I frequently find myself coming across a variety of blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets claiming that it is Mental Health Awareness week, followed by a plaintive plea to repost, and the skeptical starting line “I know most of you won’t…” which all seem to be posted at different times of the year. Doing some research will turn up the proper dates, but the exponentially increasing appearancfe of these messages strikes a resounding chord for me and, I hope, more of the public than ever.
Following Scott Hastie’s recent editorial regarding his choice to take some time off from the pressures of university life to tend to his mental health, and Amanda Watkin’s candid account of her own struggles with anxiety and depression, I offer you this piece as a source of inspiration and unification. There is a too-often over looked and highly stigmatized aspect to our capacity for a healthy and happy life; our mental health; and it is time that all of us rally behind the alleviation of this, mostly silent, suffering.
I will resort to the action word embedded in this column’s title and make my own confession. Some time ago, I was in something of a reverie wandering down Lakeshore Boulevard by Spencer Smith Park in search of someone. I remember the streetlights having an eerie glow about them and everything moving in wishy-washy sand animation style. I felt an intense weight on my chest and found it difficult to breathe, almost hyperventilating. Tears were falling down my face. Those tears were icy cold in October.
Thankfully, some chemical in my brain, or some memory of my little boys, overtook the emotional meteor shower I was battling through and I snapped out of this fantasy world and back into cognitive reality. I wasn’t just searching for anyone, I was searching for my girlfriend who had gone out with her friends for some drinks. I had been walking around the streets of Burlington in the cold for hours full of morbid jealousy and a fear that my world was going to end.
I was filled with dread, a feeling like tomorrow wouldn’t come. I hated myself and didn’t know what kind of mischief I would be capable of, so, thinking of my little boys, my mother and father, my girlfriend and her daughter, I yanked my phone from my pocket and Googled “I want to kill myself help Burlington.”
COAST was the first number I found. I called them. A kind lady on the other end of the line talked me down, and convinced me there was no shame in visiting the ER at Joe Brant hospital, as they are fully equipped with a crisis intervention team trained for just these kinds of circumstances and, in fact, have a Mental Health Urgent Care Center attached. I made my way into the ER. I was given the help I needed.
I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a highly misunderstood disorder that hangs on the borderline of most psychiatric diagnoses, somewhere between psychosis and neurosis, displaying symptoms of both. It is identified by the individual displaying at least five of the following nine symptoms: an intense fear of abandonment and frantic efforts to avoid it; a disturbed or fragmented sense of self; a pervasive instability in relationships; a deep, inexplicable, and chronic feeling of emptiness; emotional instability and dysregulation; recurrant suicidal or self-harming behavior; impulsivity (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, etc.); inappropriate, intense anger; and transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms. I qualified on all 9 of the symptoms.
The psychiatrist, a kind and quirky fellow by the name of Alfred Amaladous (I feel the need to precede his name with a respectful ‘sir’), asked me a series of questions while taking notes quite attentively. After 30 minutes, a look of sincere certainty washed across his face and he laid down the symptoms in a gentle and friendly manner. He introduced the idea by asking me what my favorite sports car was, to which I replied “a Maserati”.
“Well, Richard,” he continued, “you have the emotional engine of a Maserati,” smiling in a very comforting and accepting manner. “Everything you feel is at 220mph, no matter how far you are pushing down the pedal. It must be very difficult. You’ve been going through this for so long.” He concluded by looking directly into my eyes with a genuine empathy and understanding, the likes of which I had not experienced in all of my 37 years, at least not from someone who was not directly tied to me biologically.
So I began a path to freedom. A path of healing, restructuring, and rebirth.
The team at Joseph Brant’s Mental Health Outpatient facility has been nothing short of a miracle (this coming from an atheist). Each step of the way I have been provided a framework, and tools to pick up the millions of pieces and put them into place to begin making some kind of sense of where I have come from, where I am going, who I was, and who I can be. There are many professionals capable of making a massively positive change in the world, and I have been fortunate enough to have been one of their patients. There are those of you attending this school that will have the fortune of playing their role. I intend to be one of them. There are also those of you who have experienced a mental health crisis. This is a missive to both. Both sides of that coin must hold their heads high, as there would not be one without the other. Those who are suffering are not limited but, perhaps, better positioned to provide a deeper and more substantial offering to others. Here I reach my hand out to you. Humbly. As others have done for me, and as I know I will need again.