Does Anyone Really Enjoy a Sequel?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thank you to everyone who came to last night's show, sent sweet messages and caught me on Rogers Daytime Show or CBC Here and Now. Your support means the world to me and the show was a phenomenal experience. 

On Bell Let's Talk day I had the pleasure of connecting with all sorts of amazing people, and many people who were sharing The Life is Sweet Project and blog series. Cory was one of those folks and I'm so glad we connected. He's been an incredible supporter of the Life is Sweet Project and I'm grateful that he agreed to be a part of the blog series. 

It’s quite fitting that the opportunity to participate in this blog arose out of social media, as my initial entry into the Twitter universe (OK, OK, “twitterverse”) was connected to my journey with mental health. Allow me to explain.

In 2009, while on vacation in New York City with my husband, I experienced an episode of psychosis that lead to a harrowing return to Toronto, a suicide attempt, brief hospitalization and months of anxiety and depression as part of the fall out.

Even in this darkest moment of my life, I can see the sweetness and have gratitude for a number of realities. Above all, I was blessed with a partner whose love is so unconditional that even when the paranoia I was feeling caused me to turn on him, he remained steadfast and continued along the journey of recovery with me, no matter the twists and turns.

Secondly, I was fortunate to have a family, both family of origin and chosen, who offered support, not only to me, but to my partner, as well. I continue to assert that part of any successful approach to dealing with mental health issues must also include a focus on the caregivers, which is why I am glad to have since become aware of organizations such as F.A.M.E.

I also benefited from an employer who offered a short-term disability program and a manager who showed compassion while I adapted to the side effects of medication and accommodated my need for regular sessions with a psychiatrist during work hours. I know this sort of safety net was crucial in ensuring I didn’t simply fall through the cracks and could continue to contribute to society.

So, where’s the connection to social media in all of that? Having lucked out again by responding well to the initial treatment, I attempted to return to a “normal” life (or next to normal, at least). A big part of my physical activity prior to the episode was running and so I chose to register for the New York City Marathon as a way of reclaiming the city where it all began and proving that I not only survived, but was stronger. In order to secure a spot in the race, I signed up through Team for Kids, one of the official charities, which meant a large fundraising commitment. But having already sent numerous requests over the years for various causes connected to my running, I felt the need to branch out beyond friends and family. Enter Twitter.

And while I had simply envisioned the chance to get a few “retweets” of my donation page and spread the word about the work of Team for Kids, something even sweeter happened. I began to form connections with people sharing similar interests, including my passion for food. (I often state my running mantra is that I measure my miles in mouthfuls.) Between the spring and fall of 2012, I was astonished by the network of people with whom I had shared great food experiences and who were willing to help me with my fundraising goals. And so, it being the song of the summer of 2012, I decided to have a kiki….a kiki for the kids.

Matt Pettit of Rock Lobster Food Co. got the ball rolling by saying he was on board in whatever way I needed. From there things grew, with Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro’s offering to bring his popular food truck, Priscilla, and Tequila Tromba and Hogtown Brewers making sure we stayed hydrated as we took to the dance floor. And because a kiki would be nothing without a draq queen, I enlisted the beautiful and talented Cassandra Moore to give a lesson in this festive art form.

Life is Sweet Rock Lobster Food
Toasting food and friendship with Matt Dean Pettit at my Kiki For The Kids – September 14, 2012
Matt Basile and Kyla Zinardi – a dynamic duo that never cease to amaze me with their energy and warm hearts

Jennifer Nichols, founder of the Extension Method and owner of The Extension Room and Libby Avalos, a childhood friend who helped me face anxiety during high school and beyond.

The generosity of individuals, restaurants and other businesses astounded me, as I amassed almost 40 items for a silent auction, from jewelry to gift cards, to a vacation to artwork. The venue itself for the fundraising event was also special to me, having spent many an hour stretching and sculpting at The Extension Room in ballet fitness classes with Jennifer Nichols. And while I debated about also sharing my deeper inspiration for returning to New York with those in attendance – that it was a physical test, a chance to support a charity, and (in my mind) the final piece in my recovery – I opted to focus on the fun. But I left that night knowing that the outpouring of love and encouragement were just the fuel I needed to complete the 26 miles of the marathon.

And then Hurricane Sandy hit. Over the course of that week, I was saddened to see the destruction people were faced with. I truly was torn with the question of whether or not to head to New York (an internal debate that I took to Twitter) and, yes, disappointed at some of the backlash the running community was dealing with. I finally chose to board the plane, arrived in New York, picked up my race kit and returned to the hotel to rest and take in all of the emotions of being back for the first time in three years. I was awoken shortly after by a gentle nudge from my husband, letting me know of the city’s decision to cancel the marathon. I turned to grab my phone and saw a slew of texts and tweets from friends and followers.

In this moment too, I looked for the sweetness. First and foremost, I was in a hotel with power and food, while others not so far away were still in crisis mode. And within the group of people who had made their way to New York, my journey from Toronto was a short one, unlike some of the runners who had traveled much longer distances. So we picked up and headed home the next morning, trying to claim a partial victory for at least facing the fear of returning to New York City.

But I couldn’t quite end it there. I didn’t have the sense of closure I was hoping for, the chance to turn the page on the psychosis and depression. So the following Sunday, November 11, I plotted out a marathon route in Toronto. Off I went, and 42.2 kilometres and 3 hours, 54 minutes and 57 seconds later, it was done. It felt fantastic to complete the physical feat, to tell people who had donated and cheered me on that I had completed the goal (just in a different location). So, for me, it was time to roll the credits.

And then, “someone” decided to write a sequel. Last summer, after making the decision to leave the company where I was working to pursue freelance opportunities, I found myself once more paralyzed by depression. To those who think that word is dramatic, simply do a search on monoamine oxidase A.

Drained of energy, I also found the interest I had in my passions of running and food (along with many other everyday activities) vanish. Even travels to London, England during Canada Day and Madrid during their Pride weekend failed to really get my heart pumping. The experiences were muted and I felt like I was simply going through the motions.

As the title of this blog suggests, I was not a fan of Depression: The Sequel. The feeling of sliding backwards was discouraging and compounded my lower mood levels. Despite being a “digital champion” for Canada Running Series in the lead up to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I found myself switching to the half-marathon distance, before eventually withdrawing completely. I also was unable to continue with a mentorship program for LGBTQ youth that I was involved with and that sense of letting someone else down pushed me further down.

Fortunately, in addition to the friends and family who had walked every step of the way with me during my past recovery, I had my social network, a good number of whom had become friends in real life. The sense of genuine concern, the patience and understanding as I bowed out of activities and the willingness to share their own struggles with any number of challenges meant that connections formed on a computer and phone had an actual impact on my depression. Which is why I’m thrilled to say that the comeback was a flop and that by October, the curtain had come down and I felt reengaged with the world around me.

Am I na├»ve enough to believe there isn’t a possibility of a third (or fourth or fifth) depressive episode during my lifetime? Definitely not. Just look at Die Hard, Friday the 13th or Rocky (just hopefully not Sex and the City). But I continue to educate myself, look at ways of practicing self-care, share my story, offer up gratitude and try to find the Life Is Sweet spot.

Life is Sweet
A “sweet spot” from my solo marathon that I try to keep in mind.   

Cory Pagett enjoys exploring his interests in food, the arts, running, LGBTQ issues and travel. Through social media and real-world connections, he is grateful to be a part of communities that share these passions. As a freelance translator and bilingual communications expert, he is acutely aware of the power of language and is increasingly seeking to use his words in the war against stigma in its various forms.

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