How Wallpaper Saved My Life

How Wallpaper
Saved My Life

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Life is full of beauty and pain, and here I am in the midst of it.

My Story


An Irish Shrink meets Stan meets Retro Mint

It is the morning of THE CALL WITH PSYCHIATRIST, thank you covid (this time). I didn’t have to get myself to his office. I couldn’t even imagine having the strength to move myself into a vehicle, follow Google maps, and arrive safely.
I had made some pre-emptive notes and steps (highly unusual) for myself.
I was going to take it with my coffee.
I was going to be calm.
I was going to be articulate.
I was going to advocate for myself ‘appropriately’ (whatever that means, but everyone tells you to do this).
I was ready.
Phone rings:
“Emma here.”
“Good morning Emma, Dr. O’Ryan here.”
Dr O’Ryan looks and sounds just like you would imagine. He is an older Irish gentleman with the manners of the Queen, not that I know the Queen, but if I did know the Queen, I feel like Dr. O’Ryan could be her psychiatrist, too.
“Yes,” I croak.
“So, tell me what’s been going on?”
Oh, no.  Not this, anything but this – total – body – shutdown.
All expectations ruined. I can’t even get the words out, can’t find the words anyway, all I can do is put the phone on speaker and lay it on top of my duvet.
“Sorry Dr. O’Ryan.”
“Emma, Emma? You’re ok, you are ok.  Why don’t you start by telling me what has been going on.”
Breathe, stare at the birds on my bedroom wallpaper.
“Emma, talk to me, you’re ok.”
“I think … I think”, I squeak out. Stare at swirls around the birds on my wallpaper.
“You think …?”
I examine the colour of the birds on the wallpaper. It is such a beautiful retro mint. This colour is not used enough in design.
“ …You?” He nudges.
“I have been thinking a lot …”
“ … A lot about what?”
”That I am so so sorry I missed our last two appointments … I don’t mean to disrespect your time,” tears dripping into my mouth. “I just didn’t want to think it was this bad.”
“Ok, well we are here now. What is so bad?”
“I have been thinking a lot about buses.”
I grab a dirty t-shirt off the floor and blow my nose.
“How good it might feel to have it, well, you know …”
“ … know what?”
GAWD he was going to make me say it. I knew he would, because he has to. I think it is in the How to Be a Good Psychiatrist manual.
“How good it might feel, to have it you know, hit me … flat on … but quickly.”
Having it be quick is always somehow a little bit comforting to me, like, I can’t be toooooo depressed if I want a quick painless death?
A pause.
A sob.
“I see …”
This is followed with the conversation I have been dreading. The one where I need every neuron in my brain to be disciplined to be honest. I have to not give in to the urge to gloss it all over with a joke (the need to laugh it off is REAL, my friends).
To not hide my actions of my recent blip, my overwhelming sense of shame and my extreme fear that I would feel like this forever. This, from my experience, is one of the MOST difficult feelings to come to terms with when you are depressed. The fear that living in these thoughts forever could be a possibility. That this could be your LIFE. This I know is why kids are more vulnerable to suicide. At least as you grow up and work yourself through depressive episodes, you start to develop some resilience. I now have a grain of faith that relief may be possible and, ‘the may’  is, well, everything.
We review my existing diagnosis of clinic depression/borderline personality with bi-polar tendencies i.e. nobody really knows. This is another issue for many of us with mental illness: we do not fit into a box. Boxes would be way handier because they look prettier when you wrap them and they are easier to open. And who doesn’t like pretty things? Nice furniture always cheers me up.
Random thought break: If I am honest, I miss being able to wrap Christmas presents in boxes because it IS worse for the environment but they are SO much prettier … unlike Stan. Stan is starting to look like some kind of mobster. He has too much body hair, balding with a mustache, not super original but I am going there. And he yells a lot. Like spitting in your face but not on purpose. Or is he a creepy sociopathic dude? Like well dressed, high level employment but is secretly doing very mean things … not sure yet.
Back to my call with Dr O’Ryan. I manage to stay mentally present long enough to go through the necessary exchange to establish a game plan. We are going to add drug D into the mix which I will take at night and should, at the bare minimum, help me get some sleep. We will meet again in 14 days to review side effects and establish a game plan for ‘reviewing’ (i.e. changing) my medication protocol.
I hang up the phone.
My brain swirls with something that could maybe be described as relief.
Maybe I am not making this pain up.
Maybe ‘this’ isn’t because I am not trying hard enough.
Maybe, just maybe, relief will be possible.
And ‘possible’ will have to be enough for now. Possibility is not nothing.
I lean back, and take note again of my beautiful wallpaper.
Now wallpaper, unlike this brain of mine, has never let me down.
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Just a Little Oblivion Please?

““Are you ok?” Oh my god no, but for the purpose of this conversation yes I’m fine.“

I have made valiant attempts at achieving oblivion every night. Sleep is the holy grail for most people with mental illness, and I am in no way unique.

Sleep is so hard to come by, and good sleep is even harder. Please do not mention melatonin, it sucks for people like me. I once took 15 out of curiosity and literally nothing happened. I supposedly had good drugs to help me sleep, what one would call the good stuff: Drug A for anxiety (trying to squash the stepping-out-in-front-of-a-bus scenario) and Drug B for the supposed night-time oblivion (never happens).

As things got worse and worse in my brain, I would slowly add a few things into the mix. Usually this meant some Drug C, Drug D, and if I had an inkling of a cold, some Neo-Citron nighttime. This should be enough drugs for most people to sleep through anything. Like one of the characters in movies who slowly wakes to realize they have slept through the zombie apocalypse. Wouldn’t that be the best sleep of your life? I digress (#ADD).

It is mostly accepted that depression is hard to fight, and even harder to fight if you can’t sleep. If your brain can’t rest, it is not going to help your serotonin levels. As your depression worsens, so does your sleep. To add fuel to the fire, this tends to worsen anxiety because as you are trying to rest, which is nearly impossible, you are worrying about tomorrow: “How the fuck are you going to survive, if you don’t get some sleep?!”

Unfortunately, my pharmaceutical combo was barely taking the edge off Stan, setting me up for more nights of extremely mediocre sleep. Meaning at least four trips to the bathroom, reading with my flashlight in the middle of the night until my husband would wake up in frustration that I, checks notes, woke him up by reading? (Not sure I buy that one.) Usually by then, I would just give up completely and go downstairs to watch something boring on Netflix. It had to be boring because hopefully boring will help you fall back asleep. At some point, a child would wake me up in the morning looking for food which would force me into the vertical position which became a huge accomplishment.

So, sleep was bad.

This is normal for clinically-depressed people. Every survey you take will ask you about sleep, and here is the BIG BUMMER: You can’t sleep but you CAN’T WAKE UP EITHER. Most mornings my husband would say, “Just get up, you are up anyway”. This is so crazily irritating because A) it is true and B) is NOT true.

Explanation: When my husband says this, I experience it as: “Get up, you lazy ass. What is your problem?” It is not his fault; he is just a very practical person. My other, gentler voice just starts begging, “Please, please, just let me rest. If I just keep my eyes shut a little longer, maybe I will want to get out of bed. If I can doze just a little longer, maybe, just maybe, my brain will steer towards life, and living, again.”

And most importantly, I will want to open a wallpaper book again.

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I Was Going To Tell You This Before (#ADD)

“If you think it’s bad now, in 20 years this country is going to be run by people homeschooled by day drinkers.“

Circling back to my call with my psychiatrist.

At this time it wasn’t like I didn’t know I was depressed/manic. I had gone through all the questions: the wtf? How is this happening again? Why, why me? And all the pleading: Please, please God, no (I’m an Atheist and yet God always comes back into the picture in these moments), just please don’t let Stan back into my life.

But slowly and surely, Stan crept back in. 

He was invading my every thought and every orifice until I had to admit that my medication had ‘pooped out’ (this is actually a medical term that is funny – a rare treat). Essentially it means that your body has become resistant to your meds or the combination of your meds, which of course at 48, I had a healthy combination of.

Everything, everywhere, all the time was overwhelming. A bad review, a good review, a new idea, an old idea (was it ethical to use the same wallpaper twice – nail bitter), the state of the world,  not finding my underwear. You name it, my brain could attach a very long list as to why any and all of those things could mean that the world was coming to an end. It also meant it was becoming harder and harder just to get out of f’ing bed. Like soooooooo hard. Like being forced to run a marathon with no actual physical preparation (or what I can imagine that would feel like given I would never actually run a marathon – I am not that crazy) (yet;-)).

I didn’t realize how depressed I was until a little ‘blip’ happened.  

I knew I was fucking depressed, but who wasn’t? Sometimes it is hard to ‘fit’ depression into life’s daily sprint. You know, the daily sprint that somehow I am still totally confused by, stuck in, but I believe I signed up for, on purpose? The house, the job, the marriage, the three kids, the mortgage, etc.

It’s not like anybody I knew was T-H-R-I-V-I-N-G. Almost three years of pandemic parenting, anxious teenagers with their own mental health issues to cope with, and a ‘I hope she is surviving all this neglect because the other two need so much right now’ third child. Life was hard. Even for the lucky ones (which I constantly remind myself I was), it was just a daily grind until you could finally justify crawling into bed to watch Netflix and stare at your wallpaper behind your TV (hot tip: don’t be afraid to hang things on wallpaper).

I had hoped a lifetime of mental health management had given me something called ‘insight’. And yet … here I was again. Right into it. The thought … this thought that just would NOT leave my brain. Every free moment of my brain is sinking right into this … this beautiful, simple, increasingly comforting thought: What if I could just get hit by a bus?

Not just any bus.

It had to be an older model City of Ottawa bus.

It had to be at night.

It had to be just the right timing.

It had to be going fast enough.

It had to be empty.

With a wide flat front.

Did I mention going fast enough?

And I just knew,

Just knew,

If it was fast enough,

Maybe complete oblivion was possible.

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Trying To Take That First, Can I Do This, Step

“The Challenge I am doing this month is called November and it’s just where I try to get through every day in November.“

Pre-nervous breakdown #4, I woke up and started my usual routine. Screamed at kids to eat, brush their teeth (novelty) and get out the door to school. I knew I needed them out of the house, because today was the day I had put off for a long time. Desperate times called for desperate measures: I was finally going to have a call with my psychiatrist.

Not surprisingly, I was dreading this call. I had already missed three scheduled appointments. This is not something one does with public health care providers. Psychiatrists are like GOLD and hard to secure. I had many friends who tried to manage meds with GP’s, and it can be really frustrating for both sides. You end up explaining the various side effects of mixing Brand A with Brand D, that you’ve already tried Brand C and Brand B gives you the shakes and diarrhea. This is never overly reassuring, but you will TRY ANYTHING, so you do it anyway.

I was mildly hopeful and terrified he wouldn’t call because I knew the time had come. The time to be actually truthful, honest, and completely transparent, about how much I was thinking about dying. This round of suicidal ‘ideation’ – as it’s referred to in the medical world – sounds much kinder than it feels. It is how mentally ill people fantasize about death (I have actually been unable to stop myself from telling my friends that if I ever end up on my death bed and I am not surrounded by wallpaper, this would make me very sad). If only wallpaper came in a form of Prozac, all would be better).

All this to say I have long ago given up the illusion of a drug-free mental health ‘path’. And trust me, I have tried. I have drunk the Kool-Aid, I have sat with the birds, climbed the mountains, swam with the dolphins (false, but would have been nice). I have attempted everything in my Google search world to attempt life medication free. Because taking medication for a lot of us adds to our sense of failure, which we are already great at doing all by ourselves (look at me being positive about being good at something).

I do believe that some of us have to go through this process to feel totally, firmly 100 percent ok to tell people we are on medication. That for some of us the choice is medication or death. I am not saying this for dramatic effect, but for a very simple reason.

If you are me, 20 years ago or now, and your doctor’s recommendation is to try medication – please give yourself permission to take the medication. We, along with all humans, deserve to experience joy, the capacity to handle our thoughts, and not live in our thoughts. Thoughts, for many of us, feel like the world is closing in all around you. My rational mind knows this. Humans are allowed to experience life, at least on occasion, through joy, even pleasure, rather than pain. Given the quest for some sort of joy, this question has inevitably plagued most of us who struggle with mental wellness:

To Take Medication or Not to Take Medication?
(This Should Not Be a Question)

For reference, I thought it would be fun to share with you things I have tried (in no particular order) to remain drug-free. Please also understand that this was before I had been introduced to the glories of wallpaper. Who knows, wallpaper may have saved me from some of this shit:

  • No sugar (of course they make you try this)
  • No carbs (of course they make you try this)
  • Candida diet (Google it, it’s horrifying)
  • Daily Yoga (or 3 times a week)(or once)(or once every 2 weeks)
  • Daily Meditation (honestly, who can do this?)
  • Energy Healers (Apparently my 3rd chakra is really fucked up)
  • No alcohol (so give up fun)
  • (Read carefully) Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time EVERY day (Who can do this? Monks?)
  • Minimum of 20-minutes of cardio 5 times a week
  • Going to Church (I know)
  • Squirting grapefruit seed extract up my vagina (yep, did this too)

Needless to say, I have attempted life without medication. Most of us have some sort of preoccupation with the shame around taking medication. This shame has, not surprisingly, led me to multiple long dark episodes. These episodes have robbed me from so many things that I have to discipline myself not to think about them. I have to put them in a locked part of my brain and pretend they don’t exist.

Episodes I am desperate for my children to avoid, and many, many regretful moments with my husband. My husband has always borne the brunt of the most devastating consequences of my breakdowns. My brother, best friends, parents, and family were also not spared. Moments that, when I feel I deserve to feel awful, I go to, to remind myself of the awfulness because this is what is still so shitty: My brain still kind of wants to feel shitty because it can still feel safer to feel bad, than to feel good.

Now, well entrenched into my 40s, I am finally firmly in the camp that medication saves lives. I try to not blame myself for my brain not producing serotonin, especially when there are so many other FUN things for which to blame myself! Medication certainly has not ‘cured’ my depression who, by the way, I am thinking of naming ‘Stan’. Stan still wants me to listen to him, he wants to be heard, and is extremely difficult to ignore. (Also, I am liking calling him Stan – sorry to the Stan’s out there but to me, this name sounds like an asshole).

What medication has allowed me to experience are parts of my life in what I assume is a ‘normal’ frame of mind. I feel sadness, but I can bear it, and I can treat it with empathy, understanding, and remind myself that it may pass. I can laugh out loud, relish in my obnoxious, and – oh so beautiful friends, feel hopeful and proud of my family, and experience the world (at least some of the time) through light.

Bless a non-drug-free life 😉

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Emma Doucet

CEO, Principal Designer,

Grassroots Design and Build


Founder and head Designer, Emma Doucet opened Grassroots Design & Build in 2012 after taking first place in House & Home Magazine’s budget-conscious design contest. Emma left her government position to open Grassroots and hasn’t looked back (ok…. maybe occasionally… reliability is not nothing!). Her designs reflect this belief in taking chances. She’s known for her use of bold colors, beautiful patterns, playful furniture pairings, natural materials, and her greatest love of all: wallpaper. Emma’s design aesthetic is grounded in her belief that beauty and function go hand-in-hand.  She has received numerous awards over her decade-long career. 

Emma’s approach to design has been shaped by being a busy mother of three. She understands that living spaces need to evolve along with us as we move through different stages of life. Emma meets her clients where they’re at in their lives, designing with one eye to the future, while celebrating the past. She firmly believes that good decor and renovations start with imagination (a nod to her lifelong role model, Anne of Green Gables) and finish with impeccable custom construction. Emma is trailblazer a a women CEO in Ottawa’s construction industry. She’s worked tirelessly to make the field of construction more accessible to women.  She would be happy to talk your ears off about this issue if you give her an opening 😉

Emma is also a passionate champion for mental wellness. She is an advocate for safe working environments and housing for all those recovering from mental illness. Emma understands the critical importance of needing safe spaces for healing from her own ongoing struggles with the disease. You can read more about Emma’s experience with mental wellness on her blog “How Wallpaper Saved My Life”. 

Born and raised in Ottawa, Emma’s lifelong mission is to help remove all the stigma that surrounds mental illness and, to promote through her designs that Ottawa is not always conservative…. one reno at a time 😉

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