I have been dealing with struggles related to my own mental health since I was a toddler. I was a baby abandoned on the street of Toronto in 1983, by drug-addicted parents. I was 3 months old and then spent the next 10 months in foster care. Somewhere along the line something happened that made me cold and emotionally unattached.
I was adopted at 13 months old and was unable to bond with my new mother. I was very angry and ripped everything to shreds. I often retreated into my own little world and never had any friends at school.
As a preteen I began watching movies like Scream over and over, memorizing the violent lines. I was taken to see a psychiatrist at 11 and remembered the animal wallpaper that covered her office. She was unable to help me though.
I began listening to my Walkman full blast for hours with my face buried in the couch. The bullying got so bad at school because of my social problem that in grade 9 I had to do my work in a separate office and leave the school early. This was because of the threats place on me.
I still don’t understand what I did to gather so much hate other than being different.
I began self-harming and punching myself that year and I was sent to a local hospital. I was able to make friends for the first time with the adults in the ward and I took up smoking. I didn’t want to go back to school for grade 10 so I made sure I was kept in the hospital.
From there I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. It was the brand new one just built. The original one can be seen in Billy Talents video, Try Honesty. There was a basketball court outside and an indoor swimming pool. I remember that year the song Dragula by Rob Zombie came out and when the video came on we would all stand around the TV mesmerized.
What I remember most were the endless games of Skip Bo and getting to play the Nintendo 64 which had just come out.
I continued to find ways to self-harm such as braking plastic utensils. I acted out frequently, so I was often put into the time-out room. I would punch the wall in there non stop so eventually they put a mattress against the wall and drew a face on it for me to hit.
At other times I was put into restraints. The restraints were blue with black knobs to lock them. I would lay there belting out Green Day songs at the top of my lungs, such as Basket Case. I had an amazing ability to get out of the restraints and would walk out of the room triumphantly. The staff would look up from their Skip Bo game just shocked, then tackle me and put me back into restraints.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and Fetal Alcohol Affects.
I was transferred to another hospital. My only memories were sitting on a chair taking pills and being in leather restraints for up to 3 days.
This hospital is now involved in lawsuits pertaining to illegal druggings and unethical practices during the time I was there in 1998. I was drugged so badly I spent my days in a stupor. They gave us our pills in little white cups and I remember counting 10 different pills in my cup at one time.
I would sometimes get up and run for the exit door, yanking on it although I knew it was locked. This would get me tackled and given an injection which they called a PRN. The most violent staff was Mark; he would twist my arms up behind my back making me scream.
Next I was transferred to a community of group homes for youth with various problems. When I arrived I found myself surrounded by want-to-be gang members who listened to Wu Tnag all day. The only other girl there was discharged 2 weeks after I arrived, so I was alone.
I was made fun of by the boys for my music taste but eventually I made a friend named Richard. Richard and I ran away together to Toronto. He promised me he knew where he was going and I followed him to a mall. At the mall there was a cardboard stand of lotto tickets, which Richard decided to set on fire. We were then chased out of the mall by security and called the group home from a pay phone to come and get us… because Richard was lost.
I would go rollerblading in the gym with my Primary Worker every morning. I enjoyed the friendships I made with a few staff.
From there I was sent to a Group Home run by Kinark. Here I made a friend named Sherri and we would dance to the radio together. Eminem came out with his first single and we all thought his name was Zimzany. His CD eventually got banned from the group home.
While I was in this group home a lot of things happen so let me narrow it out. I learned how to cook, I was molested under a bridge, I was kicked off Main Street by a gang and I was beaten up by a girl from another group home. I nearly completed grade 10 in a special school but wound up self-harming behind the principal’s desk before the last exams.
I also ran away so much I lived on the street half the time. I would often just walk all night long listening to my music. The police would find me and bring me back to the group home.
Looking back now, I can see my life was like being on a rushing train that had no breaks and I was about to crash hard.
One afternoon after returning to the group home from an outing, I demanded the attention of my favourite male staff named Jim. Jim was busy with another kid though and I lost it. I climbed the fire escape to the roof. My deep need for love and fear of rejection drove me up there. Jim came up and I told him I was going to jump. He responded that I wasn’t going to jump, so I unfortunately took that as a personal challenge. Three fractures later I was back at the hospital, this time strapped on a board. God I just want to take that girl I was and talk her out of so many bad choices.
A few people I met in the psychiatric ward at the hospital have stayed in my heart. One was Michael; he had attempted suicide because his wife left him. He would sit and chain smoke all day, making a sound like he was eating the cigarette. His fingers were stained yellow and he never smiled. I knew he was special so I dedicated myself to making him happy. I would get yelled at by the nurses for sitting beside his chair on the floor. I loved him and making him smile and laugh. I was the only one that could.
Another memorable friend was Derrel. He would sit and talk with me all the time. We would sit outside on the patio and he would play me Beatles songs on his guitar. My favourite was Hey Jude and I can still hear him singing in my head. He made me feel special. One day though he was discharged because he was told that his music was affecting other patients. I guess he made them happy! He was in a group home for a while after that and I would visit him but them I lost contact.
Life is like a series of fleeting moments. At the time they seem like they will last forever but when you look back on them you realize just how short those memories are. Maybe the short ones are the most precious?
I have many more stories to tell but I’m going to fast forward a bit. I had run off with a 25-year old man who narrowly beat me to death while I followed him around like a love-sick puppy for eleven months.
Then I landed in another group home where I met a rebound guy who was 26. I took off with him hitch hiking. He also did great physical harm to me and it was with him that I felt harmed for the last time. I had been severely assaulted by him so badly that it was in the news.
What followed was a self-harming incident that required over 50 stitches. I realized my self-harming was out of control and an addiction. My horror of what I had done made me stop.
I got pregnant, left that guy and got subsidized housing after living for months in shelters. Surviving on my ODSP and Child Tax cheques, I threw myself into parenting and quit drugs and drinking.
Around this time I became a Christian and was able to feel real love for the first time. God continues to be my strength.
Now I am 30 years old. The girl I was scares the heck out of me but I still try to share my story. I’m done self-harming and abusing substances now and I am working on raising a family with my husband. Some of you may know that’s a difficult and demanding role.
Anyone that knows me know that I’m always listening to music. It seems to help me work through tough emotions. I’m careful not to listen to negative lyrics anymore. My favourite band is Thousand Foot Krutch. There is one song that I always put on when I feel overwhelmed.
The lyrics go:
I don’t think I need you anymore,
Take your words and you lies and just beat it.
Take this hurt and this pain, I don’t need it.
I want to live, I want to be the change.
We can all be kings and queens.
Positive music has been a huge part of my recovery.
With having this personality disorder I find I react to situations differently depending on the mood I’m in. In some moods I feel so fragile and timid as a girl. When I’m in that mood I won’t answer the phone or the door. In other moods I feel so socially awkward that I can’t even bear to make eye contact with people. Still in other moods I smile and say good morning to people and initiate conversations. I have a charming and outgoing personality in that mood. I develop anxiety attacks and paranoia so bad sometimes that I have to remind myself to breathe. I find myself holding my breath without realizing it. I feel like a vice grip has clenched my whole chest.
I call my friend from church who drives me and explain my new reasons why I’m sure everyone at church doesn’t like me and I can never show my face there again. She always reasons out my doubts and insecurity and I wind up back at church happy and social again. It’s a cycle I can’t always control.
My diagnoses of BPD made me feel put in a box. I realized the characteristics of it fit me to a T and I felt angry. Why did I have to be this person, I wanted to be more then that and not feel so limited. I fight a battle not to be an angry, manipulative person. People with mental health disorders are often extremely intelligent and I am no exception. I want to break out of my box this label gave me and use my intelligence for good. Not to set my life up like a chess game and treat people like pawns. I want to be real and face my fears head on. Terrible fears of abandonment and rejection. I wont give up, I’m going to live my dream of helping people.
Winston Churchhill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
People with mental disorders are more than the diagnoses placed on them and the stigma that ensues. Maybe I can encourage you to show how brilliant you are and never let a diagnoses limit you.
I will never let my scars make me feel ugly or weird. They show my battle, this battle that I will win.
We are not alone in our battle, many people, even celebrities have been diagnosed. The woman who played Princess Leia in Star Wars is bipolar and quoted as saying, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed to say that.”
Edgar Allen Poe questions whether the most intelligent people are considered mad, himself being diagnosed as bipolar. He said, “Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest of intelligence…”
There is a long list of celebrities with mental health diagnoses, here are a few:
Linda Hamilton from Terminator
Jean Claude Van Damme
I could go on, but my point is these people don’t let a diagnoses put them in a box. They let their star shine overruling any stigma.
Whether someone looks down at me because I’m on disability, or I break down emotionally in public and am embarrassed, I will strive on to reach my goal of being an inspirational public speaker because that is my dream.
C.S Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Never let a mental health issue stop you from living your dream!
Added Julie’s poem on March 5, 2014
To the Edge and Back
It’s my life with BPD. Borderline Personality Disorder is the diagnosis placed on me.
Why did I get this, you may ask. How does it affect me? How do I work past?
Well, today I’ll take you back. I was 15, an angry girl who cut herself and a loner with no means.
I learned the hard way not to piss off the staff. Acting out at Youthdale Crisis Ward in 1998, a date long past.
They slammed me to the ground. Here comes the needle, so hold your breath now.
They twist my arm behind my back, they like to hear me scream. I’m dragged away to that room where leather straps wait for me. Buckled to the bed, the drugs take me away…
How can this be? Have I really been here for days?
They let me out and I sit back in my chair. They hand me my little white cup, hear are your pills now, so pop, pop, pop! Let me check under your tongue. Don’t resist us, we’ve already won.
Let’s experiment with your brain, see how the medication makes you change. Your personality sucks, you didn’t need it anyway.
With a last burst of energy I attack the door. Yanking on the handle, giving it my all. I know it’s locked but still I try. Then I’m tackled again and back in that room I cry.
I drifted through 6 places like this and then I ran away. Abused on the streets by older men, searching for drugs to take me away.
The truth is I always tried to fit in but I never could and I didn’t know why. Like I was just born with a giant ‘kick me’ sign.
Stand back everyone, it’s happening again! I’m going to try and act normal, please let me fit in.
I’ll give you my very best. I’ll study your actions and just wing the rest.
Yeah, that didn’t work… Once again I’m called crazy, weird and fake. I try not to let the words sink in… but I fade into obscurity anyway.
Oh, now there’s Julie alone in her world, headphones on, music blaring. God, what’s wrong with this girl?
“My music doesn’t judge me”, I mumble, as I saunter away. Forget them all, I just let my bands play.
That little voice in my head tells me I should go away.
Am I coming off as too much creepy stalker? Or too much nostalgie? (Won’t you just love me?)
This is my life, my bumpers that deal with emotion were taken away. I never asked for this, this desperation and need.
I try to downplay how I feel but it always hides in me like something obscene.
Excuse me now, as I scribble away. I just can’t conceal my pain. These words fall like tears from my face.
Mommy didn’t want me, daddy wouldn’t stay.
Abandoned in a foster home my illness makes me feel depraved. The urgency for what I lost… The bond, the trust, my parents are free of me but at what cost?
After that I was never able to bond with my new family and I brewed with Borderline rage.
I have 100 dreams of better lives but when I wake up I’m still the same.
No matter how much I yank and pull, Jesus, just won’t let me go. He found me somewhere along the way and showed me a love that won’t go away.
So now I focus on what I can do, I can speak, I can talk to you. I can tell you that it’s not your fault and you will be okay. I’m scared to trust, to let my feelings come into play.
When I love, it’s fierce and when I’m hurt, it hits me like a train. I will keep trying to reach out though, my story might help you along the way.
Picture #1: Young Julie in foster care after a year.
Picture #2: The house where Julie jumped off the lower roof.
Picture #3: Julie in grade 9.
Picture #4: Julie at age 17.
Julie Everson enjoys writing, reading, scrabble and public speaking. She loves music and her favourite band is The Tragically Hip. She loves cooking and wishes she had a dishwasher. She is beginning her journey of sharing her story of her struggle with a personality disorder. She hopes to continue speaking and being an inspiration to people. She can be found on twitter at @trawker.
Julie is available to speak about mental health to a wide range of audiences in the Greater Toronto Area. You can book her through contacting CMHA director Neil Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find more of Julie’s poetry at https://wolvesguardthegates.wordpress.com/.
To check out all of Julie’s guest posts on MHT, click here.