Chris Lewis describes the past 20 years of his life as a struggle.
Twenty years ago, Lewis, now 41, saw his life unravel. His mom was sick with cancer and his dad had liver problems that made him incredibly ill.
Lewis admits he was bullied growing up and thinks the trauma of that, coupled with the stress of his parent’s illnesses, triggered his own mental illness.
“It was like being hit with a virus,” said Lewis. “One minute you’re fine and the next minute you feel terrible. I was hit with it full-blown.”
Over the course of a few years, Lewis was diagnosed with and received treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
But those are just clinical terms. They don’t shed light on the gravity of living with mental illness.
“Let’s say you found out that somebody you care about has died. You got that phone call every day of your life, that exact same awful phone call. That’s what it feels like every day of your life when you’re suffering with mental health issues,” Lewis explained.
“It’s that feeling of horror and dread every single day of your life. You wake up with it, you go to bed with it and you try to escape this horrible feeling,” he said.
Twenty per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. About eight per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives, while anxiety disorders touch about five per cent of Canadians.
Living with mental health issues is hard for Lewis to describe, he told Global News. When his mental illnesses kick in, he feels a lack of energy set in.
Everyone has anxious moments, he said. Anxiety is another level.
“If you get into an argument with somebody, it could disturb you for a day or two but you’re able to function. Somebody like me, if I get into an argument with somebody, I ruminate. It can actually feel like, oh my god, I really f—cked up and I can’t focus on anything else and I can’t work or function and it feels like it’s sapping the life out of you,” Lewis said.
It takes him to his worst case scenario. If his landlord tells him he forgot to pay rent, he fears he’ll be evicted, he’ll lose his belongings, he won’t be able to secure another apartment and he’ll panic.
“I just won’t be able to do things, I’ll only lament because I’m so panicked,” he said.
No matter what strides Canadians have made in fighting stigma against mental health ailments, it still exists, said Lewis, adding he encounters it all of the time.
Lewis’ last hospitalization was at the end of 2015. With the help of medication, therapy and support from peers, he has picked up the pieces in his life.
He’s working. He practices skills to challenge his negative thoughts. During his dark days, his sole priority is to just get through the day.
He has a message to Canadians about mental health, too. It can be really difficult to tell if someone is suffering as they may seem to be doing well on the outside.
“They could be sitting at home with a beer and you think they’re having the time of their life and that’s not what’s happening. This could be the hardest time of their life – having mental health issues is very challenging. You wouldn’t wish it upon anyone,” he told Global News.
“Some people are able to hide it.”
Your peers grappling with mental health woes aren’t suffering on purpose, he said.
“People don’t understand, it can happen to anybody at any point in their life. People don’t expect that they’ll end up with a mental health diagnosis and they do. It happens,” he said.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.