Paul's Story: The Gift of Courage

This is Paul's Story as he wrote it for the Bipolar Babe Website. Thank you for your courage and contribution Paul. 🙂 ~Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe

"My journey began when I was a child when my mother was diagnosed with Post-Partum Depression, and quite possibly an environment that became the norm for someone who always felt different in our family structure. I survived until being hospitalized in 1993 at the age of 33.

I was settling into a new fulltime job with a local engineering company after several years of backpacking. I had to confront two important issues concerning my future, as well as my past. I was admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital and was put on medications. Eventually, they diagnosed me as having bipolar disorder and stated that I would most likely not be able to work full time again.

Over the next three years, I was able to take an occasional class, which lead me to a local college to do several art courses. My art seemed to bring out the strength in me which lead my psychiatrist to decide I was okay to take a summer course at a prestigious art school in Vancouver. Not long after completing the Art Access Program, I applied for the Fall 1996/97 Foundation Program.

Because of my mental health situation, I felt honoured to be selected into an institution known around the art world. My confidence was at a high, and with no setbacks of any kind, I was given the green light by the psychiatrist. I would be sharing my life with a predominantly younger audience and I looked forward to the challenge being a mature student with work and travel experience.

During my first year, without anyone`s knowledge of my mental health issues, I continued to respond in ways many I did not fully understand. When my classes started in the spring of 97 a young woman student and I caught each other’s attention, so I made my health issue aware to her and the institution.  Suddenly, my goals and direction became irrelevant. I became unfocused in our class because of the presence of this young woman. Realizing my mental health condition may become a problem, I was directed by the institution to see a counselor. By the end of 1997, our first year Art show arrived, and my project for public viewing was on mental health because of the stigma and this institution was no exception.

Over the next two years, my life changed considerably as I wrestled with the dilemma of whether I could carry on studying at the institution; however, I continued to take several classes as my passion dwindled. The young woman made me re-evaluate my own health and safety was a pivotal most issue to me. I continued to share with everyone, but I was criticized on occasion for my own way of expressing my art and now dealing with my diagnoses, schizoaffective disorder. By the time fall 1999 classes started, it became clear that my life experiences and learning with the institution became impossible, the young lady departed, so I also left.

Over the next ten years, I preformed many different tasks with no direction, my life seemed to be mediocre. My life felt a little out of control and my psychiatrist and I were becoming distant due to the relative short time he allotted to my care. I continued traveling when I could, this was a great boost, but I really did not feel ‘good’ within myself. Medication and diet had put me on a collision course, and I visited the hospital several times with police involvement many times, not for violence, but as first responders.

My memory of this time was difficult and by 2011, I had stopped taking my medication, it was around this time that I was picked up at the Vancouver airport by the police and taken to the hospital. I was transferred to Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock and put on a new medication program, where my psychotic episode was brought under control. Over the next two years, I learned how to cope again, but never really feeling strong. I eventually had a relapse and was admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital by the police once again

After being released, I kept in contact with the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS), where I did some volunteer work. Trying to settle back into some normality was my concern, but the side effects of the medication became a significant issue. As time went by, it seemed as if I was heading into a depressive state, and my personal motivation became increasingly difficult. It also became clear that my volunteer time with the BCSS was coming to an end due to my health.

It was around this time that I reviewed and rewrote two presentations I had put together for BCSS, which specifically spoke to the Police and the mental health professionals. I had also taken care of several personal matters, which needed to be addressed, but I felt something was missing in my life. I could not put my finger on it. With Christmas and the holiday season arriving, I became unsettled and bored in ways, so I reflected on what I could do to change my outlook.

I would spend time with friends and family, but nothing seemed to make me feel happy, even though my health was in good order. It became clear to me that I needed a complete change of scenery and it was then I started thinking, once again, about traveling. My only problem was feeling a little fearful of going away because of my mental health issue, which has turned out okay. If only the side effects would go away, I would be able to feel more comfortable knowing I had the stamina to take the risk of going away.

Finally, I made a positive decision during spring time 2015, and I decided I would take a trip to a place I had not been before, so I could experience something totally new. Subsequent to my own personal reflection, and with a little help from a friend or two, I decided on New York City. I talked it over with my psychiatrist and he felt I was ready for the adventure, so I quickly booked my airfare and accommodation. I would be lying if I did not tell you that I feel a little nervous because it has been 10 years since I have been away from my friends or staying with family.

Backpacking seems to bring out a lot of passion in me, and I look forward to meeting all the different people from all around the world in the international Hostel in NY. I also realize, I will be once again be introduced to the hidden side of mental illness, and that is knowing I am going to meet people who are not aware of my condition and to be careful disclosing it if necessary. So, I look forward to this new challenge and consider myself fortunate, a true gift, which life has offered me at this time."