The Mentally Ill Can Make It

By Vincent Hollander

I think I have unique story, more like a ride on a roller coaster. I have been a prisoner of my own mind. I have experienced things so vile and reprehensible that even Stephen King would blush.

Keeping Hope Alive: Hope is the energy to keep reaching for our goals with the odds against us.

Years ago I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. Now before you quickly shift your attention elsewhere, consider this: one in five of our population (at least in Canada) will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. This does not necessarily mean a hospital visit, but can include something as "minor" as a bout of depression. My disorder was genetically inherited it was a thousand to one shot against my not developing the condition.

My case was difficult to diagnose and treat. Over a period of about ten years my doctors gradually developed a regimen of medications that worked very well. The vast majority of people I meet have no clue that I have a biochemical dysfunction.

All I suffer from now is the stigma. Even some doctors, by the way, are surprised when their patients improve and recover. Our families tend to shun us and consider us inferior.

The Road Down

What kind of paradigm shift is required to redress this situation? The average Joe on the street thinks that the mentally ill have paraplegia of the brain and don't deserve a good life with all its rights and privileges, imputing all of the blame on the patients.

Let's think about this. Would you board a Quantas 747 bound for Honolulu if the pilot depended on Lithium, Cogentin, and Zoloft to maintain his biochemistry? Probably not. There would be long lineups at Air Canada if the truth were known.

When I was sixteen I was mired in the drug culture in one of Canada's big cities. I wanted to die. I could see no hope or future for myself. I emptied the contents of my bathroom cabinet into my stomach. I didn't die but I drew a lot of attention.

My sister who was living in Australia kindly invited me to move there. She extricated me from the drug culture I was immersed in. I became a successful student but when exam time rolled around I could not handle the stress. The world around me collapsed. I couldn't sleep. I began experiencing paranoia and delusions. I came back to Canada in rough shape and was hospitalized three times.

Finally, in 1982 I experienced a full frontal attack including intense experiences with paranoia and anxiety attacks such as you would not believe. I came to a complete functioning stop. My church was friendly but was out of its league in this case. I became unraveled and hospitalized for four months. The reason? I had not yet placed myself under a full regimen of treatment by caring and competent professionals. But finally the long process of diagnosis, of testing and trying appropriate medical prescriptions for my biochemistry began to do its work.

The Road Up

I gradually recovered and began receiving AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped). Part of my illness is that I am hyper-sensitive to stress of any kind. So now I began to fill much of my time with volunteer work. I was hired as a Life Skills Coordinator by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Thank God for those folks, they do great work. In 1990 I was asked to give presentations to local universities and colleges and its would-be social workers on mental illness from the inside. I gave talks to high school students on the dangers of drugs.

In 1996 I was awarded a Canada Volunteer Award Certificate of Merit for my efforts. The presenter was a chap named Stephen Harper, now Prime Minister of Canada. I am now a freelance writer with articles published in various magazines and newsletters in Canada and the United States. I am happily married. I have reconnected with my local Worldwide Church of God congregation who stayed with me despite their inability to understand all that was happening. They and I have come a long way together. We have learned that while Jesus is the Great Healer, that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). My vision is now for what's ahead of me and I am assured in my own heart and mind that the worst is behind me. We can all be encouraged by my story: The mentally ill can make it.