Content warning: The following story deals with suicide and serious mental health issues, which may be upsetting to some readers.
One of Lisa’s favourite memories is of her parents moving furniture and two-stepping to the tune of Johnny Cash’s classic, Folsom Prison Blues.
“Whenever I’m strumming my guitar, I sing along – ‘I hear the train a’ comin’, it’s rollin’ round the bend’ – and it makes me smile.”
Lisa had a happy childhood and a loving family. Then one day, mental illness crept in and changed their lives forever.
“When my father was 51 years old, he was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features. For nine years, he was in and out of the hospital. When he got sick, his beautiful blue eyes turned gray. He stopped laughing,” Lisa said. “He heard demons that told him to do bad things. My loving father turned violent, which wasn’t him at all.”
Sadly, at 59 years old, Lisa’s father, Allan, walked into the Red River one afternoon and drowned.
“My family never could have imagined this,” Lisa said. “Suicide? It was 1997, and no one talked about mental illness. It was something that happened to other people.”
What happened to other people, and her father, happened to Lisa. Fourteen years later, she, too, was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features.
Up to that point, Lisa had been upbeat and active, a social butterfly – the life of the party. She was in her mid-40s and had a career she loved travelling the world that paid her well. Life was definitely good.
In the span of 13 months, that all changed.
“I went from feeling down to dark. I stopped everything. First, I couldn’t get out of my house. Then I couldn’t get out of my bed. I lost over 30 pounds. I couldn’t sleep. Nothing felt good anymore,” she said.
“One day, my sister, Lynda, found me in my basement with severe bruising around my neck. I had tried to die by suicide, and my sister did something that saved my life. She demanded I get admitted,” Lisa said. “I was so sick that I was admitted into an intensive care psych ward. That’s where I was treated and spent 30 days in the hospital.”
In her psychotic state, Lisa couldn’t remember the first ten days in the hospital, including visits from her sister.
“After my first treatment, I was feeling better and really wanted to see my sister,’” said Lisa. “And the nurse said, ‘Honey, your sister comes twice a day; you just don’t remember.’”
Lisa received six treatments of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
“It worked so well for me; it felt like nothing short of a miracle,” said Lisa.
Having the amazing support of her family was a huge part of Lisa’s recovery, as was the help she received from the Canadian Mental Health Association, a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner.
United Way Winnipeg donors fund 36 agencies that provide Winnipeggers with mental health and wellness support, including addictions.
Today at 56 years old, Lisa is happy, healthy, and loving life. She is proud to work as a coach and mentor for WW Canada. She is grateful, peaceful, and stronger than ever!
“My mental illness does not define who I am,” said Lisa. “What defines me – Lisa Shaw – is my mental wellness.”
There are certain dates that resonate with her.
“March 30th marks nine years since I got out of the hospital, and I haven’t had a relapse,” said Lisa. “And April 15th, I went back to work in two weeks. I was determined to get back to my career, but I did it slowly and was back full-time in six months. Also, August 10th is very important – it’s been seven years since I took a pill.”
Lisa is free of her medication; however, she said this doesn’t mean others who need medication shouldn’t take it.
“If you need to take your pill for your mental health, then please — take your pill!”
Lisa said she believes the reason so many people don’t take their medication, or tell someone when they’re not feeling well, is because of the very real stigma of mental illness.
If there’s a takeaway from Lisa’s story, she wants you to remember this, “It’s an illness, not a weakness. Mental illness chooses you. You certainly don’t choose it, because nobody wants to feel that way. It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. Please reach out to someone to get help, because you can get better. I’m living proof.”
“What happened to me could happen to you. It happened to someone I loved – my father, Allan Shaw — and it could happen to someone you love,” Lisa said. “That’s why it’s so important we take action now and give to organizations like United Way Winnipeg that fund agencies dedicated to mental health and wellness.”