Laura Burke in a scene from her visual poem, "Superhero". (YouTube)
The deeper and the darker you go, the more you realize that once you conquer those fears, you have so much to offer others.
—Laura Burke, actress
Laura Burke remembers the first time she knew something was wrong.
She was riding the bus in Montreal when she started hearing organ music. She eventually realized it was only playing in her head.
"The next day I was travelling again on the bus to university and I heard a voice inside my chest that said 'Laura, it's gonna be okay,'" she explains.
Things began to get scarier. "I had this neighbour who would come home high on drugs and make a lot of noise in the hallway. I started to imagine he was talking to me through the walls. And then one night I thought he came into the apartment and started strangling me, that I called the police and they chased him away."
She couldn't discern if things were actually happening or if she was imagining them.
Burke says she went to many doctors, most of whom turned her away. "They said I was too articulate to have schizophrenia."
The Maritime actress is the keynote speaker at a national conference about mental illness in association with World Suicide Prevention day in Winnipeg and now shares her story through poetry and theatre. She has written and performed a play called Voices and the latest is called Heartwood.
She was studying drama therapy when she wrote Heartwood for her master's thesis. "The deeper and the darker you go, the more you realize that once you conquer those fears, you have so much to offer others. It's frightening to tell your own story especially," says Burke.
At the conference Burke will be speaking about her own recovery journey. "I also plan to talk about creativity being a great outlet as a way of recovering. With creativity, you're rebuilding something. You're doing it in your own voice." she explains.
When asked what she hopes people will get from her presentation, Burke says she wants people to understand that people with schizophrenia aren't so different.
"We're all in a continuum of suffering. I want people to normalize it. I want people to understand that this is not something that you have to be stuck with for life. There are a lot of variables that lead someone to becoming ill for a long time. The acceptance piece on the part of others was really important for me."
Laura Burke is the keynote speaker at the National Conference on Mental Health in Winnipeg at the Fort Garry Hotel on September 10, World Suicide Prevention day.