Photo credit: Ed Bowron
A wise man once told me that everything is just a story until you've lived it. For most people - for me - that's what Mental Health was. A story. It was real and potent, and it hit close to home, but I didn't think it was a big deal. There was help for those people - no problem. But there is a problem, and it's sitting right there in my last sentence: "those people." Mental illnesses and disabilities - they are treated as "Other" and kept at a distance. There is a picture of what we think mental illness looks like, and we measure ourselves, our comparative health, against it. I had this in my mind, an image of what mental illness was, and it was not me.
I am a white, heterosexual male from a stable Christian home. Aspiring to be a doctor, my academics are excellent, my talents many, and I am a nationally recognized student leader. I convinced others - hell, I convinced myself - that I was successful. Normal. Healthy.
But for more than two years, I've at times found myself with racing thoughts, incredible swings in my mood and energy, difficulty concentrating, uncontrollable impulsiveness, and an overwhelming sense of emptiness. My relationships were torn apart, the people I cared for most seemed utterly distant, and my life felt like the whole world was crumbling around me. And even then I didn't realize there was anything wrong. That image - that picture of mental illness - that wasn't me. Me, I was successful.
That is the power of stigma. A power whose hold on me would not be broken until I had finished writing my suicide note and leaving my residence in the middle of the night.
I've come a long way, and I'm not looking for pity or kindness. I'm saying these things with the hope that the power of stigma - the power that nearly killed me - will be broken.
Among other things, I have bipolar disorder, and if you want to talk with me about it, or about any mental illness, I'd be happy to chat about it. Not that it defines me... rather, if can use my experience to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and illness, then I will gladly do it. Because mental illness isn't just that picture... it could be anyone, and if one in five Canadians is going to experience some form of mental illness this year, then it really could be anyone.
It's time to start talking. It's time to break the stigma.
As for me, I can say, for the first time in far too long, I am well. And Mental Illness picked one hell of an opponent.
So let's start sharing, your stories and mine. Let's get to work.