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.

Learning to roll again

Peer counsellor helped United Way speaker start living again.

Spinal surgery did not go as planned for Kevin Black in 2004.

“Little did I know those steps I was taking at 5:30 in the morning were going to be my last.”

After being left paralyzed by complications following back surgery, Kevin Black's outlook was revitalized and revived by a United Way-supported Canadian Paraplegic Association counsellor.

After being left paralyzed by complications following back surgery, Kevin Black’s outlook was revitalized and revived by a United Way-supported Canadian Paraplegic Association counsellor.

Complications from surgery left Kevin paralyzed from the waist down. Friends and family tried to comfort him, tried to help, but anger and bitterness set in.

“I would lay in that bed and say ‘Don’t tell me it’s going to be fine, don’t look at me and say I’m OK. You’re going to walk out of this room, and I’m stuck in this damn bed.’”

After about a week, Kevin went to rehab. There he met his Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) counsellor, Dan.

A United Way of Winnipeg partner agency, CPA has been around since the end of the Second World War with a mission to help people with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities achieve independence, self-reliance, and full community participation.

For Kevin it took someone like him — someone who was dealing with the same challenges — to get past the anger and bitterness and start down a path to living fully again.

“Dan didn’t walk into the room, he rolled into the room.”

“He said ‘Don’t worry Kevin, it’s going to be fine.’ Well, I couldn’t tell this guy where to go and how to get there because he’d already been there.”

Kevin didn’t know how to do basic things, or the challenging new tasks now facing him.

“I couldn’t dress, I couldn’t move, I didn’t know how to operate a wheelchair. Every imaginable thing you could think of, I didn’t know.”

With the help of Dan and the CPA, Kevin learned how to navigate the world again. Rehabilitation counselling, peer-support, advocacy and employment services bring the world back into reach for people like Kevin. Today he works full time at Payworks and volunteers as a United Way speaker sharing his story.

“Without the support of the donors and United Way itself none of this would be possible. I don’t know where I’d be.

“I don’t know how I would have coped and survived without somebody rolling into my room and saying ‘Shut up, I’ve been there, you are going to be fine.’”

You can help people like Kevin by donating to United Way online at www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/help or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Originally published by Canstar Community News.

Winnipeggers Jump for Glee at Report Session 3.

United Way’s third report session of the 2011 campaign took place at Celebrations Dinner Theatre on November 10.

If you weren’t among the 200 Winnipeggers in attendance, here’s what you missed.

The cast of Celebrations’ current show, Jump for Glee set the tone for the day by leading a flash mob of Sponsored Executives.


Edward Kennedy and the cabinet volunteers sang the praises of Winnipeggers who have so far raised an incredible $15.1 million or 77% of the almost $20 million goal.

Speakers’ Bureau member Anne Manitowich stole the show—and more than a few hearts—sharing a powerful personal example of what support for organizations like Stroke Recovery Association of Manitoba means.


And if that wasn’t already a star studded cast, BOB FM’s Scott Morris made a guest appearance as event emcee.

Only seven weeks remain in this campaign.

Can Kennedy maintain his team’s winning streak?

Are flash mobs an effective fundraising tool?

Will Winnipeggers come through in the final act and reach the $19.7 million goal to ensure stability for more than 100 agencies, programs and partnerships?

Stay tuned for more results at Report Session 4 on December 2.