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Stories from Clients


Sarah & Shawn

             On July 5th, 2003 at a United Church in Barrie, Sarah and Shawn became husband and wife. Their love story began one year before at a local community agency, Mental Health Supportive Services, where they met at the breakfast club. Not until the Christmas party organized through RSVP did they start to visit with each other more. “She was trying to get my attention,” Shawn remembers. Sarah remembers seeing Shawn at Tim Horton’s where she worked; “I guess I thought he was cute – I noticed his eyes.” Their relationship was secured when Shawn’s brother invited Sarah over for Christmas dinner, where their love for each other was clear.

             Both Sarah and Shawn moved around a lot throughout their lives. Shawn comes from a family of five boys. At 22 years old Shawn’s family lived in Gravenhurst, and this is where his symptoms first began. At times more intense than others, his voices and hallucinations needed attention. Once on medication Shawn was able to learn how to manage the voices – he mentions that at times he still hears them but they do not distract him any longer.

               Sarah moved to Barrie with her grandmother when she was 21 years old. Her mother had passed away when Sarah was 14 from a brain tumor and her father was in South Africa doing missionary work. While in Barrie, Sarah worked at Tim Horton’s where other staff members began to notice her outbursts and suggested she see a doctor. Sarah was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and began receiving service from RVH outpatient programs; from there she was referred to RSVP.

               Shawn and Sarah both talk about no longer feeling lonely. Shawn states, “she takes care of me and I take care of her!” Sarah follows with “he is the first person I met that I believed
I could marry.” Now living with their 3 pets in their 2 bedroom apartment things are wonderfully secure.

When asked…
What do you like about RSVP?…

“Going on all the trips.”

What you would change about the world?…
“No more violence.”

Where would you like to travel?…
“Scotland and the British Isles.”


            Randy’s welcoming smile and jokes greet many of our staff every morning. His story begins in Parry Sound where at the age of 9 he was hit by a car. He suffered from major brain damage resulting in a coma for 90 days. Due to his need for increased care and the lack of family funds he moved to Edgar Adult Occupational Centre at the age of 16. By 21 years old Randy left to go work at Arch Industries; however, he had some trouble in the community and returned to Edgar. The days spent there were not pleasant for Randy; he found the staff mean and neglectful. He often witnessed other patients suffer unrightfully and one even died from what Randy believed to be lack of attention. However, among all of these bad memories Randy fondly remembers having “a pile of girlfriends.” The closing of Edgar was Randy’s saving grace; he was 38 years old.

              Randy came to Barrie and struggled with maintaining stable housing. He came to CMHA’s RSVP in 1991. Randy smiles and refers to these as “the good old days.” He moved 10 times between rooming houses before getting connected with our Homelessness Initiative Program; he has currently been living in his apartment for 3 years and states that the apartment changed his life and he is “a lot happier now.”

              Randy remembers a few women that have touched his heart. Alice is a good friend of his that he met in his mid 40s. He sees her every week and speaks of her with a soft
humbling tone. Angie was his “special girl.” She ended her life early but Randy holds on to her memory with two songs from Dave Clark Five: “I Miss You” and “Your Turn to
Cry.” And finally Debbie, a relationship lasting 9 years with only one argument – that being their last, as it broke them up.

              Today Randy spends much of his time walking around Barrie, helping local convenience stores, and playing Yahtzee in RSVP.

When asked…
What he likes about RSVP? …

“Oh, I like playing Yahtzee and the coffee’s pretty good.”

If he could have one wish …
“I wish Debbie would come back to me.”

If he could change one thing …
“My clothes (with a giggle).”


            As a positive and leading member of RSVP, Jeff can always be seen around CMHA joking and talking with staff and clients. Jeff was born in Toronto and moved north near the end of elementary school. His longest stay was in Wasaga Beach with his mother and brother. Jeff completed grade 11 and remembers shop class as one of his favourites – “I made wooden tables, toys, latters and hammers.” With a large smile and pride in his eyes he tells of his star moments in his math class; in a competition to finish 150 math equations in five minutes or less, Jeff completed all equations in 3½ minutes, a class record.

           While in Wasaga Beach Jeff began spending many hours and days away from home – his mom was worried about him and sent out the local police to find him. Jeff was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he spent 2½ weeks – resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. After another hospital admission Jeff was then connected with CMHA. Jeff left the hospital on a Community Treatment Order. He recalls that this helped him to see that he had a “mental illness and that it needed to be taken care of.”

           Jeff remembers connecting with RSVP, and states some of his first memories are “the friendships that I built here.” Nowadays, Jeff often refers to RSVP as “his second home!” If not in RSVP he can be found in his community, often riding the buses or walking down around the water. He leaves his home every morning at 8:30am and does not return until 8:30 every night. Jeff prides himself in keeping connected and busy within his community.

When asked…
What would you change about the world?…

“I would change poverty… we have lots of food and space… people need to care more.”

Where or who would you visit?…
“Australia to see the kangaroos.”


               At eight months old Alex began her fight. She underwent bypass surgery at Sick Kids Hospital for a heart condition. For the first 5 years of Alex’s life she returned to Sick Kids every month for a battery of tests. When remembering these days she speaks fondly of the staff and their dedication to children’s health.

              Alex arrived in Barrie at the age of 18 where she moved 7 times in a year and a half. During this time she tended to stay in her apartment leaving only to go to school where she was upgrading her courses to start the nursing program at Georgian College. During this stressful time she was admitted to the hospital as her hallucinations were becoming increasingly worrisome. From here she was referred to CMHA Case Management. As a result of another hospitalization and her unstable living arrangements she was accepted into the Homelessness Initiative Program. Alex was ecstatic about receiving her own place. She remembers when she saw the first apartment, “I’m not going to be picky, I’m thankful I have somewhere to go.”

             Throughout Alex’s struggles she has maintained a strong relationship with her sister, her dad and her mom. Every Saturday for the past five years they’ve enjoyed brunch together at a local eatery – her favourite – Sophie’s. She also enjoyed working at the speedway stock car racing with her dad. She was there for two years where she loved the fast paced expectations of working in the pit area.

             Alex has been a regular member of RSVP, enjoying the positive social atmosphere and activities. She has recently connected with the ACT Team where she feels a sense of full support. Alex is near completing her RPN with the practicum being her last goal to achieve in the program. From the care and support she has received from the professionals around her she is looking forward to working in a field that will allow her to pay it forward.

When asked…
What would you change about the world?…

“I would change the fact that people need to be more knowledgeable about mental health.”

If you had any wish what it would be?…
“I would wish that people would see me as a person and not as my mental illness.”

Where or who would you like to visit?…
“Out west to see my family – Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.”


              Most of my life, I couldn’t put a finger on it, but I felt a bit different from my family, friends, and classmates. I remember feeling social anxiety, paranoia, psychotic, suicidal, and depressed. I was also hearing voices along with feeling ups and downs. When these emotions came, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to.

              From the ages of fourteen to nineteen, my symptoms were getting a lot stronger. The symptoms alienated me from my friends and family. Instead of the symptoms coming once a month, they came more frequently. After everything I went through, I decided to go and find help.
I admitted myself to the hospital. I stayed in there for three weeks. Before I left, the doctor referred me to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It was one of the best moves of my life. The first times I went to the CMHA, I was terrified. I believed that they were going to put me in the hospital, but not by my choice. I was wrong. They sat me down with a counsellor. The counsellor was so helpful. We talked about how I felt, and what kind of options I had. One of those options was the Early Psychosis Intervention Program. The EPI Program had just started—I was their first client.

               This was the beginning of the happiest years of my life so far. My counsellor came to see me every day that I needed him, no matter how big or how small my problem was. They showed me how to think positively, and by doing this, my mental health went up by 25%. The next thing on the list to do was to pick a one year plan on what I wanted to accomplish. I decided to go back to school. Now, I am in school, and will graduate on June 25, 2009. My next step is college in September. EPI has helped me the whole way.
I can tell you one thing—if it wasn’t for CMHA, along with the EPI Program, I would not be here today. Take a chance and go see them. It changed my life for the best. They have done so many things for me that I lost count. The staff truly cares and will help you with anything.


             When I was first diagnosed with bipolar...blah, blah, blah... This is not meant to be another diatribe about bipolar and my struggles. It is about a fight; the real fight that we have every day with ourselves. First we are the champion of the ring, we have developed the most incredible invention, procedure, process, concept. Then we are knocked out cold by the inability to follow through. Defeated, destroyed, deflated, depressed, the ref is counting we get back up? Of course we do, because we somehow know that another flash of brilliance will come along and we can again wave to our fans. Then our fans stop waving and start waffling. “ Is this idea going to work? Where did the focus go?” And BAM – we are derailed again.

             The creativity and vision that many people with Bipolar have is well documented. It is both a gift and a curse. Just like a boxer who can throw a right hook stunning his opponent, then turns slightly only to be winded by an upper cut to the kidney. We are both friend and foe, slugging it out within ourselves.

              Some days we dream that knock-out punch will be deadly and bring an abrupt end to the match. No more fighting, no more waving our banners high, no more delusions of grandeur to reconcile. How peaceful that would be. And not just for ourselves, but for those loved ones around us who have had to cope with our never ending banter and disregard for the realities of life.

              Other days we can’t wait to strut around with our championship belt, listening to the cheering masses, defying authourity and making new rules because we know best. It is all about being a great leader, in the ring, in the workplace, in the community. Nothing can stop us.

               I have struggled unknowingly with this disease for decades, leaving a trail of unfinished business and destruction (and some successes too) in my wake. Now, with ongoing counselling and medication, I am realizing that there can be a balance in the world. I can still have great ideas, but for them to become a reality I need to gather great people around me to support it. I need to do the research. I won’t charge forth into the ring without the training and knowledge. Baby steps this is called. And when you are used to giant leaps it is a difficult transition.

              Thank you to those family and friends who have stuck by me over the years even though they must have been shaking their heads. Thank you also to my counsellors and doctor s for helping me to accept and understand my diagnosis. To those who have just thrown up their arms in frustration please be patient. Identifying and changing such erratic patterns that have been with me for over 40 years takes time. I am putting my life back together and look forward to being the productive, capable, loving and fun person that I know I can be.

                I don’t need a ring or an audience anymore. I am part of the crowd with all their cheering and jeering and ups and downs. That is life and that is OK by me!


              Three years ago, I was really depressed and full of anxieties due to thelife situation I was in. The high school that I was enrolled in at thetime, introduced me to a case worker. They immediately noticed that Iwas going through problems in my life and started getting me into youthgroups where I could meet other youths who were in similar situations asmyself, learn coping strategies, and make friends as well. The groupsthat the Canadian Mental Health Association offer are amazing! Youalways feel safe in them and you know that confidentiality is importantto everyone there. I was also able to have the opportunity to beenlisted in their housing program, which got me out of the negativehousehold situation that I was in and get me to become my own person.

               They were understanding of my financial worries and would always bewilling to help with budgeting, advice, or even help with trips to thefood bank if needed. If I am ever struggling with depression and amhaving problems coping, they have a 24 hour help line which anyone cancall and get support. You do not even have to give your name if you donot want to when making the call. The Canadian Mental Health Associationhas been a great support system for me with overcoming depression and I would never have been where I am today if it wasn't for them.