Disclaimer: there are some aspects of the following story that describe traumatic events of war. Please be advised that some of the graphic imagery described may be disturbing for some readers.
This is a story about Chantal, a woman who is one of the most inspirational, compassionate, and strong-minded individuals I will ever meet. I sit here trying to formulate my ideas as to how her story should be written, unable to decide what aspect of her struggles and strengths should be focused upon. Should I begin this story by elaborating on how her parents were both poisoned to death when she was just a few weeks old, how she witnessed people being murdered, how she was held at gunpoint, how she was intentionally burned with gasoline, or how she experienced the indescribable: cannibalism? Despite having endured the most unimaginable life experiences, Chantal is now able to openly share her incredible story along with outlining how various individuals and healthcare services, especially the Canadian Mental Health Association Oxford, have aided in her journey to recovery.
“Don’t let fear hold you back. You are here for a reason.”
This quote by Chantal truly aids to illustrate her immense strength to endure all the horrific experiences throughout her life. Even when she was facing these unimaginable situations in Africa, she devoted her life to help victims during the war. Chantal opened a restaurant where she donated the little money she accumulated to help the poor people. She began to design African clothing and distribute it to those in need; she visited inmates in prison to give them food and clothing; she provided child care in orphanages, and helped blind children pay their school tuition.
“The reason why I was able to help others was because this is what God wanted me to do.”
Despite having lived through some of the most disturbing and deadly situation, Chantal kept faith in God and attended church at the Calvary Church to help her internalise and strengthen her relationship with God. She says that the Bible states to forgive people. And that is exactly what Chantal did. She kept her faith in God and forgave all those who made her life a living hell.
She went back to Africa in 2005, where she faced the individual who had cut her leg, to prove that she was still alive despite the detrimental and disturbing behaviour he had exhibited towards her. When Chantal had her leg cut open, she had used a needle and thread to sew her leg back together. Many of us cannot endure the pain of a small cut or scrape and we immediately seek professional medical care. But Chantal did not have the financial means to obtain appropriate medications, thus she had no choice but to fix her leg by herself. However, what really illustrates Chantal’s immense strength and courage is her act of forgiving the individual who did this to her. She gave the Rebel who had cut her leg fifty dollars for his family and decided she would let go of everything he had put her through. Clearly, it is evident that Chantal has endured what most of us cannot even fathom, however above all of the terrible experiences Chantal went through, one of the most traumatic situations she faced was the death of her best friend. During the war, the Rebels came and took her along with her best friend and killed her best friend in front of her eyes. After killing her friend, the Rebels wanted Chantal to participate in cannibalism. One can only imagine the negative detrimental mental health outcomes that such experiences had on Chantal’s life.
“I will never forget my past but I move on. I learned how to handle all of the things that happened to me. My brain is clear now…I can finally move on. I have handled everything that happened to me without medication. I have a dream for my future. I find everyone is not bad. There are good people in the world. But many people make promises that they do not follow through. So I learned to look after myself. I will make my dreams come true. No matter how long it takes. I move forward. I look to the future, rather than my past.”
The beginning of Chantal’s recovery entailed opening up about her past with councillors and social workers. “Obtaining medication and counselling was the first step for me to start talking about my issues and everything that had happened to me both physically and mentally.” Chantal also utilized alternative forms to therapy such as praying, spending time with her friends, listening to music, cooking, and watching movies. “My brother has served an extremely important role in my recovery as he would always tell me to stay strong and respect myself. He would tell me to always do what was good for me.” Chantal also met a good friend, John Forsy, who helped her internalize the concept of being fearless. He taught her to never give up and to not let the darkness that we all face inhibit her from achieving what she wanted in life. John serves as a fatherly figure in Chantal’s life, giving her the strength she needs to continue to progress in life. Through the support and encouragement from various people in Chantal’s life along with implementing self-therapeutic techniques as coping mechanisms, Chantal was able to develop an effective support system. And as a result, Chantal decided that she was in charge of her future, regardless of her past, and enrolled in classes to learn English as a starting point to take control of her life again. And during her time learning how to read, write, and speak English, Chantal’s ESL teacher also served as an important individual in her recovery as she provided Chantal the faith and strength to believe she could achieve anything in life.
Throughout Chantal’s recovery, various physicians aided in providing her with support and effective health care. “One of the physicians I want to mention is Dr. Penny Claire, she is an amazing woman and I need to thank her for all her help. She did her best to support me from the beginning and she always had hope for my future. Dr. David Saders at the Victoria Hospital conducted my leg surgery and I wish nothing but the best for him and his career at the hospital.” Chantal also remembers the assistance from various other individuals whom she is forever grateful towards for helping her recover. “I would also like to thank Lisa Highgat from the London Police who helped give me hope and faith in myself along with Suzanne at the Cross Culture Learning Centre, Roxanne my worker, Sara who is an amazing teacher, and my good friends Miyuki, Mahwish, and Richard and his family. I also want to thank Monika who visited our class for school reports, Kaljunder who is my best friend from school, and Shila. Lastly, I would like to thank the Mayor of Woodstock for his story and inspiration.”
Furthermore, the Canadian Mental Health Association has been one of the most crucial factors in in Chantal’s recovery. “When I came to CMHA here in Woodstock, I was amazed at how well they were able to understand and communicate with me. They helped through providing me with counseling and ensuring me that I was not alone.” Chantal also elaborates upon how the crisis support team was one of the greatest influences in her recovery. “If all of the offices were closed and you had a problem, you could call crisis and share your problems with them. They are wonderful people. If you had an emergency and need someone to be there with you, they would assist you via phone by helping to encourage you, advising you through crisis intervention and assessments, keeping you calm, and genuinely supporting you until you felt better.” In particular, Chantal’s social worker at CMHA was able to provide the unconditional encouragement and support she needed through frequently meeting with her to chat, helping her with her groceries, and assisting her to her doctor appointments. And with her social workers’ incredible support, Chantal was beginning to improve more and more each day. Furthermore, other workers at CMHA aided in supporting Chantal during her toughest moments, ensuring full confidentiality and honesty when listening to her and providing her with appropriate advice.
Today, Chantal is in a much better place, as she has learned to come to terms with her past and focus on the bright future ahead of her. “I have learned to push myself and be honest with my mental illness and recovery. I exercise frequently to aid in my physical recovery and I make sure I keep good communication with my physicians. I believe that conversing with your doctor truthfully is important in your recovery because it allows them to understand your current symptoms and advise you accordingly.”
“Life is not difficult. It is the fear in life that does not allow you to become who you are and to fight through even the most horrible situations. I always told myself that I would never give up until I become me. I no longer suffer from anxiety, I no longer use medications to cope with my past, I no longer have flashbacks or triggers to my past, and I no longer fear anything. I feel so incredibly amazing and proud of myself that I had the strength to change my perspective pertaining to my past and myself to begin to work on becoming the woman I know I am. And today, I can say that I have succeeded.”