Real Talk on Let’s Talk: This is Mental Illness

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day.

For this day, Ontario Shores asked me to give this audience a real idea of what mental illness looks like for people. Well, actually, I wanted to give you a sense of what mental illness looks like from my perspective.

You start crying, a lot. You’re afraid, so you snap at the people around you. You can’t sleep because you’re anxious, or you sleep all the time because being awake is terrifying. Maybe you start to arrange and rearrange objects in your home or repeat tasks at work, hoping that if you can just do everything perfectly the nightmare will stop. You hear voices and they’re telling you if you don’t harm yourself they’ll hurt your family. You’re hearing voices and they tell you that your partner isn’t really your partner; it’s a demon wearing his face. You fight with your family because they don’t understand why you’re always crying. You fight with your boss because they want you to work harder but you are barely able to get on the bus every morning. You are sure the people on the bus are communicating to each other about you; they want to hurt you, so you start to act as though you’re being followed and try to trick them into leaving you alone. Maybe you don’t go to work that day so the people don’t also hurt your colleagues. Maybe you don’t go home because you don’t want them to hurt your family. Maybe if you kill yourself everyone around you will be safe. Maybe if you kill yourself the pain will stop. You begin to believe the voices because no one else around you is listening to you.

Now imagine you are trying to parent your children while trapped inside this nightmare. Imagine your symptoms prevent you from doing your job well and you get fired. Imagine your spouse’s reaction to these changes. Imagine your friends drifting away one by one because you can’t communicate with them. Imagine your partner leaves.

Imagine you lose your home. Imagine you lose your children. Imagine you end up on the street.

Imagine that during all this time, when you are trapped inside this nightmare, that people treat you as though you are the monster. That your behaviour, that seems very reasonable to you, remember, you are trying to defend yourself to the best of your ability from the monsters you know are attacking you, is unacceptable. It makes people around you uncomfortable. It’s your fault that your partner left. It’s your fault you lost your job. It’s your fault your children are taken from you. It’s your fault that you lost your home. Because no one else can see the nightmare, because they do not share that experience, they tell you that it does not exist. 

Imagine being told that the waiting list for psychiatric services is six months long. A year. If you’ve been able to get onto a waiting list for help, if you’re lucky enough to know that the nightmare you’re living is an illness and you need a doctor, you have to wait. While your life collapses around you, you have to wait for an expert to tell you that you’re ill, to test you, diagnose you, to perhaps prescribe medication for you. Wait for a counsellor because if you’ve lost your job and don’t have insurance you can’t afford a psychologist. You have to wait for all of that to work. Imagine the loneliness, hopelessness. The despair. Losing everything and waiting for help that might never arrive while everyone in your life tells you that you caused this nightmare.