For those who are living with a mental health or substance use concern, figuring out what works for their individual journey is the key to recovery.
If anyone understands this, it’s CMHA Calgary’s Peer Support Worker, John, who has faced multiple psychotic episodes. As an artist, he describes his talent as being both a blessing and a curse.
“I have experienced some really beautiful things because of my creativity, but also had to endure some pretty rough hardship,” he explains.
It was when he was in college that a multitude of stressors triggered his first episode of psychosis.
“I was dealing with a lot of paranoia [of] people trying to kill me, but also delusions of grandeur, so thinking I had special art powers,” he explained. “I ended up running through the streets, and the cops found me. I was hospitalized and wasn’t allowed to leave for about a month.”
And that was the first of many episodes. He recalls being hospitalized for three months over three different years, all against his will.
“That experience in itself can be really toxic. Like terrifying,” he describes. “In the psych ward, you have a lot of people fighting really intense mental battles. It’s not a positive energy. It’s just a dark place.”
But the episodes were equally as terrifying. He describes psychosis as being “disconnected from a shared reality.”
“You have your own reality, and it’s nonsensical because it is not shared with other people,” John explains.
He recalls feeling a lack of trust with those around him when he is in the midst of a psychotic episode.
“Somebody could be telling you the truth, but you could be labelling them as an antagonist character, so that truth would be void because it would be coming from the wrong person,” he explained. “I have a really good relationship with my partner, so if I don’t trust her, that’s when things are really dire.”
Along with the episodes of psychosis, John also endures manic and depressive episodes, each coming with their own challenges.
“The pain from the depression is just as awful [as psychosis] in a lot of ways. Yeah, you can be on medication that takes you away from the scary paranoia, but it shifts you into depression, well that’s its own kind of hell. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
John has come to terms with that fact that this will be a life-long journey, however, he is continuously learning and gaining tools that are making a huge difference in how he is able to handle it.
“With mental health, a big part of being in recovery is finding what works for you,” John says. “[For me] I have embraced more self-care activities that foster that resiliency.”
One tool he has found very beneficial is genuine connection. Recently he endured another episode, however this time he did not have to be hospitalized. He thanks peer support and the CMHA Calgary team for the connection and tools he has had available to him.
“[It’s] just about being able to reach out to my mentors and have a place where I can voice my paranoias and have people set me straight as opposed to keeping everything so pent up that it does get to the point that putting the pieces back together becomes more difficult, explains John. “It has been really transformational. I have spent a lot of time in isolation, working on my art, so getting involved with peer support and talking more with people face-to-face has been really cool.”
He also gains strength in sharing his story.
“I can’t choose my story, but I will talk about it,” John explains “It’s neat for me to be able to talk about what has worked for me and just relating to other people. I love talking about this stuff, so just being in an environment where my experience is an asset is a real paradigm shift.”
As a Peer Support Worker at CMHA Calgary, he describes the newly opened Welcome Centre and Recovery College as having “a wealth of knowledge.”
“There are just a variety of perspectives and a safe place to talk about whatever you want to talk about.”
What John hopes to provide for those who walk through the door is “the space to talk” as well as hope for a stronger future.
“When you are in that state of otherness, you can feel like an irredeemable character. [I] want to extend that hope that no-one is irredeemable”
Surrounded by individuals with personal experience, CMHA Calgary has created a safe space where individuals have the power to take charge of their own journeys. 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 email@example.com 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).