Every action counts. On the occasion of Bell Let’s Talk Day 2021, the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has asked Dave, a writer and client of the agency, to share a firsthand testimonial of the circumstances that led to his engaging in mental health services, and how that decision to look for opportunity in a crisis set in motion his recovery from anxiety and depression against extremely challenging circumstances.
2020 was a year like no other for me. I went from working my dream job to being jobless in the blink of an eye.
After close to 15 years employed in the culinary field – where 60-hour work weeks were common for me – I just stalled out. I knew something was off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It all happened at once. The pandemic hit and I was out of work.
At first, not working felt like a forced vacation, I joked with my group of friends and my wife about it being “paid time-off,” but that sense of levity was short-lived – it was early in the pandemic and I had no idea whether I would receive financial assistance in time to pay my bills and rent.
There was a lot of confusion. Do I apply for CERB? EI? What do I do?
And yet, every day I would still fly out of bed in the morning with the hope that I would be returning to work. Sadly this was not yet to be.
I’m nearing 40 years old and I’m hard-wired for kitchen work, where the prevailing attitude is go, go, go!
Stuck at home
My mind would race and I couldn’t reconcile the intense social changes that came with the lockdown measures. I missed working on a team and the social aspects of working in a kitchen. I started smoking too much pot and filling my days with comforts that would eventually lose their taste due to the anxiety and depression attached.
All the while, I was just attempting to feel better during an unpredictable time. My energy became manic, I started making erratic purchases and experiencing what I would soon learn were panic attacks.
By the time of my second trip to the ER, I was concerned I was going to die of a heart attack. However, it was not a heart attack. My doctor put me on some new medication and connected with me a therapist.
A familiar face
Little did I know that the hospital trip would also put me in contact with the incredibly versatile Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, or CMHA Ottawa, via a program called Familiar Faces: I was released later that evening from the civic campus of the Ottawa hospital, and a couple days later I received a call from my new worker at CMHA Ottawa.
Once we had built some rapport, she linked me into the agency’s peer groups, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), harm reduction and mindfulness training. My lovely (albeit masked lol) worker even came to visit and dropped off work sheets and a gift card to help me with groceries.
As I started to work on myself and break down what I call the “shame wall,” I had what I needed to begin my recovery.
At the time of this writing, it’s almost eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been gruelling navigating through the associated isolation, financial stress and magnified anxiety and depression.
It has been a real wake-up call for me.
Seeing opportunity in crisis
I stepped off the hamster wheel of life and realized I’d had no work/life balance. My core values were out of whack and my mental health was getting lost in the shuffle.
But where there is a will there is a way, or in my case, a screen. Making meaningful connections through virtual care have been helpful.
I’ve struggled with addiction and mental health challenges throughout my life. But in this instance, from crisis came the chance to reassess what has worked for me and what has not. There was opportunity in crisis!
This process has stripped away the negative part of my ego. I now have the tools to better process my feelings. I know now that it is part of our human makeup to emote – otherwise it builds up. It is way more important to communicate how I feel rather than putting my head down and just persevering, like I used to do.
CMHA Ottawa has been instrumental for me as a support system. The Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region has also assisted in my recovery, as has my wonderful wife, friends and family. Combined with the help of my doctor, medication and new support contacts, I’m on track.
If I can take anything good away from the pandemic, it has shown me just how much help is out there if you approach it with honesty, open-mindedness and willingness.
Back on the grind, but prioritizing self-care
Now I’m back working part time in a kitchen. I have intuitive and communicative employers that value the clear boundaries I’ve set for myself in my return to the work force.
I’ll admit I was afraid to go back to work, because I want to be the best worker I can be, but I don’t want to fall back into old patterns and burn out. When I returned to work, I tried to do so as honestly as I could with my employer and everyone around me.
I made sure I had a crisis plan in place before putting myself in a position that indeed has the potential to become high-impact. I’m my own therapist: I approach life and work with tried-and-true therapy techniques to help me get through any challenges.
If you need help, ask for it – because look what happened to me. I hope that my story can help shatter the stigma associated with mental health and addictions challenges, so that more people can feel comfortable getting help and sharing their struggles.
With an immense amount of change on the horizon, we all need some extra support. In the end, it’s win/win because the more we understand our own mental health, the better we can adapt and evolve.
- If you need help, call or text the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region.
- It’s ok not to be ok: If you’re in the Ottawa area, schedule a free same-day or next-day phone or video counselling session with Counselling Connect.
- Feeling low, stressed or anxious? Maybe BounceBack is for you.
- If you are experiencing an emergency, please go to the emergency department of your nearest general hospital or call 911.