Standing frozen against the walls of a mental health care inpatient unit Barb was scared, teary-eyed and catatonic – behaviours that lasted two years.
In 1993, Barb Peters left everything – home, friends and family – and was admitted to hospital at age 24 to be treated for bipolar disorder, something she had been struggling with since adolescence but didn’t know it.
Barb came from a tight-knit family and was devastated to leave her loved ones, including her little brother who was only four years old at the time.
As a young adult Barb isolated herself from her peers, had unpredictable behaviour and experienced the highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder. Compared to who she is today – the change is remarkable.
“I was really sick,” Barb says, her hazel eyes lost in the memory of five years spent in hospital. “I constantly had crying spells and kept to myself for a long time. I wouldn’t speak.”
With care, therapy and medication Barb traversed the long road to recovery, and one day she opened up. “I remember reading the newspaper and I started to talk. That was the beginning for me.”
From there she progressed in her recovery and worked with rehabilitation counsellor Donna McManus of St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s), who eventually helped match her skills with a job. “At first I would just encourage Barb to participate in programs within the hospital,” says Donna. “As she became more confident in her abilities we looked to the community.”
Barb was matched with a position at a local restaurant and has worked in the dining room for more than 13 years.
“Barb had the courage to heal,” states Donna. “She is very engaging and happy and aims to please people. Her pleasant demeanor is a great asset to the work force and her employer appreciates her work ethic. She was and is reliable, responsible and hard working. It’s wonderful to find an individual who really wants to give of herself. That’s Barb.”
Another successful step for Barb was achieved when she moved into her own apartment, where she has resided for 13 years. She has also been a St. Joseph’s volunteer for two years and has been a member of the mental health Patient’s Council for nearly 20 years, where she currently holds the role of chair. “I want the patient’s voice heard. If I can help people feel involved and important, I’m happy.”
After 20 years of being connected to the hospital as either an inpatient or outpatient, Barb is now followed by her family physician and has even made the slow transition off of medication.
“It has taken a long time to get here, but I just take it day by day,” the active 45-year-old states confidently. “I know what to watch for if I regress, I know who to call and I have very supportive co-workers, family and friends who will let me know if they see a change in my mood or behaviour.”
Barb realizes living with a mental illness is a lifelong journey and that everyone travels a different path to recovery and rehabilitation. “I was willing to seek help. That is such a big factor. There is help out there. Don’t fall victim to fear or stigma, ask for help. I was willing. I chose to see the light and never turned back.”