Traversing the Unsound Mind
I arrive at Toronto International Airport from British Columbia in September of 2008. I get off the airplane to meet my dad, who is waiting with a police officer. I myself am being escorted by an off-duty police officer, as the airline would not allow me to travel without someone accompanying me. All the while, in my mind, I have an undercover bodyguard walking me around. And since my arrival could have been compromised, my dad brought back-up. The off-duty officer explains I have been well behaved, and he leaves me with my dad and the officer. We exit the airport, and the officer escorts us to the highway without anyone getting to me. For the moment I am calm, and my dad explains he is taking me somewhere safe. Apart from hoping my girlfriend will meet up with us, I am just hoping to get some rest after being awake for over 72 hours. It had been a wild few days. In the three days leading up to this moment, I had traveled from Newmarket to London Ontario, to Guelph, to Hamilton, to Toronto, by motorcycle. I had flown via Porter Airline to Montreal and via WestJet to Vancouver. I then flew by HeliJet helicopter to Victoria, and eventually ended up back in Toronto some days later.
My dad and I arrive at Southlake Regional Hospital in my hometown of Newmarket. This is the safest spot for me, my dad explains. In my thoughts, I wonder if the place has been swept for listening devices, but trust that any potential adversaries have been dealt with before my arrival. I wait my turn to see a doctor, or as I saw him, an advisor. My safety was at risk; the situation was out of control. Little did I realize, my mental health was the situation, and I was the one out of control. My reality was rather distorted, and I failed to recognize the true path I was on.
I co-operated with the doctor when he asked me to explain the situation. It was clear I was not quite in touch with reality, and in fact, I was displaying signs of mania with psychosis. On the flip side, I did not feel as if I was behaving in any way other than normal. Since it was now clear my girlfriend was not going to be there any time soon, I wanted to leave. Something wasn’t quite right now, and the tempo of my groove was surely shifting. After the preceding days of manic excitement and pure enjoyment, I was now sliding into a state of panic. Slowly I became more and more uncomfortable with the predicament I was in, as it was not looking good for me. I was about to be admitted into hospital involuntarily for psychiatric care.
The doctor ordered blood work, so I had to stay. But I was not about to let them stick a needle in me, and they were not going to get anywhere near me with the tracking device I perceived them to have. I had it in my mind that the ‘professionals’ were conspiring against me. When the nurse told me I was going to be given meds to calm me down, and that they wanted to see what drugs were in my system, I turned on edge. I defended that I had not taken any drugs, and that I did not need to take any. The nurse decided she needed some help dealing with me and called security. As two of the guards held me down by force, the nurse took blood. I remember yelling “Just don’t let them get the tracking device in me!”
These are the extreme emotions of a young adult traversing his unsound mind. In immersed thought I had imagined a world that was very removed from that of reality. I could, in one moment, have a realistic experience, and in the next my mind would think something else was taking place. An event that was profounder than the experiences of those around me was happening at a blurred conscious level of my mind. These events seemed like they were happening in parallel to reality but slightly more intense and with heavier consequence. Later it was obvious that all of this was only in my mind, but re-living it was eye-opening and a lesson as to where your mental perception can take you.
What followed was a long journey to recovery. I was kept in Southlake Hospital for seven weeks, with three of those weeks spent in isolation in the psych ward. It took quite some time to convince me of my disability; Bipolar Disorder was not something I accepted or came to terms with right away. The medications were administered in what seemed like a calculated experiment. They knew how the drugs should affect me, but didn’t quite know how my body and mind would react to each specifically. It took weeks to find a combination that had the desired effect, without having the undesired side effects. It felt like torture; keeping me alone, in a room that only opened from the outside. I had a bed, a toilet, and a gown covering my body. Food and free time were scheduled, but I could not leave a designated area, let alone step outside. Days felt like weeks, and weeks felt like months.
After seven weeks, I was transferred to a Mental Institution known as Whitby Mental Health, (now called Ontario Shores). I was observed by medical professionals along with social coordinators. It took a team of specialists to educate me on living with Bipolar Disorder. I learned a variety of coping mechanisms, life skills, and tools to promote positive mental health. I learned about the medications I was taking, and what street drugs would do to my mind. The process of finding the right balance of medication and healthy living habits took three months, which felt like a lifetime. I was rehabilitated back to a functioning member of society. Although a part of me was lost in those months, a new person was created. I was released in February of 2009.
The part of me that was lost was the part that could maintain a relationship. My girlfriend at the time supported me all through my rehabilitation, only to break up with me a week before I was released from the institution. I understood though: I was a different person than the one she started a relationship with. She too was going through a big transformation in her life, attending University for Medical Science. We would remain good friends until this present day. I believe we will stay good friends, if only because of the bond that was developed during my struggle.
In the years that followed, I went back to school, I re-connected with friends and family, and I worked again. I also finished a Post-Secondary Certificate Program in Web Development, and now use what I learned in a job involving different web projects. It took baby steps to start up again after my release. One day at a time, I learned to live with Bipolar Disorder. I take my medications as prescribed, because I know the consequences I may face if I don’t. Although I still experience variations in my mood, I do not quite reach the extremes I lived through before. Depression is an awful dark void where not one rare high-spirited thought could reveal a sliver of light. While mania is such an amazing feeling, it leads to chaos and dire consequences. Because of my experiences, I now recognize my disability and can cope.
In my effort to live a ‘normal’ life, I have found myself reflecting on my experiences. I look back to see if anything can be learned from my actions. Depression and mania are hard to look back on, as the memory of pain and misery they bring is sometimes overwhelming. When I feel depressed, I remind myself that I am not alone in fighting my demons. I have great friends, and a supportive family that can also see my pain. I reassure myself that there is light at the end of the tunnel I carefully navigate. It may take some time, but eventually you will find the strength to overcome your struggle. In some cases, you may need the help of medication to reach that place where you can move forward. The obstacle of accepting help is a big one for some, and I relate to their sentiment of burden. It can be hard to seek, and even accept, help. The feeling of weakness is crushing, and the feeling of self-helplessness is humiliating. It is assuring to know there are people who care for your well-being, and finding the right people to help you is one of the most important steps to recovery.
To someone facing my struggles, I would recommend you take a close look at all your options before pushing the gas pedal. It is impossible to reverse some actions, so be sure to make the right decision the first time. That extra time spent contemplating the benefits and consequences of your actions can surely save you and others the heartbreak of any wrong doing. Although life is full of imperfections, your experiences, challenges and overcoming of obstacles is what makes up your individuality. Choose your identity by choosing your actions thoughtfully.