I’m a professional living and working in Brantford. You may have seen me around town. You may have visited my place of work and used my services. We may have chatted, joked, and complained about the weather. I can’t tell you my name, because I have a mental illness and respect the wishes of my family to write this anonymously.
There’s your first hint about what it means to live with a mental illness, in my case Bipolar disorder. Making my diagnosis public would be an embarrassment to my family, and revealing it might compromise my credibility at work and my life in the community. Living with mental illness often means living in hiding.
I have been ill as long as I can remember. As a child, my depression was so bad that sometimes I couldn’t wait for bedtime so the pain would go away. As a teenager, my depression translated into an eating disorder, and I battled anorexia and bulimia for five years. Throughout my adult life I climbed in and out of what I call my black hole.
If you haven’t suffered from depression—and I’m willing to bet many of you reading this have—it’s difficult to explain. Friends called me a drama queen and tried to cajole me out of it. But when you’re depressed, there’s no easy way out. Once you’ve suffered for years, climbing out of the black hole seems harder and harder. Life feels like a jail sentence and you can’t wait for parole. If you have something or someone to live for you may keep going, but even then suicide is unbelievably seductive. For me, thoughts of death were often the only peace I could find in the midst of darkness. As I’ve told my family though, it was like looking through a catalogue for a vacation I couldn’t afford—I dreamed about it, but would never go there.
But that’s not all there is to Bipolar disorder. The other side, mania (or for me, hypomania—a less intense type of mania), is wonderful while you’re in it. Your mind races, you have boundless energy and barely need to sleep. The whole world is your oyster. You’re bursting with confidence. You’re the cleverest, most attractive, funniest person in the world.
So what’s wrong with that? That’s the question I asked when I was manic. It’s like being on a completely natural high. That is, until your confidence leads you to take risks and be reckless beyond anything your normal self would believe. For me, that meant extreme sports (and I had my share of injuries), reckless driving and unsafe behaviour, like walking the trails by the river at 2 a.m.
In mania, sometimes the buzz gets so high that you can’t follow what you’re thinking. I heard voices arguing at the back of my mind, making it difficult to concentrate on what was happening in the real world. I pushed myself so hard at work (even though my family begged me to stop) that I would collapse.
Then I heard Robert Munsch on the radio. He was talking about his own mental illness, the risks he took, and the depression he suffered. His diagnosis was Bipolar I. I made a doctor’s appointment the next day. For once I was honest, rather than hiding my symptoms out of embarrassment. I saw a specialist, and received counselling and medication. It was a tough road, but I made it.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Nothing I did had serious or permanent implications. I didn’t lose my job, max out my credit card, sell my house, alienate my family, or hurt myself or anyone else on the road. Most importantly, I didn’t commit suicide.
So if you’re one of those lucky people who’s never experienced a mental illness (or loved someone who has), remember that anyone around you could be suffering: the cashier at the grocery store, your child’s teacher, your plumber, or even your neighbour. I hope that one day we won’t need to hide, that mental illness will be as normal as diabetes, and that people who suffer will be seen as people, not problems.
Brantford Mental Health Week 2012 Schedule of Events
- Monday, May 7th, “Kick off to Mental Health Week” from 6-9 p.m. at the Polish Hall, 154 Pearl Street, Brantford. There will be entertainment, agency displays, presentations, art show and sale, light refreshments. Everyone is welcome. For more information, or to rsvp, call Diane at 519-752-5308, ext. 125 or Lill at 519-752-2998, ext. 112
- Tuesday, May 8th, “Breakfast of Champions” at the Greens of Renton, from 8 – 10 a.m. with guest speaker, Dr. Kathy Short, School Mental Health ASSIST. For more information, call Terri Culp at 519-587-2441, ext. 242
- Wednesday, May 9th, “Wellness Wednesday” from 5-8 p.m. at the Joseph Brant Learning Centre, 347 Erie Ave. There will be demonstrations and presentations by Darren Thomas; Dr. Michael Meade, Naturopathic Doctor; Anastasia Blackey & Gayle Myke, Reflexology Demonstrations. Children’s activities, agency displays, light refreshments. For more information, or to rsvp, call Cynthia at 519-756-2205, ext. 224 or Lill at 519-752-2998, ext. 112
- Wednesday, May 9th from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., Children’s Aid Society of Brant is hosting a “Mother’s Day Celebration- Rest and Relaxation” at Stepping Stones, Family Resource Centre, 50 Pontiac, Unit 36. For more information, call Leigh at 519-753-8681, ext. 438
-Thursday, May 10th from 9:30-11:30 a.m. the Children’s Aid Society of Brant is hosting a “Let’s Talk” Coffee time at Northland Gardens Family Resource Centre, 56 Memorial Drive, Unit 11. There will also be a Mental Health BBQ & Open House from 3:30 -5:30 p.m.at New Beginnings Family Resource Centre, 359 Darling Street, Unit 17. For more information, call Leigh at 519-753-8681, ext. 438
- Thursday, May 10th Six Nations Child & Family Services will be holding a Mental Health Family Fun Fair, from 5-7 p.m. at the Social Services Gym, 15 Sunrise Court, Ohsweken. There will be agency displays, activities for children, food and beverages and prizes. For more information, call Roger Vyse at 519-445-2950.
-Saturday, May 12th, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Brant County Branch is hosting, “Rockin’ for Mental Health Awareness” with Teenage Head at Alexanders Lounge, 187 Market Street. Tickets are $20. per person and are currently on sale at the following locations: Alexanders (in advance and at the door), Canadian Mental Health Association, Brant County Branch office, 44 King Street, Suite 203, Hips Cycle, 900 Colborne, Kreative Khaos, 298 Colborne, all Scotiabank Brantford locations. All proceeds go to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Brant County Branch. For more information, call 519-752-2998, ext. 112