Welcome! My name is Katherine and thank you for taking an interest in me and the focus of this blog. There are so many topics I want to delve into deeper in upcoming posts, but for now, I want to start by giving you a better idea of who I am and how I came to care so deeply about Mental Health. I am also hoping to give you a more detailed picture of my childhood and how it shaped who I have become at this present moment. As far as I know, I am a person with no family history of Mental Illness and it wasn’t something I struggled with when I was younger. Mental Illness was actually not even a thought for me in my youth, but today it is something I live and breathe on a daily basis.
I grew up in a middle-class home with two loving parents and a younger sister who I actually got along with quite well. I had three close childhood friends that lived nearby and we were always outside riding bikes or engaging in some sort of imaginative play. My father was a carpenter and owned his own construction business while my mother was a Grade 1 teacher. They both worked long hours but made time for me whenever I really needed them. My childhood was pretty decent overall and I was very lucky that I never suffered any significant trauma.
There were of course periods of time where things weren’t as simple such as during my pre-teen years. At this point in my life, I was picked on and had trouble making friends at school. I had gained some weight and felt most comfortable dressed as a tomboy which may have prompted one of the boys in my class to call me a “big fat tub of lard”. That one sticks with me…even today. I’m sure most everyone can think back to a time in their childhood where they struggled to fit in.
Going into Junior high, I decided to switch schools and start over. That was one of the best decisions I made because I was able to find a group of friends who I could be myself around. I also started playing soccer which helped me meet even more people, as well as shed my chubby exterior. Schoolwork was always an area I excelled in. My parents both valued Education and definitely always encouraged me to do my very best to someday get into University. This wasn’t even a question for them…I was going to University.
High School was pretty uneventful for me. I focused my attention mainly on my schoolwork, soccer and maintaining the few quality friendships I did have. As expected, in Grade 12, I had to choose a career path. I had always wanted to be a Doctor when I was a kid, so it was pretty clear to me that I was going into the Medical field. I chose to go to Nursing School with the hope of continuing to become a doctor someday.
Nursing school was the first place where I really noticed my competitive nature come out and getting high Grades became a top priority for me. I was devastated when I had my first clinical placement in the hospital and got a B-. I now can’t even believe I was upset with that mark! I adored classes where I could compose essays and use my imagination to write something creative. When I was a child, I would write detailed stories and there never seemed to be an end to my innovative ideas. I would later be told by one of my Psychiatrists that people with “great imaginations and brilliant minds are more likely to suffer from a Mental Illness”. I’m not exactly sure when I developed the tendency towards perfectionism, but it definitely peaked in University and was usually related to my Education. This, however, was not the only area where it was noticeable, and the perfectionist in me was also guilty of causing some nasty critical thoughts to appear on a regular basis. Harsh self-judgement seemed to be a part of my personality that I couldn’t escape.
I graduated from Nursing school in 2007 and began my first job on a Medical-Surgical Unit. After two years, I felt I had gained a wealth of knowledge and experience, so I decided to give working in a busy Urban Emergency Department a try. I learned a great deal more in this fast-paced environment, but this workplace also posed its challenges. When I became pregnant, I definitely noticed increasing levels of anxiety, especially with being on the ‘Code Team’ where we often had to take extraordinary measures to resuscitate patients in hopes of saving their lives. I also struggled with working night shifts and found I didn’t adapt to them as well as I had hoped. I could sleep for 8 hours straight and still wake up feeling very groggy and lethargic.
After my first daughter was born I needed to slow down the pace, so I chose not to return to Emergency Nursing and instead started in an Outpatient Specialty Clinic department. The main clinic I work in focuses on Hematology, and the majority of the patients have some type of blood disorder and/or blood cancer. This job has been working fairly well for me so far and I still continue to work here on a casual basis. Since it is strictly day shifts, I don’t have to adapt to any changes in my sleeping patterns. It is however still a challenging environment, where we do many procedures and give Hazardous medications including Chemotherapy.
Twenty-six years old was the age when my Mental Health journey truly began. In 2011, I was a glowing mother to be who couldn’t wait for this next chapter in my life. As far back as I can remember, I know I have always wanted to be a mom. I felt like I was meant for it and believed to the core that once the baby was born, it would all just come naturally to me. Between my tendency towards perfectionism and having very high self-imposed standards, the postpartum period ended up being a perfect storm just waiting to happen.
Three weeks after my daughter Avianna’s birth, I was brought into the Emergency Department, where I worked at the time, and eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis. I was hospitalized for two and a half weeks and then discharged home, in a sane, but very far from my normal state. I went on to experience severe Postpartum Depression which lasted about one year. That was by far the best and worst year of my life because I became a Mom to a precious little girl, but I was also suffering immensely with debilitating Depression.
Fast forward three years later and we were ready to start contemplating the idea of a second child. We discussed the risks with my Psychiatrist and Nurse Therapist, and we knew there were no guarantees that Postpartum Psychosis and Depression wouldn’t happen again. I wanted another baby so badly and just didn’t feel like our family was complete yet. In July 2015, I gave birth to a baby girl named Callie and Avianna finally got the sister she desperately wanted. I was feeling great in the hospital and was discharged home on the third day after she was born. That evening, I started to feel my mind slowing down and the anxiety building.
I was brought back to the same Emergency Department, where I no longer worked, but where I still knew so many people. I was admitted to the hospital for two weeks and ended up recovering quicker the second time around. I believe this was mainly due to the great Mental Health Team I had, as well as the extraordinarily effective medications I was put on this time around. Having supports in place and a better idea of what I needed to do to recover, definitely helped me to only suffer from mild Postpartum Depression instead of the severe Depression I felt after my first child.
Three years later in August 2018, I decided to go to a conference in Dallas, Texas to learn how to become a Life Coach. At this point, my children were three and seven years old, and I had been stable enough to be discharged from my Psychiatry Team for the past two and a half years. I had stumbled upon a podcast that I fell in love with and decided Life Coaching was something I wanted to pursue as a secondary career. The idea of working from home was enticing since I only worked as a nurse casually a few times per month anyways.
I took a plane from my home in Alberta, Canada to a hotel just outside of Dallas. I was so excited to be learning again and was very passionate about the idea of becoming a Life Coach to help Postpartum Mothers who had gone through similar circumstances to what I experienced. Three days into my trip, I started to have extreme difficulty sleeping coupled with overwhelming anxiety. An ambulance was eventually called and I was taken to the nearest Emergency Department and then transferred to an Inpatient Behavioural Health Institute. My husband flew to Texas to bring me back home to Canada where I inevitably spent three more weeks on an Inpatient Psychiatric Unit before finally being allowed to go home.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder Type 1 and was referred back to my original Psychiatry team from when I had Postpartum Psychosis and Depression. I was devastated! Why did this have to happen to me? It’s not fair! My Psychiatrist told me that Bipolar Disorder was an illness that is much more common in women who have experienced Postpartum Psychosis in the past. Now I am learning how to grieve my old life and move into a new reality where I have Bipolar Disorder but am not defined by it. This isn’t an easy transition by any means and definitely a bumpy road, but I’m navigating it as best I can.
I’ve learned a lot about myself because of everything I’ve been through with my Mental Illnesses, and my hope is that I can share these experiences with people who are going through similar struggles in their lives. I am grateful for my wonderful family and friends who support me in every way they can to maintain my Mental Health. I am also so very thankful for my wonderfully empathetic husband and for my girls, who are the light of my life. I am so lucky to be their Mother and to be able to help them grow and navigate this world. My hope for them is that having a mother with Mental Illness doesn’t negatively affect them, but instead helps them to grow into strong, open and accepting individuals. Maybe someday they will share their own stories and help decrease the stigma surrounding Mental Illness until it is all but a distant memory.