Have you ever wondered what you would do in a horrible situation like a tsunami, or if you lost your legs, or were trapped in rubble after an earthquake? How would you react? Do you wonder whether you would be strong enough to handle it?
I was faced with a horrible situation. I was blindsided. The pain and terror of what I was going through made me feel like I was being chased by a heat-seeking tornado. A relentless onslaught of death.
This insidious beast chasing me was mental illness. A nice mix of schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
I grew up in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, a small seaside resort town. My mother was a nurse, my father a high school English teacher. I don’t have many complaints about my youth. I was a straight-A student, but could have had more confidence than I did. I liked playing golf, biking around the town, going for runs.
I did have an unmet need to go exploring, though. This came to a head in the middle of university when I decided to bicycle across Canada.
I was in my third year of engineering, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have. My heart wasn’t in it. Although I was fairly smart, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life.
But throughout university, I didn’t feel right. I had no idea what was going to come down the tubes for me at the end of university. When mental illness hit, it hit hard.
For five years of university, I struggled a bit with my thoughts and emotions. But I could get still get good marks, feed myself and live independently. I was on the university rowing team, did a triathlon and even biked across Canada.
But at the end of my studies, the tornado came for me. And I was put to the test.
If there’s anything I would like to tell people after what I have been through, it is that you are capable of so much more than you think you are.
I believe everybody has inside of themselves vast amounts of courage, determination and resilience lying dormant, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
Navy SEALs are taught that they are capable of 20 times more than they think they are.
The sheer effort it took me to withstand the pain coming from my body was tremendous. I was tormented. The anxiety was like a machete stuck through my chest.
Just to sit still in a chair took a kind of will I didn’t know was humanly possible.
If you do a search on the Internet for the phrase “desperately trying to save their life”, countless headlines of news articles will show up. They will involve people drowning or in natural disasters, being chased by wild animals or other horrific situations.
People can understand why those people are desperate. They are trying to save their lives. They will use any means possible to do so. They are desperate. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
So when I found myself desperately trying to save my life, I wondered, Why is it that people are sometimes scared to interact with you? Why do people walk past you?
These are questions with which I still wrestle. I have some ideas as to why we help some people who are desperate and not others, but some part of it still mystifies me.
I read that when horrible things happen to you, the people in your life often leave you unless you already have a deeper relationship with them.
I know that this isn’t set in stone. I heard about a man in the hospital and he was given no chance to live. One of his attendants came in and talked to him everyday for months. Very few people came in to see him. He ended up making a full recovery, which essentially was a miracle. When asked what kept him going through it all, he responded that he did it for the hospital attendant. He said that he couldn’t let him down and hung on because of him. Miracles do happen.
This is why I feel that it is important to build relationships with more depth in your life, so that if disaster does strike in your life, there will be more people who know you and are more likely to stick with you.
To get a deeper relationship with someone, start with simply sharing a bit more about yourself than you usually would. Get used to doing that with some of the people in your life. You’ll find a little sharing can go a long way.
So, yes, I felt a sense of desperation that would take many years to go away.
The experience of mental illness is also a very bewildering and confusing one.
I always considered myself a nice guy. I have done some dumb things throughout my life, but overall I thought I was a good person.
When mental illness struck me and started altering my thoughts and emotions, it was very confusing for me. Also, I didn’t understand what schizophrenia was (this was 1994, before mental illness was even talked about in mainstream conversation). What was schizophrenia? I didn’t know what it was or did to a person.
So I wondered, Am I evil? Does this mean that I will do bad things? And that terrified me. And this was on top of the terror I already felt with the disease. I went for about 6 to 8 years living this way until I read a sentence somewhere that said, “People with schizophrenia are no more violent than the rest of the general population.”
And I breathed a sigh of relief. I was so glad that this meant I wasn’t evil and wasn’t going to hurt anyone. But at the same time, I thought, Why didn’t anyone tell me this at the very beginning when I was first diagnosed?
They say knowing is half the battle. I fully agree. Sometimes I think knowing might be more than half, even 90% at times.
You can also feel very helpless and defenseless. I felt like the people around me felt helpless as well, because there wasn’t anything they could do to relieve me of my pain. I felt like everyone was looking at me wondering whether I was okay, not knowing what to do in a lot of situations. It was a miserable experience for everyone involved.
But there is hope. And more hope than you even realize.
People who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco were asked what they thought the moment after they jumped, when there was no turning back. Many of them regretted it. One moment they were all for jumping, the next they wished they hadn’t.
I wish more people knew this fact about those who had jumped. It goes to show that, yes, you can hold on for longer than you thought. Even when you have no hope, there is still hope. There is hope beyond hope.
At the end of my fifth year of engineering I went to get help. I went to the university health clinic. They took me to the local hospital, and thus, I had entered the mental health system.
The doctors found a medication that worked. I stayed on it. I never went off it. It worked, but it worked painfully slowly, or how I like to call “glacially”.
Time went by slowly. Everyday seemed the same. Yet everything was so chaotic. The outside of my life was pretty peaceful. I didn’t have a lot of problems in my life other than mental illness. But the disease made me feel like my life was a whirlwind.
Everyday felt the same and everything was chaotic at the same time. It is an odd juxtaposition. I don’t know how chaos can feel so unbelievably boring, but that’s the way it felt, unpredictable and monotonous.
And my medication kept working. I noticed a small improvement each week from 1994 through until today.
I never had any problems with substance abuse.
I was in and out of the psych ward at the hospital 5 or 6 times in 1994. I lived in a group home from 1995 to 1997.
Then I got an apartment, which was scary for me, but I did it anyway.
I got a job doing data entry and filing in an office. I would be there for the next 21 years.
I always tried to push myself. I had to pace myself with trying to do more and trying new things, yet not take on too much that would make me regress.
In 2000, I bought my first car. In 2005, I bought my first house. In 2015, I made a fitness website.
In 2000, I started educating myself more on how to get better. I read books on mental health, diet and exercise, people skills, finances. I have learned so much from all the books I’ve read, all the Internet searches I’ve done. They have made my life so much easier.
That is one thing I highly encourage more people to do: to start dabbling in the personal development field. Personal development is used by Olympic athletes, world leaders, elite soldiers, business people and everyday people like me.
I also developed more empathy for people struggling with things. And for people in general. More empathy, more respect.
I always knew how hard life could be, but after going through mental illness, I had developed a newfound knowledge of the difficulties and complexities of life.
In 2017, I heard for the first time about mental health in developing countries. I had never thought about that before. If people have no clean water, no schools, malaria, what do they do if they have depression, anxiety or are bipolar?
It is a concept so simple, but I had never thought about it before. It had never been spelled out for me.
I went through mental illness in one of the best countries to do so. Yet it felt like I was living in a war zone. My heart goes out to people in impoverished or war-torn countries who have mental illness and the atrocities of poverty and war to go through as well.
So in 2018, I launched my Mind Aid website to try to help them.
I believe if everybody simply knew about mental health in developing countries, if it became mainstream conversation, millions of people would want to help.
I am finding peace and contentment in my life again. I didn’t know if I would ever again see that. But with tremendous effort on my part and an equal amount of pure luck, I have.
My dream is to have Mind Aid be a conversation starter for people everywhere to bring awareness to mental health in developing countries.
What some people have to go through is unthinkable. If mental health in developing countries could become as well known as clean water or mosquito bed nets, think of the help they could get.
So what would you do if you saw the tsunami wave coming up the shore towards you?
What would you do if you were trapped in your car as it sunk below the surface of a rushing river?
That untapped potential lying dormant your whole life would immediately kick into action. You would do what you didn’t think was humanly possible.
And when you don’t think you have any more left to give, when it seems there is just no hope left, please remember: there is hope beyond hope.