Personal Stories

Photo by Barry Shainbaum.

Michael Koo

As a young child I was sexually abused and that brought on a lot of other conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and a feeling of alienation. I’ve never really felt like I belonged among people.  I never gave it much thought, just figured that was the way people were. I self medicated in high school and drank a lot of alcohol to get rid of the anxiety so that I could communicate with people.

When I went to university, I got a diagnosis and some medication and almost immediately I felt all this heaviness just drop away from me. I was able to see everything around me more clearly, and it was the first time I felt like I was actually alive. But my treatment while at university was only intermittently successful.  I was definitely not in recovery and I got to a point where I really didn’t see myself living in this world.  I made a decision to take my life after my parents passed away so I wouldn’t inconvenience anybody. 

After a couple of hospitalizations, I went to CAMH and the psychiatrist there said she believed I could live a better life.  I didn’t believe that but I trusted her and just did what she wanted me to do.

I went through the programs that she suggested, and it gave me tools to cope when I was feeling extremely depressed or anxious. But I still was just meandering through life until I came across WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning). There I learned about self-determination and self efficacy, and I really felt empowered to do things and take charge of my recovery and my life. With that, I kept looking for more recovery based workshops, and now I have my facilitator’s certificates for Pathways to Recovery, WRAP, and I attended the Like Minds facilitation workshop

While I was at CAMH, there was a tour of the MOOD DISORDERS ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO. I went along and saw all the flyers for their interesting programs so I signed up for two of them, Drumming and Stand Up. Those are really fantastic programs.  I met people from all different backgrounds who had so much to offer me in terms of life experience.  Through them and the programs themselves, I learned to think of myself in a better light.

When I was doing Stand Up, I thought, “Why don’t I volunteer here?” To me, this is now like a second home. They don’t treat me like someone who is a second- class citizen, or on their way to becoming fully developed.  They just treat me as a person with ability. They validate me when I come here.

Three and a half years ago I was living in a dark basement room, because that’s all that I could afford on Ontario Works, and I was right beside the bathroom with a toilet that always overflowed, so my room stank of feces and urine.  That was probably the lowest point in my life.  The person Michael, who had a family and went to school, was a stranger, a shadow.  Comparing that point to being here where I’m doing so many different things is kind of amazing. It’s hard to believe that I was that person.

I really believe in recovery.  I’ve been facilitating groups, and I have a bi-weekly group here. I’ve seen so many people who have recovered so tremendously.  It’s unbelievable that they were the same person that they were the previous year, so I know it happens all the time and I really want to be a part of that.