Story Unfolding

Imagine a world where people offered assistance to individuals on the street who are hungry, who have no shelter and are in desperate need of medication.

Imagine a world where no one went without proper medication or support. Imagine a world where everyone is accepted for who they are and not for what they have been labeled or diagnosed as.

Well that’s the world I’m fighting for; a world where society’s perception of mental health has been transformed.

Growing up I never imagined the difficulties I would face. I came from a middle class family from North Toronto where my sister and I had everything we needed.  We had an easy childhood but like every family, we had our stresses. Ours included my parents separating when I was 10 years old and then reuniting within a year and a half. My brother, who was older than I, had been born with a Neuroblastoma on his spine and had to have surgery and radiation at the age of 6 months. There were complications resulting in multiple physical and mental disorders. Never did I think that the grief I felt surrounding my brother not being with us and the separation of my parents would be the source of my diagnoses with a mental illness

I was very depressed during high school and all I wanted was to be numb, so I turned to marijuana to self medicate. I loved the feeling of being high and wanted it all the time. I planned on quitting once I graduated high school, then in university I thought that I would only keep smoking until I graduated. Finally I stopped thinking about when I would quit.

After university I moved to Vancouver. When I first moved there, my life consisted of working during the day and coming home to an empty one bedroom apartment.Vancouver is known for the rain and at one point it seemed like it had been raining and gloomy for 35 days straight. The darkness seemed to take over and the only light I experienced was when I was smoking marijuana.

My parents knew something was wrong so my mother came to visit me. Within 24 hours of her arrival, she had me seeing a doctor. The doctor prescribed me antidepressants, which seemed to work. I was still smoking marijuana and began to think I could function without the antidepressants so I foolishly stopped taking my medication without my doctor’s supervision and I descended into a manic state. I was unable to find a reason to work or be responsible for myself or my life,  I began partying constantly and  I had no idea that the choices I was making would deeply impact my mental health.

After a few months I came home one morning only to find that my keys wouldn’t open the door. I was mad and angry and began banging on the door. Finally my roommate answered but wouldn’t let me in and he told me I needed to take care of myself, but at the time I didn’t understand what he meant.

My roommates had changed the locks on the all of the doors because they were so afraid of my erratic behavior and they felt they had to do something drastic. They acted and called my mother to come toVancouverand take care of me.

My mother and sister Heather came out hoping to bring me back toTorontoso they asked me to meet them at a local restaurant. Before I met them I asked a friend of mine to bring his video camera to the restaurant because I was positive my family had been cloned and that these people were not my mother and sister. I intended to use the video tape to take to the authorities as proof that someone had cloned my family.

This was the first time I remember experiencing psychosis. My world was totally make-believe; I had been hallucinating and having delusions for about two weeks. I was curious to understand what certain symbols meant; sometimes solid objects spoke to me and I believed I could speak back to them. I was carefree and a danger to myself and others. Risk-taking was a big part of my manic episodes and I took risks with my body, my health and my mind. All of this behaviour had the same end goal for me; I was craving pleasure and excitement which could only be found in my made-up reality.

At the end of the two week psychosis I found myself in a locked room. It had no windows and very low lights. The only furniture was a mattress on the floor. I wasn’t sure how I got there and nobody would answer the door or responded to my loud screaming or banging on the walls. This was my first night in the psychiatric ward at St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver.

It was here that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I moved home to Toronto and worked with a psychiatrist, underwent psychotherapy and began applying for all of the documentation I had lost during my psychosis. I needed for my life to get back to normal and I began working to figure out what was a normal life for someone who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

For me, it involves taking my medication every morning and night, regularly doing blood work and checking in with my doctor on a regular basis. It means learning as much as I can about mood disorders and sharing my experience with others.

The way I see it is when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness there are two paths they can take in life. They can either hide their illness and pray no one ever finds out or they can own it and take control of their life. After 12 years of hiding my mental illness, today I own it and share my experience with others. I am certain that this outlook has made me the woman I am today.

Since that life changing summer inVancouver I have been managing my diagnoses successfully and have been stable without an episode since 1997. I have been working full time for 13 years, enjoying a successful career in leadership coaching and facilitating.  I married the man of my dreams in 2003 and together we own a home. I take great solace in sharing my story with others and hope to ensure that their journey is lighter and less harrowing than my own.

Writen and presened by Leslie Bennett April 2008