Marcus and his family: Learning to trust the recovery process
In 2017, Marcus thought he was like every other boy at school. “You could say that I was on top of the world,” he says. “I had just lost forty pounds, and was going to meet with graphic designers and artists to start up YouTube businesses and things like that.”
Along with the successes, Marcus was also experiencing a lack of sleep and stressors in other areas of his life. “I believe the term is hypomanic,” says Marcus, but he didn’t know that at the time. The culmination of events led to Marcus having his first manic episode.
Getting the diagnosis
Marcus, who lives at home with his mom and dad, was met at home one day by the RCMP, who recognized Marcus was having severe problems with his mental health. They advised Marcus’ dad, Christopher, that he take Marcus to the hospital. Marcus eventually agreed.
Marcus and his family were completely in the dark as to what his condition might be. His mom, who was in New York visiting her daughter at the time of the episode, describes how helpless she felt. “When you have a child, you think you can take everything away from them. Make everything better for them. And you’re just helpless.” After asking herself questions — what didn’t I do right? How can I help him? — she realized a need to step back. “There’s a point where you want to take full responsibility, but then there’s a point where you have to let go as well,” she says. “You have to let them find their way.”
Marcus was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. “He was in the hospital for three weeks and one day” says mom, slightly smiling. “Not that I was counting or anything.”
The Culinary Skills Training Program
Marcus was enrolled into the B.C. Early Psychosis Intervention Program (EPI), where he was offered several opportunities. “That journey took me and my family through a lot of learning and a lot of growth,” says Marcus. It was through EPI that Marcus was introduced to the Culinary Skills Training Program at Coast Mental Health. The program, made available through the generosity of donors, offers youth between ages 19 – 30 who are recovering from mental illness, or who experience barriers to training, coaching and work experience so they can pursue further education or a career in the culinary field.
Participants are paid throughout the four month program, where they work with Red Seal chefs in a professional kitchen environment to equip themselves with both culinary and essential life skills, such as communication and problem solving. “I don’t think there’s been another period in my life where I’ve worked on myself more,” says Marcus. “And I couldn’t have done that without the support from my parents and Coast Mental Health.”
For Marcus, even the daily SkyTrain commute was an essential part of his recovery. The program takes place at the Social Crust Café, a Coast Mental Health social enterprise in Downtown Vancouver. “After something so traumatic happens, that kind of train ride with its really nice view in the morning, the sun coming up, was part of the therapeutic experience for me,” says Marcus.
The program, which runs Monday through Friday, gives participants structure in their sometimes chaotic lives. “Now I’m a morning person and I can’t shake that,” says Marcus. “That structure is there and it’s thanks to this program.”
Before the Culinary Skills Training Program, Marcus was a fan of The Chef Show and Action Bronson’s online cooking show. Every weekend, Marcus and his family would host the ‘Big Breakfast’. “There would be Spanish scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, toast — the whole deal,” says Marcus. He wanted to learn to cook for his ‘passion project’ and to help with his YouTube business ambitions. When he heard about the Culinary Skills Training Program, he hoped it would be a great fit. “I had a blast,” says Marcus. “It’s a really fun experience that I’ll never forget.”
From left to right: Christopher, Chef Margaret, Marcus, Preeteela
A journey of trust and communication
Communication with his family has been a central part of the family’s journey towards recovery. “We’re very blessed with Marcus that he follows through on his medication,” says dad. “And he’s gotten really good at communicating whether he’s not slept well at night. And so what can we do?” By giving his family the heads up, they feel more able to help, be patient, and adapt to his needs.
“It’s definitely a learned process, reinforced by the Culinary Program,” says Marcus. Communication is an essential skill in any professional kitchen, but Marcus says he also built trust among his support team and peers. “Whatever struggles you may have, whatever recipe you may be doing, you can talk to them,” he says. “So that trust is there.”
Marcus’ parents have also had to learn to trust the process of recovery. “There’s been a lot of navigation, in figuring out how everything is going to be okay in the end,” says mom. “And even if it isn’t, we’re still all going to be together and strong.”
Once a week, clients taking part in the Culinary Skills Training Program focus on life skills. Marcus would meet with a social worker and an essential skills teacher to discuss school and career options. It was during these meetings that Marcus discussed his passion for the culinary world and building media for YouTube around food. He enrolled into Communications at Simon Fraser University, where he is still studying, and is considering enrolling onto a course at Vancouver Film School once he’s finished.
For Marcus, it’s important for him to talk about mental health.
“If you talk to anyone, you’ll find that they’ve come into contact with someone that has had a mental health issue,” says Marcus. “And I want them to know you can live an extraordinary and fulfilling life and have meaningful relationships, and have a wonderful career.”
Marcus acknowledges the love and support he receives from his family puts him in a place of privilege, but wants people to know there are resources ready to offer support, like the Culinary Skills Training Program at Coast Mental Health.