Nikola's Recovery Fund

Our cousin/niece Nikola has been diagnosed with severe OCD which has evolved into an eating disorder. She is a talented, beautiful girl, who is going into her third year of university. 

She has been restricting her daily calorie intake to 300 calories and is purging up to three times a day. Her phosphate levels indicate muscle breakdown and she has had several syncopal episodes (fainting) with heart palpitations and fluctuating blood pressure. She is currently under 100 lbs.

She has been told repeatedly that she will kill herself if she continues in this manner, but she is helpless to stop without help. There is a heartbreaking lack of aid for people suffering from mental illness. Government funded resources are few and far between, She has been passed around from doctor to doctor- all of which have recommended inpatient care. The wait for a government funded placement in an eating disorder program can take up to a year or more. Emergency room visits treat only the medical concerns and she has been told "there is little we can do until your organs start to fail".

This is a dangerous predicament that is faced by too many. Nikola is a strong person who deals with her problems head on, but this is a battle that her brain will not let her win. She is asking for help- she wants to get well.

As mentioned earlier, there is an extremely long wait time through our health care system. Nikola cannot wait that long. She has been accepted into the Homewood Health Centre for the Eating Disorder program. This is a privately funded health care facility, and a 17-week commitment. The cost is a staggering $53,000.

Below is Nikola's personal essay on her journey with mental illness:

Personal Essay
Brain on Repeat

“Our ability to handle life's challenges is a measure of our strength of character” - Les Brown.

I can barely remember my life without the number nine coming up on a daily basis like there was a tape recorder on repeat in my brain. I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder early in 2014. I would wash my hands nine times and perform a nightly and morning routine that needed to be repeated nine times. It wasn’t until the Christmas holidays in late December, however, when things really became unbearable. That was when I started having the disconcerting feelings that nothing was real. Everything was in my head. I felt like I could reach through my stomach and feel my intestines through my skin. In my head, my parents, my friends, my life wasn’t real. I thought that this strange occurrence was just a one-time thing, but it wasn’t the end; it was merely just the beginning. Months later I would be diagnosed with a “derealization disorder”. It was bearable until it wasn’t. Once I felt I had completely lost control, I realized the longest journey I would ever travel would be within myself. So the journey began.

I started going to therapy and was directed to take various medications, but nothing seemed to work. My derealization “episodes”, lasting from fifteen minutes to hours on a daily basis, consisted of me screaming inside, finally crying for help and feeling entirely alone. Imagine being in math class listening to your teacher, working on your equations, then looking up and having no idea where you are; looking at your hands and wondering how they are attached to your body; looking through eyes that see a flat two-dimensional world, a world that is not real. It was in late February when I lost all hope of things getting any better. Unavailability of hospital beds and a particularly debilitating episode left me in a temporary adult hospital ward, where I was hospitalized for six days. Six days filled with nothing but medication and blood tests. Medication that sedated me to the point where I could have been a zombie in The Walking Dead. Multiple blood tests that terrified me - did I mention my phobia of needles? (A future story for another time.) A locked-down facility with video surveillance and a surprise naked encounter with my neighbor next door, clothes not being top on her list of priorities. Even through the medicated fog of lethargy I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to one of my all-time favorite movies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - I felt like Jack Nicholson’s character, an individual trapped in a peculiar place with other patients I was unable to relate to. Let’s just say we both got more than we bargained for.

I felt more alone than ever, isolated from everyone with no knowledge of what was happening to me. On top of these episodes, my OCD had taken a turn for the worst: nine times, nine times, nine times - it wouldn’t stop. It got to the point where I would have to wash each finger nine times nine. For the mathematically challenged, that’s a total of eighty-one washes for each finger, eight hundred and ten times for all ten digits. That, of course, was if I wasn’t interrupted; a sudden break in the process would necessitate starting right back at the beginning. In the mornings and evenings, my daily rituals would become more lengthy and involved. My overworked brain was stuck on repeat and it was becoming more and more difficult to find peace. I felt like a balloon that was filled beyond its capacity, ready to burst without notice. Dark obsessive worries would cloud my mind if I wasn’t allowed to perform my rituals in repetition. “It’s a chemical imbalance” was what I and so many others were told. To me, it was like being trapped in a maze of my own making, with no escape, drowning in my own thoughts. It was a dark time in my life, but what I failed to realize the entire time was that all I had to do was swallow my fears and open my eyes.

I was given a medley of different meds, each taking several weeks at varied dosages to work, until slowly, slowly I felt an improvement. Some days were better than others, but on the days I felt in control it allowed me to grow as a person. I, with the help of my parents, learned coping mechanisms to ground myself. My touchstone word was “Real”. A part of me had to assure myself of five things: I am Real, they are Real, life is Real, this is Real and we are Real. A mantra I will hold onto forever. There were days when I would come home from school with the word “real” written all over my body - on my hands, on my arms, even on the exposed knees of my ripped jeans. It reminded me that the world around me was indeed real, and not this two dimensional, unrecognizably skewed world that I found myself mired in. I used my self-determination to push through it. I was scared; I didn’t want to be scared. So, I found a solution. After more than a year of fear, I was finally gaining control. No more waking up in the middle of the night with obsessive thoughts trying to claw their way out of my head, or, alternately, having no idea where or who I was. I had finally gained control!

The medication had also highly improved my OCD, although nine remains a favorite number and I assumably continue to have the cleanest hands in North America. Yet, I feel that in the end, it was me who committed to the biggest changes and improvements in my life. I didn’t like my hands being cracked, aching and bleeding or waiting until the school bathroom emptied of people so that no one would witness my bizarre behavior. I didn’t like when other girls would laugh, or watch me wash my hands. I didn’t like how my biggest fear wasn’t death or pain but touching a doorknob. I didn’t want to wake up not knowing where I was or why my world was a scary, blurry place. I didn’t like feeling out of control. I felt weak and I didn’t like feeling weak, so I decided that it was time to face my fears.

I took it day by day. Even the slightest improvements were treated as if they were huge accomplishments and, to be entirely honest, they were. Today, I’ve gone months without a derealization episode and my OCD has greatly improved. Looking back on my experience I wish I would’ve had enough control to advise myself to breathe, take deep breaths and communicate. I would convince myself not to feel guilty for seeking help. I would advise myself to not push away or show hostility to those who were trying to offer help and I’d remember to have patience with myself when I didn’t feel I measured up to my own demanding expectations. What I did do, however, was gain self-confidence, strength, and determination for overcoming one of my biggest challenges. I learned to be aware of my surroundings and create a plan. I am proud of myself.

I’ve considered my life without these challenges that I, and so many others, have gone through. Would I be the same as I am today? In certain aspects, I think I’ve grown as a person, but I also discovered that I know less than I once thought I did and my perspective of life will never be the same as it once was. Everyone has barriers and challenges in their way. This was mine. I taught myself to realize that I can’t take back what had happened and I can’t change it. Today, I am aware that I wasn’t successful because I overcame it, but because I was determined to. I was successful because I never gave up hope. Certain situations may not be preventable, but I believe hope is the escape to the brain’s deception. I once feared time running out, the unknown and the world around me, but today I face my fears.

Although germs are still an army of enemies and doorknobs continue to taunt me, I feel as if I’ve grown my own defensive army filled with the people I love: my friends, my parents and my family who are ready to lend support at a moment’s notice. I am no longer fighting this battle alone, in my own mind. I gave it a name and brought it out into the daylight. There was a time when I felt that I wouldn’t get better, but as Les Brown once said, “Our ability to handle life's challenges is a measure of our strength of character”.

Nikola Roumeliotis


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Ally Roumeliotis 
Guelph, ON
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