This is a story about an incredibly inspirational individual who has struggled with Depression and Bipolar Disorder throughout his entire life. However, these obstacles have not stopped Jeff from growing stronger each day, learning more about how to manage his mental illnesses through the help of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Looking back in hindsight, Jeff had begun to experience symptoms of bi-polar when he was around 7 years old. “I remember I was in 3rd grade when my teacher told my parents I was incorrigible. I mean, I was always a bright kid. I did well in school, my reading skills were good, and confidence level was high. Yet I knew something was wrong.” Jeff was diagnosed with Depression when he was in his thirties and was later diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when he was 42 years old.
At 12 years old, Jeff’s parents separated, triggering a dark and difficult time in his childhood. And due to the dysfunctional family dynamics, his Depression and Bipolar Disorder symptoms began to manifest into full-blown disorders. Jeff was not suicidal, but he was extremely withdrawn from engaging in social interactions. “I can count the number of friends I had on my one hand. Making friends was not an easy task for me.” Jeff’s first marriage fell apart, resulting in him deciding to make certain changes pertaining to his physical self. And pushing himself to physically get better resulted in the manifestation of extended hypomania. However, Jeff’s perspective pertaining to his illness is not necessarily negative in nature as he states that it helped him accomplish many things in his life. Specific tasks include exercising for several hours to improve his physique along with running various units at numerous plants where he constantly attempted to improve the maintenance of these plants. And as a result, Jeff obtained recognition in the work force for his skills and abilities; instead of being seen as a problem, he was now seen as helpful.
Jeff increasingly became more and more involved in unions in various local colleges and committees, the biggest achievement being his work with the United Way in their 1984 campaign. After his increased involvement with community related organizations, a major transition occurred in Jeff’s life. From 1983 to the early 1990’s he got remarried and had two beautiful children with his wife who was a trained social worker. She encouraged him to seek professional clinical help from counsellors and other physicians.
Contrastingly, another big change in Jeff’s work life occurred due to the Depression that began to develop and affect his work related performance. Jeff needed a full time job as he had two little girls, a wife, and a house to take care of. By 2007, Jeff spent the majority of his time away from home trying to find work, especially in the winter months. During this year, Jeff was also hospitalized for a month as he was chronically depressed.
Eventually, Jeff got back on his feet again and spent the summer and fall away from home working. Unfortunately during this time, his wife became physically ill and between her illness and his illness, their marriage began to break down. “When you are depressed, you ignore what is important to aid in one’s survival. For example, I ignored income taxes and eventually my wife had enough and moved out of our house to an apartment with my children.” But they continued to raise their children together, still remaining friends until this day.
Due to the lack of financial security in the field work with Imperial Oil, Jeff realized that he was no longer able to sufficiently sustain his family with this work, so he attempted to start a new business. “I borrowed $50,000 in 2 months. I knew I was in no position to get a loan this big. This was my mania.”
Jeff thought he could do it. He thought that despite his past abilities to open a business not going well, he still went ahead with this decision. Engaging in risky behaviour without assessing the consequences of ones actions is one of the functions of Bipolar Disorder.
After undergoing the consequences of a failed business, Jeff’s wife contacted his family and told them that immediate action needed to be taken in regards to Jeff’s overall quality of life. So Jeff’s family relocated him to Woodstock where he began to visit a new psychiatrist. And during this time of intense transitioning between settling down in a new city and consulting a new psychiatrist, Jeff also applied to be on the board at the CMHA. “I have a passion for community service and once I started to volunteer on the board, I began to feel more like myself again. I love helping other people.” He illustrates how he was absolutely amazed with the CMHA and the amount of support and services offered, specifically being thankful to certain individuals who offered to accompany him to his initial appointments with his new psychiatrist.
In regards to Jeff’s road to recovery, he argues that he no longer believes in fully recovering from his illnesses, but rather outlines his journey as fluctuating through states of remission. Jeff’s brother-in-law did not perceive mental illness to exist as a real issue and as a result he threw Jeff out of his father’s home. With no place to go, the CMHA helped him obtain housing at the Wilson house. During this time, Jeff had an interview to work as a potential employee with an individual at the Oxford Self Help Network (OSHN), where he was hired on the spot. Obtaining this new position served as one of the most significant accomplishments for Jeff. “Both the CMHA and the OSHN and their assistance in my recovery has been indescribable. Having a job again made me feel useful.”
Jeff has always had a passion for helping others within the community. And after taking a course at the CMHA pertaining to living better with chronic illnesses, he started teaching the course to others to help support and teach them how to manage their own recoveries. “I know the future will get better. I have hope. And it is because of the unconditional support I receive from the CMHA and the OSHN that has allowed me to obtain more tools to cope with my illnesses and live a better life.”
Jeff underwent various forms of treatment, including antidepressants, light therapy, and antipsychotic medications. However, he claims that the only thing that kept him alive were his kids. “When I had suicidal intents, I would think of my kids. In fact I can recall one time when my daughter called me while I was experiencing suicidal ideations. After speaking with her, I felt like I had a reason to live again.”
“There is a combination of various things that helped me in my recovery. And by “recovery” I mean better understanding my illness and how to manage it. This winter has been difficult but I have hope that the summer will be better. You need to keep hope.”
Today, Jeff still struggles with coping with his mental illnesses, however his strength and willpower to work on these issues is truly an inspiration. “It is important to develop a network of individuals who can help you through the tough times. And one way I was able to obtain this support was from the amazing workers at the CMHA.”