Meeting George Stroumboulopoulos: Part two

Erin Schulthies is the writer of Daisies and Bruises, a blog about "finding her way one step and one word at a time". After losing most of her youth to severe depression, she decided that since death was no longer an option, she had to find a way to live. This is it.

In case you missed Meeting George Stroumboulopoulos: Part One, I was invited along to the mindyourmind interview with the Canadian radio/tv star George Stroumboulopoulos on Friday, but I almost didn’t go. I was having a bad day and felt like staying at home and hiding from the world. Instead, I just made myself go because you can’t have great experiences if you don’t leave the house. Little did I know that meeting George would exceed my expectations and be just what I needed after all.

So, around 5:00, Diana (mindyourmind staff), Oline (volunteer) and I (volunteer) piled into Diana’s car and drove to Fanshawe College to interview George at 6:00. Around 6:20 one of the set-up crew members told us we’d probably only have five minutes with George because they had to do a sound check. That was disappointing to hear and so we quickly moved the film equipment to a nearby classroom that happened to be unlocked. At least that way, even a short interview would have fewer distractions and noise in the background. I realized I left my cellphone in my coat pocket on our chairs out front so I ran to get it. On the way back I could see that George had arrived and was doing a quick interview with Rogers TV. Minutes later it was our turn.

George walked into the room with such ease that I thought he was someone from the set-up crew again. I hadn’t expected him to come in solo, but there he was, shaking our hands and repeating our names once he heard them. He actually missed my name at first and so I repeated, “Erin” and thought to myself how cool it was that he actually made sure he’d gotten my name right. He said that he could chat until it was time to go on stage!

First of all he said that he was really happy to do the interview because mental illness is present in the lives of those he cares about, and from his short descriptions I knew he spoke our language. There’s a difference between those that have learned about mental illness through media and those of us who have experienced or witnessed it firsthand.

As George began to answer the interview questions my emotions changed rapidly: curiosity turned into anticipation which turned into awe. Then I was just dumbstruck because it was like he was talking to just me. Of course he was answering Oline’s questions and looking at all of us, and the camera, but his answers were so deep and all-encompassing. He wasn’t talking about mental illness, he was talking about the human condition, and what we need to do to help ourselves and help those around us. It felt like he was speaking to just me because I have been so thirsty for advice lately. Good advice, advice that acknowledges the pain in the world while holding on to hope and encouragement.

I was supposed to be tweeting on mindyourmind‘s twitter account but I couldn’t keep up with the wisdom George shared. Every single thing he said was impressive. “I’ve never seen a surfer try to control a wave,” he said when speaking about goals and the future. When he said that people can feel so ashamed of what’s happened in their lives but it isn’t their fault my eyes welled up with tears, despite my effort to hold them back. I could see that Diana was affected the same way.

It wasn’t just that George Stroumboulopoulos was a celebrity giving an exclusive interview. Here was a man who in his short 39 years of life had interviewed everyone from Margaret Atwood to Sarah Palin to Theo Fleury and had an equal amount of compassion and respect for them all. He didn’t have one bad word to say about anyone. Oh and guess who was his favourite interview of all time? KERMIT THE FROG. Beat that!

Our friend Pete from Miko Productions filmed the interview and it is posted here. I could go on gushing and paraphrasing George’s wisdom but I really want to you to experience it direct from the source. I guarantee you’re going to be as blown away as I am.

When the interview was over we took a picture for the mindyourmind wall of fame and I gave George a button I’d made with my business card. He was so enthused about the pin (it said “Just Follow the Music”) that he asked me to pin it on his collar so he could wear it on stage. Diana gave him her business card and he said that he wants to do everything he can to support mindyourmind because we are doing such important work.

The interview he gave onstage to the crowd of 200-odd people was great but it didn’t move me the way that the first interview had, possibly because I am not familiar with the radio/broadcasting world. He answered questions from the audience after that, giving advice and the odd hug to those who asked.

In the end I didn’t tell George the story that I’d planned on sharing. After all, I didn’t expect him to be that compassionate and encouraging; I had that story up my sleeve only to break the ice.

So what was the story? When I was seventeen I took a trip to Toronto with my friend Shawna. After paying for something at Urban Outfitters, I turned around to see George Stroumboulopoulos in line behind me. I stared, dumbstruck, as I tried to figure out where I recognized him from. It plagued me for the rest of the day. Eventually I just assumed that I knew him from the hospital, because anyone I knew that was older than me was from the hospital. I’d spent weeks on the psych ward and all the faces blurred together. So I went on thinking he was a mental patient like me until I saw him on MuchMusic as a VJ.

Shawna and I laughed about that story for a while and I’d vowed to tell George that story if I ever ran into him. As his career morphed into bigger and better things, like hosting his own talk show, I learned that he truly appreciated a great story. But when I finally did get to meet him on Friday, his understanding towards all walks of life made me understand that I don’t have to poke fun at myself to make my story count. I can’t say for sure but I doubt he’d be embarrassed if I told him I once mistook him for a mental patient like me. Maybe in response he would have just said, “Cool.”  Or else, “I’m so glad that we’re both doing better.”