When Gerard reflects back on his life, he’s not sure how he did it. For years, he lived and worked with an undiagnosed mental illness. He would be manic and then fall into a depression. It got to a point where he was unable to sleep, turning to alcohol to try and deal with the insomnia. But 18 years ago, all of that changed.
A good friend took Gerard to the hospital where he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
“Honestly, when they told me that, it was a relief,” he said. “When they said that medication would help me, that I would be able to sleep again, I was so relieved.”
It took some time to regain his life but Gerard hasn’t looked back. Part of his wellness recovery came through Communitas. Gerard was referred to the organization’s Supported Independent Living (SIL) services. Weekly connections with his SIL mental health workers made all the difference.
“We would go for walks and just talk about anything,” he says. “I really looked forward to those days. My SIL workers offered a great deal of companionship.”
Today, Gerard has the opportunity to give back to others who are also on a journey towards mental wellness. Gerard serves as a Peer Support Worker (PSW) with Communitas, providing support to people in the Psychiatric Unit at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Gerard leads various group activities that draw people in, giving them a safe space to talk. Often it’s doing a craft or art project, sometimes it’s playing bingo. These opportunities also lead to one-on-one conversations. Recently, Gerard has begun taking shifts in the Emergency Room, supporting people from the moment they arrive at the hospital. While Peer Support work can be intense, Gerard finds it very rewarding.
“I get so much satisfaction from my work,” he says. “There is so much gratitude. It feels good to know that what I’ve experienced will help someone else. They can look at me and say ‘there’s hope for me, too.’”
Patrick Raymond coordinates Peer Support Services for Communitas. Patrick sees how Gerard’s heart is set on sharing the good news that mental health recovery is possible. He recalls Gerard wishing that he’d had a PSW when he was in hospital and says this realization is what fuels Gerard’s passion for the work.
“His passion, self-motivation, ability to build rapport, and work collaboratively with other hospital staff has been invaluable,” Patrick says, adding that they are so grateful that Gerard has agreed to be part of the team in the ER.
Along with his work as a PSW, Gerard also works part time with Communitas’ Janitorial Services, leading a team as they clean offices. Stacey Murdoch manages Employment Services for Communitas and works with people who come through Communitas’ STEP services (Support Towards Employment Program.) Stacey met Gerard through STEP and says that when the role of Team Lead came up, Gerard jumped at the opportunity.
“Gerard is an incredible leader,” Stacey says. “He is kind and compassionate and has proven to be a great Peer Leader with the team and with the trainees. It’s a pleasure to watch him lead.”
Just as he enjoys his work as a PSW, Gerard really enjoys working with the janitorial team. He says having meaningful employment is important for a person’s mental health.
“Employment gives you a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of belonging, being useful,” he says. “Having work gives you purpose.”
As he reflects on his journey, Gerard is nothing but grateful.
“I’ve received so much encouragement and support,” he says. “I have nothing but praise and thanks to everyone I’ve met at Communitas.”