The Struggle To Bloom
Each spring, we witness the struggle to bloom. As seeds crack open beneath the ground, they push their way up through the dirt to find the sunlight. They need the nourishment of sunshine and rain. Sometimes they need our help to get the weeds out of the way, giving them a good chance to bloom where they’ve been planted.
The analogy resonates with Miya Fontaine as she talks about her journey with mental illness. When you meet Miya it’s not hard to compare her to a flower. She is tall, graceful, and colourful. She is also brave, strong, and resilient. Miya has had to push her way through some very hard things in life. She’s had some help along the way from doctors and therapists as well as support workers at Communitas Supportive Care Society.
“It really is a journey,” she says. “But I don’t define myself as having mental illness. I say I’m eccentric. I have an artistic temperament. Everyone’s experiences are their ‘normal.’ ‘Abnormal’ is just what we’re uncomfortable with.”
Miya was born in Russia and was in an orphanage until the age of 3 when she was adopted by a family in Canada. As she grew up, she found herself filled with anger, turning that anger inward, often biting and hitting herself. Eventually she turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. She’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, complex-PTSD, an eating disorder and depression. She was suicidal for years. She’s been in and out of psychiatric wards. She finally found the help she needed to successfully deal with her addictions through Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I tried to quit drinking on my own but it wasn’t until I found a higher power beyond my own understanding that I was successful,” she says, adding that it’s been over two and a half years that she’s been clean and sober.
Moving into her own living space was also important in terms of her mental health. She receives support through Communitas’ Supported Independent Living (SIL) program which provides recovery support and life-skills training to individuals living independently in the community. She developed an instant rapport with her SIL worker.
“She made me laugh the first time I met her,” Miya recalls. “We go for coffee and chat. She helped me get established in my own place. She is great.”
Creative pursuits also help Miya process what’s going on inside. She is both an artist and poet. Writing is her first love and most natural artistic expression. As she looks through years of writing and drawing she notes how her work has changed just as she has changed. What was once dark and disturbing is now colourful and more positive but it is still honest.
“Writing helps me to get things out and to process things in a healthy way,” she says.
Miya is actively involved with the Fraser Valley Poets Society. She also has a poem in the Hear and See: Poetry and Art for Mental Health exhibit presented by Communitas and currently on display at the Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford, an exhibit that pairs poets with artists. Being part of this show has been a meaningful experience for Miya. It is one of many ways in which she sees her life changing and herself growing – just like a flower.
“My life is so different from what it was,” she says. “I’m not broken anymore, I’m bending. I’m so proud of myself to follow through with this art and poetry show and to have a piece on display there. It’s been amazing.”