Tag Archives: health & wellness blog

Headlines: Bell “Let’s Talk’ Campaign vs. Drug Addiction

This post doesn’t necessarily fall under my general blog theme of being an entrepreneur/my journey out of corporate but since it’s my blog and I can say what I want I figured I’d post it anyway. Plus a lot of what I do now in my professional life has to do with being very authentic with clients, team members and sharing my story….warts and all. At a team meeting last night for my health & wellness business one of my colleagues shared her hysterical and bravely honest journey of highs and lows over the last couple months with her own business and that inspired me to put my honest thoughts down on paper too/share with the group.

Last week was Bell’s Let’s Talk day (Jan 28) for a mental health awareness campaign. This campaign was started several years ago with a celebrity endorsement from Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes who herself admits to suffering from depression/mental illness. A few days later on Super Bowl Sunday the Internet was flooded with reports of yet another celebrity death due to a heroin overdose (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).  After reading rants or commentary on my FB/Twitter and online news sites I came to writing my thoughts down on this subject because of the almost completely opposite themes over the airwaves about these two events. I was taken aback at the almost 180 degree flip across the airwaves.

My Twitter on Jan 28 was filled with all sorts of awesome, heart warming, supportive tweets and re-tweets to support the issue of mental health.  Famous people, regular people, everyone seemed game to re-tweet as much as they could to support the cause. As someone who has loved ones in my immediate family and close friends who suffer from often debilitating depression, it’s a cause I not only support I feel very strongly about and am impacted by. I want to see the stigma erased from this issue, I want people to realize it probably impacts people in your life right now…..perhaps even your partner, child, parent, boss or best friend. I want to encourage people to speak up as speaking up may encourage someone else to get help. Most folks suffering from depression suffer in silence, many go through their entire lives without seeking any help and/or hiding their condition as best they can from everyone around them. As I said, I am describing my own personal experience here and I’m referencing in particular to 4 very brave souls in my life (3 family members and a close friend) who have had the courage to not only admit out loud they suffer from mental illness but they have sought help in the form of therapists and/or medication. As I share the story of my family with other people I find more and more families suffering from the same thing. I’ll continue to share as long as people are open to it because at the end of the day depression effect all of us.

My Twitter/FB/general browsing of the Internet on the day Philip Seymour Hoffman died did not result in the same heart warming results. Yes, many celebrity friends, journalists, general population made respectful comments talking about how talented he was and how much they would miss him. That said, a very large part of the ether had often vitriolic commentary on how this guy who seemingly had everything could be so selfish and stick a needle in his arm and die of an over dose. I don’t personally know PSH, and I wouldn’t say I’m a diehard fan but he was an undeniably talented actor (Almost Famous & Pirate Radio are 2 of my favourite movies of his).  I was saddened to hear of his passing but was really drove me to write my thoughts down were the a for mentioned comments and the fact that he leaves behind 2 young children and a partner who is likely going to go through the most heart wrenching guilt trip over the next few years. Particularly because (from what I understand) Mr. Hoffman was living in the apartment he died in because his partner had kicked him out for relapsing (A decision she probably struggled with but due to their young children and her own sanity likely something she felt she had to do).  I sympathize for that woman I don’t know and those children who aren’t going to know their father. Within the comments I read online there were several people who pointed out what I’m about to say: Happy people do not become drug/alcohol addicts. They were already dealing with hidden demons (aka: mental illness) when they turned to what ever vice they chose to numb them from what they felt and/or were trying not to feel. Desperation has hit at an all time high when you’re turning to heavy drugs or alcohol to ‘escape’. You’ve gone past the point of logic; you only want some comfort for a short time, which in turn often turns to an addiction that controls you for a long time.

Why do I feel so strongly about his/have this opinion? Remember those 4 brave souls I spoke of? One of them is my father. He doesn’t just struggle with mental illness he’s a recovering alcoholic. It doesn’t just end with my dad; I come from a family with several addicts in our midst. My brother’s in-laws are also filled with addicts (like attracts like I suppose). I’m intimately familiar with what Mr. Hoffman’s family has struggled with for the last 20 odd years he’s struggled with addiction. I understand the questions his children will have down the road. I understand what his partner was/is going through. It can be very easy to get angry when you see this situation “what an idiot, what a waste, how selfish can he be with all that money, fame, wife and kids?” When you see homeless people strung out on the street pan handling for money in big cities it can be easy to think: “get a job, I’m not giving you money you’ll just drink it” and walk away.  Often it’s easier to just pretend you don’t see them and walk by.

Do you want to know what my father does when he sees them? He gives them money…even though he knows they might just use it for drugs/alcohol etc. He always says the same thing to me when he does it (in his Glaswegian accent): “Well hen, they could’ve just as easily have been me. Your ma could have flung me out on the street”.

My “Ma” didn’t. She (like my Dad) is a devout Catholic who takes her vows of until death do us part seriously. She stuck by him even as she struggled with her own demons (She’s also one of the 4 loved ones I mentioned above). 15 years ago thanks to the support of my sister in law and her recovering addict Uncle my Dad got the support and help he needed. And this May we are gearing up to celebrate his 15 years of sobriety.  This is nothing to be sniffed at let me assure you. My father is on the low end of the statistic; most people end up like Mr. Hoffman. My father is the first one to admit that if he didn’t get help he wouldn’t be alive today. He wouldn’t have lived to be the much beloved grandfather to his two nieces that he is, or the father I needed him to be for the last 15 years (perhaps making up for the first 25 when he wasn’t always there present and focused) and the husband my mum needed all these years.  He also admits it’s still a struggle all these years later; you are never ‘cured’.  Now that my mum is also getting the help she needs for her own bouts with depression they are enjoying their retirement a little more. My parents have their up and downs on a daily basis, our story isn’t over and we as a family grow and deal with the issues as they come.

I’m very grateful for the second chance my family has been given. I’m grateful for the support available in this country for my family. I’m grateful we’re one of the ‘lucky’ ones in all of this. So as my own words cross through your Internet browsing today and as you come across more stories of mental illness or addiction I would just say this: Compassion. Empathy. Keep these words in mind.

You’ve heard my story and why I have the viewpoint I do (perhaps I’m still going to be considered a ‘bleeding heart’ after this).  Not all stories are the same and I really do wish most of you never have to go through some of the stuff my family has gone through. Does all mental illness result in addiction? No. But as the changing tide of mental illness moves over to a new found compassion and openness to discuss are we open to doing the same thing about the dirty subject of addiction to drugs or alcohol (or gambling or whatever?)?

Consider this: the next time you see a homeless junkie on the street, read an article in some (left wing?) paper about programs to help addiction or mental illness, read about a person losing all the family money at a casino, or read about yet another celebrity overdose……I want you to imagine that person is your father/mother/brother/sister/son/daughter/family member/work colleague/ and/or friend….and lets talk.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Just before I left my corporate gig last spring I was out visiting some extended family in the country. This couple is related to me via marriage (My aunt’s brother and partner but my aunt is my aunt via marriage…confused? No matter, family has little to do with blood in my experience). Bob and Liz are the most amazing people. They have been together for almost 40 years, they are not legally married but they are still madly in love and have built a life for themselves (including raising a daughter) in an idyllic village in rural Ontario. Both of them are originally from Scotland and like my own parents immigrated to Toronto to follow some dreams. Those dreams didn’t work out as expected so they moved to small town Ontario to start again. Bob is wood-carver, Liz is a potter, they are both known in the folk art community and they live in a restored limestone house in a beautiful village not far from Prince Edward County in southern Ontario. I always thought of them as this bohemian branch of the family, driving their big old Cadillac, Bob in his Tilly hat, Liz with her long hair/cool hippie vibe, creative and living life on their own terms outside of what society considers ‘normal’. I love visiting them and I don’t get out nearly as often as I’d like to but their house is so inviting, you never want to leave (a walk after lunch last spring resulted in freshly picked wild asparagus!).

 

As we sat down to lunch last spring just a few short months from my exodus from my job Bob told me a story I had never heard before. Bob, this Sean Connery look a like (with a Glasgow accent mind you), Tilly hat wearing, wood carving, outdoor loving man was in fact at one time just like me! In 1970’s Toronto Bob had been a salesman….in the automotive industry…..one of his biggest clients was the very organization I worked for! Bob had a company car and big sales account. Bob also had a serious drinking problem. People with drinking problems are not happy people; addiction is often a by-product of depression. (I would know, I come from a family filled with addicts but I’m happy to say one of them: my father, has been sober for 14 years, no small feat!) Life was not going as Bob had hoped and he and Liz decided to try something else.

With that, Bob drove his big company car with all the sales tools in the trunk to his office. He walked into his boss’ office and said (with his Glaswegian accent) “I’m for the offs!” Handed over the car keys and walked out the front door. Bob told me he didn’t actually even realize how he’d get back home as he was in the habit of driving to the office and wasn’t sure what streetcar to take. Bob had no plans, no idea what was going to happen next, how he was going to make money but he knew he couldn’t continue the life he was currently living. Bob and Liz found a dilapidated Ontario limestone cottage in a rural part of the province (a raccoon family was living there when they arrived) and started building a new life. They had no idea how they’d repair the house, or pay their bills, they just knew they wanted a fresh start. Bob didn’t even know he had any talents as a wood-carver; he discovered that by accident as he was repairing the house and started carving a piece of wood. Together Bob and Liz built a potter’s workhouse, a  wood shop, a home for them, their daughter and assorted pets (no raccoons) and the bills got paid/they got fed through selling their beautiful wares (Liz’s work was sold throughout the province and had a large following in Quebec, and Bob’s work is sold at rather expensive shops in downtown Toronto: I have one of his stunning Celtic crosses on my dining room wall) or trading work (i.e.: home improvement) for money.

Here all this time I thought this couple I had admired for their life of following their passion, bohemian existence etc had in fact not always been like that. They had at one time lived in the ‘big city’ and worked at ‘real jobs’ just like me! I was obviously a bit nervous about the journey I was about to embark on but Bob told me to just move forward. He said he could tell that I was ready, much like my cousin had said the year before (Her comment: it’s done, don’t worry about how….it’s already in motion) he told me just to step into this new life and not look back.

I don’t know where I’ll be in 40 years. I don’t necessarily know where I’ll be next year. I do know this: with each day that passes, with the people I meet and the opportunities that come in front of me I know that the path I’m on now is the right one. I can’t see the end destination yet and I’d rather not know, I’m focusing on enjoying the journey (a tough habit to cultivate I must admit). I also hope that one day in the future when I speak to someone who didn’t know me when that they are as surprised as I was to find out Bob’s past when they find out mine: another case of mistaken identity. That sounds perfect.