I hesitated when asked to write about my experience with Mental Illness. I didn’t suffer from mental illness, I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wasn’t ill. I was back to work full time, therefore, I no longer was affected.
Then I examined why I was reluctant to write about my 18-month hiatus from work, family, friends and life, in general. That’s when it hit me, I was ashamed. Upon further contemplation and working through my reluctance, I was able to confront and work through my shame. I am now able to accept that I AM HUMAN. Being human means I am flawed, I struggle and I feel. I am a product of every experience I’ve had and being aware of how these experiences shape my thoughts and actions has made me better able to accept responsibility for what is “mine” and to “let go” of what is not mine to control.
In April 2012, a very good friend and gay activist was murdered. I could not cope and my body decided it was time to STOP. It didn’t give me the opportunity to slow down, it just STOPPED. I couldn’t cope with the violence or the loss of such a wonderful, compassionate man. Raymond had done what I had done a thousand times, intervened in an altercation to protect someone weaker than himself. It didn’t work out well at all. Raymond was beaten to death by a person who was on an unauthorized leave from the Halifax Forensic Hospital. I experienced so many emotions: anger – with both Raymond and the perpetrator, remorse, a profound feeling of loss, guilt – why him and not me, and the hardest emotion to overcome: FEAR. The fear was the worse and longest lasting emotion. I was afraid for my personal safety and more fearful of making bad decisions for I, too, had acted as a mediator in altercations.
I was amazed how my body literally brought me to my knees. I had always considered myself as capable of coping with anything. I had, in fact, managed some huge changes in my personal life and thought I’d dealt with them rather well. What I discovered was I hadn’t dealt with my stress for years. Rather I had buried it and considered it over. Through 18 months of counselling, I read stories of people with similar experiences and reactions. It helped tremendously to know others had difficulty too, to know I was not alone. At the end of each story there were questions to be answered and discussed at the next counselling session. I was encouraged to reflect and answer honestly, which I did on most occasions, and sometimes the questions were too invasive and I felt vulnerable. In these instances, my counsellor and I would talk about why I was having these feelings and together we would work through my trust issues.
After 18 months, I was ready to come back to work. I felt as though I had accomplished everything I needed and was better than before. Upon my return to work at Dalhousie University, I discovered I was different. I was able to be accountable for me and my behaviours and know that I was not in control of how others behaved and that my desire to control them was futile. I’ve been back to work now for nine months and I am better able to truly work through the stresses of working. I am able to recognize behaviours that trigger my desire to control situations and people. When this happens I know it’s ME that needs to change and that has been easier than I ever imagined.