A Brief History of a Lucky Woman
A brief description of my story of mental illness.
Posted Feb 12, 2019
Some of you know my story. Many of you don’t. Every experience is unique and equally valuable.
Though our stories are ours and ours alone, it always amazes me how similar our journeys can be sometimes.
I’ve met more than a handful of people who have run down the street naked in a psychosis. Psychosis seems to prompt a shedding of clothes. Funny (or maybe not) depression doesn’t inspire the same behaviour.
Other shared experiences include traumatising incidents in the emergency room for both loved ones and those of us with mental illness. Damage done was usually due to underfunded and understaffed hospitals, lack of services and overworked health professionals.
I also realize how lucky I have been and still am.
When I was diagnosed, it was the 90’s. I was a 20-something, middle-class, white woman, living in one of the most affluent countries in the world boasting universal medical care: Canada.
There were treatments available: pharmaceutical and psychological. Though far from perfect, these treatments were more humane than anything that existed in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even the 70’s when my Mom was diagnosed.
Addiction complicates accessing help and achieving recovery.
Incomprehensible as it is to me, addiction treatment is largely still siloed and separated from other mental illness help.
Now, I’m a middle-aged, middle class, white woman in Canada. I am still very lucky and that luck is part of the reason why I have fared so well.
Others are not so fortunate. The social and economic inequities many individuals face have a powerfully negative effect on mental health. Long lasting and intractable at times. It’s not a fair fight for them. As such, recovery is more difficult for them.
I’m also lucky because my conditions responded to treatment well—medication and different forms of therapies and lifestyle changes. Yes, I put effort into my recovery. But, effort and trying alone does not determine if recovery happens. I know people who try really, really, REALLY hard and are very proactive in their mental health, yet wellness eludes them, through no fault of their own. These illnesses are confounding.
Every person who has mental illness and everyone who loves someone with a mental illness has a story that is unique and important.
This is a very brief description of mine.
Warning: humour ahead. The humour I use is not to minimize the very real suffering that mental illness causes. Humour is one of my wellness tools. Feel free to laugh along with me and about me.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder with psychosis, generalized anxiety disorder, mild temporal lobe epilepsy, and an eating disorder when I was 25. Not really something you run and put on your resume underachievements. Well, actually, nowadays I do.
I didn’t initially embrace the idea of having a mental illness.
No, I flat out denied it, for 5 years, even after four psych ward stays, multiple suicidal depressions, psychotic episodes, and countless manias. Even after having to move in with my parents, losing my car, career, friend, and money. Even after running down the street naked in a psychosis, I wouldn’t accept I had a mental illness.
Eventually, however, I did. With the guidance of caring (and extremely patient) parents and healthcare professionals and friends and support groups and peers, I did. But it was still another journey of 5 more years to get back on my feet living independently, working, enjoying the company of friends and in a loving relationship.
I laugh when I think of how life works. I would never have the career I do had I not gone crazy in the first place!
I was originally trained as an actor. But my career derailed—untreated mental illness has a way of doing that. When I returned to work, I got a job as a receptionist. It was good, stable and healthy.
But, I craved more creativity in my life. I needed creativity in my life.
I started writing about my experiences. I submitted to a disability arts festival to “read from my book.” I was accepted. But, I didn’t a have a book. I didn’t even have excerpts.
So, I got to work, and wrote. Wrote not a book, but a monologue for the stage. Acting was what I knew. People liked it and asked, “Is it part of a one-person stage show?” I said “Sure.” Ummm... it wasn’t, but I know opportunity when it knocks.
From there I wrote a full keynote show. I started presenting it at organizations and conferences locally, then across North America, then internationally.
Since then I’ve written four more theatrical keynotes. Now I have a career speaking about mental health, smashing stigma, and leading wellness and creativity workshops.
I love what I do. I get to talk openly about what I used to be ashamed of. People want to hear about it. People want to feel comfortable talking about mental health. When I share my story and I see faces in the audience nodding in agreement, it’s like finding siblings I never knew I had. And for an only child, that’s pretty cool.
Staying well is an ongoing process. I don’t take my mental health for granted. I can’t. I need to do certain things everyday to stay well. Exercise, meditate, take medication, eat well, and sleep enough, to name a few.
My life is very different from what it was when I struggled with severe depression, suicide, anxiety, psychosis, and my eating disorder. It’s taken a long time but I’ve got pretty good at managing my conditions. But, I’m always learning.
Now my focus is on healing, creativity, flourishing and gratitude. It’s also about sharing those things with others.
What is your story? Send me an email or comment below and let me know.
© Victoria Maxwell