Every two weeks, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected].
Johnny Langille knows what it feels like to be at the bottom of a deep, dark hole.
For most of his life, he has struggled with anxiety and depression. But three years ago, it climaxed when he took a bad fall. He hurt his ankle and needed surgery. Johnny had already sustained a terrible injury to that ankle when he was a teenager and the recent one sent him over the edge.
He became plagued by feelings of inadequacy. He was certain no one cared. He doubted himself and was weighed down by a constant stream of negative thoughts. He felt defeated on a daily basis. No matter how hard he tried, Johnny couldn’t see the light of day. He kept hoping he would, but the darkness was consuming him. Entirely.
“The thing about mental illness is that you can’t see it as much as you can feel it,” says the 53-year-old. “Depression had the upper hand and it nearly cost me my life twice.”
The self doubt and bouts of anxiety had a tight grip on Johnny. He didn’t take medication, and he got good at pushing away his friends and family. He was in a lot of pain, and not just emotionally. Physically, too. His mobility was affected greatly and he didn’t think he would ever go back to work. He lived inside a bubble of dismay and despair. On two occasions he tried to end his life. He had given up. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. He was too tired, too emotionally drained. He wanted to rest.
“The power of the human spirit, which is so strong to destroy you when the mind is dark, is infinitely stronger when you embrace its possibilities to restore you.”
A man of strong spiritual faith (he grew up in an Evangelical Baptist household), Johnny can’t describe it any other way other than a divine intervention. He survived both attempts to end his life because his time was not supposed to be up. He believes God intended for him to be here and to go on living, except this time – this precious second chance – meant he would do something with purpose. Johnny realized just how much he was loved. His parents, who he always maintained a close relationship with, took a train all the way from Nova Scotia to Huntsville. That meant the world to him. He was working at Deerhurst Resort (and still is!) and out of the woodwork came friends he never knew he had. All the support and love made a huge impact on his journey to healing. Johnny had an awakening.
“I believe I received so much kindness and goodness and empathy during a time when I needed it the most that it was my turn to reach out. My purpose was to not just sit in my apartment on the hill. My purpose was to reach out and help others… to pass it forward.”
And ever since his life-changing realization, that’s exactly what Johnny’s been doing. He’s a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a friend to confide in. His big, accessible personality makes Johnny approachable and people tend to feel like they can open up to him. He has a great sense of humour and that works to his advantage when meeting new people. He’ll give anyone the time of day. He will take a phone call late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Even if he doesn’t have the answers, sometimes it’s just nice to know someone cares enough to listen. Johnny personally knows that.
For the last two years, he has taken part in Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative (a multi-year program that aims to break the silence around mental illness). He’s on the fence about how useful the program truly is though. He views it as being a bit “hollow”.
I’ve done a lot of social networking and one-on-one with people at work and people I meet on the street. The reality is we need to pick up the phone and talk instead of pushing buttons. Action speaks louder than words.
Johnny is a wealth of information when it comes to the resources that are available to people who have mental health issues and he wants people to know there’s plenty locally. He says too often people suffer in silence and the media and mental health community need to make access to resources known and more readily available. We, as a society, need to pool our efforts to break the stigma attached to mental illness and spread the word that there is help for those who need it.
“The more we talk, the more we understand and the less people have to suffer,” says Johnny.
Each and every time he listens to someone’s personal story about their struggles, it tugs at his heartstrings. He can’t help but cry. Empathy is a powerful emotion. But he also feels a great sense of joy. Of fulfillment. He’s doing what he’s supposed to and helping make a difference. And that, says Johnny, is what keeps him going.
“I’ve healed but I believe you have to maintain your mental health. It’s an ongoing issue which requires great fortitude mentally.”
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