• Andrew Woods


Updated: May 22

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

-Emily Dickinson

There was a time when I lived without hope. Mental illness struck me in the heart of my youth. The University of Victoria was my sanctuary for six months when the first symptoms came on.

It began as mere rituals and preoccupations. Gradually, my focus had turned to cleanliness, order, symmetry, and personal appearance. The most insignificant triggers initiated the need to check, recheck and then check again. I cleaned, organized, tidied, checked, measured, scrutinized, and preened. Repeatedly, over and over again.

I was first diagnosed shortly before my eighteenth birthday. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). I was put on an antidepressant and told it would take six to eight weeks to notice an improvement in my symptoms. That would be too long a wait as a new preoccupation took hold. Paranoia.

By the time my second year at the University of Victoria came around, psychosis was in full swing. Fearing other students were gossiping about me and spreading rumors behind my back, I isolated myself. I experienced hallucinations, both auditory and visual. Sleep was impossible. I paced back and forth across my small dorm room, immersed in suspicious thought and troubled by the nagging obsessions that cluttered my mind.

I spent four days in the psychiatric ward after uttering threats of suicide. It was the first of nearly twenty hospitalizations over the span of a decade.

After withdrawing from the University of Victoria, I further deteriorated. It wasn’t long before I succumbed to the grips of grandiosity. This is when the voices intensified to a deafening roar and suicidal ideation became a dangerous burden. Bipolar disorder, the doctors called it.

I self-medicated to dull my depression before eventually being re-diagnosed, this time with a concurrent disorder. Yet despite continuing detachment from reality, I completed a degree in Economics from Simon Fraser University.

It wasn’t the hospitalizations that led me to where I am today. Yes, they had been necessary to save my life, but looking back, I realize I had been a victim of the all-too-common ‘revolving door syndrome’, falling through the mental healthcare cracks and unable to break the cycle of frequent hospitalizations. I underwent countless medication trials over the course of my many admissions, but the accompanying side effects led only to non-compliance. It took a community treatment team to show me the path to recovery.

Although I try not to dwell on the past, I value the lessons that have led me to become the man I am today. Now, I look forward to what lies ahead. As Jack Kerouac wrote, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” And as I tread on down this road, I think, how grateful I am to have stepped out of the shadows and into the wide open world before me.

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