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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Downtown East clients soar at the Phoenix Awards

By Miguel Amante, Communications Coordinator, Public Affairs

Earlier this summer, CAMH’s Downtown East Clinic celebrated its fourth annual Phoenix Awards, an  event commemorating milestones and achievements in client recovery. The awards are named after the mythological Phoenix – a large bird that rises from its own ashes.

“It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and strides people have made in their lives, and the struggles they’ve overcome,” says Dan Land, Clinical Director for Complex Care and Recovery, Ambulatory Services at CAMH. Dan says events like the Phoenix Awards truly drive home the impact of the work of CAMH’s clinics.

Five individual awards were presented to clients who showed exemplary progress in their recovery, but all clients were celebrated for the steps they’ve taken in their mental health journeys. :

From the ashes… 

“It feels like I’ve lived a number of different lives,” says Therese, who has been a client at the clinic for 15 years. Therese, like many who come to Downtown East, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I hear voices and I have depression, and one exacerbates the other,” she explains candidly. “In 2002, I moved from the U.K. back to Canada. I met somebody who worked for an outreach program because I lived on the street. She got me off the streets… she got me into CAMH.”

At CAMH, Therese was assigned to RN Judy Gardner, who has been working with her since she arrived at what was then called the Spectrum Clinic. Over the course of the past 15 years, Judy has been a constant presence in Therese’s life, and has seen her growth and evolution – something she attributes to Therese’s perseverance as a key to her recovery.

Judy and Therese
Mutual respect and genuine trust between Judy and Therese was key to recovery

“You know there are some people who are put in your life for a reason, and Judy is one of them,” says Therese, referring to the support she receives from CAMH. “I couldn’t have done it without Judy. She’ll say it was all me, but I don’t agree with that.”

“Therese’s story is truly inspiring, and she’s worked extremely hard to get to where she is now, with the support of friends in the community,” says Judy, referring to a tight-knit group of women Therese met at the YMCA who have been very encouraging and supportive of her.

“I’m an open-book; everyone knows my struggles,” Therese tells the crowd as she accepts her award. She recalls how great it felt being accepted as just another regular person by her friends at the ‘Y’. “I have bad social anxiety, and [the women at the YMCA] really helped. In the last five years, I’ve really… risen.”

Rising to the occasion

Therese’s new business venture is on full display during the awards in the form of the beautiful (and delicious) cake, along with the healthy selection of sandwiches and salads.

“This started from a program with CAMH and George Brown [College],” she says, where she was able to take a culinary education program to bolster her experience. “When I finished the program, I realized that [the food industry] was too fast paced. I have really bad chronic pain – my back was killing me, so I went back to only cooking at home.”

Her breakthrough came when she mentioned her culinary education to a friend from the YMCA.

“I was talking to one of the ladies I see at the gym every day,” recalls Therese. “She said to me, ‘You should just bake!’ and she shared a post on Facebook telling my friends that I was starting my own business, and that if they needed any cakes, to contact me. I guess I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to, and after that, it just got pretty busy.”

Taking flight

Therese’s journey is ongoing, and while she knows there will be pockets of turbulence along the way, she feels ready to take them on. It’s a far cry from when she first came to  CAMH.

“It wasn’t just a matter of ‘if’ I committed suicide – it was a matter of ‘when’. That was the end result of every thought that went through my mind. And now, I couldn’t be further away from that. I still hear voices and I still get depressed but I’m afraid to go back. I won’t go back.”

Thankfully, with the loving support of friends, a treatment plan that is working for her, and the clinicians and clients at the Downtown East clinic who are supporting her at every turn, she will not be alone to face the uncertainty of the future.

The same goes for many of the clients who seek treatment here, and it can be easily felt in the positivity exhibited by everyone in the room. Because despite the roadblocks, there’s a very tangible belief that everyone has the potential to soar.

Published on September 20, 2017

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