Ever get the feeling that the person in the mirror is hurting so bad, has come to the end of the line, looks completely exhausted and has absolutely no idea how to get out of the mess they’re in other than to “self-medicate” with drugs and alcohol? Have you looked at that person weeks later and felt like you’re on top of the world, you can do anything and everything, no one can stop you, everyone wants to be you, and you just keep starting things based on your ideas and thoughts, like you are going to save the world or something? Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered what the hell did you do the last couple days, weeks or more and just have no idea and start crashing into a big dark hole that grabs you and pulls you in until you see no way out other than being engulfed by the darkness filled with pain, despair, hearing “ liar” echo in your head, feeling complete shutdown of every body part, and feeling like there is no one that can help you or cares about you. You see that person believes they have destroyed their life, lost friends, family members, and their relationships are gone.
Hi, my name is Devin Harrison and I am an alcoholic, drug addict, living with bipolar 2 (with some panic attacks sprinkled on for the fun of it). The above is something I would deal with for probably 25 years of my life in some form or another, getting worse as I hit my late teens (16) til I had nowhere else to go but the streets/hospital or finally stop and get help.
Before I go on, if you are feeling any of these things at this moment in your life, reach out for help, do not be afraid or ashamed. Mental illnesses like bipolar and major depression often come from chemical imbalances in our brains and, like diabetes or severe allergies, you may need to take medication for a little bit or the rest of your life, but what you will get is the one thing you never thought was possible: PEACE, HAPPINESS, QUIETNESS, AND LOVE.
Going on, I was born in 1977, a month after the King had passed on, and my Mom and Dad were in love and excited for the next step in their life. Unfortunately, as I grew up I would put my amazing parents through the ringer. I want to state right now that I grew up in the most loving and amazing household with the two best parents in the world. We were not rich by any means, but what we had was something I didn’t understand until only 10 plus years ago. I was a colicky child, that hung on my mothers ‘apron strings’ everywhere she went. As I grew up I needed to be the center of attention, and would take all the attention from everyone around me, but only when I felt safe. When I was away from my Mom and Dad, my safe haven and the world I could control, a different kind of anxiety would take its place and make sleepovers and summer camps a nightmare. Those feelings of anxiety would be so intense I would become emotionally distraught, have trouble sleeping, communicating, and have an inability to settle my mind/thoughts in the days leading up to going away overnight. This all resulted in a nervous twitch where I continuously bounced my legs to help take away that build up of anxiety, energy and stress I’d created. This was just the first indication of the mental health issues I would deal with later in life.
As I hit elementary school, I needed to be the big star, and would lie and act crazy. I had no control over what I was saying, which made me a target for bullies and fat shamers. I remember being in grade 4 and hearing the bell ring at the end of day and I would start to run out of the classroom, the school and through the field. I could feel and hear kids yelling at me, calling me names, chasing after me. They would catch me and push me to the ground and smack my stomach, spit on me, yell at me, kick me and they all would be laughing. I would end up lying to my parents about school as I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself.
I don’t want you to think everything in my life was bad. Our parents took us on trips, we went camping in the summer, Disneyland, white water rafting. I was in speed swimming and became a lifeguard with my parents’ help. I had Nintendo, Atari, a great house, slip and slide, BMX bike, skateboards and so much more. But something in me could never accept that to be enough. I continued to make up stories to try to fit in and be the center of the world. I believed I could be a musician and played percussion, drums, trombone, trumpet and even sang. Oh, I had perfect pitch in my mind and believed I was going to be somebody. I had these dreams, and yes dreams are great to have, but I truly believed I could do anything and everything.
As I got into middle school and then high school, I went through all the awkward teen phases — pimples and voice changing, emotions running wild, body changing in so many ways that I had no idea what way was up. That is when those crazy stories, lies, and the highs took a massive tumble into the darkness. It was the early 90’s, grunge was in, and I could not find my way. I hated everything about myself. I called myself fat, ugly, worthless, worse things than the bullies ever did, and I believed it with all my heart and mind. I thought about ending it several times through my teenage years, I believed that everyone around me would be better off without me, and honestly, I didn’t believe I deserved to live at all.
March 18, 1994 was the day that changed my life forever, the day that started my entrance into using, abusing, you name it and I did it from that point on. I was in the capital city in my province at a music festival. I loved performing, the adrenaline high I would get from the excitement and nerves was addicting. I truly believed I was the best of the best, but I now realize I was just ok. The past few months our family had been going through the worst pain we could possibly imagine at the time. My father was one day curling with me at a bonspiel and having fun, then all of a sudden he couldn’t finish the game. We took him to the hospital for several tests, and honestly, I don’t fully remember things very well. I do remember one day hearing the phone ring and running up the stairs. My mother answered and found out that her husband of over 20 years had only weeks to a couple months to live, as he had cancer that had already taken over his liver and there was nothing they could do. She broke down, but got back up and explained it to us kids. Then came March 18, and I called home to speak to my mom, and I could tell something was not right on the phone. “Dad died today.” I remember falling to the ground and really the rest is not all there.
You bet I went into a tailspin, and still to this date I am surprised I graduated from high school, let alone received scholarships and bursaries for a post-secondary education. Once again, I was back on top of the world and was going to be a music educator. That blew up and I crashed hard and was drinking as often as I could to ease the disgust in myself. Then I was going to become a music engineer and producer, so I moved to the big city of Toronto. I met my first wife there and of course love is what I thought I had. We married within a year of meeting each other, in Scotland, and quickly the honeymoon was over. I hit the bottom with the realization I was not a music superstar, I could barely find a job and when I did I would start off believing I would rock it and would take on learning as much as possible and would clean this up. My friend the ROCK would meet me at the bottom again, and by this time I was drinking every day and started to try cocaine. It was not meant to be, which sent me down divorce alley, but I was not going to let that girl ruin my life. I would become something big and she would see what she lost.
By this time, I was up and down on the mood rollercoaster, gained a bunch of weight, slept all the time, no care in the world about anything. Then all of a sudden I would find something, usually with the help of booze and Coke and I would lose that weight and be on top of the world. At that time, I secured a job with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a DJ and got on a plane and headed to MIAMI! This was the life of fun, party, girls, sex, drugs, alcohol and more. The worst possible place for someone that self-medicates, has no control or even memories of what he says or does. There were weeks at a time I would have no idea what the heck I did. Those were the times I would sober up enough to realize how bad things were and spin into that depressive state. But I had people around me that I believed were my best friends that would help me get out of my depressive state and back into the world of mania. This continued for many years on and then off ships, living in the Bahamas or up with my sister. I lied to keep my high going, I stole to get my “medication”, I lost friends and pushed everyone that truly loved me so far away. Like Miley Cyrus said, I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL, and I was going to be the best (whatever at the time, like a DJ or bar owner, computer genius, etc.) person in the world.
Finally, the lies, drugs, alcohol abuse all caught up with me in a giant big explosion of crap. I could not just be happy, I had to push everything. I was telling all kinds of lies that to this day I still am dealing with the stuff I did. I was in Winnipeg, MB, just lost my job because they found out my lies, drugs and alcohol problem, in an apartment I had to get out of by the end of the weekend, no friends, no money, no life and I was spinning out of control. This is when the two choices were presented to me by the only person that still stood by me through everything I put her through, my mother. I was a very lucky person to even have her still there with me, cause everyone else hit the road running and I don’t blame them. I didn’t see a way out, no more life for me, I couldn’t stop crying and all I wanted was it all to end and thought about ways of doing it.
Choice 1: Stand up, admit something was wrong and that you needed help in the worst way possible. Admit yourself to the hospital and to a psychologist or whoever else and work on finding out the problems and fixing it.
Choice 2: Pick up the phone, call a dealer, sell whatever I had including myself to get high and get out of this place and end up living and dying either in the streets, by someone else or by my own hands.
I remember that trip home and how hard I was fighting to stay alive and not just run. I had taken the easy way all my life, abandoned all my morals to chase that high again so I could get out of this funk. But I knew looking at my mother, that it was time to change. I didn’t want to be that person anymore that I saw in the mirror. I wanted to be better than that and find a way to maybe have a real life, make my family proud of me and find a way to love myself again.
This was the hardest thing I ever took on in my life to date and I still struggle with addiction and my mind playing tricks on me. I was lucky to find an amazing Psychologist who then showed me the book of medications and explained to me that this was not going to be an overnight success. I would not take some pills, and everything would be beautiful. It could take years of trying different combinations of medication to get me to a point that I could start feeling and seeing clearly to be able to start working on myself. It can take anywhere from 3 weeks up to 4 months for medication to properly start taking effect on a person’s body. And then at that, it may not even be the right one, because every person is different and that is why there are so many different combinations out there. I went through years of trying, and failing, and doing drugs again and alcohol, then get out and back on track. It took me until I found a woman with a young 12 year old daughter, that got me to stop everything I was doing and become serious about my mental health and wellness. I wanted to be able to be someone she could look up to and be proud of. I could see so many things she was doing in her life that reminded me of my past activities and challenges I went through.
I have been clean for almost TEN years now, with just over TEN years of being on medication to help keep me balanced. I still struggle with it and have my days where I am down and up, but I can recognize it now and I’m able to stop it and fix it. I can see that every life is important and that everything we do in life affects more than just ourselves and the ones around us. Life is a precious thing, and you are never alone no matter what is going on in your world, your heart or your mind. Growing up in the age of the 70’s through the early 90’s, you could not talk about mental illness because you would be classified into a special needs group. I was picked on so much I could not even think about seeing someone or speaking to someone about my feelings. But look at how far the world has come in the last 40 years. It’s becoming ok to ask for help, it’s becoming ok to speak up about your sexuality, who you love and how you want to live. But there is still so much further we need to go, and I want to be part of that change. You can’t judge how a person feels when something happens to them. Each person deals with things in different ways at different times in their lives. Even people with amazing families like myself still end up with mental health problems. There is no ONE MOLD when it comes to the mind and mental health.
Some people out there will only need someone to be there and listen to them and the struggles they are going through to get out of the place they are in. And others will need to take medication maybe only once in a while or for a couple months/years. And then there will be those that will be medicated for the rest of their lives, and that is ok, more than ok, because every day you wake up smiling and turning your life around is another magical moment in life. We can’t end the stigma associated with mental health until we can change the way we look and approach things in life. When it comes to mental health, every action counts. There are simple steps out there to stop the stigma around mental health and start the conversations. Language matters, how you approach a person and the things you say and how you say them can have a huge impact on someone. Education is key when it comes to mental illness. Having the right tools, knowing the right words to use and understanding how to correctly speak with someone experiencing a mental illness can make a difference. Be KIND. Simple kindness can make a world of a difference. Whether it be a smile, being a good listener or an invitation for a chat over coffee, these simple acts of kindness can help open up the conversation and let someone know you’re there for them. Listen and ask. Your very presence is all it takes. And finally, BREAK THE SILENCE. Talk about it. Two out of three people suffer in silence, fearing judgement and rejection. Being open to a conversation is the first step towards eliminating the stigma.
I hope you can take something away from my brief story of my life with mental illness. There are lots of things I did not go through or left out, but the main important parts are here. If you take away anything from this, take away the fact that you are important, don’t be afraid to ask for help or talk to someone that needs help. Just starting that conversation, even though it can be hard and take years to get to the point, will be what could change their world forever.