This is not my story although it is since I lived with it 36 years. It is the story of my daughter, Elizabeth, who took her life five years ago at 36. Born a cuddly, bubbly baby until she started school at age 5, then 'difference' was noticed. She could not count to ten and the other kids could count to 100. She could not write her name, only three capital letters 'LIZ'. She was almost imperceptibly slow to pick up social cues, definitely slow at minor and gross motor skills, making gym into a major difficulty. Those that wanted to bully picked up on these things and she was unmercifully bullied.
She developed panic attacks, dissociation, and experienced extreme loneliness with lack of friends. This was the 1990's. Neither education boards nor psychiatry knew what to do with this kid. Having a panic attack in the school nurse's office, she was told, "this is not a hospital." After an interview with her class teacher, a kindly well-meaning teacher announced before the whole class, "Elizabeth needs a friend". The taunting, teasing bullying that followed was beyond brutal.
Elizabeth was a bright, intelligent, highly talented writer and poet. She never accepted things lying down, fighting back with resilience, interviews on television on mental wellness and articles in newspapers and magazines such as BC's "Visions." She graduated with her Mental Health Certificate and worked part-time at a local mental health non-profit society. There she initiated a skills training course for those with Borderline Personality Disorder and a support group at the same time. Light years before its time, she drew together the concept of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. She found a small house not used in the evenings and weekends, where she gathered together twenty or more young adults with different difficulties from depression, epilepsy, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, to cerebral palsy, or just those that felt lonely, isolated. The group watched videos, played cards, board games, volleyball, soccer.
She was refused access to three therapy programs on the grounds she did not fit, was too old, was not cutting herself, which she was. We lost a person who should not have gone. She had too much to offer and society had too much to lose. And for me, I lost my best friend, my daughter, the person I loved most in this world. This was a perfect case of stigmatism.
I am hopeful that today through your good works and that of others there is more acceptance of 'difference' and mental illness generally. Had Elizabeth waited for the last five years, I am sure it would have worked out more positively for her.
I am working to have Peer Support Workers employed in medical health authorities throughout Canada. How good would it be if a Peer Support Worker accompanied your son or daughter home from the hospital and stayed with them, helping them in recovery and perhaps to the workforce or further education?
Read more of Judith and Elizabeth's story here.
'Why Won't Anybody Play With Me" by Elizabeth