Joyful songs of healing

Dawn Beirnes has watched the public’s understanding of mental illnesses change over the years, along with her own.

Beirnes was diagnosed more than 30 years ago with bipolar affective disorder and later, borderline personality disorder.

Before then, as a young person Dawn says she didn’t know anything about mental illness. Rather, she and her boyfriend at the time had tried to hide her symptoms. She told herself that being depressed and even suicidal were all just part of growing up. “We didn’t think we were hiding anything. We thought those feelings were normal,” says Beirnes.

Now, I don’t hide it.

“I’m proud to say that I have had a lot of help from St. Boniface Hospital’s Mental Health Program, and it’s still helping me to this day.”

Beirnes sees an ongoing need to educate others. “I love talking to people about my mental illness. Because I don’t want other people to think that it’s normal to act out, to try to kill yourself, to be psychotic, and to go through all the heck that I went through.”

Being a member at Westminster United Church, where she volunteers and has sung in the choir for 28 years, has been instrumental in Dawn’s recovery. “The church is supportive of my illness, and they’re supportive of me. They treat me like anyone else in the choir,” she says. “I feel it’s therapeutic, singing at the front of the church. I’m lucky to sing a solo in the summer…it’s rewarding.”

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