At 32, Keri speaks openly about her mental illness, jail time, alcohol and drug use, and psychiatric inpatient stays at a number of Toronto hospitals. She’s eager to share her story because it’s one of perseverance and recovery – and because it has a happy ending.
“I really feel that being here at CAMH as an inpatient for a month changed the trajectory of my recovery, and my entire life,” Keri says. “I used to be such a challenging person to be around, but now I feel like I’m an easy person to be around. Making the decision to come here really changed all that.”
In hindsight, she realizes she experienced depression as young as 12 years old, which remained undiagnosed until she was 15. She suffered years of ups and downs before also being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in her early 20s, a serious mental illness linked to unstable moods, behaviour and relationships.
Her illness worsened, and she began drinking heavily and using drugs. At 27, Keri’s behaviour was erratic and ‘sped up,’ but her family — unfamiliar with the symptoms of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder — were at a loss as to how to help.
A domestic incident with a boyfriend landed Keri briefly in jail. Then, in the midst of a severe manic episode, she disappeared into the streets of Toronto. When her family finally found her weeks later, Keri was suffering sleep deprivation and her voice was raw from nearly nonstop talking. She was admitted to a Toronto hospital for psychiatric care where new medications were introduced to combat the mania.
“It was almost like I could look at myself from the outside, but I didn’t know where I’d gone. I couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone,” she remembers. “Weeks later I was out of the mania, but I didn’t know how to make myself better.”
That question – how to get better – was ultimately answered for Keri at CAMH. Here, her medications were carefully adjusted. Keri learned to manage her illness through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other programs, and she found a routine that gave her purpose. Today, she’s in a warm, caring relationship, close to her family again, and excited to be developing her career as a chef. She’s embraced yoga and meditations, crediting them for playing a role in her ongoing recovery. She hopes her experience benefits others still living with mental illness.
“I’m telling my story so it will spread,” she says. “I just want people to know there is hope at the end as long as you’re committed to finding treatment that really works for you. This is your life, so you have to get involved in your care.”
CAMH has a particular focus on helping more young people like Keri at this critical time in their lives. Through the Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition, funded entirely through community support and a transformational $10 million gift from the Slaight Family, we’re developing better care tailored to the unique needs of this vulnerable population. With continued support, Slaight breakthroughs will help more young people recover faster and more fully so they can return to living healthier lives.
I’m telling my story so it will spread. I just want people to know there is hope at the end as long as you’re committed to finding treatment that really works for you. This is your life, so you have to get involved in your care.