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Some are born to endless night

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

A Miramichi family works full-time at the exhausting task of keeping Peter safe from himself ...Read the full article

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  1. Lost Time from Canada writes: Seeing the picture of Peter O'Neill is like looking into a mirror. At 55 I find myself unable to work, my marriage failing and no friends. I have tried countless drugs and have never found any that work. All I know is that for most of my life I have been unhappy and have never known why. As I grow older my depression grows worse as I reflect on a life lost in pain. I no longer know where to turn as I find my anger grows with time. The angry that says why can people not understand the pain I go through every day of my life.
    I see people on TV talking about how they have been saved but never saying what saved them. Mental health in Canada reminds me of being in a canoe without a paddle, always drifting and lost.
  2. Nicole Maschke from Cleveland, Ohio, United States writes: To this and all who suffer in the long dark hallway... as a fellow traveler of that hallway, I send you all the love that is in my heart. Be not afraid... for while it's so dark in here... I always have matches... together we shall not let the darkness make us fearful... For there can be no fear when we understand how greatly the very heart of ... all that is... loves us, by the virtue of the fact that this .... all that is... has given us ... matches... to light our way... take my hand... and we'll just walk out of here together...

    Love always,

  3. Russell Barth from Nepean, Canada writes: my wife lives with epilepsy

    she also has PTSD

    death, self-injurious, and suicidal - thoughts are common in our lives

    she uses medical marijuana to combat these problems

    and nothing has ever come close to working as well.

    I use it for my fibromyalgia, ptsd, and associated depresion

    please: consider marijuana before self-injury or suicide
  4. Dream Walker from Maberly, Canada writes: I too have walked the dark hallway, and have come to believe that some of us are simply more finely wired, and thus tuned into aspects of the world around us that others don't pick up. Some of what we feel is ours, some is from friends, family & even strangers. I have had success in rebalancing myself using energy modalities like Quantum Touch and Reiki, and once I got over the idea that my changing concepts of the world were simply more craziness, went on to help others as well. I believe that it is time for us to incorporate these techniques into more conventional treatment plans. I have seen many people gain both comfort and hope from their experiences with complementary techniques, and for that alone it is worth trying.
  5. mary wells from Canada writes: Peter, you are so lucky to have such a supportive and loving family.........My family has a similarily ill person and after 20 years of trying to help and watching her spiral lower and lower into her addictions and mental illness, we have given up and cut contact.She is left floundering on her own, and our lives carry on also,but without the constant waiting for 'the other shoe to drop'.
  6. J S from Canada writes: mary wells
    I am sorry that you have had to give up on your family member. It happens all the time when people come to the end of their ropes. But the person shouldn't be left to flounder on their own. Our society should be there to support them.

    But we are not.
  7. J. E. Somers from Canada writes: Thank you for telling us your story. I believe like you , that mental illness is nothing to hide and should be in the open. I am sure you have helped a lot of people understand this disease and how it affects ones life. God Bless all of you for being so open and honest. I have learned a lot from this story. It will help a lot of others understand a little more of the turmoil that people like you live in each day. Thank you
  8. vincent costello from Saskatoon, Canada writes: Hi, I appreciate and commend very highly the Globe and Mail for doing this series on mental illness. I too have felt the effects of the Black Dogs. I appreciate and commend Peter and his family for bringing their story out into the community.
  9. Elaine In BC from rural Vancouver Island, Canada writes: Dear Peter, you are so lucky to have the love, support and understanding of your family. Some of us struggle through this jungle alone and without respect from the medical establishment or anyone else. Please, please, Peter, don't give up! We love you, we cherish you, and we need you to keep on fighting.

    Lost Time from Canada: Don't stop searching! I don't know why none of the medications you have tried have helped, but there are more alternatives coming all the time. I understand your pain, and I wish with all my heart that I could take it from you. My miracle has been a combination of Fluoxetine and Trazodone. I give you my love and hope that you realize that you have an illness, like any other illness, that is not of your making and which will ultimately have a solution.
  10. Cathy Ferguson from Kamloops, Canada writes: Diagnosed at age 21 with Bipolar I Disorder. Ive probably been bipolar since childhood. Ive taken lithium everyday, for 32 years, since I was diagnosed. Im slim, healthy, married and an active volunteer in my community. Ive worked full-time as registered nurse except when attending university or on leave with union business. Im more the rule than exception when it comes to living with bipolar disorder. Actually, most bipolar individuals do reasonably well with family/friendship support, medication and some intensive cognitive behaviour therapy. Others such as Peter and his family have much more difficulty with the condition. My heart goes out to Peter and his family. Some bipolars use street drugs and alcohol in an effort to stabilize moods. Substance abuse invariably worsens and complicates any mood disorder. When originally diagnosed, I felt like a freak. The mental illness stigma was way worse in 1978. Over the years, I succeeded in living with bipolar disorder by paying careful attention to what my doctors and therapists said. Ive never gone off my medication. I dont know if Ill ever be truly well. Aspects of bipolar disorder continue to intrude on my life from time to time. Nevertheless, Im a fully functioning member of society today. Luck, genetics, and a fiercely resilient personality helped me cope. Support from family and friends made the biggest difference. My mom, dad, sisters and friends never gave up on me. I wish Peter his family well.
  11. Catherine Heintz from Winnipeg, Canada writes: Our beautiful 25 year old son committed suicide in January. Even though he never was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his actions and mind-set for the 3 days previous seem like a manic episode. He thought he understood the universe and wrote a blog which he emailed out to the media, the university and all his friends. He killed himself and destroyed the happiness of our family. He was handsome, brilliant, loved and adored. We would have done anything to help him if we had only known his agony. Now he is in God's hands and at peace.
  12. Jung Frau from Switzerland writes: This comment is specifically addressed to Peter and his family. Please learn about Family Constellation Therapy. Bert Hellinger is a former Jesuit priest who has popularized this therapy in Germany. We (my family) underwent this therapy with my son, who was schizophrenic. Mental illness has its roots within the family system (ancestors) and that's where the remedies are found. According to Dr Dietrich Klinghardt, confronting mental health issues at this level can lead to rapid resolution. We saw the results for ourselves, within six months of undertaking the therapy and after my son began seeing a therapist who understood where the problems lay.
    I believe strongly in the holistic approach over the medicated approach. Medications were never going to solve my son's psycho/spiritual concerns.
  13. E W from Canada writes: I'm sorry for your loss, Catherine. I am one of the lucky ones. I spent most of my teens and early 20s suffering from clinical depression. My family didn't know what was wrong -- we had no vocabulary for mental illness. I had a moment of clarity in which I understood I had two choices -- get better or die. I underwent therapy and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. The mind is very good at hiding ugliness from itself and I sometimes think a lot of mental illness is about the inability to look at the things we fear most and spend a lifetime avoiding. My therapist saved my life by helping me find ways to look at those things and fix them without breaking. It took me 8 months to get out of crisis and three years to come to terms with the experience. I did that without medication -- it wasn't the right choice for me, though I have friends for whom it has been. I couldn't have afforded her fees; my parents helped me pay for it. I am lucky our circumstances were such that the help I needed was available to me when I knew enough to ask for it. I wish that every young Canadian suffering from mental illness was able to say the same and don't understand why this service is not covered by healthcare. I'm married now and expecting a child. Post-partum scares me, but I have a vocabulary for how I feel and a supportive group of friends and family. I am more grateful than I can say that I escaped the darker pulls of my illness relatively early in my life. It made me understand a little about what Christians mean when they talk about themselves as being born again.
  14. Carolyn Bongiorno from Glenham,NY, United States writes: My son, who is still quite young, has been on Abilify for months. I am not comfortable with this, and I may stop it. I've gotten a flurry of diagnoses, the most recent of which is mood disorder. But it's a fact that we in the West are quick to treat conditions with drugs, things that may not be fixable.

    Mr. O'Neill is in some ways indulgent. We're asked to care because he used to be a brilliant attorney with all the trappings of success. But what about the young men and women on the reserves? Do they even get diagnosed, or are they simply dismissed as hopeless drunkards? I'm not saying, 'Snap out of it!' I know mental illness is real. But he is not taking responsibility for his actions, a lot of efforts are being expended and he's only motivated to get out and but peach schnapps. I know many will disagree with me, but I feel he could do more to combat the black dog. He is capitulating.
  15. Jason Dyck from Winkler, Canada writes: Thank-you for sharing the story on mental illness. Our family, too, has suffered with mental illness and I would agree that it can run in the family. My wife dealt with it for 8 years before finding the candle of hope that brought her out. The relief came after having exhausted all the current medical paradigms - the doctor's own admission. Keep on hoping. There is always hope even in the darkest hours. At those times there has to be outrageous compassionate hope. Sympathy doesn't cut it - many people give sympathy (pity) without knowing anything about it. We had many friends and relatives that gave sympathy but had no idea of what to make of what we were going through. Their eventual comments were along the lines of telling her to get out of the house, get a job, and get on with life. Sympathy only goes so far. Empathy doesn't cut it either - many people give empathy (pity) and know where you're coming from because they've been there. It helps more than sympathy. There were several people that gave us empathy but kept recommending things the doctors had already tried that had sort of worked for them. They were satisfied with being able to function. The things the doctors tried made her desire to commit suicide even worse and also kept her down to a large extent. Compassion encompasses sympathy and empathy and more, a desire and a drive to help in whatever way possible. A dear family friend extended compassion. She sympathized but could not really empathize. She had her own health challenge that afflicted her so in a little way she was able to empathize. She went out of her way to show compassion and once she started helping us in her small way, my wife's body started healing. I have begun a book and drama called 'Outrageous Hope - To Hell and Back' as a way for us to share the hope we thought had been extinguished. The hope we found sounded outrageous but we had given up on everything medical because that didn't work.
  16. Donna Gordon from Canada writes: Hi Carolyn,

    It's Peter's aunt speaking. I am concerned with your comments about the disenfranchised mentally ill being ignored.

    I was speaking with my brother, Joe, before the article was published. His family had met and decided to go public with their story. One of their many reasons included being a voice for those who cannot speak. They are articulate, well-educated people who CAN speak for others. The homeless mentally ill do not usually have such a voice nor do they command the attention of a disinterested general public. People such as Peter represent their struggle. If no one speaks, then no one hears.

    I am puzzled by your statement that ' he is only motivated to go out and buy peach schnapps'. This article took a lot of courage for both Peter and his loving family. Please give credit where credit is due.

    Thanks to all for reading about this important issue.
  17. Jung Frau from Switzerland writes: But he is not taking responsibility for his actions, a lot of efforts are being expended and he's only motivated to get out and but peach schnapps. I know that what I am going to say is politically incorrect, but here goes. I struggled with my son's schizophrenia which was horrifying, as everybody who has had a mentally ill loved one will agree. It seems like a real illness, it walks and talks like a real illness, but there is a huge amount of play acting to it. R.D. Laing observed that 'the schizophrenic is often making a fool of himself and the doctor. He is playing at being mad to avoid at all costs the possibility of being held responsible for a single coherent idea or intention.' (My son's doctor in exasperation used to say my son was making a fool of him. I agree.) This observation is worth remembering. There is no point 'telling' the person just to snap out of it and wake up, but there is a way of getting them to do exactly that. I have seen it with my own eyes. Schizophrenia and presumably bi-polar, is all about deep rooted suffering. What is very appealing to these quite bright people is to come at the problem on the symbolic level (Jung's archetypes). Didn't Peter say that he got better treatment in Ottawa just because someone was empathetic than all in the time he spent in hospital in New Brunswick? This is about human suffering. Human suffering is individual and not necessarily evident to those looking on.
  18. Nancy McEachern from Rexton, Canada writes: Thank you to Peter and the O'Neill's for sharing their struggle with mental
    illness. It is the supreme act of courage to put your family out into the
    arena of public discussion and I am humbled by their commitment to Peter
    and to one another. You have shed 'another candle' on the darkness of
    mental illness and we are all greatful. As Eva says, 'everyone has something' ... put few of us demonstrate the bravery of your family!
    Thank you.
    Nancy McEachern
  19. Carolyn Bongiorno from Glenham, NY, United States writes: No disrespect was intended, Ms. Gordon. I wish your nephew and his family all the best.

    But I again ask, why is the public disinterested in the homeless and the poor, the disenfranchised? Some suffer from the same demons, but have no family to help them along. If only the articulate get to speak, then the voiceless will remain that way.

    For months I've read the G&M and seen bloggers write about the First Nations and the alcohol problems on the reserves and how they're only hurting themselves. It was within that context that I pointed out that this onetime attorney was buying liquor to soothe himself, same as they do.

    I didn't mean to cause your family any pain. Please forgive me.
  20. El Christador from Vancouver, Canada writes: I know some people with interest in bipolar disorder have found Kay Redfield Jamison's first person account An Unquiet Mind worth reading.
  21. Cousin Voltaire from Canada writes: Catherine, I am so, so sorry for the pain your son's suicide has brought into your life and that of your family's. I was struck in your post by the comment you made: 'if only we had known...' Another Winnipeg family recently lost their daughter to suicide, too, for the same reasons as your son: bipolar disease. Yet they knew. They knew for 25 years. The parents did everything in their power, absolutely everything, to try to help their daughter. And yet, in the end, she took her life: the pain was too great. Like your son, she was brilliant and extremely talented. All this to say, maybe the outcome would have been different for your son if you had known; but then again, there's a reason why the article posted here refers to family members 'living on suicide watch'. There will come a time when you'll be able to put to rest the 'what if'. In the meantime, I wish you all the courage and support you need to grieve.
  22. Shoe Box from Maritimes, Canada writes: Having attempted suicideX3 four years ago, I know how difficult it is
    to try and carry on. Unfortunately, the more frequent response
    from family is,'You selfish so and so, why did you do this to us? We love you and this is what we get!' It is hard when your well to ask forgiveness, and more difficult again to seek it when very ill. I love my family but now do not have healthy relationships with my grown children because of the attempts. If I had a heart attack, I'm sure things would be different. Like Jack Nicholsons character in 'The Bucket list', 'Some lucky [@#$%^& ] is having a heart attack right now in this hospital'. Also his depiction of OCD in 'As Good As It Gets' is right on. Treatment can sometimes seem worse than the illness. When your sickness is refractory and waxes and wanes, others and myself also have difficulty distinguishing what is the illness talking and what is just normal human frustration and lack of self esteem. Thanks for the feature and Good Luck Fellow Travelers
  23. Karen Cook from Canada writes: As a dietitian working with clients in a mental health hospital, I am constantly reminded of the link between physical and mental health. Studies have found that people with severe, chronic mental illness typically have a shorter life expectancy, with the majority of the premature deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, not suicide. The reasons for this are complex, including: -weight gain as a common side effects of many of the medications (linked to increased appetite and/or food cravings). Weight gain can lead to diabetes and other chronic conditions -higher rates of smoking -lower average income levels -undertreatment of physical health concerns in the mental health system -common lifestyle choices including higher intakes of convenience foods and lower exercise levels It is estimated that 25% of Canadians will experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime, with as many as 10% experiencing a mental health disorders considered severe or chronic (such as bipolar or schizophrenia). The availability of options to support healthy lifestyles is far below the need. An approach to prevent weight gain and it's complications when first prescribing many of these medications is vital for health, self-esteem, and overall wellbeing. Treatment options can be enhanced by a nutritious diet and regular exercise (contributes not only to weight management but a stable and improved mood, improved energy levels, etc).
  24. Emma Hawthorne from Canada writes: This is an extraordinary article. I wish we could also read about comparisons between patients who could afford skilled therapists to augment drug treatments and those left to the public health system, because they would provide a clear direction for reform. Most of those who do not survive lack families or support of any kind, or have decidedly toxic tuned-out families. Also, most, but not all, of the gravely mentally ill have been subjected to abuse and trauma as children, toxic mental health treatments, system discrimination and bullying at any jobs they had or schools they attended and silence from any and all authorities, who mostly complained about them as well. All factors need to be addressed.
    Just removing the negative factors that harm the mentally ill, would be a brilliant first step. But proper research into genetics and frailties that predispose some to mental illness plus the availability of sophisticated proven treatments that engage patients as people with potential are needed. Hopefully the days of mere monitoring and prescribing by alienated cynical professionals are over.
  25. Tricia Manzano from Winnipeg, Canada writes: I listened to a wonderful webcast on bipolar @ health talk

    I have type 2 bipolar and don't suffer the way Peter has but life it is still extreme. Sounds lights and events are sometimes louder , brighter, and way more exciting. I have (before I was dx) done extreme things because of poor judgement and the impared brain function of an adrenellan filled brain.

    Hope the link is helpfull to anyone, they at health talk cover a varity of topics concerning mental illness.
  26. c. f. from unspec., Canada writes: While this family is to be congratulated and rewarded in the next life for their efforts to keep their son alive, I must say 'It is TOO much for any family to bear on their own'. This story illustrates where we have moved from the mass institutionalization of all the mentally ill to total de-instutionalization. There are ethical dilemmas here, do you let someone this unhappy kill themselves? Or do we have to always protect them? It shouldn't be up to an elderly parent to protect them, and watch them. They shouldn't be criminalized either. We have put the mentally handicapped into group home settings with staff, why not a group home setting for those who are chronically suicidal like this man? Allow them freedom but also remove the burden from the family. Many families feel guilty and will feel more guilty after reading this families heroic tale, for giving up. Those people live on the streets, or continuously rotate in and out ERs with suicide attempts. We need a supportive setting just as we offer for others who are incompetent to live on their own.
  27. christine gee from Canada writes: Thanks to the family for sharing their unique story. those of us struggling with a family member's mental illness in one way or another cannot compare. we all have such unique circumstances, and do the best we can. we trust our gut, and hope we are making the right choices. when we start talking openly like this family has done, we can learn from each other. i have a mother and a brother with mental illness, a very small family. For 20 years have tried my best to live a healthy life for myself. i have some guilt that i should do more. i cannot do more work for them than they do for themselves. i also work in the field of mental health, helping others. i have developed skills at listening, not judging and helping others recognize their strengths and scratch at the surface of hope. it is a terrifying and exhausting walk for family members and to let someone they love go, many just cannot do it. some do, and find that their loved ones develop the skills to survive even when thier brain wants to kill them. our society needs to seriously invest in pyschotherapy, not as an added navel-gazing luxury for those who can afford it, but a necessity, as important as physiotherapy or occupational therapy for someone after suffering a cardiac episode. This takes burden off of family, and helps people develop their sense of self in the context of mental illness.
  28. Tracy Bracy from Toronto, Canada writes: THIS is not mental illness!This a physical condition/disorder of the brain and body. THere is no pain in mental illness. There is no self awareness in mental illness unless the person listens and cares about what is affecting other people. Then it is treatable with short term medications and intense caring counselling. Unfortunalty, there is no funding for this and doctors (the only people who can really help) are too busy getting medical, socialworker, psychology, therapuetic, personal support workers, cops, paramedics their few weeks of practice so they can pass their finals. So, decent, sick people who deserve a better chance at life get their head electrocuted and needles and surgery, and a small apartment with alcoholics and gays. Its like taking cocaine and getting drunk every night. Mental illnes is fun except for other people who are not really feeling like being crazy with you. Stop calling this mental illness! Fund educated dedicated professionals who can help not idiots who need more than they can give. Also, ptsd or whatever, comes from serious injury, disease or birth defects. So, it is either the mothers fault or some family/obs/gyno physician's fault. Or the mother is seriously retarded and cannot educate herself or find decent care for herself. So stop trying to make strangers sympathetic towards people when there is obviously fault. Everyone has a right to care that allows them to live healthy so no one needs to defend themselves or try to stop negative views or actions towards care. What should be stopped completely is medical support of harm to anyone (incl freedoms). And dont educate people who are not sick, they dont care and they laugh even harder when they learn something about it. Its none of their business and when they make it their business, here comes acupuncture and aromatherapy and weed medicines and special diet centers for crazy fat people. If medicne wants respect it will have to be a little different from normal life. ty
  29. Pamphleteer . from Canada writes: This is totally depressing. You think medical science has progressed so far and then stories like this crop up. We're still living in the dark ages in some areas of medicine.
  30. Stephanie Salmons from Milton, Canada writes: Mental Illness does hurt. I think there is nothing more painful in the world to watch your family have to deal with it, not knowing if this is going to be a good day or a bad day. With Bipolar disorder, you realize what you are doing but you don't comprehend what you are doing until you reach those stable breaks. That is of course if you arent in a complete psychotic episode of mania when your mind is pulling you in every different direction that feels like a tug of war.

    Our bodies do not control themselves. They are entirely controlled by our brains and if there is a problem up there our bodies will feel it. That is why depression makes you ache all over and not want to get out of bed (on top of negative feelings).

    There is nothing worse than being a prisoner of your own mind.
  31. SANDRA FIRMAN from north of TO, Canada writes: I have been diagnosed with bi polar manic depression ultra rapid cycling co -morbid with diabetes and fibromyalgia.. I swallow a handful of pills every night to make it to the morning. I am sure that I have had this condition for most of my 55 years, genetically inclined from my father's side of the family, but was only diagnosed 10 years ago.. Silent but deadly it seems. I managed to attend two universities, taught school for 30 years, raised three children and have been married for 34 years. I am a high functioning bi polar but there are days and hours that I am very low..and it would be so easy! But I have to keep going for my family and for my own good..Good luck everyone!
  32. Rita L from Canada writes: Mental illness is incomprehensible to most who have not experienced it. It is extremely painful, and that is why people want to end their lives. The erratic, peach schnapps episodes are hard for healthy people to understand, it seems so selfish. The thing is, your mind is on overdrive and you will do anything to change what you are feeling. Peach schnapps and a rope are salvation.

    I find it incredible that this family has such love and patience. So many are abandoned by family and friends which only makes the situation worse when there is no one.

    As to the natives, they have been strip mined, the apology by Stephen Harper is just words. Wounded people have to heal before they can raise healthy children.

    Although at certain times there is some cognition and possible 'play' in mental illness, there are other times when it is truly a raging hole. These episodes collide and it is a fool that condemns the mentally ill person for the 'play' times.

    Thank you Globe and Mail for this series.
  33. Mark Rochon from Canada writes: I would like to begin by also thanking the G & M for this series, it is very befitting of their high standards. It has made me aware of the size and complexity of mental illness, I have never seen it layed out in its entirety. I have certainly seen myself in many of this series' stories.

    My battles with Bi-Polar have been going on for 30 years, I struggle daily with a difficult marriage (usually as a result of my outbursts of mania and anger), an ever diminishing circle of friends, many family members who are very ill and are in denial, and the constant soul destroying fight to hold off the demons of depression, and worthliness "why me, why can't I be normal". I have a very caring wife; however I fear one day she will leave, frustrated by the grief I cause her. The medication I take has helped; but it's such an imperfect means of addressing this disease.

    I don't really have much of a point other than to provide one more testament to the reality we face, I hope this helps someone who might feel they are alone.

    Finally, I which to plead that we as society pay more heed to this problem. Certainly the Globe has done its part.

    Take care everyone.

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