Lighting the Darkness

United Way speaker finds strength in being vulnerable

Susan Abbott lived in shame and silence for 40 years.

“I was born into and raised with mental illness. Back then it was never talked about. There was stigma, shame, and secrecy.”

Susan seeks to counter shame and secrecy around mental illness by speaking about the help she got from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which is core-funded by United Way. It’s one of 21 United Way partner agencies that offer mental health-related counselling and supports.

Susan Abbott often speaks on behalf of United Way to explain how the Canadian Mental Health Association helped her on her path to wellness.

Susan Abbott often speaks on behalf of United Way to explain how the Canadian Mental Health Association helped her on her path to wellness.

“Real strength comes from reaching out, un-silencing and finding your voice,” the 53-year-old says.

“Otherwise you’re just stuck in the dark.”

Time in the dark began early in Susan’s life. Her mother had untreated mental illness, and Susan began experiencing her own problems as a teen.

“I fell into a cycle of addiction, abuse, and homelessness. And I never shared.”

Fifteen years ago she was diagnosed as bipolar and began walking a path to recovery. Her children “cracked me open,” she says.

“They made me vulnerable. They helped me to reach out, and that’s how I got involved with CMHA and sharing my story.”

Susan found true healing through sharing her story with youth.

“It’s important to reach youth. Being a teenager is hard enough, and when we try to fit in we’re not embracing our true selves and not realizing we all struggle.”

Susan says teens need perspective about life and the world — to know it’s not always about an instant in time. She believes if someone had talked to her about mental health when she was a teen it could have made a difference in her life.

“If I had learned even to breathe back then and to just relax — to know that life is grey, it’s not black and white.”

Susan went back to school in 2009 to take fine arts. Her paintings (find them at help keep her open and sharing, she says, and she shows them when she speaks on behalf of United Way about her journey to wellness.

Audience members sometimes approach her to talk.

“They tear up. A lot of people have struggled. They’re interested in what’s available for mental health, and they’re surprised at how much help is out there,” she says.

“It’s there for everybody. You don’t have to suffer alone.”

If you need help call CMHA at 204-982-6100 or visit its website at

Help CMHA with a donation to United Way at or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Originally published by Canstar Community News.

Living to tell the tale

Lisa Shaw (at right) with her sister Lynda

That’s me on the right with my sister Lynda.

I had never been depressed a day in my life. It started slowly, when I just did not feel well and could not take control. My life began to spiral downward. I wasn’t able to eat, concentrate, or sleep and lost nearly 30 pounds. I stopped doing all the things I loved – sports, entertaining, and going to the cottage. I was withdrawing from the world, losing touch with reality and became trapped in my bed.

I don’t remember much during those dark times. I just wanted my mind to stop and did some things I am not proud of. I wandered around outside in the middle of January. I tried to slash my wrists. I smashed a picture frame and ate shards of glass. Finally, I tried to hang myself in my basement by tying a belt around my neck and stepping off a chair.

The only thing that stopped me from ending my life was the love, support, and many interventions by my mom, brother, family and friends who never gave up. Ultimately my hero, my sister Lynda, saved my life by getting me admitted to an intensive care unit in a psychiatric ward. I spent a month in the hospital.

Give Now - make a donation onlineWith Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and medication, my condition improved dramatically. I am grateful to all the doctors, nurses, counsellors, aides and my hospital roommates who were instrumental in the early days of my recovery.

It has been a year and a half since I left. Under medical supervision, I am in full recovery, off medication and appreciate life every day. I am back to my career, playing sports, going to the cottage, playing my guitar, plus enjoying family and friends. I have laughter, love, joy and hope back in my life.

Unfortunately, many fight this terrible disease (mental illness) alone. Someone has to be there. That’s where you come in. By supporting United Way, you’re supporting programs, services, and agencies that help individuals and families cope with mental health challenges – agencies like Canadian Mental Health Association-Winnipeg.

– Lisa Shaw

Your gift – no matter the amount – will make a difference for people like Lisa and thousands of other Winnipeggers.