Mental illness: Your stories
We asked for your stories on dealing with mental illness, and you responded – with touching, harrowing, hopeful personal recollections. Some of these are excerpted below, taken from a combination of email and phone interviews.
Do you have a mental illness story you want to share? Tell us.
“Stigma for mental illness is so debilitating it prevents most people from getting the help they really need.”
I don’t even know where to begin. I first really started noticing things weren’t right when, in my teens, my mother would keep self-admitting herself into the mental hospital. I wouldn’t know where she was, just that she was gone. There were three younger siblings living at home, no food in the house, no mom. … Forward years later; my mother was diagnosed with bipolar and schizo-affective disorder. While alive, she wreaked havoc on our family and places she resided. Today, I have bipolar and anxiety disorder. I have a sister that believes that she is being attacked every night by beings that are unseen. She has also seen aliens, and several UFOs, but there is nothing wrong with her. My brother believes that his ex is a prostitute being controlled by the mob. He lost custody of his children due to fighting (physically) with his ex’s partner, but there is nothing wrong with him. My youngest brother is continually losing his jobs due to his “clumsiness,” and when off work sits in front of his computer gaming 24/7; there is nothing wrong with him.
I’ve had to live a lifetime with a mother who wouldn’t deal with her mental health, despite her hospitalizations. I have “dealt” with my own, but often feel misunderstood in this even (and especially) from family members. My brothers and sister are all high-functioning. However, all vehemently deny that they suffer from (an obvious) mental illness. The stigma, to them, in dealing with it, is greater than facing the truth and dealing with it. Stigma for mental illness is so debilitating it prevents most people from getting the help they really need. Then, because they don’t get the help, it gets worse because it progresses. The system (mental health) isn’t always that great because they don’t understand or grasp what is going on for people, leaving people more frustrated, more misunderstood and often isolated. Mental health may have come a long way, but it has much further to go or improve.
“There is a severe lack of available treatment options”
I suffer from PTSD and an anxiety/panic disorder. I have had a couple of suicide attempts in my struggle with my illness. I was in counselling at the time and on medication. Several years ago, I think it was around 2006 or ’07, I was going through a very bad time and became suicidal. Instead of following through with my thoughts I went to the QE II [hospital] in Grande Prairie, where I was living at the time, seeking help. This all started in the late evening. When I went through triage and told the nurse what the problem was, she then sent me to sit in a room by myself and wait for someone to come and talk to me. It seemed like it took hours before someone came. I believe he was a psychiatric nurse or a social worker and we talked for some time. He left to check on a few things. When he returned he told me there was no room in their psychiatric ward for me and that they were going to fly me out to another hospital, and did I care where I went? I said I didn’t care where I went as long as I could get help. I was taken from the QE II by ambulance to the airport and was flown to Edmonton and then by ambulance to the Grey Nuns Hospital.
Things got very interesting once we reached the Grey Nuns Hospital. Firstly, I have to say that the [emergency medical technicians] with me were great and stayed with me the whole time I was at the Grey Nuns. They turned in my paperwork to the emerg desk and then the wait began. And we waited and we waited and then we waited some more. Finally one of the EMTs went to the desk to find out what was going on, ’cause they couldn’t leave until I was admitted. She was told that no one from Grande Prairie had called ahead so the hospital didn’t even know I was arriving and, second, that they couldn’t admit me cause there were no beds available. … Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, I got to speak to a psychiatrist. I don’t know how long we spoke but by the end of it I still was not being admitted and he was sending me back to Grande Prairie. I arrived back at the QE II hospital and was discharged.
There are so many things wrong with what happened that night. I will say that the QE II in Grande Prairie tried to help me and thought it best to fly me to a larger care facility and area. What went wrong: I was left alone in a small room by myself after stating that I was suicidal; I was flown to another facility when there should have been some way to admit me to hospital in Grande Prairie; the Grey Nuns would not accept my paper work from the EMTs; two EMTs were tied up all night babysitting me because the Grey Nuns refused to admit me; there were supposedly NO beds anywhere in Edmonton for me; after being flown out for treatment I was returned to the original hospital and basically had received no care any where and being left to wait in the emerg hallway all night where if it wasn’t for the EMTs there were any number of weapons available for me to hurt myself.
I have been hospitalized once since then in a small hospital in my home town. Things have still not gotten any better as far as treatment goes. I now live with my mother on a rural property by Rochester, AB. There is a severe shortage of psychiatric beds in Alberta hospitals. There is a severe lack of available treatment options in small town Alberta. In Westlock and Athabasca there is one psychiatrist that comes out from Edmonton and services both towns. There is a shortage of good quality counselling in most small towns in Alberta.
“I’ve lost many friends who do not understand why I can’t leave the house”
I have been struggling with MDD (major depression disorder) that is medication-resistant, along with severe anxiety disorder and PTSD. I tried hard to exist and just try to “fit into society.” I worked, ironically, always as a caregiver. Group homes, home care and at an AIDS hospice. I was fired from every job due to my depression. My family wants nothing to do with me because I acknowledged my illness and work on it. I’ve lost many friends who do not understand why I can’t leave the house, or run out of stores due to anxiety. Even one of my children says, “You just need to go for a walk,” not understanding I can do that with him as I feel safe, but not alone. No one seems to get how isolating and frustrating living like this is. Our oldest son comes to visit once or twice a week, and actually convinced me to leave my bedroom after 18 months because he was afraid I was going to die in there. I was always told I looked grey and frail. I’m on 47 yet have pain all the time. This affects every part of my body. Wish people could understand, ’cause some good friendships were lost. Thankfully, I have my husband, children, and dogs. Without them I don’t know if I would still be alive.
“Anybody can overcome something if they choose to”
Jessica considers herself lucky: She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder relatively early, as a teenager.
“I feel bad for some people – they get diagnosed a bit later and they’re in trouble already. So I was fortunate, you know?”
Jessica also wrestles with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, she says.
She’s getting treatment and counselling and is living on her own now. But some days are easier than others.
“I’ve had episodes. … I’ve done things to hurt myself and I wish I never would’ve done them,” she says.
Multiple times, she has tried to kill herself.
“I’ve been to the hospital too many times. I have to learn how to deal with this on my own.”
And despite years of trying to educate those around her, Jessica says she’s lost friends because of her illness.
“I don’t think people totally understand mental illness. They’re not aware of it and it is serious,” she said. “I’ve been told I’m messed up in the head. But it’s not my fault: I was born with it.”
Her fiancé understands, she says. They met through a friend and have been together two years now, she said. He gets that “you can be happy and the next minute you’re angry, and you’re angry at the whole world.”
Jessica spent several years working with seniors, and is looking for office work at the moment, she says. But job searches – not to mention interviews – can be “very, very tough.”
But ultimately, Jarvis thinks of her story as one from which others, finding themselves in the throes of mental illness, can draw hope.
“Talk to people. Talk to a psychiatrist, a loved one, a good friend,” she says.
“Anybody can overcome something if they choose to.”
Some stories may be edited for grammar or clarity. We’ve used first names only as some of the people we spoke with have not come out about their illness to everyone in their lives.
Tell us your story: Do you, or does someone you love, have a personal experience with mental illness you want to share? We’d love to hear it.
Note: Unless you tell us otherwise we may publish what you send us in this or subsequent stories.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, visit suicideprevention.ca for a list of resources. In case of an emergency, please call 911.