“I can never get back the time I lost,” said Cardinal, who became emotional as she reflected on all that was taken from her. “But what I can do is try to be part of rebuilding a system that puts recovery at its centre.”
Helping others has become her own North Star as she strives to advocate for a system where symptoms are not evaluated without examining their root causes. It was this motivation that led Cardinal to be part of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s efforts to dismantle the barriers to care created by structural stigma.
“For the record, my bipolar diagnosis wasn’t accurate,” said Cardinal. “I was pumped full of medication, with the dose ramped up time and again because it wasn’t working. Can you imagine treating someone for cancer, discovering their tumour is continuing to grow, and the medical team refusing to change protocols? There would be a hue and cry.”
But for years, there was no such outrage for Cardinal.
She walked a seemingly endless, dark, lonely tunnel without any sign of an exit. The light finally appeared when her symptoms were correctly diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, and she was finally able to access the tools needed to tame her trauma.
Seeing and hearing others
Despite her own experience, or perhaps because of it, Samaria is determined to be the light for others.
“You can’t imagine how desperate you can feel when no one will listen, when no one will believe you, when you’re dismissed and disregarded time and time again.”
Cardinal now plans to pursue an advanced degree in social work, and her agenda is a simple one.
“When I see someone sit down across from me, I will see the person first. Period. I will give them what I was denied: recognition of their humanity. And in that small way, I will be working to rebuild something that’s broken.”