Andy was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.
Defining the Problem
At the age of 45 I was diagnosed with a number of mental illnesses considered severe enough to put me out of the workforce and land me on the Canadian Pension Plan disability pension. I had no idea I was mentally ill and had just completed a Masters degree in community development prior to moving to Nanaimo, BC for a good job. For the previous twenty years I had worked in excellent paying jobs in the addiction’s field across Canada’s three northern Territories. I had no idea I was mentally ill and had very effectively compensated for the mental illnesses I have. To many I would have been considered successful but they could not see the mental and emotional anguish that I experienced on a daily basis.
I assumed that everyone experienced what I was experiencing. Unlike me this was not the experience of people who did not suffer from dysthymia, depression coupled with ADHD, anxiety and personality problems. I had a long history of relationship difficulties and had begun abusing alcohol at a very young age. Since I was never diagnosed as a child with a mental illness I was never put on any medication that could stabilize me or decrease the emotional pain I was experiencing. In fact I did see a psychologist who told my parents that all I needed was more spankings. So alcohol became my highly effective painkiller.
Since I moved to Nanaimo three years ago I have been provided with excellent medical care for my mental illnesses. I have had the opportunity to participate in a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy group which has given me some insights into ways to function in a healthier way. I have been prescribed a number of medications that are assisting in giving me a life worth living. Life can be difficult at times but now with twenty-three years of sobriety and the proper medications I am able to contribute to my community in ways I find meaningful.
I have been out of the workforce for close to three years now. As a result I have had to redefine myself. I am not what I do for a living and nor am I the sum of my mental health and addictions issues. I am a father, brother, a contributor to my community and a writer. I began writing last year and have had a few short stories published along with two articles in ‘Visions’. I am presently working on a book entitled, ‘The Truble with Normmal’, which is an autobiography of what has turned out to be a very strange life, but one filled with great hope. I am now comfortable with defining myself, not by what I do, but rather with who I am. It is a nice place to be and the change in perspective and values has been very healthy.
On June 6, 2009 I completed the 63.5 km Great Walk from Gold River to Tahsis, BC. Completing this walk assisted in raising close to $900 for an excellent local mental health agency named the Columbian Centre Society. On September 21, 2009 I will participate in the 56 km Great Lake Walk from Youbou to Lake Cowichan, BC to raise money for the local branch of the CMHA. I am working with the Nanaimo Branch of the CMHA to get pledges to raise funds for local CMHA initiatives. Our local CMHA does amazing work and it is a privilege to be working together in partnership!
MIAW is an extremely important event because it assists in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness on a national level. It also provides education and greater awareness about mental illness. Awareness and understanding should reduce the amount of discrimination experienced by the mentally ill. It should also breed tolerance and support for those who are mentally ill.
The FACES Campaign is important in that it challenges commonly held stereotypes of the mentally ill. The people who have been selected for the campaign are intelligent, thoughtful people who have good educations and jobs. They are people who we are likely to find living next door. They are courageous people who are willing to risk negative personal impacts in order to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. We all benefit through their work and for that I am grateful.
I feel that the CMHA has done a wonderful job of supporting the mentally ill in Nanaimo and am grateful for the tremendous amount of work done at a provincial level.
I am grateful to the CMHA as a member of CAMIMH for taking a national and provincial leadership role for MIAW.