Isabel's Story


Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(2), pp. 18-19

stock photoFor many years I was unaware of my mental illness. My life was very busy and fast paced. I faced the strains of first generation immigrant adjustment to Canada: at the same time I was carrying out responsibilities as a professional social worker and raising a family. Then, in early 1995, thanks to the great help of my then-employer and a few friends I was able to flee the dangerous and abusive relationship I was in.

All of a sudden, I became a single parent of a son then 15 years old and a daughter 13 and a half years old; and although my professional life was very engaging, rewarding and challenging, the experience of being a single parent of two teenagers became really overwhelming. However, sometimes life leaves us with no other choice.

Being a resourceful person I immediately turned for psychiatric and psychological help for the children and myself. I also called a massage therapist due to the frequent paralysis I was experiencing. Subsequently, I contacted the family abroad, and thanks to their kindness and generosity we received additional financial help.

In the meantime, I filed for divorce. High emotions were involved as I wanted the best for my children, and while I felt I was being reasonable with my wishes, the other party, my estranged husband, was of a different opinion. Unfortunately, and for valid reasons, I could no longer trust the lawyers I hired, so I decided to represent myself in court.

My ex-spouse and his lawyer tried very hard to soften my willpower. At the same time, I was exhausted with work, child rearing, and extensive legal paperwork and procedures.

In order to strengthen my resolve at the time, I bought a photo picture with subtitle " Determination" which I looked at very frequently. It shows two palm trees hanging over a cliff and the ocean below. I was determined not to give up for the sake of my children and myself.

In addition to my determination, another thing that kept me going was my knowledge that I had a fairly secure job the with federal government. As my court date approached, I also prayed to God that a woman judge would hear my trial, knowing that in most cases, they understand family matters better than men. I was lucky, as this is what happened, and the judge helped me solve nearly all of my outstanding issues.

Unfortunately, as time went on, my children did not cope well with the situation and started acting out. This took a further toll on my mental and physical health. Eventually, at the suggestion of my sister, I helped connect them with their father, who by this time had had no contact with them for over four years. This took a load off my own very emotional and burned state of mind. It also proved to be a very positive move for my children, who, now at the age 18 and19 and half, needed to develop some responsibility for their own lives.

It was 1999, and after five years of obstacles and struggle, I was now on my own, but the previous extreme and prolonged mental and physical abuse and overburden had taken its toll. I suffered from exhaustion and burnout, and I could not continue working due to lack of concentration and memory problems. Finally, In the year2000, I was assessed with bipolar disorder, which on top of my several physical disabilities, had been developing over the past five years.

From a distance, I can say that being a single parent—and a first generation immigrant with no extended family in Canada—made it more difficult for me to manage my mental and physical health. But despite this, and throughout this time, I was very motivated to provide the best for my children, to carry my professional duties, to protect my rights in the court system, and to be as independent as soon as possible. All of these things helped see me through difficult times.

I can also clearly admit that the help my children and I received through the mental health system—psychiatry, psychology and counselling—-was very good. In my opinion, the public health system was of better quality than the private sessions we initially attended.

In retrospect , I can also say that what would have helped , was if the justice system were more user friendly and more time and cost effective, especially in cases such as mine, where there was family violence. It is not only straining on victims, but also extremely costly to taxpayers.

About the author

In writing this article I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Simon Fraser Mental Health Region in Burnaby, Vancouver General Hospital Psychiatric Assessment Unit, Venture, Duke Transition House, Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre, Strathcona Mental Health Team, Coast Foundation, Vancouver Police, and all my family members and friends from four distant countries, to my great, positive boyfriend and his great parents