My Story

A serious mental illness can have a devastating impact on two people who are very much in love.  Nevertheless, we are the lucky ones.

Jim has always had access to the very best medical care, both in the United States and Canada. His parents never gave up on him while I struggled with my own fears, my anger and my sense of loss.

Manic depressive illness, more commonly known as bipolar disorder, has threatened the stability of our family unit more often that I care to remember. At times, the weight of keeping Jim's illness a secret was almost more than I could bear. Ensuring that our children were not adversely affected by this disease became an impossible task.

I cannot say that I truly understand the disease. I have learned that a precarious balance exists between sanity and madness. I have also learned that it is often impossible to draw the line that separates the two states of mind.

For the more than 30 years, I have been riding an emotional roller coaster. Living with someone suffering from this disease is exciting and scary at the same time. Do I regret the decision to hang on despite the unpredictable highs and lows?

The answer is an emphatic, "No!"

Sure, there has been pain beyond comprehension and anger, at times, beyond control. But my life has also been enriched in ways that I would never have thought possible. And I have discovered the courage, the tenacity and strength to fight for the rights of  all Canadians with mental illnesses.

Jim continues to be held hostage by an illness he has no control over. There is no cure. It is a potentially lethal disease if left untreated or not treated properly. His well-being is dependent on the advances in drug therapies and innovative treatments as well as a supportive family and community environment.

Although Jim hasn't been able to return to a high profile public relations position, he contributes his time to community and hospital committees. Jim also assists others who are unable to navigate their way through the mental health system.

Persons with serious mental illnesses need more than compassion and understanding. Like cancer patients, they are living with life threatening illnesses. Like cancer patients, they need access to excellent health care. Like cancer patients, they also need access to innovative treatments when they become available. Like cancer patients, they can contribute, once again, in a meaningful way to society when the disease is under control.

Recovery from relapses has only been possible because of newer and more effective drugs coming onto the market for people like Jim who are living on the edge. 

Lembi Buchanan
Mental Health Advocate

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