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 www.susanaydanabbott.com) 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 winnipeg.cmha.ca

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

Originally published by Canstar Community News.