The Mental Illness Awareness Week blog, sharing stories of recovery, personal experiences, and mental health/mental illness news.


Face-to-Face with Sandra Yuen MacKay

            My name is Sandra Yuen MacKay and I have schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. The teenage onset of my illness was gradual–so much that I believed the voices and ideas in my head were real. Even after being diagnosed, I was entrenched in my false beliefs. Still I took my medication and fought to keep my head above water and live as normal a life as I could. My family suffered with me every time I experienced a crisis or ended up back in the hospital. It wasn't until my last major relapse at the age of 32, I realized I had to change my negativity and self-critical attitude if I was going to improve. I exercised at the gym and swam, introduced positive self-talk, learned about recovery, and rekindled my interest in painting. I began to write and get published. I made new friends. Recovery to me meant having purpose and happiness in life, finding a niche, and social inclusion. I redefined who I was as an artist, writer and public speaker. By becoming pro-active in my own recovery and aiding others by sharing my story, I evolved into a more confident, resilient, and mature Sandra.

            Nowadays, when I have an interfering thought, I question it. Is it true or part of paranoia? Is it similar to other delusions I've had in the past? Am I stressed about something else which is causing me to have a symptom?

            Everyone's story is different. There are mental health consumers who can't work and can't afford food or other needs even with disability assistance. But I believe recovery is possible with newer medications, improved care and supports, and increased government funding. If their basic needs are met, consumers have a better chance to recover. In British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health has opened over 200 new tertiary mental health beds, which will offer consumers holistic care and give them the tools to reintegrate into the community when they are ready. But there is more work to be done.

            The sooner one gets help the better the prognosis. Support from family and friends was crucial in my case. First, I had to believe in myself, educate myself about mental illness and create a wellness toolbox including a daily maintenance plan to keep well, stress management, coping strategies, and access to proper medication. I recognized small successes and replaced self-stigma with a better self-image and opened the door to take on new challenges.

            This year I also received the Courage to Come Back Award in the mental health category for people who have faced severe adversity, risen above it and given back to the community.

            To learn more about my memoir, My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, and my art, please visit my blog at:


Face-to-Face with Chantal Poitras

My name is Chantal Poitras. I am 31 years old and I live in Fredericton, New-Brunswick. I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). When Mental illness came into my life in 2005, I felt that my life was falling apart. This is when I realized that something was wrong with me, but what? At the beginning, I was told that I suffered from a mild depression, due to my job and various events that happened that year.

I got over it, found another job, but still, something was not quite right with me. My behavior was often erratic and my suicidal thoughts were constantly present. A friend then told me about BPD and said that many of my behaviors seemed to fit the description I gave her. I started to do some research on the Internet. I read everything I could find on BPD. I finally had to admit it to myself. I probably had BPD.

In 2010, I went to see a psychologist. I told her I suspected I had BPD. She asked me to do several tests and came to the conclusion that indeed, I had BPD with depression, anxiety and aggressiveness. However, it was only in January 2012 that this diagnosis was added to my medical file. Now, I can finally have the appropriate therapy for BPD, a group therapy named STEPPS.

Recovery is possible, but you have to work hard. You have to seek the help that works for you. The first step I took towards my own recovery was to send an email to the Canadian Mental Health Association in my area. I felt lost, I did not know where to find the help I needed and they took care of me. They knocked on doors for me when I did not have the strength to do it myself. It is important to talk to someone who can help you find the help you need, if you are not able do it for yourself.
Living with mental illness is difficult, yet not impossible. Life can still be beautiful, but you have to accept that there will always be ups and downs, more so than for most people. You can still accomplish great things, have a full time job, a family and friends, and most important, you can realize your dreams. However, you must seek help, always continue therapy treatments, even if sometimes it is hell; it takes time, but eventually, hope returns.