How I Used My Pain To Help Others – This article brought tears to my eyes

by Dr. Christina Bjorndal ND | Follow on Twitter

How I survived depression to help others recover from the mental illnesses using Naturopathic and orthomolecular medicine.

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June 9, 2014

Today is the 20th anniversary of a suicide attempt that left me in a coma, on dialysis with kidney failure waiting for a kidney transplant.

The months leading up to this attempt were very dark. I had recently been promoted as a Commercial Lender, but ended up spending countless hours at work. So much so that I knew the janitor by his first name.

A common question asked of someone who is depressed is,

“Why are you depressed?”

And with each depressive episode I have had, I reflect on this question and ask,

“What happened? Why did I get depressed? What did I do wrong?”

– as if it were in my locus of control to regulate my mood by magically turning a switch on or off. I have come to learn that this is not a question you ask someone who is depressed. Most don’t “choose” to be depressed – or do we? Maybe on a subconscious level we do because deep down, I know that I didn’t love myself or accept myself. Was that the real cause of all my pain?

So what exactly happened 20 years ago?

As with any episode, it is multi-factorial and each one is unique- offering an opportunity to learn and grow if you are lucky enough to have the benefit of hindsight and reflection. At that time in my life, I had expected the promotion and transfer back to Vancouver to be a positive one, as I was now closer to my family and friends. What I didn’t foresee was:

  1. How much I would miss the wonderful friends and colleagues I had made while working at my previous job.
  2. Because I was working so much, I found it hard to make time for my family and friends in Vancouver. I was drowning in my work and became socially isolated.
  3. The burden of the Vancouver real estate market. I went from my 2-bedroom 980 sq ft apartment to a 1-bedroom 675 sq ft apartment, for 2.5x the price and mortgage payment. I felt the physical anxiety of being “tied down” when the condo bubble burst and I was now chained to a job I was slowly growing a dislike for.
  4. I was naïve to business politics and I didn’t anticipate the lack of support I would get at the new Branch.
  5. Maintaining my mental wellness – like exercise and eating properly – were neglected because I was working 10-14-hour days.
  6. My self-confidence steadily declined as I felt in over my head at work and was too proud to admit it or ask for help.
  7. The seeds of self-doubt grew into uncontrollable weeds that I could no longer pluck from my consciousness.
  8. My judgment was clouded by negative self-talk that was defeatist and seemed to grow increasingly louder as the months wore on.

I got very tired of listening to this constant barrage of verbal abuse that eventually I believed the only way to be free from these thoughts was to commit suicide – then and only then would there be silence.

Due to my previous mental health history, I was seeing my psychiatrist regularly. As in previous depressive episodes, it often took me several months of sliding deeper into the pit of depression before I would muster up the strength to say I needed help.

Many times words were not needed as my psychiatrist could determine by my affect that something was not right with me, for example:

  • I would not talk during our sessions
  • The blank look of hopelessness in my eyes
  • The visible weight loss

Other signs of depression were:

  • Endless hours spent in bed not wanting to face the day, my work responsibilities or my life
  • Social isolation. I no longer found joy in being around my friends or family. It was an effort to “put on a happy face”.
  • I felt a lot of shame and guilt around the self-deprecating thoughts I had and would not admit that I was suicidal unless my psychiatrist directly asked the question: “Do you have thoughts of suicide? Do you have a plan?”

I was prescribed a new antidepressant, Zoloft, in February 1994. For my previous depressive episodes in the early 90’s I was prescribed Prozac and I was assured that Zoloft was “new and improved”. It later was discovered the connection between suicide and Zoloft –

“Suicidal ideation, thoughts, and behavior – collectively termed as suicidality, and suicidal acts have long been linked to antidepressant usage. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including sertraline (Zoloft), are believed to increase suicidality risks [1].”

Ultimately, I think it was a combination of the various stresses in my life that resulted in the events of June 9, 1994.

June 9, 1994

What I remember the most was the thoughts that plagued me. The self-critical thoughts that repeatedly told me that I was worthless, what was the point, I was no good, no one cares about me, I may as well kill myself, etc.

When my voice of reason piped up with a rebuttal such as “that is not true, you have worth”, the voice of doubt quickly set me in my place with comments like “You are such a chicken, you can’t even kill yourself. You aren’t even good at THAT!”

The tug of war between these two sides of me was exhausting. I had such a hard time turning off those thoughts and after 6 months of being terrorized by this voice, I decided that the only way to stop them was to end my life. I couldn’t take it any more and I seemed to believe every word of this negative stream of thinking.

So, I wrote a note, poured a large glass of anti-freeze, drank it, grabbed my cat and cuddled him as I fell asleep hoping that I would never wake up again, that my life would be over and I would finally find out the truth about Jesus, God, Heaven, White lights and “the Afterlife”. (Note: If you are depressed and reading this, please do not try this as it does not work!)

The next morning, I was supposed to be at a breakfast meeting with my boss. When I did not show up, my boss called the office, who then got a hold of my step-dad. He made his way into the building and found me barely breathing. He called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital.

I remained in a coma for a few days and when I regained consciousness I was transferred to the ICU until I was well enough to join the general ward.

I had dialysis three times per week, as my kidneys were not functioning and was told that I would need a kidney transplant if they did not recover.

Surrender

While I was recovering, my friend Lisa gave me a book to read by Marianne Williamson called “A Return to Love”. There was a section in the book on surrender:

“Surrender means the decision to stop fighting the world, and to start loving it instead. It is a gentle liberation from pain. But liberation isn’t about breaking out of anything; it’s a gentle melting into who we really are.”

After reading “A Return to Love”, I began to think about healing. How do I recover? How do I learn to love myself? Is there another way to feel other than depressed and anxious?

Slowly, very slowly, a crack of light began to shine through my broken heart. Since reading that book, I have spent the last 20 years learning to accept myself and trying to find natural ways of dealing with mental illness.

Why I became a Naturopathic Doctor

The sole reason I became a Naturopathic Doctor was because when I was struggling with my illness there weren’t many natural mental health experts. I had been seeing an ND since 1996; however, his expertise was not in the mental realm.

I eventually went to a nutritionally-oriented psychiatrist who practiced “orthomolecular” medicine – Dr. Abram Hoffer was based in Victoria, BC and had been ostracized from the conventional medical community because he favoured using nutraceuticals (or vitamin supplements) over pharmaceuticals.

I saw him in October 1999 when he was in his 80’s. After being on his protocol for several months, my depression and anxiety lifted. I could not believe it! It was at this point that I took stock of my life and while journaling one day, I asked myself one question:

“If money didn’t matter – what would I be doing with my life?”

The answer that came up for me was to help people recover from the mental illnesses that I have had (i.e. depression, anxiety, social phobia, eating disorder) using Naturopathic and orthomolecular medicine.

This article is not about justifying suicide, condoning or endorsing it. It is meant to educate about the pain that someone is in when they are suffering and it is my hope that the walls of stigma and shame are broken down.

If you know someone that is depressed, maybe a phone call from you will make all the difference in his or her life. Don’t get upset if they don’t call you back – don’t take it personally. Just reach out again anyways. Maybe knock on their door to make sure they are okay.

Don’t give up on people who are depressed because they are too negative or it takes too much effort. Try to put yourself in their shoes, be compassionate and understanding, remove the judgment and critical views you may have and open your heart so that their heart may, in turn, be healed.

The 8 Pillars to Health

When I work with patients, I teach them about the 8 pillars to health:

  1. Stress
  2. Sleep
  3. Exercise
  4. Nutrition & supplementation
  5. Thoughts & emotions
  6. How they behave and react in the world
  7. Their environment/support group
  8. Spirituality

In my work, the foundation is always compassion – for my patient and teaching them to love themselves. At the end of the day, it all comes down to love:

  • Do you love yourself enough to make the changes I am going to ask you to make?
  • Do you love yourself enough to take the steps that I am going to ask you to take?
  • And in the case of mental health, do you love yourself enough not to take your own life?

I hope you pass this message on to someone you know that may be experiencing mental anguish and consider sharing this video:

Reference:

1. Suicidality and Suicide Attempt in a Young Female on Long-Term Sertraline Treatment http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662142/

About the Author
Dr. Christina Bjorndal ND

Dr. Chris Bjorndal graduated from the UBC Faculty of Commerce in 1990 with honours and as class Valedictorian. She completed her Doctorate in naturopathic medicine from CCNM in 2005. She is one of the only licensed NDs in Canada with an expertise in treating mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, ADD/ADHD, OCD and schizoaffective disorders. Having overcome many challenges in the sphere of mental health, she is especially exceptional at motivating people to overcome barriers in life and encourages them to achieve their full potential. She is currently completing a book on mental health. www.drchrisbjorndal.com