Dawn Beirnes found out she had bipolar affective disorder more than three decades ago. Since then, she says the support she has received from St. Boniface Hospital’s Mental Health Program has been invaluable.
“I was diagnosed at 27. It was hell going in, I was very psychotic and I couldn’t even speak when I got in — nobody understood that,” she said. “When I was younger, I went through all the symptoms of mental illness, but being one of eight children, we didn’t pay any attention to it. And then older, I was with my boyfriend and we hid the symptoms – we thought that suicide and mania was normal.”
“And I want to say that it is not normal, and you need a doctor and you need pills to keep you stabilized.”
Dawn says her diagnosis of bipolar type one means she deals with mania much more often than depression.
“And people think that that is better. But it’s not better – it’s still hell, it’s just different symptoms,” Dawn said. “You feel out of control, you can’t control yourself, you do things that you wouldn’t normally do, you talk loud, you swear a lot.”
Most of the time, the mania is controlled by medication she takes three times a day. But when she does feel a manic episode coming on, she gets help immediately.
“I catch it or friends notify me … and I phone my doctor,” Dawn said. “We have an understanding now, and he will actually give me a prescription over the phone and say ‘Come in two weeks after the prescription’s had time to take effect and we see you getting better.’”
She says one thing she’s had to learn over the years is to keep taking her medications, even if she’s on an even keel.
“I’ve gone through all those stages myself – where I didn’t think I needed the medication anymore because I was feeling better,” Dawn explains. “Then you go back into the hospital and then you get back out of the hospital and then you’re feeling great again and you get back off the medications.”
“It took me a long time to learn that the medication was what’s keeping me out of the hospital.”
Since Dawn’s diagnosis decades ago, she feels the world has become more understanding about mental illness – and that’s something she says helps her deal with bumps in the road when they do pop up.
“I know that in my church, for example, I openly discuss it with all the other people,” Dawn said.
“I come in and they say ‘How are you?’ and I don’t have to say I’m okay, or ‘Good morning’ every morning – I can say I had a rough night. And they understand what that means.”
But while Dawn says the team at the McEwen building has been critical for her to manage her mental health, she says the facilities could stand to be updated.
“It is very depressing. I have a friend that I went and visited the other day and when I finished visiting her, I went up and visited my psychiatric doctor and nurse. And it is just sad,” she said.
“They’re all just squished in there together, there aren’t very many activities for them to do – except to go out and smoke, and some of them have to be supervised to do that. It’s just not a friendly place.”
“We need a better McEwen building. We need it fixed up, we need it so that people will, when they come, they’ll get better quicker.”
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