Personal Stories

Photo by Barry Shainbaum.


I believe that I was born with this illness. I have always had depression and anxiety. To this day, it still follows me around like a shadow. It lives inside of me. In 1991, a school counselor at Humber College saw that I had incredible anxiety, and she drove me to the nearest hospital. The doctor there described to me the list of the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder, and I realized that I had every single one of them. I was admitted the following day for a number of weeks, and I was given the diagnosis and my first meds. My first reaction to the diagnosis was, “I don’t believe it!” What I did believe in, having been raised in a very religious home, was some kind of curse. For me, it was not a disease but a supernatural occurrence that was driving me nuts and trying to kill me. It took a long time for me to completely dispel that idea.

One of the big curses of depression is the feeling of hopelessness.  I didn’t believe either of my doctors when they said that they would not give up on me, that I’d get better.  I never fully believed that I was going to recover; I thought that eventually I would kill myself, or that I’d get another disease that would kill me. I thought my doctors and my friends were just playing with me.  Even the things that I loved to do the most – my art, my reading, my socializing – these were the things that most filled me with dread.

Art has always been a very love/hate situation for me.  I know I was meant to be an artist. When I was four, I told my mom, “I was put on this planet to be somebody.” For many years, however, I did my art under the influence of alcohol. I found that if I went to the studio sober, I would have a major panic attack and be unable to work.

I believe that art was one of the reasons I came out of my depression. The other reason was volunteering at the MOOD DISORDERS ASSOCIATION. On the days I was there, for the four hours I spent as a telephone volunteer, I didn’t feel depressed. It gave me purpose. I needed to move forward. I would try to get as many volunteer hours as I could because it would lift the blackness for a while. I also needed structure in my life. It was a bit selfish. I was coming here in order to feel better. Talking to other people about something I knew about gave me the purpose I needed. Helping other people puts you on a higher plane in your own life and makes you feel better. It began to motivate me to do other things too.

At first, I was reluctant to be part of the Touched By Fire planning committee, but at the same time, I really wanted to do it. I finally dove in. I was contributing to something creative, and I was getting respect from my peers. I gained more confidence and people liked my ideas. I surprised myself. It gave me a reason to be a somebody again – maybe even that person I told my mom I was meant to be. I don’t have children, but I now understand what it’s like to be a proud parent. We work so hard on putting on that art show each year, and if we didn’t work so hard, I wouldn’t feel so proud. It’s a stronger feeling of accomplishment than an opening night at one of my own shows because I’ve been working with other people. We share, we work, and we give birth to this baby. Four years in, our baby is really impressive. The proudest I’ve ever felt was last year when we held Touched By Fire at the ROM.

If I had not had depression and then healed, I would not be the person that I am today.  Healing has given me the gift of not taking a single second for granted.  It’s given me a new lease on life, and I am savouring every moment.