Point of View

My personal struggle with mental illness and loving life in recovery

My story is one of personal struggles, despair and frustration with mental illness, but also of change, perseverance and hope for a better future in recovery.

Mark Walford, who struggled for years with depression, says life is now 'increasingly wonderful'

Mark Walford sought help for his mental health issues in 2010. He now volunteers with mental health and community organizations and shares his personal story with others who are struggling. (Craig Desson/CBC)

For most of my life, things were "normal." I had a nice upbringing, a good career and a comfortable life with no real mental health concerns.

Then 18 years ago, after a few tough, challenging experiences — including trying to save a stranger who suffered a fatal heart attack — culminating with a stressful burnout at work, everything changed.

I suddenly found myself living and struggling with depression.

I felt confused and in a thick fog, like being in deep, stinky mud, uncertain about what was happening in my life and where my suddenly malfunctioning mind was heading.

I isolated myself and already felt dead inside.- Mark Walford

I stopped working and started doubting myself — and that was just the beginning.

But it was "bearable" and I thought I could work my way through it rationally, as I had easily done with other challenges in my life.

Soon after, I started a family and things seemed better. I greatly enjoyed my extra time spent with my young daughters, and being involved with their schools gave me that sense of purpose and involvement that had been sorely missing.

But once my marriage fell apart in 2008, my depression became all-consuming in my life.

About 10 years ago, Mark Walford struggled with depression while he was raising his young daughters. (Submitted by Mark Walford)

I was never suicidal but there were times when I no longer wanted to live. In fact, I was no longer living; I isolated myself and already felt dead inside.

I remember one summer, during a week of beautiful weather, I ended up staying inside the entire week, feeling trapped, useless, and guilty that I was not doing anything nor taking advantage of all those perfect days. That just made me feel worse about myself and about the suffocating grip that depression had taken on my life.

My negative thinking was pervasive and debilitating, thinking I was doomed to a dark and limited life that would not change or improve.

After receiving a long period of useful psychotherapy, I was referred to Community Perspective in Mental Health (PCSM), a local organization that supports clients with mental health challenges on a medium to long-term basis. I previously hadn't known of its existence, so I was glad to have found the ongoing help and support I desperately needed.

At first, despite receiving weekly visits from my intervenante, which were very appreciated, I wasn't making much hoped-for progress in turning my life around.

I wasn't working hard at it. I had been struggling with isolation.

Maintaining my house and health, raising my girls, trying to get back to work, finalizing my divorce and managing difficult financial struggles — it was all too overwhelming.

The hurdles on my way to recovery seemed too big to overcome. I felt I was still sorrily failing at life, despite the great support I was receiving.

Then things started to turn around, slowly at first, but then with surprising speed the in the last two or three years.

Suddenly I wanted to do more with my life.- Mark Walford

I started feeling better about myself and that I was capable, and ready, to do more.

I found love, not only in a wonderful relationship, but also within myself.

Through PCSM, which had already helped me break my isolation through various programs and activities they offer such as ball hockey, I learned of the mental health community's wish to create a new group of my mental health peers, which became the West Island Citizens Group.

Mark Walford was about 10 years old in this photo. He says he had a great upbringing and never thought he would be personally affected by mental illness. (Submitted by Mark Walford)

Being involved with them gave me a sense of belonging, comradery, and hope. Also, knowing that I was not alone and that I could help support others who had struggled, like me, gave me a new sense of purpose and motivation.

Suddenly I wanted to do more with my life. This group was my catalyst and inspiration; I joined the board at PCSM and I volunteer with other organizations, speaking out on mental health issues, sharing my own story of struggle and recovery, and reaching out to others to provide hope.

My struggles with and overcoming mental illness have entailed resilience and perseverance, not wanting to give up on life, and finding a new way of living.

For a very long — uncomfortably long — time, I had felt I would or could never change. I had given up on myself and any hope for a better future.

I was ashamed, feeling guilty that I was not enjoying life and not able to properly support and fully interact with my children.

It was "easier" to isolate myself so that I didn't have to face the real world and let those around me, even those close to me who loved and supported me, know how much of an internal struggle I was living and trying to endure.

My life has changed drastically since then and I feel I have recovered. The automatic negative ways of thinking are behind me now, although I am still a "work in progress" — I still have some difficult days and some work to do to close the chapter of my old life and kick the bad habit of negative thinking.

While my mental illness will continue to need managing, I know I now have the tools, resources and motivation to ensure that my mental health remains a priority in my new and increasingly wonderful life with a promising future to look forward to.

About the Author

Mark Walford

Member of PCSM Board of Directors

Mark Walford suffered from depression and turned to Community Perspective in Mental Health in 2010 for help. He is now a member of the PCSM Board of Directors.