Living with mental illness
Mental illnesses rampant in NWT, conference hears

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 08/98) - The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong Cheryl Foote has tried to hide her condition most of her life.

The single mother was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bi-polar disorder, a form of manic depression, when she was 15 years old.

Her parents had taken her to the hospital for her behavior problems.

"I felt totally abandoned," Foote says of knowingly entering the psychiatric ward of the St. Catherines hospital. "Like I was being turned in for something that I didn't do. I was in a room of four people -- four other adults."

She says she does not remember much about the experience because she was in a manic state: angry, hostile and thinking, "Hey, wait a second, this isn't me."

Foote has been admitted three times to Stanton Regional Hospital in the past five years.

"If we didn't figure out what was wrong with me (in November), I probably wouldn't be here today," she says, hinting at her suicidal tendencies during November and December of last year. "The symptoms had just gotten so bad."

She is now taking Depakene, a drug she says has helped improve her condition.

"I feel wonderful," Foote says. "People don't even recognize me any more. They have only known me through the depression and the mania."

When mania hit Foote, it was less like a euphoric drug high and more like waves of anxiety and restlessness, with a crashing feeling of having to just go, go, go.

Her mental illnesses made her less and less able to find work.

Foote's reputation slid to meet the depths of her depression, she built a wall around herself to keep out close friends and she says she tried running away to different towns where no one knew her.

That was her way of escape.

Medications doctors recommended worsened her symptoms as the doctors did not realize Foote had bipolar disorder. Then they berated her for failing to take the prescriptions.

Now, Foote is set to start Arctic Breeze Services, where she will design Web sites and graphics and do some bookkeeping.

Foote told her story to the disabled persons work strategy conference on the weekend in Yellowknife -- and to great praise and support.

"Telling her story takes a lot of courage," Betty Ann Marriott said before giving a presentation on hidden disabilities at the conference.

"I can tell you in the NWT, we have a major problem with mental illness."

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