My journey with Lanark County Mental Health

by Tracy Stimpson

I wanted to share my recent experiences with mental health care in Lanark County.

If these words do nothing more than make one or two people comfortable enough to seek help, then it will be well worth it.

Guess I better start at the beginning and explain why I sought help.

Like many, I had some issues growing up.  Most notable was the death of my mother due to suicide when I was 7.  It runs on her side of the family, a few have died that way. I always told people that those who committed suicide were weak and that I would never think of doing something that stupid. Truth is, I thought about it a lot during hard times but was always strong enough to brush it off. That was until last summer.

Part of my mental health issues is that I am self-destructive; I’m not happy unless I’m miserable. The biggest way I hurt myself is my weight. I’ve always been on the bigger side but the last 10 years or so it has gotten out of control. I’m 6 feet tall and weigh more than most football players in the NFL. I always said when it affected my health or my ability to interact with my kids, I would do something about it.

Last summer I was so excited for my holidays as I was able to book the same site at Sandbanks that I had when I was in my 20’s. It was close to everything including the beach.

I have had sciatica for a while now but figured I could fight through the pain.  But the short walk to the beach was more than I could handle. The kids wanted to play in the water but the pain was so bad all I could do is sit in the shallows and have the waves knock me over.

After an hour, the kids helped me back to the site. Sleeping on an air mattress only made it worse and by the second day all I could do was sit in my camping chair. My kids were fantastic and basically took care of everything. My oldest told me not to worry, he would take his brother to the beach. They would go to the beach and I would be alone on the site for hours. I would watch young, healthy families walk and bike past my site laughing and enjoying time together while I sat by myself being a fat, lazy lump of useless goo.

I broke.  We made it 2 out of the 5 days and I told my kids we had to go. Again, they were wonderful and understanding which made me feel even worse. That’s when I first thought seriously about suicide — if I didn’t have the kids to take care of, I would not be here to write this.

As I did have kids and I needed to be around for them, I reached out to my family doctor as a last resort. She was very good. It must have been awkward for her to see a big, baldheaded biker-looking dude crying like a baby in her office.

I told her if I couldn’t enjoy life with my kids then I saw no reason to continue it.  I guess from that she knew I needed some mental help. The doctor did her best to ensure I wasn’t going to off myself anytime soon and then told me she would refer me to Lanark County Mental Health. My doctor had a lot of patience with me. Being self-destructive, I have bailed on appointments she set up for me many times.  I wasn’t even sure if I would attend the appointment she set up for me with Lanark County Mental Health.

It took a while but I was finally contacted by someone from Lanark County Mental Health.  They set up an appointment with me to meet a Registered Nurse that acts as a community mental health nurse with the crisis and intake team. After some scheduling issues between us both, we met one night at 6 pm at the Almonte Hospital.

I’m a very open person but do not like to ask for help or assistance. In writing this, I am already regretting telling everyone that I am weak. I was worried that the meeting with the nurse was going to be a waste of time as she would not be able to pull anything out of me — man was I wrong.

The intake nurse was wonderful. Have you ever met someone and right away you can tell that they really care?  That was this lovely woman.

She was soft-spoken, calm, friendly and made me feel very comfortable.  We were scheduled to meet for an hour and I think we talked for over 2. I opened my heart to her and she sat there and listened, truly listened. The only time she spoke is when she was trying to encourage me to say more.

She explained the process to me, assured me that I was not obligated to do anything, I was in charge. They were there to listen and offer help, as much as I wanted. She asked permission to write down her notes and explained why she was doing it. We talked about several coping strategies but mainly the meeting was just to get to know me. I left the meeting relaxed, and more positive than I had been for a long while.

A few weeks later, the nurse called to tell me that the psychiatrist reviewed the nurse’s notes and would like to meet with me. You hear of people seeing therapists but a full shrink, I must be really messed up! I agreed and an appointment was made for 2 months away.

The Lanark County Mental Health office in Carleton Place is in the industrial park.  I had to check a few times to make sure it was the right building. The common hallway of the building was dark, creepy and kind of smelled funny. It felt like I was going to a warehouse, not a doctor’s office. I found the entrance to the office and rang the bell for service. Someone took my name and told me to have a seat. The waiting room has two chairs and was pretty rough looking.  I guess mental health doesn’t get the bulk of the health budget.

After 5 minutes the doctor came and got me.  He was older, I would say in his early 70’s (my apologies to the doctor if I am way off). He was dressed like a cowboy, jeans and a cowboy vest. I thought it must just be me but then I saw the cowboy hat on his desk.  Great, I’m going to get my head shrunk by Roy Rogers!

This cowboy shrink was smart, very smart. He had me figured out in about 5 minutes and had me thinking of ways I could help myself in about 10. We talked for only 45 minutes but that’s all that was needed.  I now knew what I needed to do and why. He wasn’t going to do it for me, it was up to me.  I left his office with a smile on my face — there was hope for me after all.

Forgot to say, the intake nurse was at the meeting with the doctor as well.  After the meeting I talked with her and we arranged for me to attend some anxiety courses to help me deal with stuff a little better. Seeking help is not an instant cure, it takes time and effort but I am getting better every day.

So what do I think of mental health in Lanark County?

I think the people who work there care very much and are a great help. I think the waiting is long and the facilities are basic at best. It’s sad we don’t invest more in mental health, so many are struggling. If anyone out there is sad and/or messed up in head as I am, please don’t keep it to yourself. Ask for help. It may take a while but it is well worth it, you are worth it!

Thank you to all the staff at Lanark County Mental Health. I did not use any names while writing this besides my own but you know who you are. You save lives every day.