In 2014, I was homeless and lived on the street for three months. I stopped eating and rapidly lost 40lbs. My kidneys began to fail and I didn’t even have the energy to walk anymore. I had given up hope. One day, I laid down on the park bench that I often slept on and I closed my eyes – I thought that was going to be my last day.
Today, I’m doing better than ever, thanks to the support I received at Salus.
I was born in Chile and also lived in Argentina with my mom and siblings before moving to Canada in 1991. We lived through two terrifying military dictatorships, where my family and I were forced to flee our home. As a child, I was in constant fear. Those experiences marked me deeply and I believe they led to my depression as a teenager.
I remember crying a lot and I was very angry with life, but my mother didn’t want me to go to therapy because of the stigma associated with mental illness – especially in my culture. And three decades ago, mental health wasn’t talked about much yet.
In spite of my undiagnosed and untreated depression as a teen, I went on to live a good life in my 20s and 30s. I obtained a degree in Cytotechnology and a second degree in international relations and sociology. In Canada, I worked successfully for 20 years as a lab technologist specializing in cancer screening and analysis.
But just like any physical illness that goes untreated for a long period of time, my depression worsened during that time. I also began to unknowingly develop symptoms of schizophrenia, such as paranoid and disorganized thinking.
I sought support from doctors, but they didn’t help me. I left each appointment feeling discouraged and persecuted by them. I began to think they were all against me.
I eventually became so paranoid that my managers were targeting me and trying to fire me, that I ended up quitting my job. I sold my house, cashed in my savings and moved back to Argentina where I isolated for six years, until my savings began to dwindle.
Since my family wasn’t giving me support, I decided to move back to Canada. I bought a plane ticket and found an apartment for one year. But at that point, I was in the depths of my paranoia and I began to hear voices. I completely ran out of money and instead of asking for help, I just walked away from my apartment.
I left everything that I owned and the life that I knew behind. I was entirely alone, with no money, no home and struggling with my untreated schizophrenia. I had given up on life.
When I woke up after laying down on that park bench in 2014, I was in a hospital bed, thanks to strangers who had called 911. I spent the following two months in community housing, on the street again and back in the hospital where I was finally stabilized with the right medication.
Another patient at the hospital told me about Ottawa Salus and how incredible they were. I talked to my doctor and she agreed it would be a good fit to help me get back on my feet. I was referred to the Transitional Rehabilitation Housing Program (TRHP) at Salus for one year…
That was in December 2014, and I can confidently say that the TRHP and Salus staff saved my life.
With Salus by my side, I regained the confidence that I had lost all those years ago.
It was as though I had to relearn everything again. I had case managers and community developers who taught me basic life skills. Things like money management, cooking lessons, how to clean and keep up with daily life. I began to feel that sense of community again. And I even went back to school that year to obtain a diploma in public policy and program evaluation.
The two Salus recreologists, Julie and Denis, even encouraged me to run a 5K race. I went to all the training sessions they offered and with their help, I did it! Mind you, I was one of the last people to finish the race, but I still did it. The support I received at Salus was fantastic…
Julie ran beside me the whole time – she never left my side. Salus never left my side, and neither did people like you.
My case manager, Rosa, helped me so much. She was really understanding. I couldn’t even begin to think about applying for a job again, but Rosa worked with me weekly, one-on-one – to build my confidence and empower me to write my resume and apply for jobs.
Thanks to her ongoing support, and never giving up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself, I found a job.
For the past three years, I’ve had a full-time job in the government and I live in an apartment with two roommates who have become great friends to me. One of my roommates is like a sister. We travel all over together and have so much fun.
I finally have a good support system and a fulfilling life again, thanks to the care and support I received from Salus over an eight-year period.
Without them, I would still be on a disability program, I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to look for a job, I might even still be on the streets – or worse.
The key to Salus is the supportive housing they provide to their tenants. They don’t just house people through affordable housing – they also offer the mental health support and resources to every tenant who is willing to receive the help and begin the journey to a better life.
Salus frontline staff work hard to connect people to their community, to themselves and to the life they are meant to live.
I still have my fears in life, but now I take it one day at a time. I know that I have the skills to cope with whatever comes my way. You never know what life is going to bring, but I now know that there are people out there who truly care. I wish I had known about Salus years ago, but I’m just so happy that I found them before it was too late.
We all deserve a life filled with meaning and hope, regardless of what life throws our way.