The Power to Live

A special thanks to our contributor with this entry. Sharing lived experiences is a great way to educate others and reduce stigma surrounding mental health.

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“Never give up on someone with a mental illness.

When ‘I’ becomes ‘We’ – Illness becomes wellness”

–Shannon L. Alder


I have an anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed in my late teens, but I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can recall. I also have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder – the doctors aren’t quite certain which.

Like many who live and struggle with mental illness, addiction reared its ugly head not long after I was diagnosed. Or… maybe the drugs and alcohol came before the diagnosis. It’s difficult to tell.

I remember waking up in an isolation room. White walls. A metal toilet. Bright fluorescent lights. My belt missing, my pockets emptied, and my memory hazy.

I was seventeen then. And already, alcohol had become a means of coping with my symptoms.

“You’re quite ill,” the Psych Emerg doctor told me. But, I didn’t understand. I lacked insight – common in people who struggle with serious mental illness. I had little understanding of what I was going through. I was confused, scared, and angry.

After my first hospitalization (and there were many more to follow), I fell back into the same patterns. Substance abuse, self-harm, recklessness. The whole nine-yards.

Education wasn’t offered in the early stages of my illness. I was slapped with a label, given a prescription, and sent on my way. It would take fifteen years, and over twenty hospitalizations, to learn to cope with my mental illness without the crutch of drugs and alcohol.

It’s been shown that, when treated early, the prognosis of a mental health challenge is relatively positive. But, treatment is more than medication. Treatment, as it should be, includes counselling, cognitive and behavioural therapies, relapse prevention education and more.

Education, simply put, is a form of prevention. And given a strained mental healthcare system here in British Columbia, prevention would free up resources so that they may be allocated more strategically. We need only glance at today’s headlines to know that we aren’t doing a good enough job at tackling mental health issues in BC.

There are few, if any, counselors, or psychologists on our wards. And psychiatrists and nurses are often too busy to educate patients on their mental health. We have patients wandering the halls, unoccupied and bored. We have patients using drugs and alcohol to fill time while in hospital. And what we’ve created is a revolving door syndrome – patients leave hospital only to return… repeatedly.

Patients should have the right to access various treatment services while in hospital. Medication compliance is compulsory when involuntarily hospitalized… but attending groups is frequently unenforced. While in hospital, a patient’s treatment needs to be multi-faceted, and with a doctor’s approval, patients should have access to any supplementary services they require.

It’s true, I’ve learned a great deal from my treatment team members, but ultimately, I was self-educated.

Knowledge is power.

And today…

I have the power to live.


“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”

William Blake


I know, with absolute certainty, that William Blake was wrong.


Xannies, K-pins, Oxies, Dillies, Hydros, Bennies, Percs.

And how many others?

Too many to count. Too foggy to remember.


There’s an epidemic of addiction going on in British Columbia. And there’s no sign of it slowing down, even as the overdose rates skyrocket.

For many, it starts as harmless fun. A pill or two. Heck, maybe even three. What’s the worst that could happen?

It starts as weekend partying. Or just something to do to break the boredom. But once it’s gotten hold, you find yourself sneaking into the medicine cabinet more frequently. And when one pill no longer does the trick, you find yourself taking two.

Then it’s a habit.


You’re in the belly of the beast.

There’s an entire generation of young people in BC today who are turning to recreational pharmaceuticals use.  And most addictions specialists would agree – that’s where it starts.

Today, we’re in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic – primarily – Fentanyl. But few users begin with a drug as “hard,” as Fentanyl.  It starts with something seemingly benign, typically. DXM found in cough suppressants, Codeine in Tylenol #3… the “soft,” drugs.


So how do we stop the wave of prescription drug addiction?

Early intervention and education.

There are many organizations and institutions that offer education to reduce the incidence of addiction. I’ve volunteered with a few. Most recently, I volunteered for a short while with the Mood Disorders Association of BC.


Addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. I’ve read that approximately 50% of people who live with mental illness are also drug users. That’s a scary stat.

Aside from offering counseling services to those who are seeking to better their lives, MDABC also ventures out into the community to provide education on mental health issues. It’s the outreach element that truly reaches the hearts of communities in BC.

There’s still a shroud of secrecy and naivety when it comes to addiction and mental illness. This is partially because of stigma, but also due to the relative uncertainty surrounding the causes of mental health issues. Modern medicine has yet to crack the code. We don’t fully understand what causes these illnesses. And by nature, people fear what they don’t understand.

Community outreach is one way to connect people with the services and programs they may need. The mental health system can seem like a convoluted mess. And it can be difficult to navigate to a newcomer. By directing those in need to the right services, MDABC connects the disjointed parts of our mental healthcare system. And people seem genuinely grateful to receive this help.


William Blake wrote, “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

But I think the truth is, it isn’t excess that leads to wisdom. It’s knowledge sharing, human connections, and a willingness to learn from others.

From experience, I believe that the road of excess leads to a place of desolation.

Let’s make a difference. Today.


Support mental health initiatives in your community. Someone out there needs you to.