Catalyst – March 2021 – The limits of diagnosis





Samaria Nancy Cardinal and the cost of neglecting recovery

Samaria Nancy Cardinal learned two important lessons at her father’s knee: the power of persistence and the importance of mustering courage in the face of oppression.

Those lessons have served her well on a long and winding journey to recovery from mental illness. When asked about how she became a patient advocate, she paused, burdened by the weight of her response.

“I lost 15 to 20 years of my life because of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment,” she said from her home in Calgary, where she will graduate with a diploma in social work this spring. “I was labelled bipolar, and when that happens it may as well be tattooed right on your forehead. Within the system, you cease to be a person and are defined solely by your illness.”

For Cardinal, separating one’s humanity from one’s disease is anathema to her Indigenous heritage.

“We see people for all of what they are — their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves are inextricably linked. You can’t understand why someone is experiencing symptoms like mine if you simply tick boxes from a medical manual. You’ve got to be willing to dig a little deeper, to ask ‘why’?”

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