There is nothing more gratifying for the team here at Gateway Niagara, than hearing from individuals who have been able to benefit from the support and resources we offer. Mark spoke recently at our Annual General Meeting, and offered an inspiring message about overcoming adversity, and learning to believe in himself. Here is a transcript of his moving speech.
Hello, and thank you for allowing me to speak here today. I am very honoured to be able to share some of my experiences and hope with all of you. I hope that there will be something that I say to you that will help you in your lives at this time.
I would like to start with a quote by Henry Ford. "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right." I would like to reword it as, "Whether you believe you can, or believe you can't – you're right."
I feel this is an important message for all of us. But where do we find the confidence to believe in ourselves?
Well, I think it comes from others believing in us first. Those messages we were and are still told by others; family, friends, colleagues, society in general. We would all hope to have positive, reassuring messages, instilling confidence and belief in ourselves.
But what if you are told false messages, or lies? Then how would you believe in yourself? You wouldn't, you would believe the lies. Lies such as, you're bad, you're different, you're weird, you should feel ashamed, you'll never amount to anything, no one cares about you, are all too common, but they're just that: lies.
I know this to be true because I was told these lies.
I grew up in several foster homes. My mother was a drug addict with a very physically abusive boyfriend. The deepest hurt I feel in my life is the abandonment of my other at such an early age. At a time when I needed to be told that I was special, unique and wonderful child as we all are, I was told I was not good enough. This message, or lie, was continuously told to me throughout my childhood and adulthood. Mostly in my adulthood I told myself this lie.
When I came to Gateway for the first time several years ago, I was lost and broken. I had lost hope and just numbed myself as much as I could. But this was where things started to change.
I have had many diagnoses throughout my life, although I believe them to be vague labels that don't say anything much about who I am at all. I like to think of myself as diagnosed as a human being. More so a person of light having a human experience.
I believe people like labels because it makes them feel safe and secure. If I label someone or something, I can categorize it in my mind and when the time is right I can refer to that label as I have fully defined it.
The problem with this is of course that none of us are defined by a set of labels. This is not more true than in mental health. And with labels, inevitably comes stigma. The label gives me a mental image in my mind of someone who has this or has that, and then I somehow know that person through their label. I am even guilty of defining myself through labels and diagnosis.
But the truth is there is a greater truth; behind the labels and stigma, there is a person. An innocent, unique, and beautiful person. That person knows no labels, That is who you really are. This is something that I realized during my journey.
When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I was out with my foster father and my brother and sisters in the woods. I got separated from them and soon found myself lost in the dark woods. I see that as symbolic in my life, somewhere in my early years I had got lost in a dark and hostile place. The fear I felt in those woods was the same fear I felt throughout my life; "I am lost and I don't know if I will ever find the way out."
It is places such as Gateway that show us the way out.
I learned while I was living in the Gateway group home that I was not useless, that I had something to say, I had something to contribute, that I lived with a burden, but it did not define who I am.
Through the kindness and compassion of Gateway, I started to believe something else. And although I still find myself slipping into old ways of thinking at times, the truth is undeniable. They taught me that my life meant something and I realized that all our lives mean something. We can bring joy to each other's lives by something as simple as a smile or caring words when someone is sad. Because what else could be more important than that?
We are all the same, yet different. We all feel. We all can be happy or sad or afraid. I believe that it is through acceptance, kindness, and compassion that we can start to heal. You have a label, but that doesn't tell us anything about you... only you can do that.