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Charlie’s story – A recipe for recovery

Charlie laughs often. And when they laugh, you can’t help but laugh with them.

Yes, they. Charlie is transgender; they’re non-binary. In their own words, “Gender is a spectrum. It’s different for every person, but for me, identifying as non-binary is just a big old ‘no thanks!’ to gender roles. I’m not a woman or a man – I’m just me.” But that’s just the beginning of everything that Charlie is.

Charlie is witty, confident and likeable. They are a ukulele player; an actor; a singer in a queer choir; a writer; and, most recently, a graduate of Coast Mental Health’s Culinary Skills program.

“My occupational therapist recommended the program to me and I knew I needed something to get me out of the house. Otherwise, I would have just stayed in that funk for the rest of my life,” Charlie says, nodding.

Coast’s Culinary Skills program gives youth recovering from mental illness or with other barriers to employment training, mental health coaching and work experience so they can pursue a career or further education in the culinary field. Supported entirely by philanthropic funding, the program consists of a four-month culinary training program followed by a six-week practicum at Coast’s Cafe335

Charlie first encountered mental illness as a barrier when they started university. Depression had dug its claws in so deep that Charlie couldn’t imagine it could be overcome. “I’ve experienced mental illness since I was a kid, but this was the first time I couldn’t ignore it.”

Charlie needed more than something to get them out of the house. Charlie needed hope for a better future and Coast’s Culinary Skills program was the first opportunity that offered both.

For Charlie, it’s the wrap-around mental health support Coast offers along with culinary skills training that made the difference.

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“At first it was really stressful because I wanted to get everything perfect. I wanted to impress everyone so when I made a mistake, I was, like, (Charlie’s voice drops an octave) it’s the end of the world.”

“Every Friday at the beginning of training, we learned about mental health, coping strategies and stuff like that,” Charlie says. “When we first started I was like, I’m depressed – I don’t want to hear you talking about depression.”

As Charlie got to know the program better, they began to come around. “I thought, wow, this is actually really useful. Can you tell me about box breathing again?” Charlie says.

When Charlie progressed from training to the practicum in the cafe, having those supports and coping skills became even more important.

“At first it was really stressful because I wanted to get everything perfect. I wanted to impress everyone so when I made a mistake, I was, like, (Charlie’s voice drops an octave) it’s the end of the world.”

“I started having panic attacks and I thought, oh my god I can’t do this. And then I realized that I can’t avoid things – I have to deal with the repercussions when things maybe don’t go well and that’s just how you live life,” Charlie says.

For Charlie, the Culinary Skills program kick-started recovery from years of depression. Today, they are so much more than someone with lived experience of mental illness. Charlie’s someone with a brighter future – not to mention an infectious laugh.

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