Thompson Rivers University

Reflections of an almost graduate: “Brain” and the battles within ourselves

April 10, 2018

Fourth-year student Chantal Cadorette feels as lost as a set of car keys tucked deep into a couch cushion.  Now in her final semester, the Events & Convention Management Diploma graduate and BBA Marketing student has been offered a challenge by the Faculty of Student Development. For the months that remain, Chantal will be exploring and reflecting on her student experiences, while relishing in all that campus has to offer.  Follow her journey through her struggles, successes, revelations and the balancing act that is university.

Brain: A Monologue was such a compelling and thought-provoking performance with a depth and intensity that I was not expecting. Brendan McLeod, an award-winning novelist and former Canadian poetry SLAM champion, is like a beat poet mixed with a rapper, rattling words off in a rapid-fire manner. Growing up, McLeod experienced episodes of obsession and repetition of biblical verses, day after day teaching himself how to speak each word and pronounce each letter correctly. This obsession grew as he did, always battling with thoughts in his mind.

As a speaker, McLeod’s narrative ricochets between memories, anecdotes and psychotic breaks, digging deep on the beginning stages of what can come from his mental illness. He mixed his thoughts and fears with the scientific chemistry of the brain, explaining how in our minds anything can be real, and anything can be limitless and possible.

As I reflect on the performance, I wanted to intermingle his italicized words with my own.

During his university days, he was advised to connect with an on-campus psychiatrist. McLeod explained how he was living a dual life full of anxious repetition, and how it was as though he wanted a mental illness, so he wasn’t just a monster.

“Mental illness where someone gets a negative thought that repeats. I wanted an illness so I wasn’t a monster. I wanted a disorder that was intense.”

When the doctor diagnosed him with “Pure O,” which is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) without the physical mechanisms, McLeod felt torn between relief and resolution; he was craving a diagnosis that was more intense.

“Euphoria in finally being able to relax. Feeling you get that you can do anything now.”

While McLeod felt empowered in being able to destroy an illness with the power of his mind, an emptiness consumed him; wanting the disease to return as it was all he had ever known.

“It’s sad ‘cause the world was gone and I didn’t know how to get it back, and I already missed it so much.”

Our minds are the lens that we perceive the world and the events we experience. As McLeod would say, “Up here, everything exists. Up here, everything is possible.” As students, we succumb to the repetition of getting to class on time, sitting in our favourite seats, listening to lectures and taking notes – all the while, our internal worlds are roaring within us.

“Living a dual life of anxious repetition. Destroyed an illness with the power of my mind.  Almost an emptiness wanting the illness to come back.”

As humans, we are waging a constant battle between our histories, our responsibilities and ourselves. As students, we struggle to balance the focus between our lectures, studies, expectations and  stresses of life. Our attention split in a million directions, we start to feel scattered, exhausted and depleted. If our mental health begins to suffer, our fear of the unknown, our fear of being broken irreparably, might keep us away from seeking support or resolution.

McLeod divulged the most terrifying, gut-wrenching places his mind forced him to go. His brain insisted that he envision horrific crimes repeatedly as if to ensure that it’s something he would never actually do.

“You get hit with terrifying possibilities. What you want is salvation. You think the drone is a product of your environment but nope it’s just me.”

The monologue wanders all over the map, representing McLeod’s own scattered mindset, and how his condition tormented his emotions and intentions.

“When you cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not. So much anger when you don’t even know what you are.”

The humor, vulnerability and raw nakedness of the performance was an intense journey—one I am still on, though the lights have dimmed on that stage. What felt most impactful was that glimpsing into McLeod’s thoughts made you hyper-aware of the collective emotional and mental landscape of those around you. In no way are we required to share our stories, but it is necessary that we listen to others when they open up.   

“You are playing closer attention to yourself doing the listening. They’re a whole separate person with a whole separate brain no matter how many memories you share.”

Additionally, it made me feel awakened within my own life, thoughts, routine, goals, workload and relationships. As McLeod remarked: “The things we do every day without noticing…the beauty in the every moment matters.”


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