CHAPTER 27 – INTO THE QUICKSAND … from DISABLED? HELL NO. I’M A SIT-DOWN COMIS

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.

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“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 couldn’t.

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

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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.

Very depressed.

But why?

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

depressed.”

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

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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

uncontrollably.

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

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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

ease.

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

done.

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“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

off them.

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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