St. Stephen poet's work shows human side of mental illness and addiction

A new collection of poetry by a New Brunswick man opens a window into the mind of a person with schizoaffective disorder who lives in recovery from addiction. And it's not nearly as scary a place as you might imagine.

Paul Dupuis hopes his ebook, Be Well Today, will help others with concurrent disorders

A hard-copy poem by Paul Dupuis. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

A new collection of poetry by a New Brunswick man opens a window into the mind of a person with schizoaffective disorder who lives in recovery from addiction. And it's not nearly as scary a place as you might imagine.

"The themes in this little booklet of poetry are just like anybody else would have," said author Paul Dupuis. "Like about love and about peace and things like that."

"They're just observations from a point of view of a person like me.

"It shows the human side of people who live with conditions like me and also it shows the human side of people in general. I'm a person just like everybody else is."

It's certainly not everybody who has lived through what Dupuis has lived through.

The 58-year-old St. Stephen man came to some notoriety after he tried to kill himself by jumping off the Reversing Falls Bridge in Saint John in 1989.

Shortly after that he began his recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

"I've been clean and sober going on 29 years now."

Paul Dupuis says he's grateful for the community support he gets. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

But he still lives with a serious mental health condition.

"There's a bit of a mood disorder component like there is with bipolar disorder, and then there's components as a person living with schizophrenia, like with the hallucinations and hits of delusion and things like that. I take medication, which is a big thing."

I used to be able to write rather fluently when it was poetry — just write and write and write, but I found it was getting more difficult- Paul Dupuis, poet

Dupuis said despite those challenges his life has fallen into order.

"If you knew me 30 years ago compared to what I am today, you would think some kind of miracle happened," said Dupuis.

"To tell you the truth, anybody who's had difficulties with drugs and were involved in addictions, if they're clean and sober today, I think they're a miracle."

But at the same time, he said he also wants to demonstrate that it is possible for a person with mental illness and addiction to become "reasonably" happy and well.

Dupuis wants people to know it's possible for a person with mental illness and addiction to be happy and well. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"I think basically anybody who really tries and takes it one day at a time has a chance to get their recovery," he said.

In Dupuis's case, he said that was able to happen thanks to a lot of help from mental health professionals, family and friends.

"It's not a matter of me just pulling up my bootstraps," he said.

Another key to his recovery, said Dupuis, has been writing.

"I always liked to write."

"I used to be able to write rather fluently when it was poetry -- just write and write and write, but I found it was getting more difficult."

Dupuis writes, paints and draws to have a creative outlet. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Dupuis said he went through a very difficult period about five years ago when the medication he was taking wasn't working.

He had some psychotic breaks in 2013 and early 2014 before he switched to a new medication.

He worked hard at editing the voices in his head and is proud of this resulting collection of poems, which he said was completed in a period of about a year.

Dupuis thought the Canadian Mental Health Association or a pharmaceutical company might be interested in it.

Dupuis says being creative can be therapeutic and helpful for people with mental illnesses. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

But a friend who had helped him with an earlier project, a children's book, gave him the idea to publish it himself online, in multi-media format.

"I had worked with Paul before and I believe in what he's trying to do," said Rick Coates, a web designer and musician who helped Dupuis with creating his website and recording the poems.

He described Dupuis as very insightful, committed and passionate about being open and transparent about mental health issues.

Be Well Today has been online for about seven months now and has had a few hundred visits.

"I'm pleased with it," said Dupuis.

Dupuis paints and writes often. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The e-book includes recordings of 13 poems, a few of which are about his wife Brenda through the seasons.

Dupuis said she is a "a big inspiration" to him.

It also features a live musical performance by Bob Arsenault accompanied by Coates, singing original songs based on Dupuis's poetry.

There are several more tracks of instrumental electronic music by Coates, that incorporate sounds of nature.

And there's a blog by Dupuis about living with concurrent disorders.

Dupuis said he talked to his clinicians about the project and they are telling some of their other clients who live with mental illness and addictions to check it out.

"Perhaps, hopefully it would be some inspiration for them to do their own creative work," he said.

An excerpt of one of Dupuis's poems. (bewelltoday.info)

Dupuis suggested having a creative outlet can be therapeutic and rewarding for people whose mental illness prevents them from doing other types of work.

"I do realize that I'm a bit compromised when it comes to doing traditional work, especially when it comes to paid employment, but I do try and do something."

Dupuis has actually done quite a lot since he got sober.

He worked in group homes for a number of years and co-ordinated a suicide crisis intervention line. But at a certain point his doctor advised him to slow down.

He's been working part time as a janitor for about 10 years now.

Every once in a while, Paul Dupuis does a painting for a charity raffle (Mike Heenan/CBC)

He regularly works on his writing.

And once in a while he does a painting for a charity raffle.

"Paul has been raising funds for the food bank for many years," said Donna Linton, co-ordinator of the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County.

"He's raised thousands of dollars for us."

"He's a talented artist, poet and writer and has donated his work to benefit the Volunteer Centres Food Bank for the past two decades.

"He's a wonderful man with a great heart."

Dupuis said he's happy to give something back to the community after having received much support from the community to get his life back on track.

And, like any other writer, he's happy to have a venue to showcase his work.