I have been a psychotherapist in private practice and certified life skills coach since the early nineties. When I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness (now called bi-polar affective disorder) and have lived with its debilitating setbacks sporadically ever since.
After a hospitalization for clinical depression in 1998, I was inspired to gather together a team of writers and actors, who also had mental health challenges, to write and perform a play that described some of our experiences. I wanted to use theatre as the educational vehicle to help dispel some of the myths and stigmas associated with mental illness. It was my hope that by presenting an honest account on stage, audiences would begin to see the humanity behind the illness.
This became a reality. Feedback, both oral and written, from audience members stated that watching the play took them into their own lives, reflecting upon their own issues of shame, pain or denial. It went beyond the actors and the stage. What they experienced was a closer look at what could be a relative, a next-door neighbour or the people they see at work, on the bus or in public office. It was you and me. There was no longer any separation.
The play brought out the greater truth that, although mental illness can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income levels, people living with it are frequently the victims of an ignorant society whose responses are based on fear rather than facts.
Increasing public awareness and education creates a community that fosters understanding, cooperation and support. A supportive community offers a sense of safety that has countless benefits for everyone concerned. When we treat each other with kindness, every-day miracles occur. When people feel understood, appreciated and valued, their self-esteem grows in leaps and bounds. Healing follows.
With compassion and understanding we begin to let go of our fears and take down our walls of shame and separation. As we do this, we begin to recognize that underneath our fears we are not that much different. This awareness builds bridges and communities of faith, co-operation and mutual respect. This has been the core vision of Madness, Masks and Miracles©.
The process of writing and performing the play was both healing and empowering to the team who created it. It helped each of us clearly identify our strengths instead of the limitations often borne out of the labels and pathology attached to our illness.
I no longer identify myself as my illness. I have an illness and I am so much more than that.
By finding my voice to write this play, I freed myself from a lifetime of shame and pain. I no longer need to hide the madness, confusion, helplessness and hopelessness that comes and goes. And that is one of the greatest miracles with which I have been blessed. It is my vision that others living with mental health challenges will find the same.
Because underneath each of our masks, we are all innocent and loving beings. And it’s only when we feel safe enough to shed these masks and speak authentically from our hearts that the madness ends and the miracles begin.