A Tale of Four Illnesses

Lately I’ve been seeing the slogan of CAMH’s new campaign, “Mental Health is Health.” It is very true – mental health is a critical part of our health and there is no difference between mental illnesses and physical illnesses, although they are often treated much differently and there is still a lot of stigma with mental illness. I have personally suffered a lot from depression and anxiety, and have many friends that have too. A good friend of mine suffered from schizophrenia and she took her own life a few years ago – I miss her still.

In my journey, I’ve received a lot of amazing support – from friends, family, and the system, and it is my hope that everyone is supported in this way. We have a long way to go when it comes to fixing the system and ensuring everyone has equal access to care, no matter where they’re from, how old they are, or how much money they have.

It’s time we said no more discrimination, no more ignorance, and no more funding gaps. It’s time for every Canadian to rally together to ensure mental illness gets the same priority as any other illness.
– CAMH website

I’ve written these four short descriptions/poems that from my understanding, describe a little of what it feels like to be suffering from these four illnesses. These are just four disorders that come to mind… there are so many others, and so many variations.

Depression

A creation of the human mind that plagues us, brings
us down into the mud, further away from natural joy,
further away from who we really are. The black hole,
the spiral downward,
the point of no return, when it feels like nothing is good and nothing is bad, and everything is just nothing.
numbness.
It’s dark in here, darker than it’s ever been before
I used to know joy but now I can’t remember the feeling,
Has anything good ever happened to me before?
Is there a purpose to my life?
Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.
Sometimes I wish it would all end.
I am so angry. I want to squeeze every last drop out
of everything I love.
Depression is rage turned inward they say, and
I know it to be true.

Anxiety

A state of racing, rushing, worrying,
running, ruminating,
over-excitement, giddiness,
breathlessness, unsettledness
hurry hurry hurry
the thoughts say
You will never have enough time.
You will never get it all done.
It will never be perfect.

But at least there is still hope in the form of worry —
trying to make it right, trying to make it all perfect.
Because it’s all so important, everything matters so much.
So much so that there is nothing that can be left undone.
At least I haven’t given up completely.
There’s no time for that.

Schizophrenia

What are those voices in my head that speak to me and tell me what to do,
that make me suspect you, that make me not trust you or anyone else.
Why do I find it such a struggle to get through the day or justify why it’s worth existing this way?
Without my meds the voices scream louder,
but with them, I am void of personality,
I am no longer myself.

PTSD

It happened so long ago,
yet why do I feel like I’m still there,
as though it is happening all over again,
as though it is happening right now?
Why does the body remember what the mind
so desperately needs to forget?
I can still smell him, see him, my fists
clench when I hear the tires screech against the road,
the sound of footsteps, and the clock
striking 12 in the background.
Why can’t they make a pill that makes me forget.
I see the world around me,
yet I still feel trapped inside.

Inch By Inch By Inch By Inch

It’s 11:30 PM. I think I’m getting a little better at this Monday routine, but still don’t know how I’m going to do it all – I still have my meditation to do after this! I guess Mondays are just going to be late nights. I’m realizing that this walk that I was fighting so much is really my favourite thing to do. Why resist the inevitable? Sometimes the things that matter to us most are the hardest to do.

My walk along University today was perfect. It felt like spring, and I loved the sunshine on my face, my jacket unzipped, and seeing the beautiful trees along the way. Ever since I learned about the presence of fractals in nature, I’ve been seeing them everywhere. And now the branches that loom out into the sky appear stark and beautiful – I see the patterns in the branches, that seem to never end, so complex yet so simple and knowing exactly what to do and how to continue. I walked through King’s College circle, and the Harry-Potter like buildings brought me into the land of magic and awe, and as usual I savoured every moment of it. I arrived to my creative writing class a little late, just as people were working on the opening writing exercise: “On my walk this morning I saw…”. Our class today was focused on reviewing one another’s writing pieces (200 words maximum). A piece that touches upon the five senses and pulls you into the experience. I was nervous about mine, as I always am, because the writing was not very sophisticated, but from the heart. I wrote about a friend of mine, Tsege, because I want to remember her. She is a lady I used to tutor who is resilient and wonderful and directly in touch with God. She inspired me so much and I felt that she loved me a lot. She suffered from schizophrenia, and unfortunately over the holidays this past December, she ended her own life. I don’t think I’ve processed it fully yet; it is a shock and it scares me a lot. My piece was about her:

I arrived five minutes late, and the door opened automatically. She had used the button from inside, the one she had specially installed to help her with the heavy door. I walked in and there she was, in her wheelchair, with a smiling open face, greeting me with blessings, and happy as always to see me. “Do you want tea?” she asked, as the door slammed shut behind me. “Sure, why not?”, I replied, and already the scent of fresh mint leaves and black tea jolted my senses. She wheeled over to the kitchen. I knew better than to ask if she needed help. I slumped down into the chair at the table, and took out my pencils and notebook for our session. She came back to the room and said “I put the kettle on – it will be just a few minutes.” I commented on her bright blue shirt: “That colour is wonderful on you!” and she acknowledged the compliment with a beaming smile. “Thank you”. Then we began the lesson. She pulled out her red binder and said “I really need help with math!” and I replied “Ok then, let’s start with math”. And it felt the same as every session, yet somehow wonderfully different.

It was wonderful to listen to everyone’s pieces, and offer my comments and suggestions. This skill is an important one, and I’m happy that I’m developing it in this class. I’m also working on it in toastmasters. Wow, writing that last line just hit me hard. I can barely even write now. Something about toastmasters really grounds me and touches upon something in my core. Either it makes me very nervous or I must really love it! (or both) I am definitely grateful for it.

After my creative writing class I went to Balzac’s where I read from Falling Up. I just love this woman; she is such a fighter. She reminds me of myself a lot.  She pushes through with zest and personality, and refuses to settle. And she has faith that it’s all going to work out just fine. There is a part where she tries to ascend a hill by herself in her wheelchair – she doesn’t think she can make it but eventually she does!

I was devastated. I looked at the hill – it was about 30 yards of slight incline, but it looked like Mount Everest. I’d never done a hill like that alone before. Today, apparently, was the day to try. It took me a good 30 minutes to push up the hill by myself. Inch by inch by inch by inch….

After Balzac’s I went to see Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) speak at the reference library with my friend Gosia. I loved when he talked about a quality that was shared by Jesus, the Buddha, and other enlightened beings. They all have the ability to be fully present. When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he was fully there. Every cell of his being. With an open heart. That ability to be fully present is something we all aspire to.

I wonder if I’ve been avoiding the actual purpose of this walk because it is so difficult for me. Ever since I watched Nirbhaya, I’ve been pretty traumatized. The image of the woman with burns on her face, who was set on fire by her husband because her family did not pay enough dowry, haunts me still. Haunts is not the right word; it has tormented me. I want to bring attention to what is going on all over the world, so that we can join forces and unite in a common goal and plan. I need to be more in touch with the goals set by the United Nations and other organizations, so that I can align my thinking towards that common goal. So much to do, and so little time. And an underlying sadness that I can’t seem to shake.