I received my final grade 12 credits at an adult learning centre in St. Thomas. I was in my thirties and living on a forensic rehabilitation unit. I had been to college for a year but somehow without my grade 12. I don’t remember it being my idea to go and I found it tiring but it was good for me in many ways. I saw faces that were different and met some great staff and students.
It was a little awkward being a student who was locked up at night. The big white vans we travelled in were familiar to the community. They gave us bagged lunches which I never thought much of figuratively and literally. A young woman who was friendly to me commented on the sawed off juice containers they included. “Where do you get those, they’re cute.” They didn’t give us Costco cards or I’d have flashed one. I should have mumbled something about my aunt who was either in hospital or worked in one.
We would sometimes have to take a taxi back to the hospital. One day a fellow patient and I were in one together. When we got back to the hospital he asked me if I knew I was supposed to sit in the back. I would sit in the front when I was alone or not. That’s where the view was. I might not have had my grade 12 but I wasn’t stupid.
I was driving through my neighbourhood this morning. My passenger commented on a beautiful shrub in bright red fall plumage. It was a sight. In some way I carried it with me as my mind returned to the road.
As I entered my home I turned to pull the outer screen behind me. As I did I noticed the beautiful red leaves on the shrub in my front yard. I slowly pass it several times a day. I could reach out and touch its leaves any day.
I began to question what else I miss in a typical day. Like commercials on TV I tune out an inordinate number of blessings.
In writing, success is at times measured in publication. If this is true I have recently stumbled into some success. I am sharing a link to an article that anyone who has heard of mental illness can relate to.
I would also like to give credit. If you find the article lengthy the blame rests with me. I was asked to write a piece about mental illness with a certain focus. At the suggestion of my Occupational Therapist over a year ago I had done something similar. It was a file on my computer that I hadn’t hung much worth on. I sent the editor about 15 to 20 pages that I only hoped would give her some suggestions about what I could write. Masterfully quick, I was returned something that was readable. I was in awe. It was like being at a magic show trying to figure out “how the heck”.
If you haven’t the time to finish the article, please find its end and the name of the editor. It belongs to one of the finest people I know.
It has been an exciting and terrifying week for me. I was given the opportunity to speak at the opening of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. The audience included the premiere and health minister. To have been included was an honour. Sitting here today I am mindful of the fact that the very building we came together to celebrate sits in the path of where I circled hundreds of times on my bicycle. When I was not permitted to leave the hospital property I circled it on my brother’s bike.
Those days my dreams were to visit my brother’s home or ride my bike to Port Stanley. If you told me back then I would be included with dignitaries I would have fallen from my bike laughing. Maybe the lesson is to keep pedaling as you never know what’s around the next corner.
I would still be circling that hospital were it not for the staff. My progression from being a patient in the old facility to speaking at the opening of the new one involved the efforts of many. Some staff are obvious in my journey but I had the privilege of dealing with people who patients often don’t encounter but whose talents are felt throughout the system. You don’t need a stethoscope to demonstrate compassion, care and respect.
My terror was to be speaking but also my involvement with the media. I don’t know about other forensic clients but I have often been inclined to hide from the world. I don’t know how much is the stigma I actually feel and how much is what I imagine. Maybe it’s like an obvious birthmark; people do notice but not as much as we think. It’s hard to pull up a turtleneck to cover up your mental illness and involvement with the law. Coming out to my community in a visible way isn’t something I would have chosen to do a few years ago. There have been many times I only wished for anonymity. Again, you never know what’s around the next corner.