Shawn Pendenque, 44, says he feels fortunate these days. Fortunate to have a job and stable housing. Fortunate to be alive at all.
As a young man, he found himself homeless on the streets of Toronto until LOFT Community Services helped him turn his life around and he was able to embark on a successful career as a youth social worker.
Then about a decade ago, he lost everything – his job, his house, his car – after an episode of first episode psychosis that landed him in jail for four months. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder and transitioned out of the criminal justice system, where he once again turned to LOFT to get his life back together.
With the help of housing supports that continue to this day, Shawn is now working for LOFT as a peer support worker.
He is as a living example of the power of resilience and how life-saving the right mental health supports at the right time can be.
I have had to put extra thought into my capacity to feel grounded since this started. I’ve had to double check myself and block out a lot of what I see around me with everyone being all freaked out and frightened and nervous. I can’t take in all that energy because when I had my psychotic break, I was thinking then that the world was coming to an end (laughs).
I just stop myself and go along with the program and stick with my routine. Get up, take a shower, brush my teeth, go to work, see my clients, go home and make dinner with my partner. I just go with that script in my head and keep it simple.
In a poetic justice kind of way, now that my life has turned around I feel I have choices. I understand my mental illness better and I have come to accept it better. I don’t feel shame anymore about having bipolar schizoaffective disorder. It’s not in my face anymore. I am applying my mental illness to my life instead of trying to fight it.
This is a time to stay close with your friends. Don’t internalize what is happening around you.
You have to have a safety plan for yourself. Who is going to be there for you? Who can you talk to?
You have to have extreme self-love.
I’m actually not religious. My whole thing with Jesus is that he was a humanitarian, a social worker, who set an example for how we are supposed to be with each other. I just think he was a really cool guy.