Damon is a former athlete – his background includes tennis, all-star rep soccer and championship wrestling. Involvement in drugs and alcohol threatened to derail his life but, with the help of services including DMHS programs, he got back on track.
Here is his story.
For the first 11 years of my life, I was sober – after that, drugs and alcohol consumed my life. I started withdrawing from my sports involvements and putting all my time and effort into different substances – they became my new interest.
The more drugs I used, the worse I got – I was losing control. I was having drug-induced psychotic episodes before I turned 20. I anticipated a life expectancy of about 30 years and I was OK with that.
After a psychotic breakdown, I first went to jail and then ended up in Lakeridge Health Oshawa. At the hospital, I was introduced to my current psychiatrist. He was able to determine that I had bipolar disorder – I didn’t know what that was. At first I rejected the diagnosis – that meeting ended quickly.
From the hospital I ended up in a drug rehab program and got some sobriety under my belt. Because of all the jails, and hospitals, and shelters, halfway houses and group homes I’ve been in, I ended up developing an institutional mindset – but what I’ve been able to take away from that is the benefit of routine and structure in my life.
Despite now being sober, my life wasn’t getting better. But I didn’t go back and use. Instead, I Googled “bipolar disorder” is – the symptoms matched everything I’d been going through. I realized I had been self-medicating. When sobriety took my medication away, that’s when things got worse instead of better. I decided to pick up the phone and call that first psychiatrist.
He agreed to meet me. In the waiting area, I saw a pamphlet for Durham Mental Health Services. After getting home, I fired off an e-mail to them, described my situation and said, “Can you help?” Within a couple of hours, I heard back from a coordinator and set up a meeting.
I toured the Residential Services program and it felt like Christmas. I was told it might be a year-long waiting list but in the meantime I was connected to DMHS’ Community Support program and started attending their Day Program. Within a few months, I moved into Sims House.
My goal was to do the program and get out as fast as I could. The Residential Handbook was like my Bible – I followed it to a “T” and everything worked. I moved to low-support housing and then into my own apartment.
I continue to attend the Day Program – I couldn’t do without its support. They found strengths in me that I didn’t know I had. They gave me responsibilities, like running a hot dog cart, and entrusted me with money. Being trusted was a new experience in my life.
I’m lucky that I’m not crippled or dead on account of using drugs from such an early age. Now I get satisfaction in my life from helping others, from giving back. For instance, I know what it’s like to walk into Day Program, what it’s like to go through the Residential Program and I know the benefits too.
When you are in a tough situation, it is hard to see that things can improve, but at DMHS, staff help you work towards your goals. I’ve been clean for about ten years, due to the help I’ve received. I feel like there is no lack of support here to reach where you want to go in life – if you follow the program, it’s going to benefit your life.