Suzanne Venuta has a houseful of daily planners.
She has so many, she would, from time to time, find some she didn’t even remember buying.
“I couldn’t remember appointments, I’d forget things with the kids. People would say ‘get a Daytimer.’ Why was everyone fine except for me? I couldn’t function and remember things,” she says.
“I thought I must be dumb, I must be stupid.”
Venuta has dissociative identity disorder (DID) — formerly known as multiple personality disorder — and the Comox resident is an outspoken advocate on mental health education.
Using her experience and openness to share, Venuta educates the public on mental health, speaking to groups varying from high school to medical students. She writes about the realities of mental illness and resources available through two blogs, and has recently been nominated for a Champion of Mental Health Award through the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.
“Someone thinks enough of what I do; that’s very humbling and I am honoured,” she says, of the recent nomination.
Suffering a lifetime with depression, Venuta explains her world came crashing down around 1998. She lost her house a year later, struggled with addiction and approached her doctor for help.
“He said whether it’s drugs, alcohol or self-harm, there’s a way of dealing, and I was alive because of my coping skills. He told me I was going to get a new toolbox for a better quality of life.”
The G.P. Vanier grad was formally diagnosed with DID in 2003, adding many people only understand the Hollywood version of the disorder, which tends to be looked at as truth.
“When I started doing research, I started to get angry at a lot of professionals; there was quite a debate whether this disorder was real. There’s a lot of sensationalism around it,” she notes.
On the advice of a psychiatrist, Venuta connected with a psychotherapy group, consisting of other people struggling with DID. With the help of the Crime Victims Assistance Program, she was able to work with a nurse within her private practice, and credits the “phenomenal professional help” she received, even with some members of her medical team who had no previous practical experience with the disorder.
“My family doctor had never heard of the diagnosis, but was open enough to learn about it,” she adds.
She had difficulty remembering things, lags in time and felt a gross partition between herself and the rest of the world.
“I felt like a bystander in life.”
Following the opportunity to meet other people in her therapy group, Venuta felt a comfort within her peers, recalling relief that she was not the only one suffering through the pain of mental illness.
“We didn’t really talk about the trauma that created DID, but how to function in every day life. It was interfering everyday with life, and it was so frustrating and took so much energy. I wanted to get better.”
Working through trauma therapy, Venuta says whenever there was stress, either good or bad, in her life, “my drug of choice was disassociation.”
Although she has worked through years of therapy, she notes for every three steps forward she makes, there are many steps back. While the conversation around mental illness has grown, she notes there’s still much room to go.
“(When first diagnosed) a lot of the conversation was around what is DID? Now it’s more, ‘yes, this is what it is’, but it’s not indicative to who I am and what I can do.”
While she credits large initiatives through media and organizations to highlight the importance of opening a discussion on mental health, she says societal attitudes are not going to change overnight.
“With mental health, people are afraid to look at it. The stigma is still there. You have to be severely affected by mental issues to be concerned about mental health,” she states.
“Why are people not concerned about it like physical health? I’ve had people tell me to quit whining. The past is the past. Would you say that to me if I had cancer?”
While Venuta notes one to three per cent of the general population is diagnosed with DID, more than 10 per cent of those incarcerated are affected by the disorder.
One of the root causes is severe neglect, she adds, and DID generally develops at a young age.
In addition to playing ringette and golf, Venuta wants to continue to write her blogs, but adds she may one day write a book.
“I used to say I can’t write about it until I finish the journey. I’m finished the journey, and I’m home. It’s time to take the armour off, and relax into who I am. I’m looking forward to a year of finding out who I am.”
To read Venuta’s blogs, visit: hopeandmentalhealth.blogspot.ca or suzy-livingsucessfullywithdid.blogspot.ca.