A Personal Story:Trapped In a Broken Brain
Sharing all of it
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This has been a long time coming! It took a lot to get me here, typing this out to a crowd I don’t really know but I finally feel ready and I would like to thank you for your interest in this story, for following my work, and witnessing bits and pieces of my personal life (which you’re about to learn a lot more about). It has meant a lot to me to show up, be seen, and receive your feedback (most of it, lol). I know it’s just social media, but it’s not lost on me that we are a group of real people, coming together and getting to know each other in this peculiar way. So thank you.
I have shared about my health issues in IG posts and lives, podcasts, and perhaps with some of you privately, but I’ve never included the most distressing details. It wasn’t until this very moment that my whole system was on board with me telling the story in its entirety. Until now, some parts of me couldn’t bear to look at the darkest and scariest moments. Other parts feared that putting it out there could be used against me in some way. I no longer have those concerns.
This story is painful and frightening (and really long) and I realize that I’m not the only one who’s experienced severe symptoms and tremendous suffering. For a long time, I was convinced that I was sicker than anyone in the world had ever been. It turns out we all think that when we’re in the depths of despair. So, if you’re dealing with mental health dysfunction, chronic or mysterious symptoms, my hope for you is that you gain a sense of hope and feel empowered to search for answers in places nobody’s told you to look. I would also like to offer you the suggestion that your current symptoms might be linked, in some ways, to the effects of your unprocessed past.
Please know that it is common for us to read something like this and begin to believe that we must have the same issue; a trick that our minds play on us with the positive intention of solving a problem. It’s equally common to feel curious about the exact tests, treatments, supplements, and modalities other people have used to get well. Again, this is a brilliant psychological attempt to secure a solution that’s “guaranteed” to work. Remember that my solutions aren’t likely to be your solutions. That being said, I will share what I did to regain my health.
It hasn’t always felt relevant to share the backstory; for the longest time I was certain that on July 1st, 2019 (the day that family photo was taken) my world came crashing down out of nowhere. The truth is my health struggles began when I was five years old (maybe earlier) after two experiences involving the stomach flu and being cared for by grandparents who were far from caring. After those incidents, I developed a fear of stomach aches and vomiting so extreme that I missed significant amounts of school over the following four years. I obsessed over the sensations in my stomach and avoided eating to prevent nausea; to the point that I was labelled “underweight” by the age of seven.
Around age 10, the focal point of most of my anxiety switched from my belly to my peers, causing me to act in socially awkward ways that made me an easy target for bullies, “mean girls”, and my high school boyfriend who put me through everything from public humiliation to physical abuse.
The anxiety and social struggles (along with undiagnosed ADHD) made focusing difficult. I barely made it through high school and only graduated on time because my grade 12 math teacher helped me cheat on the provincial math exam. Nobody in my life thought I could or should go to university, including (especially) my parents. But I had a new boyfriend that summer and he was going and his parents were lawyers and I had no idea what else to do, so I applied, and for some bizarre reason, I got in.
University ended up being good for me in many ways: I found something I loved to learn about: psychology and sociology (I wonder why) and found some friends I could be myself with. But I also found MDMA, cocaine, and mushrooms, and that performing well academically, eating less than 1200 calories a day, and exercising constantly were effective ways to continue suppressing every emotion I had. So down they went, along with my nutrient levels and hormones. I eventually lost my period and 50% of my hair. Cue my first health crisis and the return of my hypochondria.
This is when I developed an interest in “alternative medicine” (my preference would be to call it real medicine, but I know that wouldn’t be well-received). I began seeing a naturopath and an herbalist who both tried directing my attention to my psychology and my behaviour patterns, but it was so foreign to me to look there (besides the content of my textbooks which obviously didn’t apply to me) that I could barely hear their suggestions. I demanded that they give me herbs, vitamins, and acupuncture needles to get my body to behave. It didn’t work, obviously.
So I went back to a conventionally-trained doc, who prescribed me the birth control pill which gave me a fake period and a reasonably full head of hair, covering up the problem just enough that I could continue to party, starve myself, and take my “fitness” to new heights by becoming an instructor. Three years later, I had completed my first degree and started working in child protection as a social worker.
Then I met Carl, a recently-immigrated, BMX-riding, Englishman whose Yorkshire accent was so thick I barely knew what he was saying. We spent most of our time together drunk which was better than when we nervously stumbled through our sober interactions. Still, we somehow knew that there was something special between us.
Not long after we “made it official” I was hit by a car crossing a street downtown and my four front teeth were knocked out. When Carl arrived on the scene, in a true emotionally avoidant fashion, I jokingly asked “so, do I look beautiful or what?” which went well with my dad’s first comment: “well those braces were a serious waste of money”. The Hamm family method of dealing with hard things: pretend they don’t exist but if you have to, make it funny (anger was allowed too but that was about it).
The accident brought Carl and I closer, quickly. I guess we realized that if toothlessness, immobility, and bizarre pain-med and steroid side effects didn’t tear us apart, not much would. The accident also reignited my health anxiety and I began obsessing over the impact that my titanium dental implants could have on my health. I researched constantly and learned that having a foreign object in the body could trigger autoimmune reactions. I’d watched my aunt deteriorate quickly from Multiple Sclerosis throughout my childhood and it seems that too impacted my fear of disease. I eventually couldn’t take the “what ifs” and asked the oral surgeon to remove the metal from my jaw. He agreed to do the surgery but made sure to let me know how ridiculous it was and how much he and his colleagues laughed the 25-year-old who wanted to have removable teeth (my strong distaste for medical doctors begins).
Around the same time, I became interested in getting to the root of my hormone problems. Looking back, it was quite simple: don’t do bootcamp classes every day and eat some food. But I didn’t like simple and I didn’t know how to self-reflect yet, so I saw a specialist who ran some tests and told me I’d never get pregnant therefore being on the pill was unnecessary. Four weeks later, I was sitting in the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test. We lost that pregnancy around 8 weeks.
A year later, we bought and moved into our house; a newly renovated bungalow in a great neighbourhood, we felt like the luckiest people on earth. The same week we moved in, we found out I was pregnant, again, despite our attempts at prevention and my alleged infertility. We were excited and soon picked names, bought baby clothes, and planned the nursery.
A few days after my 20-week ultrasound, the midwife called to tell me that something was wrong with my baby’s heart, all she could or would tell me at the time was “it’s very serious”. Days later, we saw a maternal fetal medicine doctor who assured us that we could fly to Toronto or Vancouver shortly after our baby was born, get the surgery he needed, and everything would be fine. Then the geneticists walked in and told us something very different: that this heart defect was likely caused by a fatal chromosome abnormality. We agreed to test for it, which involved a 10-inch needle going through my belly and impatiently waiting by the phone for several days. When the phone finally rang, they confirmed it was the worst case scenario. Our son, Cohen, was born sleeping on October 17th, 2015.
The grief overwhelmed me. I sobbed, hyperventilated, and dissociated on repeat for months. One day, something (my protective parts) took over and decided the solution would be to become the perfect vessel for another baby and to make sure this didn’t happen again. I had subconsciously blamed myself for what happened after studying the science enough to learn that it was my unhealthy egg that caused Cohen’s syndrome (we tend to blame ourselves for horrible things that happen because it gives us a sense of control but it also leaves us with a lot of shame).
So, I read every book I could find about healthy and “holistic” pregnancy, lived on google, bought all the supplements, started exercising again, and tracking my cycle with thermometers and ovulation tests. Having all these things to do (control) was far more comfortable than sitting with my pain. 
Carl was transferred to a job in Thompson (about eight hours away) and only came home every three weeks for a few days. Somehow that was all the time we needed to conceive another baby in March of 2016. I was thrilled, for a second, until I remembered to be afraid of every possible pregnancy complication. I searched for everything that could go wrong, things that I was doing wrong, and signs that my baby was unwell. I requested test after test and everything came back fine but that did very little to resolve my anxiety, which progressed into panic attacks. I basically grit and bared my way through the rest of the pregnancy that ended in a birth full of medical errors, heart rate decelerations, a potential infection for both of us, one doctor wheeling me out for a c-section and another telling me to push harder. By the time my baby was born, there were 14 people in the room ready to intervene as they predicted all the horrible things that would happen next, including infant resuscitation. But we were fine, Olsen was the most perfect baby I’d ever seen, and I quickly “forgot” everything that had just happened.
The next year of my life felt like a dream, even though my baby didn’t sleep (certainly not without being held) and nursed non-stop for years, which makes sense considering I’d flooded his body with cortisol for 9 months (a little more self-blame to add to the pile I’d started). It felt easy though, blissful even, just to finally get to be with one of my babies.
During the time that my sons were conceived, gestated, born, and Olsen’s infancy, I’d also started and completed a Master’s degree, trained in EMDR, opened a private practice, gotten into “anti-inflammatory” diets in the name of “health” and found even more intense HIIT workouts to do. I think I was completely allergic to rest by this point, which was around the same time we had our first water leak.

I found the basement carpet soaked one day during the spring of 2019. Within a few days we had huge splotches of mold growing on the drywall. I had no knowledge of the real health risks of mold at the time, but I knew I didn’t want it in my house. So I ripped out the moldy drywall myself, thinking I’d solved the problem (please don’t do this, it is the opposite of a solution). Then our washing machine overflowed with dirty water from cloth diapers. We thought we cleaned it up in time but this ended up being the worst source of my mold exposure.
So back to that day, July 1st, 2019. It was Carl’s birthday and we hosted a BBQ. I felt like myself, nothing out of the ordinary, just running on my familiar level of stress hormones, but that night I laid down and just didn’t fall asleep, not even for a minute. I wasn’t anxious or thinking about anything, I just didn’t sleep. It happened the next night too. And the next. Now I began to panic, in part because I didn’t know it was possible to stay awake for that long but also because a brain without sleep becomes very dysfunctional very quickly.
I called my family doctor only to learn that she’d recently lost her medical license, so I went to a walk-in clinic desperately hoping for solutions. The doctor didn’t seem to believe the severity of my insomnia but gave me a trial of sleeping pills (a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics). They didn’t help much so I returned and he gave me Lorazepam (a benzodiazepine) that worked a little better, getting me three to four hours of sleep. He was adamant that I needed a “long-term solution” which apparently meant an anti-depressant. The trials of medications went on for months, while I continued to sleep very little, until I was eventually referred to a psychiatrist.
By this time, I also had severe and constant anxiety and other symptoms of being stuck in a “freeze” response. I can’t remember all the diagnoses I was given but one of them was Major Depressive Disorder, which was odd because I didn’t feel depressed, I felt terrified. My eventual medication cocktail included Mirtazipine, Quetiapine, and Diazepam (an SNRI, antipsychotic, and a longer acting benzodiazepine).
Since these drugs didn’t solve my problems, and I was already averse to taking pharmaceuticals, and they came with awful side-effects, I got back into researching. I investigated things like adrenal fatigue, Pyrrole disorders, over-methylation, nutrient deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity and assumed I had all of them. I treated myself without testing or guidance by taking specific micronutrients, mega dosing niacin and vitamin c, using detox methods like dry brushing and sitting in a sauna, and taking a zeolite product to bind to toxins. I started getting better; the anxiety subsided, I began sleeping better, and I started to feel like myself again. By November of 2019, I was kind of okay. I started tapering off the medication and stopped completely by February of 2020 (way too fast but somehow, I remained stable-ish).
That spring, I impulsively decided to start a group practice with a colleague of mine. We got a business loan, took over a huge, vacant building and renovated for months, doing everything we could ourselves. If I wasn’t seeing clients, I was painting, business planning, or detoxing. We opened to the public on June 15th, 2020 and all was well, for about a month.
Mid-July, I started to experience new and alarming gastrointestinal symptoms. I was constantly and painfully bloated and started throwing up, a lot. One night it was constant, I was sweating profusely, and losing consciousness. I ended up being taken to the ER by ambulance where they ran blood work and found that my white blood cell count was extremely high, my liver enzymes were in the 200s (normal is below 30 U/L) and did a CT scan which showed I had fatty liver disease. I was discharged without any treatment.
All of my psychiatric symptoms returned; this time way worse than the last. Carl and I tried to see it as a temporary problem, one that we could survive together. He stayed up with me night after night and tried everything to calm my body down, but nothing worked. By day four, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to the hospital hoping they would look for infections and other things that might be causing my symptoms. They refused, called the psychiatrist down, who put me on Chlorpromazine, a very old antipsychotic that’s rarely prescribed now, other than to get inmates to sleep. 
I was sleeping but deteriorating quickly. My digestive system completely stopped working, my period stopped, my skin and eyes were grey, I was swollen everywhere, and these were the least of my worries. I felt like a zombie, I couldn’t feel anything, I could barely figure out how to speak or get dressed, and worst of all, I felt no connection to Olsen or Carl. I knew how much I loved them but I couldn’t feel it.
I started having suicidal thoughts and making plans, which scared me enough to check myself into a psychiatric unit for a supervised medication adjustment. I left after two weeks on two new antipsychotics and Clonazepam.
By this point, I hadn’t worked or parented in months, my business partner let me know (while I was in the hospital) that she’d be buying out my half of the business since I’d been so useless, and I developed akathisia: a medication side-effect that manifests as a desperate need to be in constant motion. I literally could not sit down; I paced my house, alone, all day every day, with a clenched jaw, racing heart, and constantly thought about killing myself.
I started searching on Facebook for Fentanyl to overdose on and it didn’t take long for me to find. I picked it up and couldn’t wait to take it the next morning. I wrote letters on my laptop to Carl, Olsen, and my mom, hoping they’d eventually find them. But they weren’t heartfelt because I couldn’t feel a thing. I felt no sadness, no guilt, nothing. I wrote down what I thought people might write in these types of documents and tried to guess what might help my family know that I loved them, or at least I knew that I used to.
As soon as I was alone, I crushed up the tiny purple pill, snorted it, and hoped it would work. At the time, I didn’t even think about the fact that Carl and Olsen would find my dead body; I couldn’t think that much. Eight hours later, I woke up in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors, being pumped full of Narcan. It turns out my mom, who’s always had a witch-like quality of knowing when I was in trouble, sensed that something was wrong, broke into my house, found me in bed with blue lips, gave me CPR, and called an ambulance.
Not surprisingly, I was sent to another psych unit, this time involuntarily. I wasn’t allowed visitors because of Covid but Carl and my mom called and wrote to my assigned psychiatrist, explaining that this wasn’t me, that I had never been depressed or suicidal before, that they thought the medications were making things worse, and asked for different solutions. She agreed to a family meeting, which I wasn’t allowed to attend, and ultimately told them that they didn’t understand mental health and that all I needed was the right combination of medications.
I did my best to act like I felt better so that I could leave and get back to my original plan: dying. The day after I was discharged, I went to Home Depot and bought a rope. Carl was keeping such a close eye on me that he found it immediately and not knowing what else to do, he called the police who brought me to the Crisis Response Centre. They weren’t concerned enough to let me into the building during a pandemic, so I got to go back home.
I started to realize that my family wasn’t going to let me die when they decided I'd have to go live with my parents for a while, since my mom could be with me 24/7. I got back into researching, going over old bloodwork results and some functional medicine testing I’d done with a local naturopath. I considered the potential that an overgrowth of gut bacteria or fungus was messing with my brain chemistry. I was getting closer.
I started reading about the link between insomnia and toxic mold and remembered the leaks we’d had. Since I had no money of my own, I begged my parents to pay for an environmental test. They agreed and suggested I test my body as well. We ordered an ERMI test for the house and a Great Plains Mycotoxin test for my body. Both came back high with matching mold species.
I was relieved to have an answer but it also felt like an impossible problem to solve. Online mold “support” groups make it seem like it's impossible to recover; like you need to spend thousands of dollars on complicated treatments and overpriced doctors, like every home is horribly toxic, like remediation never works, and like any amount of mold exposure (which they call “cross-contamination”) has the capacity to derail any progress you've made. The only part that ended up being true for me was needing to move. The problem was, nobody in my life could grasp how the solution was more complicated than finding and removing the mold.
Once there’s mold growth, especially if it’s been growing for a while in the presence of an HVAC system, the entire home is likely to be full of mycotoxins. We discovered that the biggest patch of mold we had was in the laundry room where the washing machine overflowed and our furnace pulled air from. So, the mycotoxins were being spread all over the house every time the heating or cooling was on.
We tried a few things, remediating the area, deep cleaning, fogging, PCO machines and air filters, but nothing improved for me. At the time, I felt like we’d found the answer but nobody cared enough to pursue the solution. Carl is as sentimental as they come, losing that home was a big deal to him. I would have burned it to the ground in a heartbeat. So we stayed and I tried to believe I could get better there and but my hope and my efforts didn’t get me anywhere. Eventually the suicide attempts, police, hospital cycle repeated itself.
Now Carl and my parents were willing to get me out of the house. We found a 2-bedroom suite in a brand-new build in the area I grew up in, got rid of most of our belongings, and moved April 15th, 2021. We slept on 1-inch foam on the floor, ate sitting on the floor, had no money, but we did have hope.
I was committed to getting well. For months, “healing” was all I did. My days consisted of sitting outside morning, afternoon, and evening, grounding my feet, doing breath work, meditating, eating a low histamine diet, walking, doing yoga, taking boiling hot baths and freezing cold showers, doing castor oil packs, using a neti pot, and oil pulling. To my surprise (and that of the members of my mold group) I started feeling a lot better in a short amount of time. My sleep was restored from day one, I started looking and feeling more like myself within three weeks, I regained my physical abilities (although my body is now very good at letting me know when I overdo anything).
Overtime, I added in Block Therapy, retook Irene Lyon’s nervous system program (which honestly, I didn’t love the first, second, or third time I went through it), journaling, I started seeing a hypnotherapist and an IFS therapist. I started strength training and doing The Class. I bought a portable sauna and a red light therapy machine, I took NAC, PEA, beef organ supplements, shilajit, magnesium bicarbonate, Megaspore, increased my dose of reishi, and drank adrenal cocktails (all of which I still do today).
The biggest things for me were: replenishing the vitamins and minerals that I'd spent a lifetime depleting with diets, stress, exercise, and pregnancies, getting my detox pathways moving again, regulating my nervous system (actually doing it, not just knowing how to), learning how to really be with myself, and processing events from the past, in that order. 
I worked 1:1 with Brendan Vermiere for mold treatment and Julia Britz for medication taper support. I won’t share the specifics of their treatment plans since they were so individualized but I highly recommend them both for treating brain inflammation (essentially anything that conventional medicine calls “mental illness”). 
When I realized it might be a possibility for me to work as a therapist again, I retrained in each of the modalities that I use, practiced on Carl and my friends, and eventually, opened one appointment a day for new and past clients. It's all been uphill from there and honestly, sitting in my position as a therapist again was one of the most healing things I did. Having a sense of purpose and caring for other people is integral to being well. 
I know they say “healing isn’t linear” but it really has been for me. I’ve had little bumps in the road, but nothing that’s completely thrown me off track. I remain committed to prioritizing every aspect of my health, every single day; even my emotional health, and lately, my spiritual health but that's a story for another time. 
Alright! That was about 3000 words longer than I’d anticipated. If you’ve made it to the end, thank you. I hope there was something helpful for you in there; some new doors to consider opening or at the very least, a knowing that you’re not alone in your suffering and some hope that it is possible to recover from really horrible things. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you. 
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