Jun 22, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
The air was thick in Woodstock last Thursday night – not with sadness, but with hope.
When Michael decided to organize a 2,500 seat rally in four days, I didn’t know what to expect. Up until this point, we have maintained more of a virtual (spiritual?) presence over our community, and for the first time, we were going to face stigma head-on. You know, with people like Mike Babcock and Scott Helman on our side. No big deal.
I met Mike Babcock right before he took a picture with a #sicknotweak cupcake. It was a pretty special moment and I didn’t even fall down or anything. He shook my hand and I couldn’t believe that a guy this big took time out of his busy schedule to support mental health in Canada. Same with Scott Helman, Jake Muzzin, Rich Clune, Sam Stout, Ariana Gillis, Elyse Saunders, MacKenzie Gall, Rachelle Viinberg, and Clara Hughes – the amount of people willing to pour their hearts into SickNotWeak was nothing short of amazing.
Complete strangers, coming together for a common cause.
By the time we travelled from Pickering to Woodstock through rush-hour traffic (and by we, I mean me, my parents, the Spilt Milk crew, and my trusty anxiety raccoon), there was already a crowd gathered outside the venue doors, not to mention the team of volunteers gathered in the green room. If you haven’t tried SickNotWeak’s chat system yet, you absolutely have to – it was so cool to meet this online family that I used to know only by usernames, people who had talked me through rough nights and med switches. There were also a bunch of volunteers whom I hadn’t met before – complete strangers, coming together for a common cause and loving every minute of it.
Woodstock was far from home for many of our community members, so we were happy to have Facebook Live broadcast #SickNotWeakStock across their platform (we’ll have the videos up soon, too!). If you haven’t read about this community, I’ll tell you now – they’ve had a rough time. 5 suicides in 4 months is 5 suicides too much, and we couldn’t let that grief just fester. We saw an opportunity for change, and we took it. The roar of the crowd when Michael started the show was absolutely perfect. You could feel the energy bouncing off the walls of the arena and coming right back to where it belonged – the heart of Woodstock.
I’m not going to summarize the stories that were told that night, because you need to watch the videos if you haven’t already. Watch them, please. Share this experience with the group of extraordinary people who chose to spend their Thursday night hearing stories of struggle and addiction, and came out the better for it.
I was one of the speakers, and let me tell you – I have never been more scared in my life. And at the same time, I’ve never felt so supported. I was so grateful to have a crowd that stayed with me every step of the way. It felt like the AA basement that Michael always talks about, and it was perfect. It was a safe place to share, and a much-needed chance for a community to lick their wounds.
The more we talk, the more people listen, and that’s all we’ve ever wanted.
I had a chance to talk to MacKenzie, another of SickNotWeakStock’s speakers for the evening, and one of the students who organized the student walk-out. We fangirled a little over Scott Helman and agreed that this night was something right out of a movie. Both of us were ordinary people, standing next to the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs while preparing to tell a crowd of strangers about our mental illnesses. And the weirdest part was that we were excited to do it, because we had seen the power of Michael’s journey, and we wanted people to know that they could do it too. Anyone, really. A story is a story is a story, and the more you tell it, the more momentum it gains. The more we talk, the more people listen, and that’s all we’ve ever wanted.
After Scott Helman blew us all away with his voice, and Mike Babcock wore a #sicknotweak hat onstage, I waited in line with my parents to say goodbye to Michael. Michael, the brightest star I know, always takes the time to talk to anyone who might need something – a hug, a smile, or a heart-to-heart. When we got to the front I apologized for crying after my set (did I mention that I had a giant panic attack right after I spoke?) and he shook my dad’s hand and I realized that while they had never met before, they already had so much in common. All of us in that arena, all of you reading this article – we are all fighting the same invisible monster, and we’re getting stronger every day. I woke up the next morning and I felt it in my bones, and it’s been there every day since.
Woodstock, we stand with you.