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My Personal Story

By Lindsay Thompson
I remember with haunting clarity my first time on a psychiatric ward. I was 17 and scared and confused. My Mom brought me into emergency where I was admitted and brought upstairs to the psychiatric floor. It was night time and walking down that long, dark hallway to my room, catching glances from the other patients induced a fear and loneliness I’ll never forget. I cried all night. The next day, although, still scared and desperate to go home, I was less afraid. The ward was bright and the patients were “regular” people.

I’ve lived with mental illness all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 17 that I was diagnosed. I have schizoaffective disorder which is bipolar and schizophrenia at the same time. The bipolar component affects my moods. They swing from one extreme to the other; from depression to mania or mania to depression. Often, I am left hanging in an uncomfortable state somewhere between depression and mania. This is known as a mixed state, characterized by a negative energy, racing thoughts and severe agitation.

The schizophrenia part of the illness affects the types of thoughts I have and my interpretation of the world around me. From frightening images that bombard my mind to believing my thoughts are being broadcast to those around me, from voices whispering in my head to feeling followed, watched and even chased, from misinterpreting people and situations to knowing I am a bad person, an unworthy person; it all adds up to the painful existence that I deal with everyday.

There are medications that can keep these symptoms from getting out of control; however they never completely go away. A big part of my illness has to do with medication compliance. I’ve often stopped taking my medication… only to end up back in hospital. There are times when I’m complying with the prescribed medication regime and doing well when I get the idea that I no longer need the medications or that I never needed the medications or that in some way the medications are impeding my life. There are side effects to every medication and I’ve had to put up with many disruptive side effects.

Mental illness has had an impact on all aspects of my life. I’ve had to stop my life more than once because the illness had permeated my whole body and mind. There were points when I didn’t know what was me anymore. In high school I was forced to take a decreased course load and an extra year in order to graduate. I felt so ashamed. At the same time I lost all my friends: a result of misinterpreting situations, people and the subsequent withdrawal from everyone.

After my extra year at high school I spent seven months in a psychiatric hospital, which put off university. When I did finally get to university I did my best to be normal and to fit in. Unfortunately, I had stopped taking all my medications and was therefore very psychotic. I managed to get three credits, which is a big deal considering how sick I was.

When I was unable to continue at university I attended a program for people with mental illness. For five years, I spent my days working on activities of daily living, in the ADL program run through the local hospital. It lost funding and was shut down.

Currently, I live at home with my family. Even though I have forced them through many horrible experiences over the years, they are always there for me. I am lucky my family is so supportive. There is a lot of guilt that I harbour around my family and my illness. There have been so many instances and incidents that I know must have hurt, confused and angered them. If I could take back time and do things over, I would in an instant. As much as my life has been left in shambles, my family’s lives have been shaken as well. I can never forgive myself for what I have done.

I would like to be able to go to school, to work, and to support myself one day. Right now, I volunteer four mornings a week at a charity thrift store that employs people with mental health issues. I have a lot of anxiety when I am around people but I dream of one day having friends and relationships.

There is no cure for mental illness however there is hope and recovery. Consumers can become survivors. With the proper help from doctors, community programs, workplace accommodation and medication, people with mental illness can reach a state of recovery. Everybody deserves a place where they can function within society and feel good about themselves and their contribution to those around them.

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