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For most of my 48 years, the reverse was true. I had no idea that I had a mental illness and poor mental health and as a result, the world was a very dark place. But with a strong faith, stubbornness and support, my life has transformed.

My name is Darlene and thanks to Healthy Minds Canada, I’ll be blogging about my journey to recovery over the next 4 months.

When I read a blog, I always like to get to know the author by reading their bio, so how about we start with an introductory post about my life so far?

darkness-to-lightI’m the oldest of 3 girls and grew up in a small town in West Québec (you know, the kind where they say, “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it!”). My parents provided us with a roof over our head and food on the table but unfortunately our childhood was also filled with emotional and physical abuse. My first memories include feelings of loneliness, dread, worry, fear, trepidation, etc. and I spent most of my childhood wishing I was either somewhere else or dead. Despite being neglected, I don’t blame my parents. They too were physically and emotionally abused and learned this behaviour from their own parents. Bottom line is they simply did the best they could. Alcoholism was prevalent throughout our family and every occasion was another opportunity to get drunk, fight and pass out. I tried desperately to be invisible – my “go to” survival tactic. I’d think to myself, if I don’t get in anyone’s way, then I won’t get hurt.

Although few and far between, I do have fond memories. My sisters and I leaned on each other and spent most of our days outside where we couldn’t hear mom yelling because dad was out drinking again. My renewed faith in God is a direct result of my Catholic upbringing. We went to church
every Sunday and although our home wasn’t filled with what God teaches us (love, faith and hope), I knew in my heart that it was possible to have these things.

My parents separated when I was 16, which meant I could move in with dad and live life without limits. I look back on my adolescent years with sadness because I had no self-esteem or self-worth. I drank heavily, was promiscuous and ended up in an abusive relationship. When he left, I was devastated and attempted suicide at the age of 18. I survived but didn’t tell a soul.

My professional career started at Johnson’s Furniture. I married my husband at 23 and we had our first child when I was 24. When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately stopped drinking and when Andrew was born, thought life would be better. I was a new mom, and everyone knows it’s the happiest time of your life, right? So then why couldn’t I stop crying, and why were the dark thoughts still there? I later learned the medical term is post-partum depression (PPD).

We were introduced to our second home, CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) when Andrew was diagnosed with asthma at 6 months, followed by membranous glomerulonephritis when he was 2, Type 1 light-shining-from-withindiabetes at 10, eosinophilic esophagitis at 16, depression and anxiety at 18, and most recently, CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) at 22. Miraculously, Andrew survived numerous life-threatening situations (including 3 suicide attempts) with the help of the nurses and doctors at CHEO. Without them, he simply wouldn’t be with us. Today, his life continues to involve the health system, but doesn’t revolve around it. We have learned to simply enjoy life, one day at a time.

My sunshine, our daughter Sara, was born when I was 29. Once again, I suffered with PPD without a diagnosis or treatment. It was extremely difficult to manage a career and Andrew’s health issues and be there for Sara. She suffered, but I simply couldn’t be in two places at once. I did the best I could, and have continuously told her that if she’d been born with health issues instead of Andrew, I would have done the same for her.

Sara was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety when she was 15. I remember her telling me that she was self-harming and had suicidal thoughts. As hard as it was to hear those words, I’m thankful she felt safe to confide in me. Knowing she would not be judged saved her life.

My diagnosis finally came in my 30s. I remember being totally against meds (due to self-stigma and stubbornness) but was willing to try therapy. I saw a few psychologists, and although cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was helpful, it wasn’t until both my husband and son were in the hospital at the same time that I finally heeded my doctor’s advice and took the pills. Quite simply, the change was immediate. The darkness became dimmer and light emerged. We’re all unique and respond differently to various treatment options but for me, recovery started when I took the meds.

Please join me over the next 4 months to learn why…

I have a mental illness but mental illness doesn’t have me!

About Darlene Marion

In 2015, I decided to disclose that I live with mental illness by sharing my story publicly through a Toddcast (http://www.toddlyons.ca/2015/09/toddcast-season-1-episode-2-mental.html). Although it wasn’t easy, it was necessary. It allowed me to start living my life without shame or guilt or fear. By sharing my story, I want to help eliminate stigma and spread the message of hope and recovery.

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