By Doreen Marion Gee

This fall, I walked with our team for mental health. I walked to support the exceptional programs at the Victoria Branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society (BCSS). I walked for people whose courage and strength put them a notch above the rest. I walked for people who endure a savage stigma lurking in the moldy corners of closed minds. I walked for all those superstars who battle daily with the Everest-like challenges of a mental illness. Most of all, I walked with a silent prayer that every person in recovery have access to treatment when they need it. Hope is the elixir, the gods' potion. With each step of the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, I wished upon an Autumn breeze that everyone in recovery had the gift of hope.

On October 9, I walked 8 km in the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon as an employee of BCSS Victoria. But I also walked as someone with the lived experience of a serious and chronic anxiety disorder. Our team was called Champions 4 Hope and our goal was to raise funds through marathon pledges for valuable BCSS programs. The local BCSS office is an oasis in the storm, where people are supported with a variety of compassionate services and programs. Very importantly, Victoria BCSS serves people with all types of mental illness, not just schizophrenia. We were selected as a recipient charity for this year's run and walk. Money raised went towards our Peer Support programs and Memorial Fund. As the office brochure proudly states, "The programs provide year-round support to community members to achieve their dream of a healthy, fulfilling life. A Good Life!"

The route through James Bay snaked along the wild and beautiful waterfront from the Inner Harbour to Beacon Hill Park and back. As I walked through the paths of my childhood, I breathed in the sweet and salty ocean air and thought about my history. I came from a good loving family who supported me in my dreams and goals. The tides have turned in our knowledge about the etiology of mental health challenges - genetic and biochemical factors are major players.

My connection with the BCSS has given me hope for my future. Hazel Meredith (Executive Director), Tara Timmers (Administrative Coordinator) and other wonderful staff have encouraged me with a powerful message that I am an important and valuable person because of my lived experience, not in spite of it. I started there as a member of their Partnership Presentation team, and I give regular talks about my recovery with community partners such as UVIC, the Law Centre, elementary and high schools and colleges. Now, I am part of their Peer Support Team, where I use my lived experience to mentor and support those in recovery. The BCSS is on the cutting edge of mental health initiatives. This summer we were part of a national pilot project and an Island "first" with the Your Recovery Journey workshops. These groups relayed the message of recovery and hope, and of limitless possibilities for people with mental illness. In November, our Peer Support Team will be the first group in Canada to receive funding from the Mental Health Commission of Canada for professional peer support training leading to accreditation.

As a co-facilitator of the Your Recovery Journey workshop for youth this summer, I was truly awed by the talents and intelligence of those young people coping with serious diagnoses. At our last session, I left them with a final message of hope: You can recover and have a good life. There are no limits to what you can do.  Even in recovery, you can still go for the gold!

On October 9, I walked with my team members with the idea that all people with mental illness deserve to have the hope that they will recover and that the treatment and support to get them there. Hope makes people well. It is the remedy and the cure.

For more information about BCSS Programs, to volunteer in or support their programs, please visit their website at or contact Hazel Meredith or Tara Timmers.