Today’s guest post comes from Bill MacPhee, as he takes on the subject of life after mental illness.
Disclaimer: In parts of this piece, the author expresses his religious opinions. Whilst these don’t reflect my personal spiritual views, I have decided to include the piece because it’s important to view things from varying perspectives, and everyone’s personal story is valid.
I am sitting here writing this from my living room in Fort Erie, Ontario, looking out seeing the Buffalo, New York skyline and the sunrise. Today is our Canadian Thanksgiving and I am truly blessed and could make several pages of things to be thankful for.
However, it wasn’t always like this.
In 1987, I developed an illness known as Schizophrenia. I was hospitalized six times, lived in three different group homes, had a suicide attempt, and spent five years dealing with a deep depression.
Here is my story in a nutshell.
I was born in Fort Erie in 1962 and had a normal childhood, but my mother had a mental illness; back then it was called Manic Depressive Disorder, which today is known as Bipolar Disorder; we in the family just called it “oh, mom is sick again”. It seemed that my mother would be in the hospital for many weeks at a time. Repeatedly, I would go with my father to the Welland General Hospital to visit her, night after night.
We all knew (except Mom) when she was getting sick. She would begin to tell us that her cheeks were getting puffy, paranoia started to appear, and then she would start accusing my father of running around.
I must admit that at the time I thought my mother’s illness was because of my brother’s bad behaviour and my mom being a weak person.
I was wrong.
My story of mental illness begins when I got a girl pregnant and I didn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed and tried to suppress it. I was 24 year’s old at the time. At the same time, I would get visitors at my house from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was an atheist so would put them off. Finally, one day I told them that I would read their literature and read a book called Evolution VS Creation. After I read that book, I knew with all of my heart that there was a God and I assumed that God must be a good God, and I was looking for forgiveness.
I started to dive deep into their version of the bible and then strange things started to happen.
I would see words float off the page and expand and contract. I would see faces on the wall of my bedroom. I would wake up in the middle of the night and could not sleep. I would call into work and book off and even miss shifts. I was paranoid, delusional, heard voices and had hallucinations.
It all came to an abrupt halt when on a cold, snowy night in January, I was walking naked down the middle of the number 3 highway, being picked up by the police and taken to the hospital’s psychiatric unit.
When I was in the hospital, a friend of my aunt’s (who was a born-again Christian) befriended me, and eventually, I got my theology straightened out and accepted Christ as my saviour, putting behind me the false doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness.
But my life was still hell from 1987 until 1993 when I was saved, but I would say “who cares if you are saved, God can’t help you in practical ways now”.
I was bitter and depressed and although I was on medication that brought back my sanity, my life was over. I had no job, no friends; basically no life. I tried going back to school, I tried to find different jobs, I moved several times and through that time I entered three different group homes, had a suicide attempt and spent those five years in a deep depression.
I was scared stiff that five years was going to turn into seven years and ten years because with mental illness, you can get stuck for a long period of time.
My Turning Point…
When you are stuck, you can’t help but think about your life and how it could be different if only you could have done this or done that.
Well, I remember when I was in school, I had very poor penmanship and my teacher told me that if I didn’t learn how to write properly that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I took that to heart and said to myself that I was going to improve my penmanship. I contacted the Fort Erie literacy council and eventually got a tutor named Martha who taught me penmanship.
Basically, Martha got me back on track with taking a photography course, helping with Scouting, and getting interested in community events, including town council meetings held at the library.
Whilst there one evening, I found a book called “100 Ways to Start a Business With Little or No Capital”. I read a scenario in that book where a lady started a newsletter on the soap operas and sold it. A lightbulb came on and I said that I could probably do a magazine on Schizophrenia.
To make a long story short, I got the idea in 1993, incorporated Magpie Media Inc. in 1994, and published SZ Magazine for 23 years. I travelled all across North America, speaking at conferences as a keynote speaker, and brought hope, education and understanding to hundreds of thousands of people.
Today, I am retired and have three children. I spend my time promoting my book “To Cry A Dry Tear: Bill MacPhee’s Journey of Hope and Recovery with Schizophrenia”. You can go to my website (billmacphee.ca) and download the first chapter for free.
I also have a Facebook Group called “Helping Parents of Mentally Ill Children”, and I do a live Facebook broadcast every Sunday evening at 9PM Eastern Time Zone.
A huge thank you to Bill for sharing his story. You can also find Bill on Twitter.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please see below for some useful links.