8th Feature Story: Adventures of a Survivor

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I suffer from depression. I am like many of my fellow Canadians – one in five, in fact. But my illness does not define me.  It is not who I am. It is, however, a big part of my life and it may have made me a better, more empathetic person than I would be if I hadn’t experienced this.

I have lived through a 20+ year struggle with depression and anxiety to varying degrees, including two major depressive episodes (back in the day we called this as a good, old-fashioned nervous breakdown). It has been tempting at times to give in to the pain, to just stop fighting and give myself up to the darkness. But I have always held onto hope, even in the bleakest of moments.

Why did I survive? How come I didn’t give in to the siren song of suicide? I was lucky because I have always had people around me that I could talk to, people with whom I could share the dark realities of my illness: the incessant guilt, the sense of worthlessness, the temporary loss of cognitive abilities, and the physical manifestations. These were people whom I knew cared for me and loved me and they didn’t hesitate to remind me. But that’s only one part of my own personal recipe back to mental wellness and recovery.

In 2011 I experienced the second major depressive episode of my life. In addition to the friends & family who were there for me, my employer understood that mental illness is a real and very serious thing. Thankfully, I had a benefits plan that supported me through a four month disability leave, medications (yes, more than one at the time), and cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychiatrist. Yes, I was lucky, very lucky.

Not everyone has this support, sadly. Some are afraid that if they share their struggles with friends, family or their employer they will be judged. Some are afraid that nobody will understand. And you know what? Too often they are right.

For far too long now mental illness has been a topic rarely raised during conversation. When it is discussed, it’s usually in whispered tones. Well, I refuse to accept the shame attached. I simply refuse. While recovering in late 2011, I decided to do something. I felt strongly that my suffering should somehow become something positive. From that my blog, Adventures of a Survivor, was born.

Part personal therapy tool, part voice in the fight to eliminate stigma, the blog has become a living thing that inspires me to look for the good in difficult times and to live my truth. It’s not always easy to do that but it’s so worth it. In addition to this I now work as a community correspondent with Partners for Mental Health, a not for profit organization, to raise awareness about mental health issues.

Until we start speaking openly about mental illness we will never break through the walls of misunderstanding and misinformation. The people who don’t ask for help often go untreated or worse, they don’t make it at all. Losing a life to depression is unacceptable. We have the resources to treat this illness.

Here are some staggering statistics that illustrate why we have to take action:

* One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime and one in three will suffer in silence. ~ Mental Health Commission of Canada

* A 2008 poll found that only 50% of Canadians will tell a friend that a family member has a mental illness while 73% would disclose a cancer diagnoses. ~ Canadian Medical Association

* Only 5.5% of our health care dollars in Canada are dedicated to mental illness. ~ Canadian Mental Health Association

If you are suffering from mental illness please seek support, both from friends or family and from a medical professional. By its very nature, depression can make you feel all alone.  You are not. A doctor can help you decide the best course of treatment for you. If you were diagnosed with cancer you would seek treatment, right? If you broke your leg, you would get a cast, right?

Please join me in my fight for understanding and compassion for those struggling with mental illness. Healthy people build healthy communities. Don’t you want to be a part of that?




twitter: @kristinbower

About Michelle Clark Bipolar Bandit

I am a strong advocate for the mentally ill and have been since I was first approached by a lawyer in a psychiatric facility as a teenager. He wanted me to help him fight how the mentally ill are mistreated. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17 after a full blown manic episode. Before that, I suffered from debilitating depression for 4 years. My goals are to help others by sharing my story and providing tips to deal with mania and depression. I often write blogs related to advocating for people like myself. I want to encourage, inspire, and educate those with #bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses and also include inspirational #quotes. I founded the group Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses and the page Mental Health Advocates United and have several social media sites that are related to bipolar disorder and/or advocacy. If you are an advocate or would like to be, I hope you join our FB group: Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses
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2 Responses to 8th Feature Story: Adventures of a Survivor

  1. suzy venuta says:

    Great woke and wonderful words of wisdom. I did a presentation to a grade 11 psychology class on living with Dissociative Identity Disorder and I have also suffered with depression. I told the young students that they can make a difference, they can start by getting a dialogue going and that mental illness is not a character flaw and that they are not alone and there is hope. yesterday I received a card from the class and one person put on how I have given him hope of getting better, the teacher later told me that he and 2 other students went and found a therapist within a week. This is a great blog, keep up the good work and thank you for being brave and courageous and speaking your truth.
    be well

  2. Wendy Dixon says:

    Thank you for your courage in speaking out. I have the ability to go into altered states of consciousness. I have been lucky because although I have certainly experienced some lows not the despair and total shut down of some of my close friends and colleagues in recovery. After 20 years I am healthier then I have ever been and medication free. I embraced mainstream beliefs but I never stopped seeking alternatives. Never stop searching and reading and believing that full recovery is possible. We do not know the cause of these perceptual cognitive changes and I believe there are millions of difference causes. Leave no stone unturned on your personal journey. I suggest you go to truehope.com and listen to our colleagues stories there and read Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic to round out your knowledge. Full recovery is possible. The brain is an amazing organ.

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