Some of you may know me and some may not. If you do not know me, my name is Mark and I am going to give you a brief outline of my history and my personal struggles with Mental Health and Addiction.
I was born in England in 1980. The first years of my life unfortunately are some of the saddest. My mother was a Heroin addict with a very abusive boyfriend. My first memories were of my mother shooting up in public bathrooms, as well as some pretty severe physical abuse from her boyfriend. I think I was 2 or 3 when my head was stuffed into the toilet. Other memories include beatings and domestic violence. These early experiences shaped my life for many years. I feel I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the trauma in my childhood, although I have never been officially diagnosed. When I was around 3 or 4 the social service system in England took me and my siblings away from my mother (thankfully). We all went to stay at a foster home. We stayed there for several years and without going into too much detail, my childhood years were full of abuse. As a teenager I was lost and confused. The first signs of mental illness emerged for me around 14 or 15. I would get very paranoid and from what I have learned, I think I used to dissociate a lot. (That is when you lose touch with reality and your mind goes somewhere else to deal with trauma). Later in my life I experienced psychosis, delusions and paranoia. To this day I debate in my own mind whether my psychosis was due to having schizophrenic symptoms or due to severe trauma, maybe it was a combination of both. I was hospitalized at 19 for a suicide attempt and self-harm. It was at that time diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, something I did not really understand fully until years afterwards. At 21 I had a psychosis that lasted about 3 months. And since that day have struggled with schizophrenic symptoms. When I came out of hospital I was still very ill. The next 4 or 5 years were very lonely. I did not have a lot of family left in England and there were not as many great mental health services in England as in Canada. In any case, in 2005 I left England and came to Canada. I was still chronically ill and also suffered from pretty severe depression, maybe from my trauma, maybe from illness, maybe from feeling lonely in the world, or a combination of all of them. I also had become an alcoholic in my late teens to try and mask how I was feeling and escape. In Canada not much changed at first, I was chronically depressed, delusional and numbing myself with drugs and alcohol. I came to Gateway in 2007, to the group home, where my journey of recovery started. I was there 2 more times before I could get to where I am today. To cut a long story short, I battled for many years for my recovery and the last time I was there (2013 – 2014) I managed to stop drinking (it has been almost 3 years now) and get my life back on track. I am telling you all this not for your sympathy but just to highlight that recovery, whatever you have been through, is absolutely possible. Sadly my story is not untypical of many people struggling with mental health and addiction problems. So I write to relate to all of you as much as I can.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets get to meat and bones of this blog, which is to talk about Stigma and Mental health. What is Stigma? Stigma is simply a set of beliefs that you may have regarding almost anything. For example, extreme forms of discrimination are basically severe forms of stigma.. racism, sexism and other forms of mindless attitudes that do not value human beings as unique souls, all with something to contribute. Why is there Stigma? Or better still, the question is; how do we form belief systems? Well, probably it is something we are taught early on. Maybe we are influenced by others or they are shaped by the environment we grow up in. Whoever you are; most likely you have belief systems. My consistent belief systems for years was that I was bad, my life didn't mean anything, I was ugly, I should be ashamed of myself ect. Such are many belief systems that contribute to mental illness. Why are belief systems so important, you may ask, because; belief systems govern our perception of ourselves and those around us. Why is someone racist? Why does someone think education is not important? Why does someone hate a certain religion? What are our morals? Everything comes down to our belief systems. You may not believe me, but question everything. Why do you see the glass half empty or full? Belief systems.
Why are belief systems important in mental health? Because they shape how we view ourselves and also how others do based on that fact that we suffer from a mental illness. Media does not help. I think that people feel negatively about mental health because they do not understand it. Such is human nature to automatically categorize and label things instantly that we have no business doing. I know for myself it was obvious to me why my belief systems about myself changed. It was because I was shown something else, and if you look at the world and history, and your own history, you will recognize that all positive change has come from the courage to question what you believe. For instance if someone did not have the courage to question that; "maybe the earth isn't flat" or "maybe we are not the center of our solar system" then basically we would still assume these things to be true.
So, what I am trying to illustrate here is courage. Courage is the only thing that will change yourself and the world as a whole. Note that courage also is directly linked to your belief system. How do you have courage if you don't believe in yourself? How do you believe in yourself if you have no courage? It is paradoxical. What you need to know is courage doesn't come from thin air, so you don't need to feel ashamed to be afraid. In fact, fear is just the absence of faith, and faith lays in courage. So it is our jobs as those suffering from mental illness, and those who aren't to empower each other with courage. Whatever negative things you believe about yourself; let them go my dear friends. You have been made to believe lies. You are more powerful than you could ever imagine. You have more potential that either you, or anyone else has ever told you. Maybe you don't believe it, but maybe you should ask yourself how you would feel if you did? Turn the tragedy into triumph, question what you believe because doing so will change your life and the lives around you.
I hope that what I have said has left a message of hope. Even if you do not believe in yourself, I do.
If you have questions about this blog or you have anything you would like to ask me, or have a suggestion for a topic please feel free to email me!Love, Light and Happiness.