The last time I was on the grounds of an abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium was in 2011 when Catherine, Oliver and I found ourselves in the woods outside Berlin with a ragtag group of artists and DJs on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve been feeling a little lost of late, lost in a fog of care-giving in two directions, worried about what happens next for our small family, more quick to anger than I would like, and generally unable to place myself on a solid mental footing inside the constellation of my lot.
A few months ago I remembered seeing something in the media about mental health walk-in clinics, and I kept the idea of walking into one in my back pocket in the weeks since. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was the target market for these clinics, but it seemed that I might be, for their description positions them squarely in the “if you’re having some challenges” territory.
I finally decided that today was the day.
Not because of a particular crisis or confluence of events (although the death of a friend from metastatic breast cancer has weighed heavily on me this week), but mostly because I rationed that, if you find yourself Googling “PEI mental health walk-in clinic hours” more than once a week, you should probably go to the mental health walk-in clinic.
As with all previous self-directed mental health interventions I’ve undertaken, I had to confront a lot of monkeys on my back to get me from my lunchtime perch near the waterfront up to the McGill Centre: Was I really allowed to go? What if it’s full? What if the counselor is someone I know? What if I fall apart? What if I don’t fall apart? Why don’t I wait until next week! Surely there are others who need this service more than me! My, there are an awful lot of puddles near the road. Yah, right, maybe next week.
Fear and inertia are powerful, and I finally realized that if the only reasons for not going were fear and inertia, I owed myself the favour of ignoring them and pressing on.
And so I headed off to the northern regions of Brighton, through a neighbourhood both familiar and unfamiliar, toward the Mona Wilson Building at the corner of North River and McGill, located on the grounds of what, at one time, was Charlottetown’s tuberculosis sanatorium.
The walk-in clinic today was from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. I re-confirmed several times that the description could embrace my circumstances:
…offer immediate mental health support to help with anxiety, as well as life events causing stress and other mental health issues.
That seemed close enough.
I walked in the door, found my way to the reception desk, and was given a short form to fill out, a form that asked for my Health Card number, my name and address, and a brief description of why I was there.
I wrote “need to check in with someone on the state of my general mental health.”
There were a few people in front of me, so I bided my time in the waiting room for about 40 minutes, at which point a chap named Ian came to fetch me. He guided me up to the second floor, and into a room with a couch and chair.
And for the next hour, we had a chat.
What I ended up doing was the psychological equivalent of what’s called, in my trade, a core dump:
In computing, a core dump… consists of the recorded state of the working memory of a computer program at a specific time, generally when the program has crashed or otherwise terminated abnormally.
And that’s pretty well what I did: I described my circumstances, my challenges, what was going well and what wasn’t. What I dread and what I welcome. What I’ve done, and what I haven’t.
Ian chimed in with helpful insights from time to time, and his presence was vital to the exercise. But it was mostly about me structuring my consciousness in a protected space with a helpful interlocutor.
An hour later, I was still the same me, but the process of working through some things was undeniably helpful, and I left with a few references to other resources, a few new terms (“psycho-oncology,” “fullness of person”) and generally feeling like I’d done the right thing by going.
Late in 2017, the CBC ran a series on the radio about youth mental health on PEI and on one of the stories they posted to the web they chose a photo of a young person sitting, head-in-hands, alone, in front of a bank of lockers in a school. I took umbrage at that photo, for it telegraphed that mental health challenges are something self-evident and obvious, that unless you look sad and are hanging your head low, you must be doing okay.
I wasn’t in crisis today. Indeed it was, for most intents and purposes, a regular old day and I was my regular old self; I’d hazard a guess that, to look at me on my way to work you wouldn’t say “there’s a guy who could use a mental health walk-in clinic today.”
But I was. And it helped. And I’m thankful that it was there.
Walk-in mental health clinics are run every week in locations across PEI. They are free and confidential, and you don’t need an appointment.
Thanks for posting this. It should be a bit less daunting now should my family need the service.
Very helpful to read. Thank you.
Thanks for this post! As a person who often is not too sure of social norms, at what point does one do a "core dump" with a mental health professional rather than a friend?
That’s a good question.
Oliver and I went to a talk about youth mental health last winter given by Dr. Stan Kutcher, and one of the most useful things he said was that there’s a difference between mental illness and mental health, and whereas mental illness can require medication, psychiatric care and other interventions, maintaining positive mental health can, indeed, often be done with the support, advice and counsel of friends, lay counselors, clergy members and others.
In my case, seeking a disinterested third party, rather than a friend or family member, gave me the opportunity to lay all my cards out on the table in a way that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing otherwise, and to admit things (to myself, mostly) that I would have been uncomfortable saying out loud to others.
That all said, I do get a lot of support, mentally and spiritually, from Catherine and Oliver, from my parents, from my three brothers, and from friends and acquaintances here and away.
One thing that recent years have taught me is that if I find myself in a situation where I “don’t know what to say” because someone I know has gone through a crisis, a loss, or a rough time, it’s likely that a lot of other people feel the same way. And so I try to find a way to say something. Even if it’s just “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.”
I’ve been the beneficiary of that many times, and it’s very, very helpful.
Also, might I add that sometimes your mental health is linked to your friend in a way you aren't comfortable freely discuss with them. Maybe you've been lonely and haven't been able to reach out to them, or feel that they've abandoned you. Maybe you upset with your friend about something but you can't really work it out with them without worrying they'll be upset, or you'll become more upset. Sometimes you need that person to help walk you through why you feel that way about your friend so you can get to the root of the issue. Perhaps you have difficulty being open, or maybe your friend has actually been toxic for you, and you just haven't been able to sort through your emotions. A counsellor can help with that/
Consulting with another friend may not work, because they may have a bias for or against your other friend that could paint your perception in a way that's unhealthy. Or they have a desire to protect you and make a suggestion they think is in your best interest but doesn't actually help you with your emotional/mental health.
Counselors are professionals who are generally able to help you work through your difficulties without affecting the way you feel (per se**), simply how you actually analyze those feelings. Because of this even for issues totally unrelated to your friends, they're a useful resource to help you in a way your friends simply aren't trained to do (which is a good thing because sometimes what's good for mental health is ranting with a friend about something that ticked you off, which a counselor isn't there to do).
**you will probably feel better afterwards, but the focus is less on them changing how you feel, but how you handle your mental health to improve your emotional state.
Thank you for sharing your experience Peter. It’s good to know that this much-talked-about service actually exists and it works when someone chooses to access it. Perhaps you have heard that old line: “Asking for help is a sign of strength.” So pleased the help was there for you when you needed it. Good wishes to you, Catherine, and Oliver.
Peter, thanks for setting a great example, and for being open about this.
Thank you for sharing this, Peter. Glad you had a good experience with it and feel comfortable sharing. It all helps to make everyone feel more comfortable with discussing their mental health.
Peter, you are an absolute gem.
The way that you've described and documented your experience will surely assure at least one other person that this much needed service is accessible in every sense of the word. There will always be ways to convince ourselves that taking a step towards better mental health and self care is difficult. Your words have laid out the process in such detail that it removes some of the anxiety surrounding a new experience and have shed light on just how a core dump can bring some light back to a heavy head.
Cheers and thank you.
Thanks for writing this so succinctly and honourably Peter! A good reminder for us all. :)
I have to agree with everybody: It's great you did that, and great you shared it, Peter.