David & STRIDE

When David was first admitted to the hospital for mental illness he lied on his intake assessment.

Middle aged white male in a park
David & STRIDE
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Lisa Zarzeczny

Lisa Zarzeczny

Lisa Zarzeczny is the Manager, Marketing & Communications at United Way Oakville. She is a graduate of Sheridan College.

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Having majored in psychology, he knew what it meant if he said yes to the next check-box. It would mean he would be labelled. But as David went back to his hospital room, something nagged at him. He knew that he couldn’t get better by lying, so he turned around.

“Sure it’s hard to be labelled,” David reflects, “but being labelled also means I can get the help designed for that problem.”

Within 20 minutes of undergoing his second assessment David was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition where you experience a combination of schizophrenia symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression. Over the next 2 years, he was in and out of the hospital for a total of 9 weeks, but much of David’s recovery took place outside of his hospital room including community groups, housing agencies, churches and really great friends. It was a journey of stabilization, self-acceptance and coming to terms with the new reality of managing his mental well-being.

“Losing your mind is like climbing up the wrong tree,” he commented, “you can’t just jump down, so you have to come down one branch at a time.”

An important branch for David was STRIDE, a United Way funded agency that helps people with mental health issues find meaningful work opportunities. Up until his diagnosis, David had been working full-time in project management and corporate training. For a professional used to the corporate world, David’s first day doing small task work at STRIDE was humbling. But upon seeing the support provided by the staff and volunteers, David started to accept his current reality.

“I realized that I could only move from where I was, not where I wanted to be.” With STRIDE’s help, David received the support he needed to enter the workforce again. Three months later and he was ready for the next step – part-time work with a former client. “It was a necessary step in a long-term turnaround for me in terms of career placement,” David credits.

Today, David is back in the workforce full-time. He’s working to get his Masters, teaching courses at a few colleges, and consulting for clients on the side. “I have all of this self-awareness now,” he reflects, “so I tell my story because I want to help people understand that mental illness affects capable people.” For David, the distinction that mental illness doesn’t mean you have less character or personal strength is really important. “As a kid I always had an active imagination,” he points out, “and when people get unwell it really just exacerbates something that is already there; physics take over.” David believes that when that happens it’s important that a community offers a network of support.

STRIDE is a relatively small agency but it was so important in my recovery,” David says, “and that’s what the United Way does – it fills the gaps within the community so we can have more success stories.”

When you support United Way, your gift supports strategies aimed at improving the social conditions in our community. Each day we work with frontline agencies such as STRIDE to ensure people have access to programs and services when they need them most.

STRIDE’s office location in Oakville is 2245 Wyecroft Road, Units 1 & 2. The telephone number is (905) 842-8418. You can donate to STRIDE directly to Supported Training and Rehabilitation in Diverse Environments or through United Way Oakville.

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