Reprinted from "Wellness" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 7 (4), pp. 12-13
How did you find out about the course?
I was going to a place called Work Zone—I talked to a counsellor there because of my mental health issues, and the counsellor suggested this Living Life to the Full course. It sounded interesting, given what I was feeling at that particular time, so I thought, why not?
CMHA runs the course. It’s run over 12 weeks and helps you deal with life—feeling frustrated, fed up, lonely, angry, that kind of thing. I call it a “step-by-patient-step program that takes you from a sense of utter helplessness to helpfulness.” There were about 15 people in the group I was in.
What did you like about the course?
What I really liked is that I didn’t feel I had to look over my shoulder. I didn’t feel I was being stared at and scrutinized. I didn’t feel like people were saying, “Is this person safe to be around?”
As more and more people started sharing and opening up, the more I started breathing easier. As I progressed through the steps, I realized we were starting to become a group of individuals who were very similar in terms of life’s aspects and circumstances.
Before, I walked around in my life like I was the only one who had this, and I was always afraid to tell anybody. I lost a marriage over it, I lost a home over it, and I’ve lost jobs over it. I don’t want to hide anymore. People with mental health issues are just as important and just as valuable as people with cancer or a limb missing. It’s just that we still have to live with this stigma—like people think we’re packing a gun around or we’re going to be breaking down on a street corner. I get really tired of that.
What difference has LLTTF made to your life?
What I like most about the doctor who designed this program is the phrase “skills rather than pills.” I really enjoyed that. Unfortunately, I still have to take medication. But this course has given me some life skills.
I used to just explode. I wouldn’t think about it. People would get on my case and I’d just get angry back at them. But I don’t have to now. I can stop and think. In one of the steps, I am actually allowed to change my mind. I used to think that wasn’t okay. One week I’d be really okay and make some sort of a decision, but the following week I’d be scared stiff, afraid of failing. But it’s okay to change your mind. I don’t have to explain myself to people.
Before, I never listened to my heart beating. I never paid attention to my face flushing or heavy breathing (that would be my biggest one). I’d start breathing heavy and then I’d start shaking and then I’d know I was going to lose it. But now I can just take a deep breath. I don’t have to fight with this person. They’re not me. Maybe they’re having a bad day.
Perspective—that was the word used during that particular class. So I have this different perspective. I don’t have to look at people as my enemies any more. I look at people now and think, “You know what, maybe they’re going through the same thing I am. Maybe we have something in common here.” Or just because they’re angry doesn’t mean I have to be.
Another thing that was really useful was what I call “faking it until you make it.” In the program, it says to walk around with your head up. I walk a lot—that’s what I do for exercise—I walk around town a lot because I like watching people. Now I walk up straight and I hold my head up high. The program also says to look people in the eye. Don’t cast your eyes down as you walk. Now I try to look up, and I always wear a smile—and you know what? People actually look back at you and smile!
To find out more about Living Life to the Full, to find an upcoming course in your community or to buy booklets used in the course, visit www.llttf.ca.
Living life to the full—what that phrase means to me is something I haven’t been doing. I’ve been living my life feeling guilty because of my illness; I’ve been hiding away. I haven’t felt worthy of friendship because I lost a marriage of 34 years and my best friend. I’ve allowed fear and guilt to control me because of all those years walking with this stigma.
Someone told me the other day, “Just decide not to . . . you’ve got to change your story.” So I’ve decided, with the help from this course, that I’m not going to be responsible for other people’s responses. I’m not going to feel guilty for falling down. I’m allowed to make mistakes. I don’t beat myself up anymore. I don’t tell myself that I’m useless. I don’t tell myself that I’m foolish.
I keep telling myself things that make me feel better about myself. I don’t care what other people out there think about my space—well, I do care, but I have to keep myself on track. I have to walk with the confidence that I’m okay. It doesn’t matter what I have. I’m a good man. I’m not robbing banks and I’m not ripping people off or cheating. I have worth. I’m not hopeless; I’m not helpless anymore. I want to live that.
For me, wellness is not only about a healthy diet or exercise. It is also associating with positive, uplifting people—one or two very trusting friends you can talk to about anything. It’s not dwelling on the negatives of the world, although that can be a challenge at times. I am learning to be content with what I have. I have a solid Christian-based faith that helps immensely. I have an awesome physician who truly cares about my overall well-being. I’m blessed with a loving family and I have a job I enjoy. I really do have an abundant life.
One really doesn’t know how wonderful one’s life is until you see it written before you. I have learned (and this is borrowed): “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” I believe—I’m not perfect and still learning—that when all these parts become as breathing is to me, I will then be “living life to the full.”
I look forward to the me that I was meant to be.
About the author
Gary lives in Penticton
This article is adapted from a video interview