Life, if anything, is unpredictable. And at times the challenges it presents can be overwhelming to one’s psyche; regardless of whether mental illness is present or not. However, we also know that with the proper supports in place, recovery is possible.
Catherine, now a Peer Support Worker at CMHA Calgary, was in her early teens when trauma triggered a decline in her mental health to the point where she felt like she would never get better. Shrouded by stigma, she didn’t feel like she could share her overwhelming emotional state. She was lost and alone.
She describes this time in her life as “really isolating like I was the only one in the world really dealing with what I was. [I thought] there would have been no point talking to someone because I would have been seen as such an outsider.”
When she moved to Canada from her home country of Ireland, her mental health further deteriorated. At the age of 19, she describes feeling hopeless.
“Things just escalated. The depression got worse. The isolation got worse. Everything just got worse. I kind of went more and more into myself,” Catherine explains. “I felt like I wasn’t living. Like I was just waiting for death to open its doors to me. I was just tired of being sick.”
She knew something had to change, so she sought out volunteer opportunities in hopes of bettering herself while helping others, and that’s when she came across CMHA Calgary’s Peer Support programming.
“Going through [my journey] alone, it opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t want anyone else to go through it alone. I never got help, so I wanted to be the person to give it to someone else,” she says.
Finally, being a part of a supportive mental health community at CMHA Calgary, she found comfort and healing as she opened up about her struggles with others who had walked similar paths. She finally felt like she belonged, and her hope was re-ignited.
“[Peer support] saved my life,” Catherine exclaims. “You know that [the peer supporters] have been to that dark place, but you also know that they have come out of it,” Catherine explains. “It was kind of like ‘aha’ I can do that too.”
And she has. Empowered by her fellow peers, she was given the strength and courage as well as the tools to embrace life again and has gained the understanding that mental health is a journey, not a destination.
“Your mental health journey, it never truly goes away. You learn all of these incredible new things along the way and all of these new tools that help you get stronger. Because there is a big community of us now [at CMHA Calgary], we are just continuously empowering each other.”
Now, as a trained peer support worker, she is using her experiences to provide that hope and support to others on their own journeys as part of CMHA Calgary’s newly opened Welcome Centre and Recovery College.
Catherine describes peer support as a “genuine and authentic practice” that everyone can benefit from, not only those with a diagnosed mental illness.
“We all go through different things in our lives, and we all go up and down on the emotional scale, so to just sit with someone and talk about that openly and get feedback, that’s powerful.”
Whether you are looking for one-on-one peer support, to learn new skills through a Recovery College course, or you just seek genuine connection with others, CMHA Calgary’s doors are open to everyone, with programming also available specifically for youth at the Discovery College.
All Recovery College programs at CMHA Calgary are free of charge and without waiting lists. In order to continue to ensure that no one is turned away, we need your support, which is why we’ve launched the Turni2We campaign.
Your donation can go a long way in helping someone feel like they belong, and that they matter. Donate today.
For those looking to connect with a peer support worker, you can come by in person, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403-297-1402 during the Welcome Centre’s opening hours (9:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday to Friday, and Tuesday and Wednesday from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm excluding holidays).