I refuse to label, nor be labelled, solely by mental health conditions. We are more than just that piece of our experience.
As was my Father.
Now I jump backwards....
My father died on January 31st, 2005. His name was James Earl Dresser. I loved him dearly.
My father had schizophrenia. A hard word to spell and an even harder condition to understand. He had paranoid delusional schizophrenia if I am remembering correctly. I never fully "got it" as a kid. I knew Dad was ill in some way, but I couldn't see anything "wrong" with him. He was fabulous. He was my hero. What did they mean he was sick? But then there were times I wouldn't see him for a while. I don't remember those as clearly, but I remember there were times. And thats what I understood it to mean. Dad was sick sometimes, but when he was well, he would always come back. It wasn't a sickness he could die from. It was different.
I visited many soup kitchens and other supports that he frequented, as a child, with him. There were great people there. I didn't know they were sick either. But I was told they were. My Father was much loved by those I met with him, you could say a well respected person within his social group. He helped many of them despite his own constant struggles while living on ODSP and unable to maintain a consistent level of employment. But he did OK. My family assured that. My Aunt oversaw his overall care, and his parents while able, assisted in helping make sure he lacked for nothing. But it was a task.
His heart, made of pure gold, would often give away basic need items. As I recall, he had been given a variety of living room furniture my Aunt had refinished. Next time or soon after, she came back to find it gone. He knew someone that needed some furniture. So he passed it along, and kept only his futon for himself. I believe this was not a single occurrence. If he felt he could live without it, he would have given the shirt off his back to someone who needed it more than he felt he did.
His form of schizophrenia, as I came to understand it, left him believing versions of attack of some form were likely, to the point of perceiving them. He would for example, think someone was after him, and that in fact it was "that person" and this is why. or something to that effect. This would only happen if he did not take his medication. But when he took it properly, all was fine. This would lead him to believe that he did not need it, and so he would stop taking it. It was a constant cycle. I think he just wanted to "be normal", to fit in. The meds made his hands shake, making it obvious to the world that in some way, he was different.
My father had a brain injury in his youth. He was comatose for over a week. He was the sole survivor of the accident. To the best of my understanding, his form of schizophrenia was induced. The combination of hard drug usage that he got into following the accident, I believe stemmed from needing to live through the guilt he felt losing friends, and the injuries he had sustained brought forth his mental health issues. With the way this world looks at those suffering from such conditions, I felt compelled to better understand if I was at risk of such concerns, based on my genetics. I came to the conclusion through my inquisitions that, no I wasn't.
But I do suffer from anxiety.
I had some events in my youth, that in that time triggered fairly severe anxiety attacks, and panic attacks.
In my late teens, early 20's, my anxiety was pretty much under control.
Then I went back to school . In this new environment, 15 years later, I began experiencing panic attacks again.
I now have my condition mostly back under control, though I still find certain tasks to be more straining than others. I won;t write tests in class. I take medication daily and seek counselling as needed through my school.
And none of this makes me any lesser of a person. But it hasn't always felt like that.
Every single one of us has a story, We all have our strengths and weaknesses. And we judge far too often superficially. either based on looks, economic class status, or anything else that can we can use to separate ourselves from each other. I have even been guilty of it.
In this quick paced world, more people are suffering from unseen conditions both physically and mentally. These often help form the actions or choices they take. Our Mental health systems are neither flexible nor plentiful enough to ensure that all needs are being met fast enough to make a difference.
The supports I saw my father access, and the ones I didn't, even as well intending as they were, they were not enough. Without my families aid and care, my father would not have had such a good life. His life was hard regardless, He subsisted on ODSP working intermittently when he was able to. With little fear of heights he washed windows up on the taller buildings for a local company. They were aware of his conditions and worked with his cycle. But if he had had no family, no support system outside of the local available services, it would not have been enough.
With mental health being such a factor in so many poverty issues, either contributing to them, or stemming from them, its imperative that we de-stigmatize the topic and look to build that community, that family, for those in need of the extra help mental health conditions can require.
My father was a GREAT MAN. He was more than just his schizophrenia. So much more.
He was the games we played.
The way he stuck up for me, or showed me how to stick up for myself.
His hugs. Our walks. His lousy jokes.
He was my hero.
If you have ever suffered in silence, don't. You are not alone. And you are so much more than your pain. There is greatness in you too.