Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Service, The Series - CMHA WWD Family Education Group

Wow, now that is a lot of letters in that acronym! Let's break it down:


In early 2013 the CMHA in the region merged with another agency in the region Trellis. Before the merger Trellis was an organization working with clients suffering from mental health disorders or developmental disabilities. What was unique about Trellis was that they also had a small budget and one staff person who took on clients who did not have mental or developmental disabilities, but was a care giver to one.

In Spring 2011 I became a client of this staff person and I was accepted into the Family Education Group. I learned so much about my relationships with family members and friends both with and without mental illness and even more about myself that I offered to volunteer for the next group starting in the fall.

Since then I have volunteered for every Family Education Group that has gone through Trellis, and now CMHA WWD, probably around 8 groups, I've honestly lost count.

I give a lot of time to organizations by using my business skills to help them grow. This is the only organization I volunteer with that has nothing to do with business. And I give this time even more selfishly than any other.

What I get from my time once a week for 3-4 hours a night, is many. First, I get to learn from all of the speakers who come in to teach the caregivers. We're not kidding calling this an Education group. The Ontario mental health care system is shrouded in mystery. There are agencies that duplicate support, and some supports seem to get lost in between. Housing, financial, justice and medical supports are confusing, to everyone involved.

Second, I get to practice skills like mindfulness, working through grief, and boundary setting. These skills are all important to practice. Emotions change every day and what might have been easy yesterday is challenging today. If I'm not constantly practising (somewhat like how I am working the writing muscle) I forget all the skills on the more difficult days.

Third, I get 3-4 solid hours a week that nobody else can ask anything of me. It is time that is 100% Candice time.

And most importantly I get to meet and learn from so many family members who have amazing stories of tragedy and joy and strength and patience and forgiveness. There is no one way to deal with the things life sends to us, but there are so many people to learn from. When a person is tested beautiful displays of humanity are revealed. We are not perfect, we all make mistakes, and we are all given an opportunity to learn and teach from them.

I take it back, there is one thing I get that is more important than that. I get to know that at the end of a group I have helped to make a person strong enough to stand up for their loved one. To stand up and ask for stigma to end, for dignity to be given, for the right to a healthy life, for the doors to be open to illnesses that afflict many but are not respected.

Next week, on January 28th, Bell has their annual fundraiser for mental health - Bell Let's Talk. I challenge you to do more. Talk about your struggles with mental health. Ask your friends, loved ones and co-workers to share their stories with you. Do it every day.

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