THE WARRIOR IN ME....
Something I never expected to say is “I have a mental illness.” I have lived 62 years as a very happy, outgoing, energetic, optimistic, vibrant and compassionate person. I'd like to think that I have been a good wife, loving mother and caring friend. Throughout my various careers and current business, I have always pursued excellence in my own performance and that of the many people I have led and worked with. I have always had an insatiable desire and verve to live my life to the fullest.
I definitely fit the profile of a Type A personality and I have never done anything on a moderate level. I have been an all or nothing girl and as much as I have worked on my work-life balance, I am still that girl. As an example, when I turned 45, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day I was overweight (for me) and I was a workaholic. I decided to improve my health and fitness and became a runner and then a triathlete. I trained for 2 hours a day (year-round) worked full time, travelled regularly with my job, tried somewhat to be a wife and mother and competed in a triathlon every single weekend between May and October. I did my first Ironman in 2003. My passion for triathlon took me to great heights and to several places around the globe. Suffice to say I was completely star struck by a talent I never knew I had. My only regret was that I sacrificed so much time with my family to fulfil my need to excel as a triathlete.
In 2015, I turned 60 and exited from my long-time career in the airline business. Instead of taking some time to rest and rejuvenate myself I decided to launch myself as an entrepreneur and open up my dream business Jennifer Grant International. The first year of my business was extremely overwhelming but by all accounts, it seemed to be successful. I had new clients; new opportunities and I was in a continuous learning mode. I felt like I had broken free of the corporate bonds that had suppressed my creativity and real talent for so many years. I felt a renewed sense of purpose and I also started to feel like I was an energy source drawing people into my vortex. I didn't know it at the time but I was starting to lose touch with reality. I started to believe I was invincible.
In late November 2017, my euphoric feelings had completely diminished and I started to feel discouraged about a sudden downturn in my business. A pervading panic set in and I felt I was losing control. Not being one to quit, I worked even harder to prove that I could be a success no matter how high the statistics were of start-up businesses that failed within the first 3 years. I was determined I was not going to be a statistic of failure. Behind the scenes and by November 2017, I was in major debt and I was deeply concerned that my business would fail and me along with it.
By early December 2017, I was having trouble getting out of bed and I was weeping for most of the day. Thinking that I was just tired and having a bout of the blues, I pushed myself even harder to keep working. I was feeling worse every day and eventually decided I should seek some medical attention. It was no surprise that I was diagnosed with clinical depression because by then I was completely debilitated and incapacitated. I lost all of my cognitive and executive functioning for several months which resulted in many days of my being in a complete catatonic state. I could no longer read or write and I could barely speak. I isolated myself from the outside world and let go of all of my social and professional contacts. My suffering was immense and I was in great despair. I had lost all hope of feeling well and I was starting to worry that I was a burden to my family.
In March 2018, I was getting progressively worse and my doctor ordered an MRI. I am ashamed to admit it, but at the time, I was hoping it was a brain tumour. I thought it would be easier to tell people that I had a brain tumour over anything that might relate to my mental health. A day later, I was diagnosed with late-onset Bipolar disorder. What little thread that was holding me together broke into a million pieces as I tried to grapple with the diagnosis. I felt like I had literally lost my mind and my complete identity. I couldn't figure out how long I had been manic or hypo-manic and I had never, ever experienced such soul-crushing depression.
Over a period of several months, I was put on 9 different medications many of which had severe side effects. I lost 10 pounds that I could ill afford to lose. I actually contemplated starving to death because it would have taken me little effort and energy to do so. My love of open water swimming sadly drew me to the lake one day in late March when I started to prepare for a swim with no return to shore. I was at the lake's edge standing in the water up to my knees waiting for my body to turn numb. Unbeknownst to me, 2 teenagers were out walking on the beach and saw me standing in the water. They asked me if I was crazy and I looked at them with tears streaming down my face and said yes, I think I am. With their help, I returned to my car and they asked me if I was alright to drive home. I said I was but really I wasn't. I made my way home trembling and cried for the next 3 hours. I called my husband and when he arrived home I told him what I had done. My husband started to cry and we held each other for a very long time. I believe today, that those 2 teenagers were angels that were sent to me in my greatest time of despair.
After 2 more months of continued mental and physical anguish, I started treatment and therapy on June 5th, 2018. I lost my mother on June 7th who was my greatest friend and lifelong cheerleader. I was void of all emotion and couldn't grieve in the way I knew I should. Not being able to grieve such an immense loss in my life was very distressing to me.
By August 2018 and by what felt like a miracle, I was starting to feel a little better. I turned the corner in early August when 2 swim friends asked me to coach them for a 7-kilometre open water swim that is held every year Peachland British Columbia (The Rattlesnake Island Swim) Just getting to the lake every day with a workout in hand was very challenging but I persevered. It had been months since I was out in public so I definitely experienced extreme anxiety being around other people in a social setting. The reward for my efforts was that my 2 friends (Debra and Brenda) and I placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd in our 60-69 age group. A personal triumph in so many ways for me and for them.
Since August I have continued to recover and as of now, I am probably 95% well. I am back operating my business and I am writing with a sound mind and speaking with a strong voice. My incredible family has supported and loved me through my entire journey of returning from a deep state of hopelessness to a renewed state of hopefulness My business is doing better than it ever has and I am excited once again for my future. I am in the process of becoming a mental health advocate and I have added mental illness to my speaking business. I feel a very strong calling to help those who are suffering from mental illness to reach out for help.
I am a much more humble person and I am deeply grateful for every day that I am well. I feel a sense of freedom and strength that I have never experienced before. I will be on medication for the rest of my life which I am slowly accepting and I also accept that the very nature of my illness will always make me prone and vulnerable to catapulting me into the stratosphere or just as easily down a rabbit hole. I don't look at being bi-polar as a gift but it has caused a reawakening in me of all that is truly important in my life. I am still the same person I always was and being Bi-Polar is just part of who I am. I am ready to speak and live my truth.
I dedicate this blog to anyone who is suffering from a mental health issue and I promise that I will keep the conversation going.