This week’s extraordinary person profile is an update on a man whose story of finding light at the end of a very dark tunnel had a profound effect on many people who read it.
The thing about mental illness is that it can’t be seen as much as it can be felt. Johnny Langille knows that better than anybody.
Back in February, Huntsville Doppler featured Johnny as an extraordinary person. His story of rising to the top after being stuck at the bottom of a deep, dark hole was nothing short of inspiring. His struggle with depression and anxiety nearly cost him his life twice. Johnny was lucky to have a strong support system. The love and kindness and empathy he received during a time when he needed it the most was of paramount importance. He saw the light. He regained a sense of purpose and a desire to want to pass it forward.
“With my big, open personality and mental health in the forefront, I felt my story could make a difference,” he says. “I’m eccentric. I can get away with a lot. People respond to me and I felt that they would.”
And they did. Although Johnny underestimated the degree of the response he would receive. In the few months after the story was published, he couldn’t go out in public without being recognized. Or praised. Or hugged for his bravery from people he didn’t even know (which he will attest wasn’t a matter of being brave as much as it was to simply let others know they aren’t alone). His phone rang 24/7 and he never said no to meeting anyone.
“I went to people’s houses, I met people for coffee, I chatted on the phone…. It was awesome. Then the good karma came. What goes around comes around, I believe that in this life. I was gifted with a brand new Baldwin piano. I got a promotion at work. I’m the head server at Compass Bar and Grill at Deerhurst. I love it, I love it. I feel very blessed.”
Being there for others has filled him with an even bigger sense of purpose. Suddenly, his phone was ringing throughout the day and into the night. He was receiving so many calls from people who needed someone to talk to about their own mental health issues. It was beyond just chit-chatting, says Johnny. It was people coming out about being mentally ill and him directing them to the appropriate resources.
I think sharing my story gave a lot of people the courage to take that step and talk.
What Johnny did notice in the midst of it all was that it was more young people than old coming forward to talk. And that, says Johnny, is an indication that we’ve become so disconnected because of the internet and social media. It says people deep down want to talk one on one. He usually always starts a conversation by talking about his own experience with mental illness first. That seems to be an ice-breaker.
“I hear fear, apprehension and anxiety in their voices,” he says. “By the end of the chat, they’ve learned to open up to at least one person. They’ve taken a burden off themselves and hopefully they can feel brave enough to seek professional help.”
Life is full of unexpected surprises. And they come in many different forms. Johnny now knows that for certain. It’s amazing what can happen when you let your guard down. He’s learned some valuable life lessons in the last few months and says he will continue to be an open ear to anyone who wants to talk.
He’s been the organist and choir director at Trinity United Church for the last 20 years and it’s something he says he won’t be giving up anytime soon. Music brings him a lot of joy and that is important to him being happy and centred.
“One of my favourite songs [from church]is called Jesus Bids a Shine. The last line of the song says, ‘You in my small corner and I in mine.’ I love that. It means you do what you can for the goodness of humanity.”
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