Stories of resilience and portraits of strength

‘The thing about surviving mental illness is that it has empowered me’: Jason’s story


Jason’s father and grandfather both passed away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that gradually paralyzes people and has no cure. As a result, Jason had an overwhelming fear of developing ALS himself and dying of the disease. Although he did not have the disease, the fear was all-consuming; he suffered depression and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Jason says, “The thing about surviving mental illness is that it has empowered me. I am a much more aware, sincere and grateful father, husband, friend, colleague, worker and manager. Due to the resilience of wanting to find an answer, wanting to get better, I have found peace.”

What does resilience mean to you?

When I look back to the troughs of my darkness, depression and OCD I went through just a few short years ago, I recall thinking to myself, “Am I going to feel this way forever?”

Random, unhelpful thoughts would come up in everyday situations: while coaching first base at a baseball game or while enjoying a movie with my family in our living room, “Jason, you are becoming sick and you will die.  Jason, you are a failure. Jason, there is no point.”

My brain was lying to me. They were not the thoughts I wanted to take over my mind.

After much struggling, I eventually sought counselling. I knew that something was wrong, different, and I had to find a way out of this darkness.

Resilience to me is leaving no stone unturned. I looked for help to figure out what was wrong with my brain in many different manners. These included, but are not limited to; counselling, reading, medication, exercise, diet, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness meditation, essential oils, acupuncture and music. I have established good mental fitness. I figured out how to think differently and become more at one with my “observing self,” where the focus is to be in the moment and concentrate on the present, as it is a gift.


“My dad was a journeyman electrician by trade and a very handy fellow. After he passed, I looked for something that I could have on me at all times to remind me of my dad. Among his things, I found a square-cut nail that he’d shaped into a pinky ring.
I now wear it and use it to keep me in the present.  If I feel my anxiety in any situation elevating, I simply press the head of the nail, which sits inside my pinky, and it has a calming effect. Thanks Dad!” says Jason

What are dark days like for you and how do you find strength and resilience in these moments?

The dark days are ones where my random thoughts take over and my “thinking self” attempts to sway my awareness into believing lies.

In ACT the “thinking self,” is part of the mind that produces unhelpful thoughts, while the “observing self” is non-judgemental and is more of an awareness of what you are experiencing.

I suffered from a compulsion over the fear of ALS, as my father and grandfather both passed from the disease.  My “observing self” is now part of my ACT training of acceptance that enables me to be more mindful.

Resilience is formed by my acceptance that while random unhelpful thoughts are normal, I do not battle those thoughts anymore. Instead of giving into this, I accept that the thought is not beneficial and I “turn the volume down” like it is a radio playing in the background. I focus on how I am so thankful and grateful for all of the love in my life.

What is in your “tool-kit”? What are the things that help you find strength and resilience?

Establishing good mental fitness makes me feel empowered.

My personal tool-kit includes a combination of many items. These would include meditation, music, going for walks with my wife, exercise, diet, movies and television. Reading has been a great tool and led me to a book that helped me learn more about ACT and how to implement it in my life. It has made an incredible difference in improving my mindset and way of thinking.

For example, I used to pay attention and obsess as my “thinking self” would proclaim, “Jason, you are going to get ill and die.” Now, my “observing self” acts upon that statement with acceptance and awareness and replies, “Thank you for making me aware.  I accept that the thought is unhelpful and I will simply turn the directive to a lower tone” – kind of like white noise.

How do you feel about the future?

The thing about surviving mental illness is that it has empowered me.

I am a much more aware, sincere and grateful father, husband, friend, colleague, worker and manager. Due to the resilience of wanting to find an answer and wanting to get better, I have found peace.

I could not have rebalanced my brain without persevering through many onerous struggles. I had to work at it and I worked hard. That’s the key. One has to realize that having a mental illness is not your fault, it happens to the best of us.

It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. BUT, the perseverance of finding an acceptable equilibrium is crucial.  It wasn’t happiness per se that I was looking for. Simply, to find peace within the life we live, to accept the challenges as well as the smiles, and to love the ones we cherish.

As for the future? I abide by the William Blake quote, “To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.”

If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis, or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available 24/7 through community resources:

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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