off; shutting the bedroom
door tight, turning on the television—anything, to help me sleep.
I’d led such a busy and full life, starting with patterning, then
school and then working. I had never taken more than two weeks
off at a time. My mind started going places I didn’t even know
existed. I began focusing on my finances and how irresponsible I
was with credit. For the first time in my life, I admitted to myself
Into the Quicksand
that I was living far beyond my means. I added up the debt in my
head: north of $50,000. Plus a mortgage. I had this sick feeling
of sinking in quicksand, with no way out. I didn’t think about
bad things when I was busy, but with nothing to do, the more
depressed I got. I tried not to show it. But Joan knew something
was not right.
And sleep—the one thing I could use for an escape, was
impossible. I realized long holidays and me are not a good match
at all. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps I hadn’t taught myself how
to relax. I found out, the hard way.
We returned to Edmonton and I knew I had a problem. I was
exhausted, not having slept in five days. Writing three columns
a week—something I did with ease in the past—became a chore.
Every sentence was a struggle. My doctor put me on sleeping
pills, and that got my strength back, especially in my voice. When
overtired, I find it really takes an effort to speak. As a consequence,
people have an even tougher time understanding me.
And for someone who asks questions for a living, I could not let
my speech slip. Yet, there was a deeper issue. I was depressed.
Through experience, though, I have discovered that some
things—for whatever reason—do not have answers.
I caught up on my sleep, but felt terrible mentally. After a
weekly staff meeting editor Barb Wilkinson asked me how I was
doing. For the first time in my life I spoke the words: “I think I’m
Barb is a wonderful person with a huge heart. “Do yourself a
favour,” she said. “Tell your doctor.”
I swallowed hard and felt that cramp in my throat—the one I
get just before I want to cry.
“Okay, I will,” I said.
I made another appointment with my doctor, Fraser
Armstrong. We’d met in the mid-’70s. I felt comfortable in his
west end office, not even a minute’s drive from the house I grew
up in. Fraser took his time with me and he had a great understanding
of cerebral palsy. I sat in one of the examining rooms
when he asked the dreaded question. “Are you depressed?”
“Yes,” I said.
He pulled out a pad and wrote out a prescription.
“This should help, but we need to keep in touch,” Fraser said.
The drug helped ease things, but only a little. I was almost
afraid to go out the door in the morning, thinking the worst could
happen. I couldn’t laugh anymore. I could hear the disappointment
in Joan’s voice.
“One of the reasons I married you was because you made me
laugh,” she said. “Where has it gone?”
I had no answer. It seemed I had done everything I set out
to do. I was married to a wonderful gal. We’d just learned that
Darren and AnnaMai were going to make us grandparents. I had
a job I absolutely adored, three columns a week about people
helping people. It was a workload I thought I handled quite well.
I had a home on a ravine, something I had always wanted. At the
time, my parents were healthy and happy. I had it all. Made in the
shade, man. Yet, there were several days when Joan would leave
for a few hours and I would wheel up to the kitchen table and cry
I went through the motions at the Journal but I knew my heart
wasn’t in it. My creativity was gone.
In the daytime, when Joan wasn’t home, I would take an extra
sleeping pill to escape. It became a secret habit that grew to a
terrible situation in 2007, the same year my dad died. Joan had
picked up a part-time job at Ronald McDonald House working
weekends, twelve hours a day. When she left the condo for her
shift one morning just before nine and I knew she wouldn’t be
home until late that evening, I felt terribly alone. I knew I should
Into the Quicksand
visit Mom. I got up and, right before I had breakfast, I wheeled
into the den where my little blue sleeping pills were and took four
of them, three more than prescribed. It was 10:30 a.m.
I can honestly say I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I felt trapped
and wanted to get in a vehicle—even a motorcycle—and just…
go somewhere. After breakfast I had my regular morning shower
and climbed back into bed. I slept until 6:00 p.m., got up, had a
bite to eat and waited for Joan to get home. I felt fine—just a little
groggy. A few hours later I took another sleeping pill and had a
good night’s sleep. No problem, right?
I thought no one would ever know about the amount of pills I
had taken. And for the first three days I was fine. But by Thursday,
I was in bad shape, shaking so badly I couldn’t even steady my
head to take a sip from the straw in my morning cup of coffee
sitting on the kitchen table. I was anxious and agitated. But the
worst was when Joan and I made the hour drive from Edmonton
to Camrose for the opening of a new arena. I was so shaky I could
barely wheel myself backwards in my chair. In fact, Joan had to
push me to get off the elevator, a task I normally could do with
The next day I came clean with Joan and admitted how many
sleeping pills I took. She had every reason to be angry and let
me have it pretty good. I deserved it. When I saw the hurt and
concern in my wife’s eyes, I felt even worse, especially knowing
I brought the entire situation upon myself. A few days after I
admitted I took extra pills, Darren wheeled me into the den at
home. He knelt down, tears suddenly streaming down his face.
“You are my hero,” he said, and then started to sob. “How can
you do this to your health?”
Now we were both crying.
After my lecture, Joan told me I needed to get to my doctor
for help. I went back to Dr. Armstrong, and told him what I had
“Are you disappointed in me?” I asked.
“Disappointed? No,” Fraser said. “But very concerned.”
He prescribed a dose of sleeping pills so I could wean myself
I had to do some real soul searching and frankly ask myself
why I was so unhappy. Maybe unhappy is the wrong word. My
life had changed. I wasn’t doing a very good job of accepting the
change. I wasn’t being fair to my wife, the one person who was
keeping me afloat. She stood beside me throughout my dark
journey and was firm when I screwed up, but more loving than I
can ever express.
Turning the corner took me years and I was surprised at
how slow the process was before I started feeling good again. In
2010, I stopped taking medication. The first thing I noticed was
an increase in my creativity when I was writing. Slowly, I found
myself wanting to do more. I regained confidence in myself.
I would not have made the progress I did without the
wonderful support of my wife and son. I can never tell Joan how
much she did for me. And to thank her I vow to keep myself as
busy as I possibly can. Joan and Darren, you saved me.
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