Thank you! All of your support is greatly appreciated as we race towards out $60,000 goal. We wanted to share with permission a story of one of our clients that wishes to show that recovery is possible!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
There was a time when I lived without hope. Mental illness struck me at the heart of my youth. The University of Victoria had been my sanctuary for six months when the first symptoms emerged. And then slowly the storm intensified.
It started as mere rituals and preoccupations. Fixations with cleanliness, order, symmetry and personal appearance overtook my drive for academic achievement, and even the most insignificant triggers initiated the need to check, recheck and then check again. I cleaned, organized, tidied, checked, measured, scrutinized and preened, and then repeated the process over and over again. The anxiety followed me everywhere, carrying with it a sensation of a thousand pinpricks to my chest.
I was first diagnosed shortly before my eighteenth birthday. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I was put on an antidepressant and told it would take six to eight weeks to notice an improvement. That would prove to be too long a wait as a new preoccupation took hold. Paranoia.
By the time my second year at the University of Victoria came around, psychosis was in full swing. Fearing other students were gossiping about me and spreading rumors behind my back, I isolated myself from social connections. Hallucinations, both auditory and visual, intruded upon my attempts to maintain a tenuous scholastic journey. Sleep constantly eluded me. I paced back and forth across my small dorm room, immersed in suspicious thought and consumed by the nagging obsessions that cluttered my mind.
I spent four days in the psychiatric ward after uttering threats of suicide. It was the first of nearly twenty hospitalizations over the span of a decade.
After withdrawing from the University of Victoria, I sunk deeper into a well of despair. It wasn’t long before I succumbed to the grips of grandiosity. This is when the voices intensified to a deafening roar and suicidal ideation became a dangerous burden. Schizoaffective Disorder, the doctors called it.
I self-medicated to dull the throbbing melancholy before eventually being re-diagnosed, this time with a concurrent disorder. Yet despite continuing detachment from reality, I completed a degree in Economics from Simon Fraser University.
It wasn’t the hospitalizations that lead me to where I am today. Yes, they had been necessary to save my life, but I had been a victim of the all-too-common ‘revolving door syndrome’, falling through the mental health care cracks and unable to break the institutional cycle of frequent hospitalizations. The medications and accompanying side effects had lead only to non-compliance. It took a community treatment team to show me the path to recovery.
I was assigned to an ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team two years ago and from there my life took a remarkable turn. Together we created a medication regime I could tolerate and assessed a broad range of achievable goals which suited my ambitions. ACT offered me continuity of care unlike anything I had previously experienced. The team advocated for social housing, which provided me with a sense of independence that had been lacking since my days at the University of Victoria. With the help of a vocational therapist, I went on to complete a diploma in Business Administration and Commerce and began volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association to fulfill my aspirations of helping others who bear the weight of mental health challenges.
While ACT kept me out of the hospital, CMHA kept me moving forward. I had found an entire community of individuals committed to raising mental health awareness and promoting recovery. I gradually expanded my role within the organization, eventually finding myself involved with Community Outreach and Education, volunteer programs, Mental Health Information Navigation and the Ride Don’t Hide Committee.
Ride Don’t Hide, an annual community bike ride, founded to cast a spotlight on mental health and to tear down the walls of stigma, has great importance to me. Never before had I witnessed such unity for the mental health cause, such a celebration of recovery and such an effective forum for mental health discussion. This year, Ride Don’t Hide falls on Sunday June 21st, and I look forward to large crowds of riders who are collectively breaking the silence on mental health issues. I owe these riders much and hope my involvement in planning this event demonstrates my sincere appreciation for their generous acts of support.
CMHA was the beginning of my activation. They took me in, nurtured my strengths and taught me much of myself and my abilities. The person I am today stands in stark contrast to that patient I used to be. No longer lacking an identity, I know my purpose and it lays in eradicating stigma, educating the public and promoting hope in those who live in the shadows, the same shadows that nearly overwhelmed me.
Today, I look forward to the future, whatever it may hold. Although I try not to dwell on the past, I see great value in keeping the lessons of the past in the forefront of my mind. I have grown and been strengthened by these lessons. But now I look to what lays ahead. As Jack Kerouac wrote, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” And as I tread on down this road, I think, how grateful I am to have stepped out of the shadows and into the wide open world before me.