In life what sometimes appears to be the end
Is really a new beginning

June Swadron tells her story of Madness, Masks and Miracles

When I was nineteen, my best friend and I travelled to Europe together. We left Toronto with enthusiasm, deep excitement and anticipation for the people we would meet and the things we would discover. Eight months later I returned home very ill. My family barely recognized me. I could not form sentences. I could not hold a conversation. I had no sustained levels of concentration or focus. Within days of my return I was admitted to the psychiatric unit of a large hospital. After one month of observation the doctors concluded there was nothing they could do for me. Their diagnosis was that I had destroyed my brain cells with drugs and would probably remain in this state for the rest of my life!

I saw the horror on my parents’ faces as they listened to this pronounced death sentence. I also listened but was unable to respond. I could hear, but I couldn’t hold thoughts long enough to form words. All I knew was the terror I felt inside of me thinking I would never again laugh, sing, dance, think, learn or have a normal life. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I did know the doctors were wrong because I never used drugs. My parents did not accept this diagnosis or prognosis. Fortunately they found another hospital to take me to. They prayed that this one would hold the cure that would bring their healthy daughter back. This began a cycle that has lasted thirty years.

Over the years I have learned different coping skills and have become more resilient when the illness hits. I try to remember that it also leaves again.  It comes and goes…perhaps it has left because gratefully, I’ve seen no signs of it for the last 4 years!…And what I have learned finally, is it does not define me. What defines me is the stuff we’re all made of—the hunger to stand up when we think we can only crawl. It’s that indelible spirit that in the face of pain, sorrow, despair, loss and confusion, we get up and wash a dish or make a meal. Or sometimes offer a hand or perhaps just a smile to someone who’s hurting even more than we are. We breathe in and out. We know we have made it through another day … and for this, we heartfully say, “Thank you.”

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