Protecting Minds - 'We can’t mask mental illness'

I’ve always been a go-getter in life. Moving up the corporate ladder and advancing my career came natural to me. It was 2006, I was an entrepreneur, a member of various local business chambers and active in the community. Financially I was doing well, but my mental health wasn’t.

My wife and I divorced and it was very difficult for us and our five children and I carried much of the burden. From 2009 to 2012 I bounced from job to job and had a hard time figuring out how to deal with the negative thoughts that consumed me.

I made a few bad decisions that led to my incarceration for some time.

I always felt like I was on top of the world and had such a great life. Upon my release, I struggled to fit into society. I was living with the idea that I could never live and manage a good life again.

I was admitted to Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) via their outpatient program where my life did a 180. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, prescribed medication and went through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Ontario Shores brought me the confidence I needed to change my life for the better.

Following my incarceration, there were difficulties I faced with gaining a corporate job again. Through hard work and determination, I went from being unemployed to starting my own business.

After eight successful months, the world was faced with a pandemic which affected me mentally and financially. I had to remind myself that there are ways to manage this problem.

I worked twice as hard and pushed myself into the marketplace. I was exhausted, working 12-hour days, seven days a week, but I never lost focus of my end goal.

What helped me stay resilient through the chaos was the education I received from Ontario Shores. I used the coping strategies they taught me to succeed once again. Without Ontario Shores and the tools I learned, I would have lost my company in the first month of the pandemic. Instead, I recognized the challenges, persevered and can proudly say my revenue was 5x what we had forecasted for the year.

I use social media to bring awareness to my story which has received great support from the community. By bringing mental illness to the forefront and being vulnerable about sharing our stories, we can create a ripple effect and fight the stigma.

At 57 I got my family back, have my own house in Whitby, a successful business and most importantly I am happy.

That’s why I’m advocating for Ontario Shores. When I was at my worst, they helped me come out the other side. We can’t mask mental illness. It’s real and it affects more people than we think. I’ve met many business owners that come across perfectly polished. It’s something we don’t want others to see because of the stigma.

I want my story to serve as a reminder that all kinds of people face personal struggles. We must continue to strive for a world where mental health is viewed and talked about the same way as physical health.

Beginning during Mental Illness Awareness Week and throughout October, Ontario Shores and the Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health are embarking on a fundraising campaign to support programs and initiatives that assist people living with mental illness. Participants from all over Ontario volunteered to share their personal connection with mental illness to reduce stigma and increase funding for much-needed programs. Learn more at www.ProtectingMinds.ca.