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Mental Illness – My Story

By Jeanne

Twenty-five years after I had left school, a mentor encouraged me to go to university.

In the fall of 1989 I enrolled at Woodsworth College at University of Toronto as a mature student.

I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in the spring of 1994, then entered the Masters of Social Work graduate program and graduated in the spring of 1996. However, it was a very stressful time with deadlines, papers, lectures, work and children to care for. Soon after I graduated, I became very ill.

I began to imagine things were happening to me, I would not eat; I was terrified of things for no reason. My family was alarmed, and suggested I see a doctor. I refused. This downward spiral began in August and continued through until December. By then I had lost thirty pounds, and was subsisting on water. My urine was bloody; I was weak and absolutely terrified.

Just before Christmas, I went to see my family doctor at my children’s behest, and he suggested I try an anti-depressant called Zoloft. I refused to take it.On Boxing Day, my children, fearing for my safety, called the police. They took me to Sunnybook Hospital to be admitted to the psychiatric ward for depression and psychosis.

Driving to the hospital in the back of a police car was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. And being admitted to a psychiatric ward was terrifying.

I was not mentally ill – I would not admit to having a mental illness. However, I was deemed to be mentally incompetent - which basically means you have no rights and you are at the mercy of the system. I spent about two months there and would not take any of the medication they prescribed.

Finally, my doctor wanted to give me a needle, and again I refused. However, I was told I could be forced to take it, and would have to go before a board to prove I was mentally competent. In the end, I decided to take it, as I felt I would have no chance before a board. I was discharged, and prescribed medication, which I again refused to take.

After being at home for about a week, I was unable to walk – a side effect of the injection. My sister called and said she was coming over to take me to her home.

The fact that I have such supportive and caring children, and a wonderful family, gave me the encouragement I needed to begin to take the medication and start on the upward swing to get well.

I was sick for approximately two years, before I really began to be myself again. It took much inner thought to admit that I had a mental illness, and upon reflection, that I had probably been depressed for most of my life, but I had always managed to sweep it under the rug and continue on.

The major stress of going through the MSW program, and other major responsibilities, had taken their toll, and caused me to have a breakdown.

When I was well again, I began to volunteer, and began to like my life - probably for the first time. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful doctor who encouraged me to reach out. He recommended me for a peer support position on a community action team. I have been with the team for over two years now, and it is the most positive work experience I have ever had.

I work with a team of professionals who are second to none and together we work with people who have had similar experiences to mine. We offer support, encouragement, and understanding to people who suffer from severe mental illness, and our mandate is to try to keep these people out of the hospital if at all possible.

My job is to motivate people with difficult issues such as treatment, non-compliance of medication, side effects, jobs, family relationships, and much more. Peer Support workers are also known as consumer survivors, and we are now being recognized as support to the psychologically challenged as well as to our team members.

I am currently on medication to treat my illness, and I no longer feel I need to hide the fact that I suffer from depression. I have learned to be forthcoming with that information in the hope that it will help someone to realize that mental illness is just another illness like all the others, and can be treated. Oh, the stigma is still there, but it is dissipating with education and treatment coming out into the open.

People who suffer from mental illness can lead productive and happy lives, with support, encouragement and the treatment that we all deserve. I am living proof.

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