For years, Virginia McKinnell refused to accept she had a mental illness. “I resisted the label “bipolar” with every fibre of my being,” she says. It took three manic episodes, two depressive ones, various medications, and a nearly life-threatening episode of psychosis for her to realize she could no longer ignore that bipolar I disorder was a part of her reality.
After being admitted to hospital, and with the help of family, friends, therapy and medication, Virginia gradually felt better. Looking back, she says reaching out for help when she was feeling suicidal was a pivotal moment, “I was scared and thought my life was never going to be the same if I said something and asked for help. It was not the case. I had so much support. It was like a weight was lifted.”
Virginia hopes sharing her story will help others realize they’re not alone. She recently started a running club, combining her passions for running and raising awareness about mental illness.
“If we share our stories and support each other we can lift each other up without judgement.”
What does resilience mean to you?
To me, resilience is about hope.
In the spring of 2017, I had a depressive episode so severe I didn’t think I would ever recover.
It was during this period that I discovered hope. Every day I hoped. I hoped to return to my former smiling self. I hoped the feelings of emptiness would eventually fade away. I hoped that day-by-day I would slowly get better.
When I lost hope, I asked for help. I left the hoping to my family and doctors. They picked up the slack when I couldn’t hope for myself. Knowing others were hoping for me meant I wasn’t alone – it meant I couldn’t give up.
Hope is what got me through.
What are dark days like for you and how do you find strength and resilience in these moments?
Looking back at my depressive episode in 2017, I felt empty on dark days. Those were the days when I didn’t have anything to say. When I refused to leave my mother’s side because I was terrified of being alone. When I peered at myself in the bathroom mirror and recoiled at the imposter occupying my body.
On those days, I turned to my family for help. I called my psychiatrist. I reminded myself that just like any other illness, I needed support from my family and the medical community.
Back then, I also reminded myself of a comment from a former manager after an encounter with some brash customers, “Never let anyone dull your sparkle.”
When I was at my absolute darkest, I reminded myself to never give up and to be patient. There are sparkles at the end of the tunnel.
What is in your “tool-kit”? What are the things that help you find strength and resilience?
Running: I love to run. Running clears my head. I find it incredibly therapeutic. There’s also a real sense of camaraderie amongst runners. I like feeling like I’m part of something. Most recently, I created a running group that is raising awareness about mental health. It’s how I’m shattering the stigma of mental illness.
My mom: I call my mom. That woman is an angel. When I was sick, she never left my side. That’s not an exaggeration. She literally never left my side for four months. Not once.
Puzzles with Dad : I like to do jigsaw puzzles with my dad. It’s really mindless but I like being able to spend time with someone, without having to talk, and just focus on filling in the pieces.
Kindness: I made a wonderful friend in the psych ward. He was quite a bit older but we shared a love of movie nights.
He was discharged from Sunnybrook before me. When he left he gave me a present. It was a little metal ornament from the gift shop. It said, “Be Kind to Yourself.”
On those dark days, when I was filled with self-doubt, I remembered him and his gift.
I am kind to others. Why would I ever forget to be kind to myself?
How do you feel about the future?
Seven years ago, if you asked me how I felt about the future, I would have said ‘fearful.’
I was worried that my life would be in a constant state of flux. I was scared I would never achieve anything notable because of my mental illness.
It turns out, I was wrong and my illness can be managed with proper medication and a healthy lifestyle.
Nowadays, I think my future is on a fairly similar trajectory to most people my age.
I am enjoying my career in marketing. I signed up for another marathon in the spring.
I even just bought a cookbook and am looking forward to making my way through it.
I have experienced hurdles along my journey, and they have been hard, but I am hopeful for the future. I think it looks promising!
If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis, or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available 24/7 through community resources:
- Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566
- Text: 45645
- Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca