Double exposure image of a man

"I surrendered in the sense that I stopped fighting myself and began the long process of learning to love and forgive myself."

About Basil:

Photo of Basil Chiu

I’m a 50-year-old Chinese-Canadian developmental services worker living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m currently active in Ottawa’s grassroots mental health recovery community, and am applying to get into a MSW program.

I’ve struggled to “get traction” my whole life. It took me fourteen years, four degree programs, and enough credits for three degrees to graduate from university. Until grad school, where again I jumped from program to program, I never held a job for more than two years. Then finally, when I was in a PhD program, my PTSD struck. I was kicked out of school, my ex left me, and I came about a month away from living out of my car.


I had three major turning points:

  1. In my second year of university, I had a meltdown after a quiz and threw a drafting table against a wall. I resolved I needed help.
  2. I developed a career passion in the second half of my 20s, giving my life direction and purpose.
  3. I finally applied the term “mental illness” to myself in my late thirties and stopped blaming myself for all my struggles. I surrendered in the sense that I stopped fighting myself and began the long process of learning to love and forgive myself.


  1. I admitted I am ill.
    • I have an illness diagnosis. That’s OK. I’m OK.
    • I can seek and accept help without guilt.
  2. I work to my strengths.
    • I struggled to get ahead in fields I thought I was supposed to be in, and failed. I finally realised my strength was knowing what it’s like to struggle and fail. I have empathy.
  3. I try not to compare myself to others
    • I’m not always successful, but it helps with self-forgiveness.
    • Comforting myself with thoughts like, “at least I have x when everyone else has y,” is still comparison.
  4. I surround myself with a community of people who also self-identify as living with a mental health diagnosis.
    • There is a danger of wallowing in each others’ misery, but
    • I can feel whole, free and like there is nothing inherently wrong with me when I know I’m not judged.
  5. Recurrent problems—”stories of my life”—are the universe’s way of telling me there’s something I need to work on in my life.
  6. I listened to my psychiatrist and took my meds as prescribed.
  7. I am not perfect at any of the above. Not even close.


I subscribe to the peer support concept, in which people with lived experiences support each other in a non-authoritative, egalitarian fashion. So we actually don’t give advice! We just talk about what’s worked for us, as I did above.

I will ask, however: would you rather be “right,” or happy? You might feel if you just try a bit harder and longer, you will get back on track and live the life you are “supposed” to live; the one where you are materially successful, are held in high esteem by your community, and are a productive member of society.

To be sure, these are all noble goals, but how has trying to fit that vision of what you believe is the “right” way to live worked for you so far? Who cares if you’re “right,” and why does it matter to you? Honestly: I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. What will you get once you’ve convinced someone that you got 100 percent on this exam? I made my life a mess in the pursuit of perfection.

Would you rather be “right?” Or would you rather be happy?

– Basil Chiu, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada