by Anita Levesque
Mental health is a very important issue and especially because I have had and have loved ones who live with mental illness. The stigma towards mental health is large though as I became a mental health advocate, I am seeing more and more people opening up and talking about their mental illness.
When my father passed away in 2004, my brother was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. As a result of living with violent domestic abuse caused by my father’s bipolar disorder and prescription medication addiction, my mother and I now live with PTSD and depression.
Over the years my brother and I spent so much time at my grandmother’s house. I always wondered why. Although we always had a great time, something didn’t feel right. Years later, my mother explained to my why we spent so much time there; she was protecting us from our dad; he lived with manic depression all his life and had a prescription medication addiction which brought out violent actions towards my mother.
My father and I had a very special bond, even with everything he put us through. For example when everyone was sleeping, except him, he would wake me up and we’d sit at the kitchen table and he talk for hours while I listened. I’m the only one he talked to like this, but I know it helped and he felt a bit better. It really hurt me to see him like this. Sure, we had our ups and downs, fought as normal father and daughter, over boys, me wanting a life, etc, but we were very close.
Even though he died in 2004, I still have triggers and flashbacks; however the nightmares have disappeared. I look back at how things were and all I think is “this actually happened?” I remember my father telling us “what happens in this house, stays in this house.” I was terrified to tell anyone what was happening but knew I had to. I started opening up to a high school counselor, when I was in Grade 9, but he saw that I was vulnerable and sexually assaulted me. (I discovered a few years later, he did this at other schools and would just be transferred.) This was another situation where I was too terrified to tell anyone. For some reason, this followed me and I was revictimized by two close family friends who sexually assaulted me for years. I told my parents but they didn’t believe me. After my father died, my mom and I talked about my assaults; she believed me but couldn’t say anything. I went to college and was raped twice; first by my first boyfriend in college and the second was by a blind date. I always wondered when everything was going to end and my life would change; I was always asking myself “did I cause something for all this to happen?”, only because similar situations were always occuring. I never talked to anyone about any of these situations until after my father died and I was finally able to talk to my mother and she did believe me but she couldn’t say anything because the family friends were close friends of my fathers.
I think of everything that had happened and look back at things now. Even though my father had manic depression and an addiction to prescription medication, he was the best father anyone could ask for. He did provide for us, care about us and I know we meant the world to him.
When I married in 2003, it was good at first. Gradually I began to see the jealousy, paranoia, distrust in my spouse. I was learning that he had issues when he was a child and his first wife had cheated on him. I was getting the response of his issues. We argued a lot, he played mind games by turning things around to make it like it was my fault. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, he always managed to turn things around and eventually I felt like I was losing my mind. At this time, I was starting to notices changes within myself; losing patience, yelling and screaming so I could be heard, crying all the time, and isolating myself from everything. I had started my own home daycare when I became pregnant, so I could be there for my child’s firsts. Whenever families would leave because children were starting school, the money would be tight, and I’d go to apply for other jobs. I would receive excuses from my husband as to why I don’t need to go out to work, that everything would be fine. I lost my friends and found it hard to make new ones because I felt trapped in the house by his jealousy. I had fallen into a deep depression and I wasn’t aware of it. Gradually I began to feel not like myself; I didn’t care about the daycare, but we needed the money, I didn’t care how I looked or about my clothes and gained a lot of weight. My husband and I did nothing but fight, to the point I fell out of love with him. After 10 years of marriage, I finally had the courage to end the marriage.
My boyfriend was looking for a web designer, in 2010, and came across my ad on Kijiji, he called me and have been working together since. In 2013, my boyfriend and I met, in person, for the first time, after working together for 3 years. I didn’t know he was living with clinical depression, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder and a few personality disorders. I had gained some tools from living with my father and I knew I could help my boyfriend by supporting him. We would communicate through text every day, I would help him through panic attacks, and ease his depression somewhat. I was just there for him, so he felt comfortable enough to tell me his deepest darkest secrets. On November 28, 2013, the day he moved in, reality hit me square in the face. I saw, first hand, the effects of living with mental illness without medication.
While off his medication, it was like living in a nightmare. There were panic attacks, severe paranoia and fear, social phobia, isolation, severe depression where he would sleep all day, not wanting to do anything, but talk to me. It was very scary, not knowing what to do and seeing him like this. On my part, there was a lot of reassuring, letting him know everything was going to be okay and a lot of patience. His routine became part of my routine; grocery shopping the same day and time each week, bedtime was the same each day, meal times were the same. If he was off his routine by 5 minutes, he would have a panic attack. For me, it was very mentally draining, I found myself making time for self-care. In mid 2015, he went back on medication and life is much more manageable. Panic attacks are very minimal, no more staying in bed, back to work, back to visiting friends and family, now he’s living his dream and drumming again, back to the man I knew when we first met.
Today, I still live with flashbacks and a lot of triggers, but I manage them and have learned to live with them. Here’s some of the ways I manage my flashbacks and triggers.
–Certain TV shows and movies involving guns set off triggers, I know which ones I cannot watch.
–I must associate with positive people only. I’ve had to cut ties with 2 people because I felt myself fall into a depression.
–Instead of dwelling on the negative experiences in my past, I find the positive outcomes from them, learn from them and I apply them to my life today. This helps me cope if similar situations arise.
–I stay close with my family and close friends, keep the communication open, be truthful and honest and show I trust them, and in return they trust me.
–There are times when I do have flashbacks and when that happens I tell myself that it’s in the past and it’s not happening now.
–Photography and writing really helps me deal with the past. When I take photos, I’m captured in the moment and the beauty of life. Writing is very therapeutic for me; I write down absolutely everything I’m feeling at the moment. I’ve been able to share my writing on various blogs and discovered my writing helps others, which is the point of me sharing my story here. I hope it helped somebody heal and maybe feel less alone.