Support virtual walk/run to Defeat Depression
Mental health awareness is more important than ever, as people struggle with isolation and the disruption to their regular lives caused by the pandemic, said Heather McIntyre.
The Collingwood resident is helping to organize two Defeat Depression Walk/Run challenges this month, one in Barrie and one in Collingwood.
Growing up, McIntyre lived with domestic violence and alcohol abuse in the home. As the eldest child, she says she bore the brunt of that burden. She fled the home as soon as she could, starting a new life with a husband and having children of her own. What she didn’t realize at the time was that the past would catch up with her and resurface years later, taking her by complete surprise.
She had been to counselling in the past but for the most part, was coping well until 2008 when out of nowhere she was overcome by a physical sensation so intense that she thought she must be having a heart attack.
“I remember the strangest feeling through my body. My heart started to race, my arm hair stood up on end, and there was this cold chill that ran through me,” said McIntyre. “I just kind of breathed through it and didn’t say a whole lot to anybody. And then they kept coming, and they kept coming.”
She said it felt like she had no control over her body, or breath. Her skin was crawling and she would have tremors.
As an independent adult, all she wanted was to be in control, and here she was, unable to control anything.
A severe episode sent McIntyre to the emergency room where tests revealed she was not having a heart attack, in fact she was experiencing a panic attack.
Medicated, she was sent home and told now that she knew what they were, she would be able to handle the next attack. But it wasn’t that simple.
Working with her family doctor, she understood that she would have to dig a little deeper to get to the root cause of the attacks.
Unfortunately, McIntyre said, she had some false starts and setbacks with other medical professionals and ended up on a long road to an effective method of treatment.
“On and off for about three and a half months I would get through the panic attacks by taking the medication, numbing myself out and trying to work through it, with the psychiatrist,” she said, adding she never found a good fit and wasn’t getting to where she needed to be in therapy.
McIntyre describes herself as a “frequent flyer” at the emergency department during that time.
“I had this overwhelming feeling of not being safe, and like I was going to die because these panic attacks presented like heart attacks every night,” she said.
Going on no sleep, things were getting worse. She was exhausted, everyday an internal battle. On the worst night, she called in to a health hotline so they could talk her through the night, just to get her through to the morning. The next day a doctor devastated her by telling her she needed to get over it and get back to being a mom. He said he wouldn’t be renewing her prescription, despite her pleas for help. She said she left feeling defeated and ashamed.
Back in the care of her family doctor, McIntyre was able to get back on her medication to rest and stabilize. Things really started to improve when she was connected with a spiritual psychotherapist in Collingwood. It was through the two of them she realized it was PTSD, along with acute panic disorder and acute anxiety.
“So, we just started unravelling, and that unravelling took, probably 15 months,” said McIntyre. “It’s a very liberating and validating feeling, to wake up after all of it and find out why. There was finally an explanation. Even though I felt that I’d dealt with all the stuff, because I’d seen many people over the years, I didn’t realize how deep the wound was.”
Part of her healing journey involved embracing and connecting with her aboriginal heritage. She worked with an elder to reconnect to that part of her culture.
McIntyre jokes now, that the breakdown of 2008, turned out to be a breakthrough.
“I stand here today and I am able to be totally non medicated, totally in the present moment, totally in a place of awareness and healing and to be of service to people who could be potentially dealing with the same thing that I was,” she said.
On a new path as a Life and Wellness Coach and Aboriginal Healing Facilitator, going by Momma Mac, McIntyre is helping other find a holistic approach to healing, to get to the heart of the matter at hand.
In association through that work, she got involved with the Defeat Depression Walk/Run Challenge, which were supposed to be a physical events, but due to the pandemic are now being held virtually.
The Defeat Depression campaign is a national fundraising campaign by Mood Disorders Society of Canada, designed to allow individuals and organizations to raise funds in support of their local mental health programs and services. The campaign has grown into a national social movement bringing much-needed funds and awareness of mental health issues while fighting mental health stigma one event at a time.
People are asked to raise funds, and participate by posting about the activities they do to help with their mental health and post them with the hashtag #defeatdepressionchallenge.
The event culminates with a Defeat Depression Day Live Event on May 30. For more information, and to donate, visit www.defeatdepression.ca. You can donate to the national campaign or directly to McIntyre, who is raising funds for RVH Youth Mental Health Services.