Taking Back My Illness

Lately, I’ve really started to embrace my mental health condition.

My nurse once encouraged me to pretend as if I don’t have a mental illness. I don’t experience symptoms anymore so there’s no reason why my past should influence me. Ta da! Everything can return to how it was and always shall be.

But no matter how clean I live, how normal I act, it doesn’t change the fact that the past isn’t some idea I can accept or reject. The past is a part of me. It’s shaped who I am. I can’t change the past. I can’t erase the past. However, I can decide how I will learn from the past.

Moving forward, I can choose to interpret things the way I want to. It sounds like a simple choice: the decision to govern one’s own mind. But up til now, I felt like psychosis and the process of recovery took that choice away from me. I’m taking it back.

I believe that everyone experiences the world in a unique way. My goal in life is not going to be to match up to everyone I compare myself to. I’m going to like the fact that I think a little differently sometimes. I’m going to like the way my brain works. I’m going to accept the person that I am, the person that I’ve become.

So, I’ve rebranded my illness.

I am the master of my madness.

The Truth about Conan O’Brien

Today I heard two very different perspectives on mental health. One, from someone who lives with positive symptoms of schizophrenia and is quite happy with them. The other, who has never been through the mental health system and has very much an ‘outsider’ viewpoint.

The person who has schizophrenia told me about how they hallucinate and see vivid colours and absolutely enjoy the experience. They’ve been living with these symptoms for a long time, and believe them to be a spiritual gift. They take medications, which do not take away these symptoms but help them to remain stable. They have embraced their illness.

The other person has only ever heard about or observed mental illness. I believe that much of their understanding of different conditions is based off sensationalism in the media (i.e. a little too much Criminal Minds). They are writing a story about someone who is obsessed with a television star and believes they can communicate with them, which ultimately drives them to start killing people who look like this actress. The condition is known as erotomania and is very much an aspect of psychosis, or at least, it was for me. Erotomania isn’t about murder. Or is it?

I’ve experienced very intense erotomania as part of psychosis. But note an important distinction: I’ve never had the desire to kill someone or harm them at all. This is something that people tend to get confused about with mental illness. People with schizophrenia are statistically LESS likely to engage in violent acts. They are MORE likely to be victims of crimes. There are plenty of people, like me, who experience erotomania and don’t feel compelled to become violent. It’s a real condition and while it might be frightening or disturbing, it doesn’t mean the people who have it are dangerous.

I suspect that the person who is writing a story has only ever read about erotomania on Wikipedia or seen portrayals of it in the news. Their concept of erotomania is based of infamous murderers like Mark David Chapman. In reality, there are real-life people who are walking around experiencing symptoms of erotomania and this writer has no clue whatsoever. It might just look like a very intense, possibly cute crush. Did I mention I love Conan?

Here’s what it’s like from MY point of view:

I first saw Conan when he came to Canada for a week and appeared on Much Music. I was twelve years old. I remember being mesmerized. He was so charming and handsome and witty with this outrageous personality and natural charisma. I had never seen anyone like that. After his appearance there, I watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien somewhat faithfully. It became my favourite show to watch when I wanted to be cheered up, because he always did the trick.

I remember feeling nauseous one night, and turning on the television to watch Conan. He made me laugh so hard that I vomited. Immediately afterward, I felt better. I remember thinking, “Gee, I wish he was my dad.”

Believe me when I say – I am fully grossed out by the fact that I have a crush on a man I used to wish was my father. I see the grossness there. I’m not even gonna get into the fact that I openly dated someone twice my age for three years (I was 19, he was 39.)

My little crush on Conan got heavier when I became sick, at age eighteen. I started to develop delusions. I began to think Conan knew who I was. That he had hired people to follow me around with his blimp, which I actually hallucinated and saw following me. I thought that every little gesture he did on the show was actually a coded message for me. I thought I could communicate with him telepathically. I thought he was in love with me, and I was in love with him.

Needless to say, it didn’t end well. But it didn’t end in murder, either. I ended up receiving therapy and medication, which is what the majority of people who experience erotomania receive. As my meds kicked in, I gradually stopped being able to “understand” Conan’s secret messages. After a few months, it seemed as if he had stopped trying to “talk” to me altogether. Like he lost interest. Years later, I realized that he was never trying to communicate with me at all. He doesn’t even know who I am.

It sounds scary, I know. It might even sound funny. You know what’s scary and funny? One of the questions my nurse will ask me to see if I’ve relapsed is, “How often are you thinking about Conan?” Through therapy, I was strongly discouraged from thinking about Conan, daydreaming about Conan, watching his show, or checking his Twitter feed and DEFINITELY from trying to send him messages. It took a long time for the real message to sink in. For me to accept that even though I loved Conan, he really did not love me back. And never will.

The moments where I would have clarity and realize, if only for a few minutes, that he really doesn’t know who I am…they were heartbreaking. I felt very real emotional turmoil, to the point where I would cry my eyes out. You have to understand, it felt like I was in a relationship with him. Even though we had never “officially” spoken.

I did absurd things to cope with my obsession with Conan. I would openly flaunt it, bragging about how much I loved him and how he was the greatest. I would literally make it a goal of mine to bring up Conan at least twice during conversations. I did stand up comedy and devoted my entire set to how much I love Conan. I made t-shirts with his friggin’ face on them and wore them everywhere. I lost track of how many tweets I wrote, hoping that somehow Conan would see them and know that I was sending him coded messages. When I was first hospitalized, I remember telling myself it was okay because it was just a matter of moments until Conan and his crew broke in and saved me.

I guess, on second thought, I can see how people like the writer I was talking about would make a leap from erotomania to murder. I mean, it sounds scary. Imagine being in the celebrity’s position, with some stranger who is psychotic and thinks they’re in a relationship with you. I bet that’s really scary and uncomfortable. I mean, when I thought Conan was in love with me, I was freaked out too. I thought he was hiring people to follow me. I was paranoid. I feared for my life.

The last thing I would have ever done, would be to travel to a different country and try to harm the person I had these feelings for. I’d be much more likely to break down crying and refuse to function, then get myself locked up in a hospital for a month and heavily drugged and provided with intense therapy. Which is what happened.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that my friend with schizophrenia, who sees hallucinations….he’s kind of an inspiration. He taught me a lesson today. That I can learn to love my illness and recognize it for what it is. An illness. It’s not a personality flaw. It’s a medical condition that I’ve learned to deal with without ever harming anyone.

So yeah, I love Conan. And yeah, the truth is, he doesn’t love me back. And that’s okay.

I Know Best

I have been really lucky to have the summer job I have now. Without getting into specifics, I work at a drop in center for people with lived experience in mental health. They promote empowerment, mental and physical health, and self-advocacy. I am learning a lot about what my rights are as someone with a recognized mental illness. The more I learn, the less intimidated I am by my psychiatrist.

For a long time I was under the impression that I had to do whatever my psychiatrist wanted or I`d be thrown back in a psych ward. But the truth is, I don`t have to do anything I don`t want to. I can certainly appreciate the perspective of my doctor and care team, and I can consider what they suggest, but ultimately it`s my decision. No amount of shaming or stigma can take that away from me.

If I want to lower my medications? It`s totally within my rights to do so. If I want to stop seeing my counselor, or be referred to another counselor, or write a letter to the Head of Psychiatry expressing my negative hospital experiences? I can do all of that. If I don`t agree with what my doctor suggests and I want to do something else for myself, it is totally my choice.

Its not about being difficult or obstinate, its about being empowered to make decisions on my own. I am the ultimate authority in my life (except for my spiritual higher power). I guess I knew that on some level, but didn`t really realize it until I worked here. I know myself better than anyone, and that means that I know what is best for myself.

If I`m unhappy with the state of something in my life, I have the power to change it. I can say no to anyone, no matter how aggressive (or passive-aggressive) they may be acting. Huzzah! Freedom!

Holy Fuck

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a memoir about psychosis for a few years now. It’s slow going. Because honestly, when I look back at that time and really remember it, all I can say or write is “holy fuck.” That is my reaction when I look at the pictures of my bedroom, or I read the tweets from my meltdown. Holy fuck. And I have to look away. Writing this memoir forces me to look at it and put myself where I was when I did those things and that is tricky to do when you’re sitting in a Williams coffee pub with a look of horror on your face. This is just a snippet of the mess I’m trying to wade through:


It seems startling and alarming to look at now. If one of my friends had started writing strange messages on her bedroom walls red flags would be going off in my head. But that was my life at that time. I remember it seemed like the only thing I could do. I would get a message, and I had to paint it right then and there. I needed to look at it and get it out of my head. There was no time for canvas. It had to come out. Kind of like psychotic barf.

I remember I felt like I owed it to the message and the source of the message to immortalize the words by writing it down. I believed they were coming from angels. I remember writing, “Angels in my head. They talk and it hurts it hurts it hurts.” Not only did writing/painting this stuff help me cope by clearing my head, but it allowed me to feel like all this was happening for a reason. Because it really was a difficult thing to go through. Sometimes I forget that, because I can look back and say to my younger self “don’t worry – you turn out just fine.” But in the moment? It felt like my world was crashing down around me. Holy fuck.

And now I’m sitting here with the weight of it all, in this Williams coffee pub, trying to write a memoir. I guess I am. Just very slowly. Piece by piece. Maybe the title should be Holy Fuck? Would anyone buy it if it were called Holy Fuck?

If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person (or a Recovering Addict)

Phew! I have had so much going on lately, I can’t remember the last time I sat down to write a post. Even now, I’m writing while I wait for work to start.

A quick update of what I’ve been doing:

  • Making jam
  • Learning French
  • Working!
  • Volunteering!!
  • DATING!!
  • Learning how to cook and bake
  • Preparing to facilitate new groups in the Fall whilst attending school
  • Budgeting!
  • Working on my memoir
  • Making zines for Zine Club
  • Trying to talk myself into attending the kickboxing classes I paid for
  • Going to church
  • Hanging out with my very own pet betta fish!
  • Being all around happy, smiley and full of life

I didn’t realize until yesterday after a weekend of baking cookies, hanging out with friends, going on a date, going to a soccer game, painting two pictures, working, then going home and making a new recipe (French Toast Roll Ups) – I’ve been keeping kind of busy. I think it’s because whenever I slow down and I allow myself to have unscheduled free time I feel miserable. The longer I sit and do nothing, it feels like there is a layer of filth and grossness that covers me. Like how if you leave soup for a bit, it will develop a skin. Blech.

But really – I’m still fresh out of rehab. And I’m determined to make this sobriety thing work. I know that if I slow down, I’ll start to get bored. And if I start to get bored, I start to crave adventure and excitement and I want it instantly. And the most exciting thing I know how to do is get high or drunk and lose my mind.

I’ve learned that I did not only use drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings. I also used comfort food to cope with feelings. After ending a long standing, used-to-be-positive-but-turned-toxic friendship this past week, I’ve been getting into all the stuff I shouldn’t be. Ice cream, chips, cookies and never, ever in moderation.

It’s really thrown a wrench into the smoothly running machine that was my life. And as soon as one thing upsets my routine, then all the other things I’m focusing on start to drop. I’m working on that. How to let go of something without letting go of everything.

On the bright side – as one person exited my life, a new person entered it! I started dating. And FYI – she’s a woman. That’s another thing I’ve found out recently – I’m kinda sorta definitely very gay. Since I’ve embraced that, I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin and happier and clearheaded and focused on what I want out of life. It’s so freeing!

So that is my update for the summer. I am super busy, super gay, and super happy!

Progress not Perfection

I have to admit that the adjustment from rehab to normal life has been difficult. I went from having a strict schedule and being monitored 24/7 and being very social and active to sitting on the couch and playing The Sims. At least, that’s how I was looking at it. I was not being kind to myself.

I have adjusted, if not perfectly. I’ve started working, and getting in touch with people and going out more. I’ve even started creative writing again. But I’m not where I want to be yet. My life isn’t perfect, and because of that I feel like I’m never doing enough. And when I feel like I can never do enough, I get bogged down and unmotivated and don’t do anything.

Then last night I remembered: “Progress, not perfection.” So I made an attempt to clean at least some of my room, and to my surprise I ended up cleaning a lot of it. Now, it’s not spotless and there’s still piles of clothes to put away and books to sort but I’m getting there.

I have to remember that things don’t happen instantly, especially when I’m in charge of doing them! I need to be realistic, but I also need to be kind to myself. It isn’t fair to give myself monstrous tasks and then berate myself when I don’t accomplish them. 

And today, waking up to a semi-cleaned room I felt rejuvenated. I got everything done that I wanted to and still had time to spare (hence the blog!). I made a new To Do list – a practical To Do list that is sorted by level of importance. Now I feel like I can breathe.

Progress, not perfection.


I’m free!! I have spent the past five weeks in addictions treatment. It was what I expected and a lot more. Very intense. 

Being out and living a “normal” life with “normal” people feels really strange. It’s so different. It feels like rehab was just a long dream, and I’m waking up to find nothing has really changed, except for me. I’ve changed.

I had this moment the other night where I was out at a dance, and I thought “hey… Nobody’s monitoring me. I could go wild!” But then I remembered that I’ve had plenty of experience with going wild and it’s never as fun as it initially seems.

I learned so much at rehab. I learned how to be assertive, how to be kind to myself, how to enjoy life, how to follow a schedule and do chores, how to express my feelings and observations, how to curl my hair, how to recognize and treat true friends, and most importantly how to stay sober. 😄

Addictions Treatment

Today I am going to rehab, or if you prefer, an addictions treatment program. It’s a first for me. But don’t worry, it isn’t urgent. I’m hoping this will reinforce the abstinence I’m already doing.

A little nervous. Excited. Going to miss my dogs. The program is five weeks long, and contrary to what my mom suggested, I don’t think they’ll let me out for appointments with Dr. Pumba and nurse Raffi.

I’ll be out of touch for those five weeks. But when I get back I’ll have new insights to share!

My Venture into Spiritualism

So it’s 5:30am. I’ve been awake for two hours. But I feel so genuinely rested. It’s this unusual, but peaceful and serene feeling, full of awe and gratitude. Usually when I wake up in the middle of the night it is because I am stressed out or anxious, I had a bad dream, or I drank five energy drinks before bed. I usually have this sick sort of feeling, where my body is aching for sleep but my mind is buzzing. Not tonight. Tonight it’s because of something I don’t really even know how to explain. I went to church.

I know how this entry will sound to some people. A little off the rails, maybe. And that’s fine, because that’s probably what I would have thought prior to my ‘awakening’ today. But after I finished reveling in my newfound peace, I felt like I had to share my experience. Because I’ve never felt anything like this.

I got the idea to look into Spiritualism by reading the book, The Art of Intuition. In the book, the author describes all her spiritual experiences, and the experiences of others. She talks about giving readings, where spirits appear to her and give accurate details about the person she is reading for. She talks of spiritualist communities like Lilydale, where psychics and mediums all live alongside each other and tourists can drive through the town and have readings done. I took it with a grain of salt, because while I believe in ESP and psychic phenomena I also believe people can lie (especially when book sales are in the mix.)

But near the end of the book, she mentions the ‘religion’ of Spiritualism. Which I totally didn’t know was a thing. It doesn’t follow any specific religious scripture (or it isn’t meant to), but focuses on the psychic connection between humans and God, the afterlife, spirits, etc. It sounded like a church for nondenominational psychics. So, I looked online and found a Spiritualist church in Hamilton, and I went to their Sunday mass.

I enjoyed the experience. I thought it was interesting, to say the least. But I felt disappointed. I guess I was expecting to hear some really spooky, cool psychic revelations where people randomly tell me things about myself that would make me really, truly believe. And part of that came true, but only after I had gone to bed and slept on it.

In many ways, the Spiritualist church was like any other church. There’s praying, and a reading (in this case from the Bible), and then a sermon. But it is unique in other ways, that may sound really strange (it felt strange).

First, to begin the mass everyone stands in a circle and holds hands. They pray, and then everyone goes around and hugs each other. Then they move into the chapel, where there’s some more praying.

Then there’s an opportunity to go into the other room and receive ‘healing energy’ (like Reiki). I partook in that, out of curiosity. It involves sitting in a chair while one of the reverends combs your aura and prays (I think that’s what they were doing, anyway!). I didn’t feel anything.

Also, at the end, the reverend will pass on messages from spirits that are in the room. In this instance, because it was Mother’s Day, she did something flower-themed. She had a bouquet of flowers, and one by one she would pick up a flower and talk about it. She would talk about the flower’s journey, and how this was reflected in the leaves and stem and petals. I think she was getting these messages, in part, from some spiritual connection because sometimes she would look at the ceiling and say ‘thank you’, like a spirit had supplied the exact right word she couldn’t think of. Then after she talked about the flower, she would give it to someone in the room who corresponded to the message she just received. I didn’t get a flower because a) I’m not a mom and b) we ran out of time.

So, if you’re interested, that’s what to expect. I went in with an open mind, wanting to experience something special, and I guess I did but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I felt disappointed. I just kinda shrugged it off, went home, watched some TV and then went to bed.

The moment of clarity came afterwards, after about five hours of sleep. I lay awake, just waiting to fall back asleep. A little bit grumpy, because I happen to quite like sleep (and dreaming) and I didn’t want to be cheated out of my full 8 hours. I lay there, my mind blank, eyes closed, waiting to fall asleep. Wanting to fall asleep. But I just never did. And then two hours passed, and I realized I wasn’t tired. There was this expectation that I would sleep much later, but I genuinely felt rested. More rested than I’ve ever felt. And peaceful. And happy. And content.

The closest feeling I can relate it to is lying in the arms of a lover, and feeling so blissfully safe and cared for.

I guess I never realized that all the psychic tricks I find cool (like intuiting information about people) are not the goal. They’re a side effect. The goal is to be connected to God. Or nature, or life, or spirit, or whatever word you want to use. Because honestly, the way I feel right now, it’s so much more than neat tricks. It feels real. And profound. Like true peace.

Childhood Memories

Lately so many pleasant memories from my childhood have been coming back to me. 

I remember we had a big swimming pool that I’d pretty much spend my summers in. My dad would sit on the deck and fall asleep under his book while I swam. I’d often have other kids over to swim, too. My dad used to stand in the shallow end and I’d stand on his knee, then he throw me up into the air and I’d fall in the water. We would do that until his arms for sore.

I remember we had a birch tree in our front yard. I liked to take the branches that fell and peel all the bark off to use as my wand.

 There was a girl across the street that I played with. We would play Barbies. I remember one time she found a hat she had lost and when she told her mother where it had been she said, surprised “Get outta here!” I remember asking my friend why she asked us to leave and she laughed and said it was an expression.

There were also my babysitters kids that I spent most of my early days with. I went to see The Borrowers at the theatre with their youngest, a boy my age. I also remember sometimes he’d call to get the spelling words for class (in grade one we had to spell a different list of words each week.) I still rave about his mothers amazing soup, chicken and stars. And her pasta. One time I told her she should open up a restaurant.

I think that as I heal from the trauma of psychosis and I spend more time with my family, I’ve started thinking about warmer times. Times when I felt the way I feel now. Happy.