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Finding light through the dark

LANCE HOLDFORTH, Special to the Examiner
Mark Wanzel Photo
A symbol of his accomplishment, Christopher Malcolm holds a cutting board he made. The project is one of his first he's been able to finish since he was diagnosed with his mental illness more than a decade ago.

Mark Wanzel Photo A symbol of his accomplishment, Christopher Malcolm holds a cutting board he made. The project is one of his first he's been able to finish since he was diagnosed with his mental illness more than a decade ago.

Finding the perfect piece of wood became the light at the end of Christopher MacInnis' very dark tunnel.

Severe depression has plagued MacInnis since he was diagnosed in 1996, and isolating himself in his basement is often the only way he can cope with the dark thoughts of hopelessness that surface when his illness takes over.

"My mood was exceptionally dark. It's like being in a cave where there's no lights," he said. "It's pitch dark and you can't see your way to getting out anywhere even with all the medications."

On one of his good days in April, MacInnis was able to leave his home and went to an auction in Cookstown where he found an 11-foot plank of spruce for $5.

After realizing the wood's potential, 49-year-old MacInnis wanted to make a new cutting board for his kitchen which would become his long-awaited achievement of progress.

"When I started it I could see what I would have in the end if I could pull it all together," he said.

"That was the first project I've been able to complete in 16 years. Start to finish."

Shortly after moving to Barrie from Nova Scotia in 2008, MacInnis was hospitalized in the fall of 2009 after he suffered a severe mental breakdown.

"Coming to Barrie with the depression, I was always searching for a support group where I could be a part of and get support from peers," he said. "There's just nothing there and it's almost a hopeless state."

The depression may be tied to family genetics, MacInnis said, after finding out years later his grandfather was schizophrenic.

When MacInnis was nine years old, his brother died from a brain tumour in 1972, and since then the late fall and early winter months are particularly harsh on his mental state.

"Life hasn't been that great. It's a crapshoot," he said. "My depression was very bad from November to February and I was in pretty bad times."

By cutting the wooden plank down to size, sanding, glueing and oiling, MacInnis found a mood-boosting therapy which brought out a recent change in his life.

"It's very therapeutic," he said. "In the last month or so my depression has lifted considerably and I feel better than I have in some time."

In early February, MacInnis and two friends started the Support Group for Folks Living with Mental Illness out of the Central United Church at 54 Ross St.

Every Wednesday at 7 p.m., residents are invited to join discussions as a means of helping each other through their illnesses and maybe helping them find their own 'piece of wood'.

"Our main target is to get people out of their houses who are bound there by their illness," MacInnis said. "It's getting the people out. It's hard for us when we're bound inside for a long time."

The group provided support when MacInnis and the others needed it most, and now they hope to offer the same to others in need.

"We share and care for each other and we assess our feelings and where we're at. We try to have a focus topic," MacInnis said.

"Anything like that is therapeutic because it's a time where you can get together and there's a greater level of understanding between you."



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