Mike Fillinger stood out among the crowd at the Tim Horton's off the highway in Alberta's foothills. He has piercing blue eyes beneath a black baseball cap. But nothing about him revealed his past. Or the fact that he was charged with arson seven years ago and found not criminally responsible (NCR) for his crime.
Today, Fillinger still lives in the small town of Rocky Mountain House where many people know about his past and his journey since. After leaving the coffee shop, Fillinger showed us his home town and talked about his rehabilitation process.
Fillinger was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007. Despite treatment from his psychiatrist and multiple forms of medication, he had a psychotic break in 2011 and committed arson in his neighbour’s home.
Seven years later, Fillinger recalls his psychosis occurred because there were still triggers he needed to overcome in his own life. For him, triggers can be people, places or things.
“What I did find out about myself was that I was a ‘yes’ person. I always said yes to what people wanted me to do even if I didn’t want to do it,” explained Fillinger.
Fillinger was a people pleaser who lived in constant fear that they would become angry with him if he ever said no. After the incident, he learned to focus on building up his own mental wellbeing. This has been the changing factor of controlling his disease.
On the night of the crime, Fillinger explained, the trigger for him was his now ex-wife. “My wife said at the time, if I get sick again she’s leaving me, so that really tore me apart and so I lost all hope. That broke my heart and my mindset went down the drain.”
On the night of Aug. 23, 2011, in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Fillinger was driving back from Calgary with two of his kids. His oldest child and wife at the time were staying in Calgary to catch a flight to Disneyland the next day.
“I bought some smokes, bought a six-pack of beer, bought supper for the kids, and after supper put them to bed. I went outside to have a smoke and at that time I was in a hypomanic state and I was wondering how I can burn water.”
Hypomania is a psychological state characterized by persistent disinhibition and elevation.
Later that night, Fillinger went to bed. He woke up around 2 a.m. to see that all the lights in his neighbor's house were on. He got up and walked over to see what was going on. But when he got to the door he realized that it was unlocked so he walked right inside. He was then overcome by anxiety and mania.
“I had some ideas of the Illuminati at the time so I assumed that my neighbors were a part of some secret society too, and I had to stop them by burning their house down. I had this sense of fear that these demons were out and about trying to take over the world and possess people to do awful things to themselves and to other people,” he recalls.
“I thought in my own mind that if I could prevent the demons from coming up from the bathroom toilet that I would be able to stop them.”
Fillinger then did what he thought was right at the time. He turned on a hairdryer and threw it into the toilet, along with an aerosol can, in hopes that it would kill off the evil spirits that his mind had created.
“As soon as I walked out the door I knew I had done something wrong. I had so much fear in me that the evil spirits were around that I couldn’t turn back and unplug the blow dryer and reverse what I did … I took my two kids to the church thinking the house was going to blow up. I set up big tall candles all around me and started praying like crazy, while the two kids slept beneath a statue.”
When the sun came up the next morning, even though Fillinger was still in a state of psychosis, he knew he had to turn himself in.
“I was put into an interview room and read my rights … how I expressed myself during the interview impacted the officer immensely,” says Fillinger.
The interview lasted about an hour. Fillinger was still in a manic state during this time.
After spending the night in jail, Fillinger was transferred to the Rocky Hospital and then transferred to the Ponoka Hospital.
Once discharged from the Ponoka Hospital, he spent the next full year in and out of court. Once assessed, the judge declared Fillinger NCR for his crime.
Fillinger explained his time in treatment as a learning experience. He kept his days full by reading books and learning about his illness. He emphasized how he would work with the doctors and nurses and kept a positive mind in hopes to be released as quick as possible.
“I remember Dr. Santana saying ‘Why are you here Mike?’ And I replied, ‘I’m here to get a tune-up.’ This is a learning experience for me to be able to manage my diagnosis and learn how to get the support I need.”
Today, Fillinger is accepted by his community and has built a large support network. He is now working on creating a rehabilitation program called “Now Suffering Will End,” for other people in the area dealing with mental health issues. Manic Mike, a nickname created by Mike himself, plans to use hiking, camping, fitness, and support groups as a way to help people dealing with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
For more information and other cases of NCR, please visit the Mind Trap website.
- By Breanne Kramer and Natalie Valleau