Niagara Recovery Stories

Mental illness is a topic that's not talked about often enough, and yet there can be great comfort, hope and encouragement in knowing that others share the same challenges.

Below are some stories of individuals within our own community who have written about their experiences with mental illness and their journey towards recovery.

Don's story

There is a life principal that says; "We keep what we have by giving it away". Telling my story helps me keep my recovery, by giving it away in a message of hope to others.

My name is Don and I am an Acadian Mi'kmaq. PTSD has been a part of my life since the age of three. I was 11 years old and our home had never been a safe place for me, so my mom sought help from the church. Unfortunately, she would regret that decision until her death. I don't even need to tell you why she regretted that decision, because you already know. Your head is already going there, because you've heard it so many times before. My father's physical violence was a walk in the park compared to what this monster had planned for me.

I ran away from home at the age of 14 and I have been on my own since. I was not just trying to escape the prison that I was living in - I was trying to escape the prison that was living in me. Living seemed just as terrifying as dying back then. There was no escape and before getting sober in 1990, my illness would take me to numerous jails, rehabilitation centres, mental institutions and even one straight jacket.

Being sober was certainly a great help, but my difficulties were far from over. I started attending church and became an active member of the community. Not long after I was betrayed again. Another betrayal, but this time I was down for the full count. I couldn't run my business anymore, I stopped writing music, I stopped singing. My song was now dead and I felt like I was truly dead inside.

Flashbacks haunted me everyday. This time I had made a promise to my wife that I would get help. So, I sought help through Niagara Regional Mental Health and they suggested "Hope Recovered" a group that helps you learn about PTSD and how to deal with symptoms and triggers.

Following that I spent more than a year with a therapist who specialized in PTSD recovery. Between my Hope Recovered group and my therapist we worked through what seemed like most of my life. We spent more than a year, every week for 90 minutes, working hard to process the trauma in a proper, and respectful way. With each session I became more of the man I was intended to be. I even went back to work, started writing music again and now I'm working on my first album.

Now I have a full stock of tools to help me in my continued recovery. Today, I well up with tears of joy, because I'm beginning to feel something that I have never felt in my whole life. Like an internal assurance, It's feel like a confidence in who I am.

Thank you Niagara Regional Mental Health and staff for my hope recovered.

Other recovery stories

  • Maria

    Not everyone needs high doses of meds, so my ongoing recovery requires self-advocacy.

    When I came to Canada, the stress of all the government requirements and finding a home landed me in the hospital and required me to take six times the dose of medicine that I had in my prior country. The side effects were unbearable. I gained 60 pounds and felt numb. My life amounted to going through the motions, but I also felt trapped.

    I was placed on a community treatment order and given a substitute decision maker. Each time I met with my psychiatrist, not only did we talk about mental illness, I made sure we talked about recovery and mental health. Recovery to me means making my own health decisions in collaboration with my doctor. I gave evidence and advocated for the least meds to keep me healthy.

    Empowering the mentally ill to take part in their recovery automatically gives them a sense of responsibility to make it work. Making their own decisions reinforces that each of them is an equal person to someone without mental illness. Having hope gives them courage. Showing success gives everyone faith that the mentally ill are not defined by their worst states, but by their best abilities.

    Not everyone has the same story or path, but I am on the least meds in ten years, no longer on a community treatment order, no longer have a substitute decision maker and my doctor and I did it together with her expertise in the science and my self-knowledge and advocacy.

  • Louise

    I am a former registered nurse, previously working on an acute mental health unit. In 2012, I was critically injured by a mental health client. I am also a traumatic brain injury survivor, with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder.

    I received psychosocial care to assist in my recovery but had to endure the long waiting lists for care. During the waiting period, I managed to get into some bad situations, resulting in crisis after crisis, until I reached rock bottom where I alienated myself from my loved ones.

    Lost and severely depressed, I finally reached out to a previous co-worker, who along with my family doctor, admitted me to St. Joseph's hospital. Here, I finally received counseling and access to workshops such as cognitive behaviour therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. This therapy assisted in getting me on the right track to feeling better about myself.

    Today, I work on my self care and mindfulness on a daily basis, attend workshops, and I am a member of the client advisory committee with Niagara Region Mental Health.

    Self care does not come easily to me. My psychiatrist and family physician hold me accountable to making me a priority. Volunteering in the community and socializing are important activities that make me feel good about myself.

  • Paul

    I've been living with schizophrenia for a long, long time. They all haven't been bad times - I've had some good times too. I would describe myself as being a kind guy, friendly guy and loving one another. Life is pretty good now. I've seemed to recovered from it - I’m better than I once was.

    I grew up as a Port Dalhousie boy - some nights I stayed out all night on the beach, building bonfires and meeting new people. When I first got told in the hospital, I didn't know what the word meant. I had to ask someone what it was. They described it as a chemical imbalance. I was really tired and sleeping all the time, but I didn't really realize I was sick. I was admitted to the hospital a few times. My mom took me to the hospital once a month to make sure I got my shot. When things got tough, I was brave enough to call 911.

    Volunteering got me out of my shell and around people. I used to buy water bottles and hand them out to food court workers, handed out flyers, collected grocery carts at Fairview Mall and Giant Tiger. I kept busy - this was my secret. It helped me by knowing that it helped out others and the community; I felt like I was giving back to the community.

    Believing in God and Jesus has helped me a lot spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. All the supports in mental health got me back on track and been good for me. Two of my good friends also live with schizophrenia. We met at the Schizophrenia Society. My family and friends were a big support.

    I've overcome my dependency, from when I was really sick, to be independent now. Everyone gets sick at some point and becomes dependent. I have learned to stay busy to help my recovery and to cope. It kept my mind off of things, dwelling on things. I used to dwell on things of the past. The things we can change, great. The things we cannot, we can learn a little bit about.

    I think some people are scared of taking medications and getting needles. I would tell those people to try and stick on their medication, train your mind to keep taking your medications. The Schizophrenia Society had a big impact. I would encourage people to come and meet with the Schizophrenia Society to share their story. It is important to share your story because it may change their life.

  • Sandra

    This year, 2020 is 20 years I've stayed out of hospital regarding my illness. 20 years, a long time with many mountains to climb but I crashed through by shear determination, resilience, and a never give up attitude! I would not give my power to my illness. My illness wanted it, but I would not let it. When the red flags appeared, I dealt with them right away. Staying in bed, isolation, negative thinking, being nasty when that is, not me. Feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, missing my family who live in another province and this dreadful COVID-19.

    I have stayed well because the alone time gave me time to get to know myself. Listening to music and different genres, I now enjoy listening to Andre Rieu, a conductor and violinist from Maastricht, Netherlands. I listen to different music a lot. I can go on and on about him and his orchestra. I can see them at Cineplex different times of the year. I plan and create some of my events. I go out of my comfort zone to try different things. That is one of my outlets. I also walk my dogs at a park or go to a dog park. My dogs are my present loves.

    My children and grandchildren live out west. With COVID-19, it has been quite difficult. Loneliness is huge but my family are safe so I am grateful. I keep a grateful heart and positive attitude because I know where negativity can bring me. I want to see my family again.

    I watch very little news, too negative! No drama, cannot deal with it. I keep to myself. I used to think I always needed to be with someone, but this is not true. I rather like my own company. I have been dealing with a huge family issue. I have learned I have no control over anybody, only myself. I would like the problem solved yesterday, but that is not happening.

    I have accepted that I cannot change the past and this is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. This issue was very difficult to deal with and has been a huge challenge for me mentally. I had to be very proactive, but I did it!

    The power of our mind is amazing. Learning ways to cope are very important. Taking care of myself, my dogs care and communication with some family and friends have kept me going. I wear a mask and physically distance when required. One of my children had to get tested for COVID because a colleague was positive. The test came back negative, thank God! It was nerve wrecking, but I had no control of the outcome! Keeping a positive attitude is important because the restrictions for us all can be very difficult to deal with. I believe I stay well because I take my medication as prescribed. Don’t get me wrong, not every day is a good day, but I try hard to make it a good one. Only I can make myself happy. It's an inside job. I read books at a snails pace, but I get them read. I do crosswords. I am selective about what I watch on TV or movies. I don't watch fast action before bed. I am not into gore movies or vampire-type movies.

    I read and post positive affirmations on social media. The tools I use help me so I'm consistent. I watch documentaries, educational shows, nature programs, non-suggestive material. It is better calmer before bed. I live with chronic insomnia so getting settled at night is important.

    Presently, I'm hoping to go see my family. However, no expectation no disappointments. I just keep busy. There is always something to do if you want to do it. My suggestion about being alone is that you are only alone as you allow yourself to be. So get to know you first and I believe the rest will fall into place. I have spent most of my life giving myself to others and now I am learning that focusing on myself is important too! So put "yourself " first, it’s OK!

  • Tammy

    Dealing with mental and emotional abuse made me feel bad about myself as a teenager. I thought I could read others thoughts which made it worse because of course I focused on the negative. I walked through the school halls with my head down, hoping nobody would look at me and spent a lot of time looking in the mirror trying to love myself.

    I turned to drugs because they made me feel happy and make friends. Smoking cigarettes made me feel strong. Now I have emphysema. I then was hearing conversations and awful words and seeing things that weren't ever happening. This was years later when I wasn't even doing drugs anymore. My mother didn't want me on medications, but as soon as I could, I saw a doctor.

    Meds do help but we have to also help ourselves. Distractions make a big difference. I find that relaxation music and songs with positive lyrics train my mind to have a better outlook. What we feed our minds becomes our own reality. I won't even watch the news or much TV at all unless its going to make me happy and laugh.

    We are all unique individuals and no one is perfect. We need to enjoy every moment we can. Love for ourselves and being okay with who we are is very important when ill. Negativity is only playing on our fears and most of the time voices and bad thoughts are not even the truth. I used to sit in my place by myself and listen. I was hurting and thought, "Why?"

    ACTT team members and groups gave me a whole new life - friendships and a reason to go out and live. Us clients are helping each other too, learning and having fun. There is hope. You will find it. Live to love and you will love to live. All the best in your journey to wellness.

  • Terra

    I am 1254 days free from alcohol and all other mind-altering drugs.

    Today I am living a life of purpose and meaning. Today I am free. Alcoholism crept into my life slowly but steadily. Before I knew it, all my thoughts revolved around my next drink. It took from me many things: my dignity, my drive for life, respect for others, and myself. I had a hole so deep and dark inside me that love found it hard to grow.

    I finally got to a point where my desperation for a better life was the only thing I desired. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired! I reached out for help, and continue to reach out. I put my sobriety first in my life now. Life is beautiful.

    I am one of the lucky ones that made it out alive, and I am so grateful. There is help for us, reach out, give it all you got and do not look back.

  • Unknown

    When I was 19, I was put on sleeping pills for the first time. This led to drug intolerance for me, and I ended up in rehab at the age of 32. I was in rehab for 33 days, and graduated sober. I have been sober for eight years. I have anxiety and insomnia. I grew up feeling ashamed and embarrassed about my anxiety and my experiences. I was often labelled the "psycho" of the family, and still am. It is very frustrating to not have the support of people who are supposed to love and care about me, for me. Instead, I was chastised, left out, bullied, and blamed for every single problem or issue that occurred in my family. After this, I went through multiple health issues such as a blood disease, which caused me to have multiple blood transfusions, infertility struggles such as IVF, and miscarriages. The loss of a child through miscarriage was the hardest thing I have ever been through, but what made it harder was I did not have the support of my own mother. She supported her daughter-in-law's instead, and left me alone to suffer. I wondered why she abandoned me. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough for her unconditional love and support? Why could she not treat me the same as my siblings?

    When my mother refused to come see if I was okay when I thought I was having my third miscarriage, and chose to go shopping instead, I knew I could not count on her or anyone else. I had to rely on my own resilience and the support of my spouse. My baby was okay, and is the light to all my dark days and the reason I went through all the awful experiences that I did. I entered intense therapy and have learned I am okay, and I am a good person.

    My mental health is not an embarrassment or something to be ashamed of. It has been stigmatized that way, but I am happy now to love and be enough for me. I have learned to put boundaries up and to hang up when my toxic mother calls me with abusive comments or to criticize me. I am strong and capable. I wish anyone out there who is feeling down, to love yourself. You are enough. Nobody has the power to make you feel less than the amazing person you are. You are loved! You are amazing! You are important! You deserve happiness and joy!

  • Victoria

    My journey began was I was 14 years old. I went up to a church camp and I felt guilty about accidentally cutting my dog's ear and lying about it. It was the first time I didn't sleep through the entire night. I ended up in the hospital in Pembroke where they did several tests and finally transferred me to the Niagara Falls hospital. I had many psychosis incidents at age 16 and 20 and was hospitalized overnight many times until I met my partner at 26.

    I had a baby at age 27 and everything changed. I ended up in the old St. Catharines hospital for two weeks. Family and Childrens Service's became involved and was in our lives for many years.

    My ex-partner drank, did drugs and was very abusive and controlling. I finally left him five years ago, but lived in Toronto for 10 years.

    I was hospitalized in the new St. Catharines hospital after moving here. I've tried many different depression and anxiety medications. What keeps me from having a psychosis episode is getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night and taking my medication every day.

    Four years ago, I was hit with the devastating diagnosis of stage four metastatic breast cancer that spread to my bones. I had surgery three years ago to remove two lumps from my left breast and several lymph nodes. I moved from my townhouse into a better apartment a few months ago. I've had many radiation treatments and will be on cancer medication for the rest of my life. I have received over 50 chemotherapy treatments.

    I have been in many groups at the hospital. The support from my parents, family and friends have helped me through all this. Thank you for letting me share my story. There is a lot more I can write, but this is my summary.

  • Zachary

    I guess my story of psychosis all starts with using substances. I want to say my symptoms progressed gradually until I couldn't cope with the reality that was right in front of me. I was spending a lot of time by myself and just trying to have fun in different ways. I guess you could say I was just trying to be imaginative in ways that I was looking to keep myself busy. I was having fun doing things I normally enjoyed and tried learning new things like always.

    I can't exactly say when my symptoms first started appearing but one day after about a week of sleep deprivation and stressing about my finances and life in general, everything started to catch up with me. I started dwelling on everything intensely and was just looking ways to get over the thoughts I was having.

    I started becoming a little delusional with my thoughts and started dissecting every little thing that was happening in my life. I started by thinking that I was having premonitions with all the little things I could relate to. For example songs, tv episodes, life experiences, etc.

    I also dwelled on the past a lot and was trying to work through issues that I still carried with me during that time. I started coming up with crazy situations in my head and started having thoughts that would make sense to me as to why everything was happening. I then started getting paranoid because of the thoughts I was having all the time because of the drugs and just in general what I was thinking about at the time.

    I started spending my time outside selectively as to what I was going to do in public and even in my own backyard. My stress gradually grew and my paranoia. So I started getting auditory hallucinations thinking that I was having people talk to me in my own head helping me work through situations in my head. Mind you, I was creating all the dialogue myself and responding to it. I believe that is when my situation started getting worse because when I went out in public I thought I had telepathy and could hear peoples thoughts and thought we were communicating through thought -- but it was all in my head. I was literally talking to myself aloud and responding to myself like it was normal. I thought I reached a higher consciousness that selective people could only experience.

    During this time I was researching a lot about how to cope with the thoughts I was having but it was only adding to a delusion where I was actually communicating with Lord Shiva. I was doing everything like him, at least what I was looking up at the time made sense and was relatable. I was hard to be around after talking to my grandma and mother, but it didn't seem like that at all. After a certain point during this time, I felt I had disconnected from reality and needed to find my way back.

    One late morning after midnight, I lost it. I was chasing wild and domestic animals thinking it was people following me using some sort of satanic practices. I then got sprayed by a skunk and proceeded to go back home and go off on some sort of tangent for hours until the sun rose.

    After my tangent, I ran outside yelling at my cousin who lived two doors over to call the police. She ended up calling my mother who then proceeded to call the police. After they showed up, I was petrified as to what was going to happen to my well-being. I struggled with them for roughly 15-20 minutes before they got me into the back of the cruiser.

    We arrived at the hospital and I blacked out and woke up in restraints. I blacked out again and woke up in the mental ward unit. Once I got some sleep and woke up in the hospital, I knew I needed help. It took a week and a little to recover in the hospital, but I could see they were trying to help the best they could.

    Most of my story is a blur and I tried to pick out the main points that led up to my psychosis episode. I had a lot of thoughts I cannot explain to this day and a lot of remorse for what I went through. I can only get past everything by recovery.

    I hope that I could create a story where it wasn’t misleading and also embarrassing to name everything I did. I hope this summary of what led to my episode and the main points that have stood out to me personally, can paint a picture for someone else that psychosis is experienced in different ways and can be scary when you don’t know what is happening at the time.

Share your recovery story

Sharing a story about your personal experiences with mental health challenges can help in your own recovery, and provide encouragement and support to others with similar experiences. Share your story of recovery.

Lived experience

Want to learn more about anxiety and hear from people from all walks of life share their experiences? Visit Anxiety Canada for full stories, and read personal stories from those living with a mental health condition.

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