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Paulie O'Byrne

Paulie: "I now know that help was out there the whole time"

Born in Halifax, Paulie O'Byrne is a force to be reckoned with. Believing it's possible to smash the stigma, have a new conversation within our home, and ultimately change the game for those affected by mental illness and addiction, Paulie O'Byrne created the "I'm 1 in 5" Movement and is currently a London, ON local!

What is the “I’m 1 in 5” campaign?

The I'm 1in5 campaign is something I started about 5 years ago. I never imagined it would ever blossom into what it has. It’s an online vehicle for inspiration, motivation, education, healing, and recovery. We also have a website ( where I write blogs about some things I've learned on my journey. I'm 1in5 is the statistic for Canadian men directly affected by sexual victimization. Also is the stat for Canadians living with a mental illness and/or addiction. I'm 1in5 to me is much more than a stat, it’s a place of identifications and a foundation of  "we are no longer alone". Everyone knows 5 people, right?

What inspired you to launch the idea?

In the summer of 2011, I was invited to play in a golf tournament with Theo Fleury and realized that weekend how little resources we have in Canada. I left thinking "there has to be something I can do”. I'm 1in5 was something that started on an ipod and me telling 6 of my buddies what i was going through. To date, the Facebook page has over 5400 "likes". I'm 1in5 was something that helped me educate myself as well as publicly share my story with the world. I'm continuously being inspired by what we have been able to do with I'm 1in5, as it’s given me some purpose and has launched me a career in public speaking. Since I started the I'm 1in5 campaign, I estimate I’ve spoken to over 100,000 people across Canada at events and conferences. I'm so very humbled each and every time I receive those opportunities.

Last year you made a huge decision to stick handle across Canada to raise awareness for your cause, can you talk a bit about that?

In May 2015, I put my words into action. I travelled across the country in a 1983 RV to get to Victoria B.C. I had set out to the universe that I wanted to walk across Canada with my hockey stick and with the dream to raise awareness but also 1 million dollars. My hope was to give half of it to agencies that were underfunded, and with the other half I would start the purchase and construction of a healing retreat centre in Ontario. So getting to Victoria was a 4 and a half year journey in itself. With a ton of media coverage and countless interviews, I set out from “Mile Zero” in British Columbia and headed east. It wasn't long after I started that physically, I was not healthy enough to continue. I became very sick, and had to return to Ontario after a month on the road. Subsequently, I've had multiple surgeries and procedures done on my esophagus, stomach, bowel, and colon. We seem to be turning a corner with it, as I'm gaining weight and energy everyday. I want it to be known that the #Im1in5CrossCanadaTour isn’t over.  It will continue, I wholeheartedly believe it will. With any massive dream that comes to a halt, it’s a great time to reevaluate our approach and training regime.

If you could go back and convince your younger self to get help earlier, what would you say?

I now know that help was out there the whole time. Even when I was younger. For me and my own different scale of diseases, you could have put Dr. Phil McGraw in front of me and I probably would have still stayed silent. If anything though, I would go back to my younger self and tell that young boy that he is believed, loved, supported and encouraged, and that with resilience comes resolution.

Are there any go-to mantras that you say to yourself when life feels overwhelming?

Sometimes for me the hard truth is that I'm going to live with P.T.S.D., social anxiety, and clinical depression for the rest of my life. The great truth about that is that I don't have to live with it alone. For me, I've gained strength from my pain. So a hashtag that has caught on, and that I use every day, is #StrengthFromPain. It solidifies that I can get stronger almost in spite of my pain. Pain demands to be felt, and I will always try and draw some sort of strength from that vulnerability. Knowing #ItsPossible is another one I use daily. I just need to know it's possible to live a productive life with the diagnoses that I live with.

If there was one thing you could tell someone who doesn’t understand mental illness/addiction, what would it be?

Unfortunately we still have so much ignorance and arrogance when it comes to people who don't understand that Addiction and Mental Illness are diseases. I would strongly suggest that those people spend sometime at a soup kitchen, or a homeless drop in centre. Not to scare them, but to show how far the disease reaches. I always say "I didn't wake up one day and shove a needle in my arm to see if being an addict was for me. I needed to escape the pain and chaos of my own disease. It was really my only option that I was educated on. I would ask them to look at us with kindness and compassion.

Are there any coping strategies/activities that you have found really helpful?

Coping is very individualized. For me, I've found writing helps me get things out of my head and it also allows me to put my dreams and goals out to the universe. I've written some music as well as play a lot of guitar - it may be my second favourite coping tool. What's #1? For me when I'm at the hockey rink, on the ice, nothing else matters.  We all have different skills and talents and if we use those productively, we can really change the world.  We can use our pain or chaos and turn that into something life-changing, not only for us, but for countless others.

What advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed with a mental illness or substance use disorder?

I think the first step once you've been diagnosed is to become aware that you are not alone. I fully, wholeheartedly believe that support is an important key when you're first going through the confusion of being diagnosed with a mental illness - not only at the start, but all the time. A solid support system can be great to help "untangle" what you may be going through.Thank you so much for allowing me to be apart of this. I'm beyond grateful. Visit me on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram (@Paulie1in5).I believe you!!#MuchLove

Photo by Jorge Polio