Doug Johnson—aka "Dougie"—has been a staple in downtown Peterborough for many years. He is a kind and generous homeless man who has endeared himself to so many with his smile, kindness and gentle nature.
Up until recently, not many people knew his story—as they don’t with most homeless people, all who have their own unique backstory. They only knew fragments of what had been cobbled together from those that know him.
Photo of Doug via Dana’s Facebook post
But that all changed on May 1st, when his daughter, Dana—most people weren’t aware Dougie had kids—did a heartfelt and brave Facebook post (see below) after how his mental illness has, in many respects, robbed her of her father—an “incredibly unique human being,” she says.
”Schizophrenia and addiction took our true connection,” she writes in the Facebook post. “This is something I struggled understanding as a little girl, and even now as an adult. As much as I recognize this is the journey his spirit was meant to take, it has always been hard for me to admit to just anyone… It’s hard to love someone with an illness, it’s exhausting emotionally. When I’m near him I melt, I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m protective, I’m reactive, because there is so many emotions I’m making my way through it’s like my heart and head are in overdrive.”
Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)
You can read her entire Facebook post embedded below which received hundreds of shares on Facebook (after all, everyone knows Dougie and have been touched by him in some way) and then her story for PTBOCanada which traces more of her journey with her Dad, and the tremendous impact her social media post has had on so many.
MY FATHER DOUG: IN DANA’S OWN WORDS FOR PTBOCANADA READERS…
My recent post about my dad Doug Johnson got a lot of feedback on Facebook, and since then I’ve been asked to elaborate on who I am by PTBOCanada, and why this was something I decided to bite my lip, hold my breath and post.
Trust me, it was not easy.
I am Dana Johnson, born in Peterborough on June 25th, 1986. I currently live in Calgary, Alberta where I drive a truck for the City of Calgary and where I’m also an artist with Maskcara.
From the time I was 11, I sang across Ontario and a few times in Nashville. Jobs were sparse for me and most day-jobs don’t love when you take weekends off for music endeavours.
I chose to move to Alberta to make a life for myself here. A lot of my mother’s side of the family had moved west, and moving to Alberta brought me closer to my brother in Victoria. My brother is an EOD in the Canadian Navy and travels the world, doing very top secret Navy stuff! (Which is the coolest thing ever.)
Doug in happier times with his children (Dana at right)
I met my husband when I moved to Calgary, and he has two beautiful children. We got married in October of 2017, in Fish Creek Park. It was a small ceremony, in the woods with our mothers, the children and two friends. My brother was in between Victoria and Ontario and made a quick weekend stopover. It was always my dream to have him walk me “down the aisle” as he is one of my heroes in life.
When my dad, Doug, was 28, he fell ill with a cold from what I understand—and that together with working hard, enjoying his evenings at parties and recently having his first born caused something to snap in him. Still, he would lend a hand to anyone who asked.
The loss of his grandfather was likely the final straw, and something happened in his mind. Nobody really knew what it was; it was just speculated that he had a mental breakdown. However after he was monitored for a while, the doctors deemed the mental breakdown as a meltdown which was a result of no rest. Some would call it burning the candle at both ends. Somehow schizophrenia had paired with it, which explained why he was acting euphoric.
Doug in his younger years (photo courtesy of Dana for PTBOCanada)
After that incident, he got better with the help of amazing doctors. They found a medication that worked for him. He was doing really well and that’s when my parents decided to have another baby. That baby was me.
However with schizophrenia, you have to take your medication. That didn’t always happen. My dad continued to work hard, play hard and things went down hill for a while.
My mom decided she needed to take care of herself and their children. Her father was worried for her safety, and had offered his support to leave after my dad was found in my mom’s parents house, trying to light a fire in the corner of the kitchen. My mom’s family loved my dad, he was respectful, kind and caring. He was exactly who he is today, without his mental illness.
Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)
Since then, I have watched my father go from having a beautiful family, and then through another divorce, to living on the streets.
It’s never been easy, but every time I had the chance to spend time with him, I wholeheartedly opened up and loved on him—from Christmas dinners, weddings, funerals and running into him on the streets.
My father is my Monarch Butterfly. Why? Because growing up, spending time at his home, he always had them, dehydrated in coasters or sitting in his china cabinet. So anytime I see a butterfly, he is on my mind.
Photo via Dana’s Facebook post
On my 21st birthday, I was at the beach in Cobourg near Peterborough where I lived at the time, and a flock of Monarchs swarmed me and then flew off. In my heart, I knew that was my dad wishing me a happy birthday.
That same day I went to Peterborough for a birthday dinner, and as I was jumping out of my boyfriend’s Jeep running into different restaurants to see if they had any birthday specials, I saw him.
It was the first time I ever saw my dad on the street. As I walked towards him, with open arms, I said, “Hi dad”. We hugged and awkwardly made our way through a conversation to which I explained it was my birthday.
Looking down at his plastic container, with the contents of change and cigarettes, he raised his hand and offered me a Pixy Stix and said, “Here, have this. Happy birthday.” I declined, which was difficult. Instead I hugged him again and waved goodbye. As I got into my boyfriend’s Jeep, I was overcome by emotion and broke down into tears. I still to this day regret not inviting him to eat with me.
Since the authenticity post I made on Facebook, I’ve had so many people reach out. The one thing they all have in common is how much he is loved by his friends and the community in Peterborough.
People have opened up to me and shared their personal journey as a daughter or son, mother or father expressing the feelings associated with learning how to deal emotionally with mental illness.
Photo via Dana’s Facebook post
What I’ve learned from being vulnerable is we are not alone, we are all different, and we all desire to be accepted and accept ourselves fully in this journey we call life.
No one is perfect. We will fail, but how will we get up and dust ourselves off to make amends?
Taking care of our needs and mental stability is so important. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to not feel ashamed to ask for help, not to hide, or stuff all the feelings way down deep. Because when it blows up, it could be life changing.
At 32, I can honestly say, growing up, I was afraid to “catch” this mental illness, not ever truly knowing why my dad did.
Today I recognize how important it is to step back, take a deep breath and lay down my cards. Because we aren’t playing life, life plays for us, it’s how we overcome our obstacles.
I am honoured to hear all the love Peterborough has for my father, the way I have that same love for him—not in spite of his illness but because he brought me into the world and he is a part of who I am.
This situation is very unique, as some people are faced with this illness at a very young age. My father had the good fortune to have a healthy adolescence. He was a social director for his high school, where he would scout bands to play at dances.
After high school was over, he had many jobs: He worked at a slaughterhouse; as a contractor building fences in new subdivisions; and at the GM truck plant. He worked for his dad his whole life helping at his farm, and he got married and started a family before he was diagnosed.
I appreciate the love and support everyone has been so kind to give to me. This is something I have worked through my entire life, and I don’t feel the need to hide it anymore. It will help more people if I’m honest and transparent then keeping it tucked away.
If you have questions or concerns about a loved one, or about yourself, please send me a DM on Facebook. I’m here for you, as you have been here for me.
The CrossFit Kawartha team won the coveted Cup for the third year in a row on February 23rd at the Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre. Hosted by Fleming faculty member Jodi Stevens and students in Fleming College’s Pre-Service Firefighter, Paramedic, Customs Border Services and Police Foundations programs, the event features six-person, co-ed teams that are given eight different first responder fitness challenges to complete over eight hours. The team with the fastest cumulative time over all eight circuits wins the cup.
Photo courtesy Fleming College
“I am blown away by the incredible athletes that battled their hearts out for eight hours in support of mental health,” says Jodi Stevens. “This year’s event was the largest to date and participants surpassed our fundraising exceptions. I am so proud of our students, our volunteers and all the athletes that competed.”
Students initiated the First Responders Cup in 2017 after taking a mental health class that discussed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the policing profession. The students wanted to eliminate stigma around the topic and help bring awareness to the community.
While the event has drawn big crowds in the past, organizers hope this year will be even bigger as they embrace the opportunity to showcase the community’s passion for suicide awareness and mental health to the Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario’s Minister of Health, who is expected to be in attendance.
From left to right: Dave Pogue from Team 55, Jack Veitch from CMHA and Jeff Challice from TASSS.
At the opening ceremonies, this year’s special guest will be speaker Neil Sanderson of Three Days Grace. The Canadian band, including the Adam Scott alumnus, is about to embark on a European tour before returning for a Canadian tour in late November.
Friday Night Lights begins September 21st at noon with games and a barbeque, and the Open Ceremonies start at 6 p.m. The main event kick-off is at 7 p.m. For more on Friday Night Lights and Team 55, watch this recent interview we conducted with Dave Pogue on PTBOCanada show…
Dave's son Mitchell took his own life in 2013, and shortly thereafter he decided to start the Team 55 program after approaching the Canadian Mental Health Association local chapter. He had no idea at the time the impact it would have, as the program is going stronger than ever since its inception more than five years ago.
Watch the episode below as Pogue—also President of the Peterborough Petes—talks about Team 55, Friday Night Lights, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Petes and community love...
Recognizing the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the physical, the Peterborough Petes have added a Mental Performance Coach to this year's team, bringing on Brenley Shapiro to their staff.
A Toronto-based Sport Psychology and Performance Consultant, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Certified Sports Vision Trainer, Shapiro’s program combines theories of cognition and behaviours into mental skills training, along with scientific strategies using state-of-the-art technologies to strengthen neurocognitive processing.
“The mind leads the body,” says Shapiro. “My goal is to teach the players how their mind impacts their performance by providing them with tips and strategies that will build a mindset for success.”
Shapiro has extensive experience and a specialized focus in work with hockey teams and players at every level from minor hockey through to the OHL, KHL, AHL and NHL. She has also been involved with the OHL Combine, U15 Program of Excellence, and sits on the expert panel for the Coaches Association of Ontario. She is a published author, keynote speaker, and the Mental Performance Spokesperson for Gatorade Canada.
On Saturday, January 7th during the Peterborough Pete’s game—dedicated to mental health awareness—Bell Let’s Talk presented YWCA Peterborough Haliburton with a $15,000 grant from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund. The grant will support the "Saying Yes: Better Serving Abused Women with Mental Health Issues" program at YWCA Crossroads Shelter.
“YWCA is proud to receive a Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund grant to support the work YWCA Crossroads Shelter does every day to help more women with mental health and addiction issues," says Jen Cureton, YWCA Director of Philanthropy & Communications.
The $15,000 grant—along with a donation from The Peterborough Foundation and other private donors—will support ongoing staff training as they continue to work on “Saying Yes” to women with complex issues.
“Bell Let’s Talk is so pleased to support programs like ‘Saying Yes: Better Serving Abused Women with Mental Health Issues’ and the tremendous work being done by the YWCA Crossroads Shelter,” adds Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let’s Talk. “This $15,000 grant to the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton is one of more than 70 2016 Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund grants made to organizations helping people living with a mental illness in every region of the country.” If you or someone you know needs help, call YWCA day or night at 1-800-461-7656
About 450 people packed into Trentwinds International Centre in Peterborough on Monday night (November 21st) for an Intimate, special night called "An Evening With Landsberg and Friends" in support of Sick Not Weak and Team 55 Tackles Suicide Awareness.
Celebrities such as Michael Landsberg, Theo Fleury, Jennifer Hedger, Andrew Jensen and Clint Malarchuk spoke with raw honesty to the hushed crowd about their mental health struggles, and the need for compassion and acceptance. "People are fighting battles that you know nothing about, so be kind," Malarchuk said.
The event was trending on Twitter in Peterborough, and here are just a few of the tweets that went out last night and today...
One of the guests in attendance, Laura Crann, summed up this powerful night this way:
"It was truly inspiring when the whole room of 450 people quietly listened to each guest share their stories. Every single person in that room truly reflected on their own lives or thought of someone who lives with mental illness."
Perhaps the most impactful line of many on the night came from the resilient final speaker Theo Fleury, who said this: “You can’t help if you don’t have compassion. Please tell someone about what you experienced tonight.”
It was a cathartic night for all in attendance, giving another huge step forward for the mental health movement in Canada. One can imagine this "An Evening With Landsberg & Friends" in Peterborough becoming a sort of travelling roadshow across Canada, having an impact across the country and keeping the conversation going.
Watch these vlogs Landsberg did shortly after the event talking about what this night meant to him...
Learn more about the mental health resources available in the Peterborough area by visiting the Canadian Mental Health Association's local chapter here.