From Colleen’s own perspective, she feels that the moment people know that someone has mental health problem, they don’t see that person the same way. They change the way they speak and act and tiptoe around the issue, they build these jails made of glass. For those like Colleen, it is especially frustrating because people only see the mental health problems. One’s qualities, passions and character are put aside. When people look at someone through that glass, they see a distorted version of who that person truly is. Over time, that distorted version blurs your own self-worth.
“No matter how much people try to validate me, internally…I can’t feel it. It’s like that core, that part of me is turned off.”
For much of her life, Colleen has been a part of the social service system, including foster care at 16 years old. Her father, who also lives with mental health issues, was also part of the system. She was only five years old when he became a resident of the Church Apartment Program (CAP) through West Island Citizen Advocacy (WICA). CAP is a subsidized, semi-supervised housing program for those with mental health problems and/intellectually challenged.
Colleen has had to overcome many hardships since her teenage years, the development of her identity being one of them. With a keen sense of self-awareness, she wanted to learn everything about her mental health diagnoses. She knows her passions and what she wants from life. The thing about constructing one’s identity is that it requires acceptance from others. As Colleen continues to try to define herself according to her desires and goals, she feels that people only see her mental health issues. The most important message Colleen wants to convey through her narrative is that mental health problems do not define who you are.
Colleen is the personification of resilience. In a seemingly unfair series of events, hardships stuck to her. As adulthood dawned upon her, she made her way to CÉGEP. Driven by a sincere wish to help others, Colleen started a DEC in social work. But before she could complete her first year, the glass jail descended once again. She was told that someone dealing with mental health issues is not fit to help people and she was asked to leave the program.
“They said: [you] ha[ve] mental health issues, you can’t be a social worker. That broke my heart because that was my dream, helping people. I was crushed. Cause I thought, how else better to help?”
Stay tuned for the last article about Colleen. This is the second article of a three-post series. Next week on Tuesday July 19th, we’ll publish the last part.
*to protect her privacy, WICA did not use their last name.