CMHA Calgary peer support worker, Cori, wants to remind those dealing with mental health and substance use concerns of one thing – it’s not your fault.
“There is still, I think, that overall consensus within society with substance abuse and mental health that it’s the person that is bringing it on themselves,” she explains.
Like each peer support worker at CMHA Calgary, Cori has her own personal experience with a mental health concern that started at the young age of 14. Unfortunately, due to the stigma that surrounds mental health, her struggle was made more difficult as she didn’t feel like she could talk about it.
“I would be absent from school, and I would say that I wasn’t feeling well, but I would never say that my brain is so overwhelmed and I am so incredibly depressed that I can’t possibly go to school today, but that was really what was happening,” she explains. “I learned to just keep quiet and hide because of shame and discrimination.”
As time went on, her symptoms worsened. She experienced episodes of mania, psychosis, and depression into her 20’s, and describes feeling hopeless and helpless.
“If you picture a huge pit, like a well, there is virtually no light. You are so far down that you think it’s impossible to climb out. It’s not physically or mentally possible. That’s how I felt,” Cori explains.
Feeling like she had no future beyond her struggle, Cori attempted to take her own life.
“That’s when I thought, if this is the new normal, I don’t want it. It’s too much,” she said, “I felt like I’d done all my work, I’d been to school, I was living in Washington DC, I had this great job, and all of a sudden my life was over.”
But it wasn’t over, and bit-by-bit, she was able to move forward. However, she still thought that a cure was possible.
“My goal was to recover. I looked at that as the mirage off in the distance, so if I worked really, really hard, I’m going to be normal again. That was my goal. And then I learned that there is no cure, and that recovery is this active pursuit of overall mental and physical wellness, it’s not a destination.”
Although it took over five years to process, she has come to learn and accept that, although her journey will be life-long, and there will always be symptoms, she is not to blame, and life can still be fulfilling.
“I understand that two months from now or next week, I could be hospitalized, but it’s not a failure on my part. It’s my biochemistry and just happens because I still have that illness.”
Being a part of the community at CMHA Calgary has really helped her come to terms with these realizations by connecting with others who share similar experiences.
“It’s great in that it allows me to understand that I am not alone, and also that my experience is validated in terms of it’s not my fault,” Cori explains.
Although she has a support system outside of CMHA Calgary, its being surrounded by others that have lived experience with mental health concerns that has made all of the difference.
“I think it’s really tough for anybody who hasn’t experienced a mental health or substance use concern to understand that the person themselves doesn’t want to feel that way, and doesn’t want to have these things happening and that they are doing the best they can.”
Now, as a trained peer supporter at CMHA Calgary’s newly opened Welcome Centre and Recovery College, Cori hopes to share her experiences in hopes of supporting and inspiring others to move forward. She describes the Welcome Centre as “a place of hope.”
“The Welcome Centre is a place where people can come and check their diagnosis at the door. It’s not about being labelled with any particular thing, it’s that they are a person that has had some adverse experiences, whatever those experiences are, they are still alive and present right now, and they want to move forward,” she explains. “The peers that have taken the training have moved forward and now they want to be able to support others, and the folks who are coming in want to share their experience and move forward.”
She explains that a peer supporter is like having “a wise friend.”
“The relationship is one of mutuality. It’s not about them advising you about what you ought to be doing, but you determine the path that you want to take,” says Cori. “The person themselves is driving the bus, and they’re saying ‘these are the things I’m looking for, can you walk beside me and provide support.’”
Whether someone is looking for one-on-one peer support, to learn new skills through a Recovery College course, or just seeking genuine connection with others, CMHA Calgary’s doors are open to everyone.
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, your support is critical, which is we’ve recently 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).