When Experience Generates Wisdom

Little Green Friend


I was lying on my bed, sobbing. Who cares? What’s life worth anyway? I just can’t keep it up anymore. That was years ago. It is fifteen years since my escape from swirling on the merry-go-round of psychiatry and still, the ghosts of my past can haunt me but when they do, the emotional intensity just isn’t there.

My garden makes all the difference. It is mid-summer now and my early morning garden walk-about sets the tone for the day. Early this spring, I noticed two eyes peering at me from beneath the overhanging greenery of the pond. A little green frog with tiny red eye stripes had made its home in the watery muck. This was the time of year that I thoroughly clean the pond, a recycled kitchen sink, and fill it with crystal clear water. I like it that way and now I had a resident frog thriving in the muddy stale water. Who was I to evict it? I put off the spring cleaning. I watched the frog as it hopped around the garden and splashed back into its home. Each day, I trickled water into the pond and in the evenings, I listened to its calling. On sunny days watched as it warmed itself on the nearby greenery.

I worried whether I should clean the pond. If I didn’t, would the water be diseased and if I did, would it disturb the frog? Finally I compromised. I gently wiped away the worst of the dirt, leaving sufficient muck for the frog. During the cleaning, the frog watched from the rock plants. When I was finished, it splashed back to its home. I read that green frogs are shy, but this little one allowed me to work around the pond without jumping away or into the water. It even “posed” for a photo. We had formed a relationship.

After a morning’s hour in my sanctuary-garden of listening to the hummingbirds, savoring from the sweet scent of the honeysuckle, breathing the cool air in the shade of the Pacific crab apple tree, and now watching my little green friend, I am assured that all will be well during my day ahead. The garden is for sharing and that is good.

Melting Anger to Change the World

One of the guests at the launch of The Daisy Project: Escaping Psychiatry and Rediscovering Love in May asked about my anger. And yes, I am angry at my wrongful psychiatric treatment for so many years. The mental health system failed me. I know others face injustices too. Life is not fair. A dear friend of mine nearly died from a serious medical error.

I recently read a letter to the editor under the heading “Social Assistance is failing British Columbians.” The writer, a seriously disabled man, was going hungry to make ends meet. The other morning, as I drove to town, a woman was walking along the sidewalk holding a placard that read, “It costs a lot more to rip a family apart than to support it.”

Blaming, judging or admonishing those harmed or even killed because of misguided professional medical practice, government policies or workers not using their heads is not just unfair, it is immoral.

There are so many injustices in this world that my mind boggles, and I know that others are also overwhelmed. What seems like the easy way out is to shut down and do nothing, but that really doesn’t feel good. It seems to me that the best way to challenge injustice is to treat every person we meet with radical respect and awe, listen with curiosity and show care with an open heart.

I know that when others show me respect, listen carefully and offer care, my anger melts away. I suspect that others too feel valued when they are similarly respected, listened to and cared for. Love goes deep. Love is contagious and, ultimately, it is love that will make the world a better place.

Nightmarish Benzos and Friends

“People want a quick fix but that’s not how it works. It’s a whole way of looking at life, a whole way of living, taking care of yourself.” – Babette Galang on healing.

At a coffee get-together, James remarked that he finally had a good night’s sleep. Temazepam was the solution, he explained. I shivered. Temazepam is a benzodiazepine—a “benzo.” All I could tell James was that I learned about benzos the hard way! My experience with these medications that physicians have been prescribing for over sixty-five years sparked a return to my nightmarish past. Benzos made me dizzy, depressed and incontinent. They caused restlessness, twitching and horrible itching. I had many falls. I was intoxicated, as if I were using alcohol. I was forgetful, couldn’t walk straight, my hands shook, got mixed up easily, my emotions were erratic and I called the crisis line most days. My psychiatrists admitted me to hospital for depression, agitation and sleeplessness. But it was the medications that they prescribed causing the intoxication, and making me look like I was mentally ill. My treatment in hospital relied on more medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and more benzos. Oh yes, I can’t forget the addiction. Once I learned that my problems were due to an addiction to benzos, I had to accept help from the health system that caused the addiction in the first place. Once I realized the psychiatrist did not know how to get me off the drugs safely and humanely, I had to do my own research and educate him. I asked him to read the manual, Benzodiazepines: How They Work & How to Withdraw by Dr. Heather Ashton. The Ashton method has a 90% success rate, if people are supported and given the information. After eight months of the doctor writing prescriptions according to Dr. Ashton’s protocol and eight months of withdrawal symptoms, I succeeded in getting off all of the benzos and other psychiatric drugs. Even though I was free of all psychiatric drugs, it took five more years before my body and mind settled. I would never wish what I went through on anyone. Yet 14.1% of senior Canadians, including James, are putting themselves at risk by using benzos. Learn More Benzodiazepines are associated with a greater risk of cognitive problems, delirium, falls, fractures and car accidents. This is serious considering these drugs are on the Beers list of potentially inappropriate drugs for the elderly. The 2012 version of the Beers list states, “Avoid benzodiazepines (all types) when treating insomnia, agitation or delirium.” So, for fifteen years I relied on benzos to sleep and once off them it was up to me to manage without the pills. My sleep improved by facing my fears and worries and learning ways to keep calm. When I have a sleepless night, I tell myself that is the way it is. James was determined to take pills to sleep and I am sure he had his reasons for not hearing my warning. I let it go. That is what friends do, allow people to make their own decisions. If the opportunity arises, I may say something intriguing to catch James’s attention, and in the meantime we will enjoy coffee together.

Christmas is about….

This December, instead of forging ahead with Christmas decorations as I usually do, I procrastinated. Who wants to get on all fours and crawl into the back of an awkward closet to retrieve dusty boxes? To ease my guilt, I told myself that I’ll get at it when the time is right. Four days before Christmas, I came down with a nasty cold. Feeling miserable, I wished I had put out the cheer of coloured lights and shining garlands. But no, I had procrastinated; the boxes remained packed away. That was the way it was.

Then my eye caught of the beauty of the oblong, yellow-orange striped squash which was stored on a shelf below the living room window.  A shiver of pleasure rippled through my body: I knew exactly what to how to add Christmas cheer to my home.

I poked three knitted penguins among the squash. “Cute,” I thought as I added a few Christmas cards to the display. I returned to my chair to rest, thinking, not bad for a sickie.dsc00138

Christmas was now two days away, the cold was at its height and I was sitting around sipping mint tea and wondering what is Christmas really about? I thought of the church’s Christmas pageant: a story I still love to hear just as I did when I was young. As a child I did not think about the prickly hay, the stinky, chilly stable or the oppressive government. The story was about warmth, hope and a sweet cuddly baby.

As I reminisced, a deep sadness settled over me. I never gave birth to a baby. The emptiness has affected me for years. As I see it, babies are gifts of love from above and there lies my pain. I never had a baby, a warm cuddly gift of love.

Whenever I see a mother or father with a little baby, I ooh at the precious bundle and I just have to tell them that babies are so important. Then I walk on. The momentary feeling of the love and warmth is all I can tolerate.

Other times, I listen as my friends’ talk of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I look at their photos, but I seldom take part in the conversations. In fact, I prefer not to be involved with children at all.  My fulfillment comes with the sewing of soft baby bath blankets, creating funky finger puppets and crafting boo-boo bunnies.

What happened to me, happened, and that is the way it is.