WendyI have a mental illness.

More than one, actually. A diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder was followed by one of Borderline Personality Disorder … which is a mood disorder that makes it hard to control my emotions. For many years, I didn’t know that I was ill and lived a chaotic life of emotional upheaval. On the outside, it appeared that I was like everyone else, but inside my mind it was a torturous nightmare. I was a young mother of two children caught in an abusive marriage when I first experienced a psychotic break and ended up in the hospital. It was frightening to me and to my loved ones. That first hospitalization led to many years of fighting to get my life under control, while trying to determine what was happening to me.

Diagnosis of mental illness isn’t easy.

The doctors go by your history and behaviour and try a variety of medications and treatments to come up with a final determination. I felt a sense of relief once I knew what I was living with and could begin to learn more about myself.

My thirties were the decade of being out of control. I felt like I was on a runaway train. Nothing could stop my self-destructive behaviour. My life was a mix of hospitals, intense therapy, addiction issues, and suicide attempts. My first attempt to end it all wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been, most likely due to the fact that I lived in a small community with limited psychiatric care. I spent four days in the hospital and saw a psychiatrist via videoconference.

My second attempt landed me in the hospital for a month, and led to finally receiving the psychiatric care that I needed.

Navigating my way through the mental health system was a nightmare. I felt sick, alone and afraid. The system is not designed to be user-friendly and many times I felt like a mouse caught in maze, desperately looking for a way out. I met many broken souls and saw them fall through the cracks in the system. I enrolled in a 12 week outpatient program at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton and it literally saved my life. One person in particular was key to helping me gain insights into myself. I had help, but overall, the person that saw me through it all was myself. In the depths of my despair I made a vow that if I ever got to a place where I felt better, I would make it my mission to help others navigate the maze.

After forty years my life finally began to stabilize. I married a man who provided me with the love and nurturing that I needed and deserved and slowly I began to heal. Extensive therapy helped me get a better handle on my illnesses and began practicing better self-care. I learned that loving myself was just as important as loving others. With the help of some great therapists and a strong determination to succeed, I began to move from crisis mode to recovery mode. I discovered my mission: to help people who weren’t strong enough to speak up for themselves or find their way through the maze. I was inspired by the work that some of the people I met in mental health were doing and I wanted to help others.

Wendy2I started blogging about what it’s like to live with mental illness. I started a Facebook page to share inspirational stories and articles about mental illness as my way of raising awareness and removing stigma. In July of 2014 I launched a Peer Support group along with my partner, Tre Podarunok to help people living in Edmonton. We started an online group and in just a few short months we’ve grown to over 250 local members who support one another through the journey. We host weekly support meetings to increase those connections. All of this is done through our own volunteer time and dollars. Our eventual goal is to establish a peer support centre in Edmonton that will help those living with a mental illness overcome the challenges they face.

Defeat is a choice.

It would have been easy to give up and let the illness win but instead I chose to fight and help others. I believe that the voices of a few can make a difference in the lives of many.