The art of giving: An interview with Margaret Stacey

Margaret Stacey has a long history in the arts and theatre community in Nelson. For 17 years, she managed the historic Capitol Theatre, a beautifully restored 426-seat gem that’s hosted a veritable catalogue of theatrical productions, from Annie to Oliver! to Sweeney Todd.

Her work at the Capitol Theatre, and later as a two-term City Councillor, has had an immeasurable impact on the town’s budding arts scene. However, I didn’t come to Nelson to talk with Margaret about her past day job. I’m here to ask her about what she does in her downtime.

For the 30-plus-years that Margaret has lived in Nelson, she has been creating art installations in her free time… and giving them all away. Her self-described “big canvas” pieces – ranging from wall-sized murals to theatrical set pieces to eight-foot-tall poster art – have all been donated over the years to local churches, theatres, schools, and to other good causes. I had the chance to speak with Margaret about her artistic contributions to the community, and what she’s learned along the way.

Margaret, you have been involved in Nelson’s arts and theatre community for years. Can you tell us one or two accomplishments you are especially proud of?

MS: I was privileged to become the first manager of a restored theatre facility in 1988, and one of the first orders of the first day was to establish summer youth theatre in Nelson. It grew wonderful legs and is still thriving, a musical production experience that more than a thousand kids have loved over the years. It was as important to surround them with real sets, fabulous costumes and lighting as it was to give them superb directors and musicians. There’s nothing minimal at the Capitol Theatre.

The template has influenced the development of other youth companies in theatre, music and dance, and I’ve been asked over the years how it worked so well. I think the tradition has re-animated the downtown core of Nelson in the summer; before 1988 it was pretty quiet on the main street in July. Now summertime is great for markets and street parties and busking entertainment.

The beautifully restored Capitol Theatre in Nelson, Margaret's stomping ground for two decades
The beautifully restored Capitol Theatre in Nelson, Margaret’s stomping ground for two decades

 

I also wanted to see more sculpture in the city. Big pieces. So I convinced my Rotary Club to commission an osprey family in bronze to be placed in the waterfront bay at Rotary Point. I was on the local team for the provincial BC Festival of the Arts 2000 and traditionally they kicked off the festival by lowering a grand piano by helicopter onto a plaza or lawn, at which point a virtuoso pianist would sit down and dazzle the gala event with music. Well, I thought it would be cool to bring in the osprey nest with chicks and lower it onto a piling in the bay for the opening event. So we did. The soaring moment was watching that helicopter come down the lake swinging the heavy bird nest from the sky to the waiting sculptor beneath who affixed it permanently to the piling. I heard in my head The Ride of the Valkyries… It was thirteen years later that sculpture really took off in the city through the work of the Cultural Development Commission. People really like the surprises that pop up every season.

It’s inspiring that you give most of your own artwork back to the community. Can you tell us how you’re using art to create positive change in Nelson?

MS: It is not an articulated mission of mine to create positive change. As a matter of fact, I am not strategic, and I think serendipity is as close to deliberate as I can get. I fall into things, things present themselves, and if I can wrap my imagination around it, I go for it. I do love projects though. I like to see things grow and happen.

Margaret, with some of the murals that cover the exterior back wall of the Capitol Theatre
Margaret, with some of the murals that cover the exterior back wall of the Capitol Theatre

 

What compelled you to start giving your art to the community?

MS: I think the first project happened when I was fifteen and a church teen dance needed cartoons on the walls, lots of them. In university, I remember other students asking me to paint mushrooms or flowers on apartment walls in those psychedelic years. Of course I loved the praise and learned quickly to show off, but it was also an early lesson in bravery and I made some friends.

It was easy to adapt to theatre scenic painting, and at the Capitol, I would take a break from the paid job description of managing the facility to go design or paint a set. I remember doing about 30 six-foot character cartoons for the performers of a production in Cranbrook. My kids’ school needed a 30 by 20 foot rendering of Monument Valley for a western party event, the exterior back wall of the theatre needed mementos of productions over 17 years, and recently the Nelson Business Association needed a downtown streetscape for the arrival of Santa. Then my daughter asked for six panels to decorate a gala, as well as a stand-in photo panel for a horse race fundraiser, and another photo backdrop with little royal people for a huge princess party. The Rotarians got five bridge vistas last month to decorate their bridge-themed district conference, and for a low-cost housing project fundraiser lately, I created an 11 foot building with windows that represented funded units. My church had a concrete block wall face that always depressed me, so I made a 30-foot sunburst that has underlaid the creative work of a decor team from Christmas to Pentecost this year. The next project is a photo stand-in for the Kootenay Coop with giant vegetables. Theatre productions have asked for large pieces from time to time: a ten foot Augustan banner centrepiece for Jesus Christ SuperStar, a large fruit cart for Cabaret, the old-fashioned interior of a Chekhov house.

I like big canvases, coreplast, plywood, set flats or bare walls, long rolls of paper, house exteriors, big cut outs, photo stand-ins; small blank pages intimidate me. I use whatever I’ve got around – acrylic paint mostly, and I keep a standard bright colour selection in the basement. I do the work on the dining room table, back porch, lawn, kitchen floor – comes from having to do it quickly with a lot of children about. I have rarely been paid to do the pieces, and any money may have covered the cost of paint. I have none around the house and a scant photo record. I tend to give it all away, and stage pieces usually get recycled.

30-foot sunburst installation at the Nelson United Church
30-foot sunburst installation at the Nelson United Church

 

From your experience, what is it about art that’s so beneficial to a community?

MS: I’ve seen the work of the fantastic technically excellent artists in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec. They love their little city and portray it vibrantly, promoting it with regional pride to themselves and tourists. City Hall uses their masterpieces on all materials instead of photos. Some communities use themed art and architecture, but I think that wouldn’t go over very well in Nelson, as the city is pretty diverse, and people come here from so many different places. The creations are diverse, like the residents.

It sounds trite to say, perhaps, that the community is reflected in the art, whether it’s great or not, and the art reflects back and defines the people in the community. If Nelson is full of amazing event posters, that says something about us; if we embrace many walls of graffiti, that says something about us. If we had many expensive galleries, that would say something about us. If the art is theatrical, that is something else too. No matter what the images are, the more you get people in a community looking at the same thing, the more it engages them with one another and unifies, whether it be through a performance or music or visual art.

Imagine for a moment that you could wave a magic wand and instantaneously transform Nelson into the picture-perfect arts community. What would it look like?

MS: I think it is pretty fine right now. I like the surprises and the diversity and the independent thinking around here; I like the noise, the music, the colours, the costumes and the garden art. It is really quite theatrical in so many ways. People here like to restore heritage houses and it gives me great pleasure to see that and do it myself – I am on my fourth right now. That’s another kind of big canvas that, more than anything, reflects who we are and gives us a sense of place. And for all of us, it says we were there, we made our mark, like the ancient cave folks.

Art writ large - one of Margaret's home restoration projects
Art writ large – one of Margaret’s home restoration projects

 

For years, you have given your energy and creativity to the betterment of Nelson. What keeps you giving back, year after year?

MS: I have lived in other places over the years – Montreal, Vancouver, Kamloops, Cranbrook. I liked to imagine I was going to live in each place for the rest of my life, so with that commitment, diving into the community was fun, particularly the smaller ones where I could really use projects as a way of getting to know people. I also like to harness children and young people into things – teachers never quit doing that, right? I have always thought that the process was the most important thing, and if that was good, the product would follow. When I say process, I mean the human engagement. So this little arts gig I am following randomly right now may be something I can enjoy and be engaged in for another thirty years if my eyes and hands hold up.

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from all your community work?

MS: If a person has skills of any kind, there’s always a way to use them, wake them up, try them out, hone them in some way to animate the surrounding sphere of influence. The water is fine – jump in.

Giving has a karmic boomerang effect: The more you give, the more that comes back to you. How do you think your charitable work has impacted your own life?

MS: I do not actually differentiate between charitable work and paid work. People do lots of charitable and unpaid time on jobs if they do them well. I think originally my volunteer work in community theatre was something to remind me that I was not only a mother of four busy kids, but also a person doing and learning as they were. They got an early and interesting window on the world when they came home from school to find something artsy and messy spread out on the floor, or costume pieces assembling on the dining room table. They critiqued and helped and enjoyed it. I now have a five-year old grand-daughter that likes to help and she is pretty darn good at it. I’ve also found some really good mentors through the years that have given me so much. Paying it forward, living in gratitude, passing it on; that is something I really feel way down deep.

Margaret in her happy place, behind the scenes at the Capitol Theatre
Margaret in her happy place, behind the scenes at the Capitol Theatre

 

Margaret, your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their community, and wants to make it a reality?

MS: Go for it. Launch. The details will come if it is right for the moment. If it seems too hard to achieve and everything grinds at it, it’s not its time yet. Talk it up and eventually somebody will tell you about it as if it is their own idea. You are contributing to the community’s lore and legend.

Margaret Stacey spent 17 years as the Manager of the Capitol Theatre in Nelson. After her time at the Capitol, she served for two terms on Nelson’s City Council. She also has been on the boards of Theatre BC, BC Festival of the Arts, and the BC Touring Council. Margaret was elected Nelson’s Citizen of the Year in 2000.

Changing the world through business, politics and music: An interview with Angela Nagy

At the age of eighteen, while on a camping trip with her dad, Angela Nagy had an epiphany. Gazing up at a sky full of stars, she decided right then and there to commit her life to changing the world. Her idea was to use business, politics and music to help make the world a better place. She just needed to figure out how to do it.

Fast forward to today, and this Kelowna resident has been one busy lady trying to make good on her teenage promise. And gauging by her many accomplishments, it is clear she’s on point.

With a career in municipal politics already under her belt by the age of 33, Angela turned her focus to business. In 2008, she co-founded GreenStep Solutions, a company that helps small and medium-sized enterprises become more environmentally sustainable. Her professional achievements, along with a series of community volunteer gigs too long to list, earned Angela the title of Kelowna’s Most Environmentally Dedicated Individual in 2012.

While in Kelowna, I had the opportunity to chat with Angela about her big life goal and how she’s making it happen.

Angela, I read that you have a big, audacious goal in life to “change the world through business, politics and music.” How did you first dream this up?

AN: I remember it clearly – it was a defining moment in my life. I was 18 years old and camping with my dad. I had recently been hired by the City of Kelowna for a project to preserve the ecologically sensitive banks of Mission Creek. As a result, I was actively researching how humans were negatively impacting the ecosystem and was shocked there weren’t more stringent policies in place to protect the environment. My shock quickly turned to anger and I began searching for ways to make a difference.

Laying in the grass and looking up at the stars from the campground, I saw two paths before me. One involved a more civil disobedience approach, perhaps working with Greenpeace. The other was trying to influence change from the “inside” using some of my skills and talents, and that is when I decided that my purpose in life was “to change the world through businesses, politics and music!” I have been actively working to fulfill this purpose ever since.

It’s impressive you were able to realize your life purpose at such a young age. Since then, how have you put it into practice?

AN: I really had no idea what achieving this goal looked like, but pretty much every decision I’ve made has been geared in this direction. At age 23, I began to take a serious interest in politics during the BC provincial election when I stumbled across the website for the Green Party of BC. I was immediately attracted to their platform and called to find out how I could help. I learned there wasn’t a candidate in the area, and the next day I called back and volunteered to run. After debating seasoned politicians and receiving 11% of the vote in conservative Kelowna, I was hooked!

I went on to run for the Green Party in two more provincial and two federal elections, and sat on both the Federal and Provincial Green Party Councils during that time. I was finally elected when I ran for Kelowna City Council in 2008, on a platform of sustainability. During all of the campaigning I knew that even if I wasn’t elected, I was still influencing hearts and minds with a new way of thinking. Then, as a City Councillor, I had the humbling experience of getting to affect real change and influence some major pieces of policy in Kelowna, such as the Official Community Plan and the Downtown Plan.

On the business front, I used to keep a file cabinet full of “business ideas” knowing that one day I would start something that would have a positive environmental and social benefit. It’s amusing to look back at those ideas now. In 2008, I finally figured out my niche and co-founded GreenStep Solutions Inc. We’ve worked with over 1,100 business to date and are in the process of taking two of our programs, Green Tourism Canada and ecobase Certified, across Canada and into the United States, with the goal of helping thousands of small and medium-sized businesses reduce their environmental impacts, while saving money at the same time.

Angela (second from left) and the GreenStep team volunteering at the 2014 Feast of Fields (Photo by Darrell Eason)
Angela (second from left) and the GreenStep team volunteering at the 2014 Feast of Fields (Photo by Darrell Eason)

 

The combination of music with business and politics is quite unique. Can you tell us how you’re using music to create positive change?

AN: Well, I’m a singer/songwriter, but with all the time spent on business and politics, I haven’t picked up my guitar or written a song for a long time, and all of my old stuff is about broken hearts or falling in love. However, my plan (there’s always a plan…for everything), is that sometime in the next five to seven years, when I sell my company, I’ll be able to focus on more creative pursuits. For me, writing music is something that comes straight from my heart, and I need serious inspiration. I have a two and half-year old daughter, Sage, and am expecting a son any day now. I think my inspiration will be my children, and all of the other children out there, who are going to be left with the big environmental mess created by previous generations. I feel a calling to write children’s music and stories, to help inspire them to be change-makers in their own lives.

Angela teaching her daughter Sage to love nature, with sister Colleen Reid (Photo by Chris Nagy)
Angela teaching her daughter Sage to love nature, with sister Colleen Reid (Photo by Chris Nagy)

 

Most of your professional work focuses on helping businesses to become more sustainable, all while improving profitability. What made you tackle environmental issues from a business standpoint?

AN: Business is the fastest ticket to change. In my experience, government change is too slow, and according to science, we don’t have very much time to make some massive shifts in how we do things in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s kind of a big deal.

Unlike governments, businesses are much more nimble. Small and medium-sized businesses, specifically, make up 98% of all businesses in North America. They also have a tremendous amount to gain from taking advantage of the business case for sustainability. Reducing their consumption of fuel, energy, water and other material inputs not only reduces their environmental impacts, it reduces their operating costs and increases profitability. One of my favourite authors on the subject of businesses sustainability is Bob Willard, and his research shows that businesses can improve profitability by at least 51% and up to 81% in only 3-5 years, with the strategic implementation of greener practices. That is huge and is why tackling environmental issues from a business standpoint makes a lot of sense. If businesses can start shifting their practices and influencing employees, consumers and governments, we just might change the world.

I’m curious, how do you live out your life goal outside of work?

AN: I try my best to practice what I preach in my personal life. The majority of our food is purchased through local certified organic farmers at the farmer’s market and through our weekly deliveries from Urban Harvest, and 98% of everything we eat at home is certified organic.

I’ve just finished planting a pollinator garden in our backyard, for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, along with our veggies, and I’m in the process of planting a little food forest. Of course, we compost and don’t use any chemical pesticides or herbicides.

After longing after an electric car for many years, I’ve just became the proud new owner of a Chevy Volt, allowing me to do the majority of my driving on clean hydroelectricity. Although we just moved out of the downtown core where I was less than a kilometre from my office, our new home’s location is within five kilometres from downtown, making cycling to work an easy choice.

Angela, your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?

AN: Just go for it! Arm yourself with knowledge and surround yourself with people who will both challenge and support you. Even the smallest positive changes will create a ripple effect that can inspire others to make shifts and changes of their own.

Angela Nagy is the CEO of GreenStep Solutions, a company that provides sustainability solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises. In 2008, Angela was elected to Kelowna City Council and appointed to the Board of the Regional District of the Central Okanagan.

Ride Don’t Hide: An interview with Michael Schratter

Back in 2010, Michael Schratter took a leave of absence from his job as a Vancouver school teacher, moved his worldly possessions into storage, said goodbye to his family and friends, and then set off on one heck of a bicycle ride.

Over the next year and a half, Michael would ride his Norco Cabot, loaded down with 105-pounds of gear and water, the equatorial distance of the globe. Cycling 40,000 kilometres in all, the Homeric odyssey took him through 33 countries and six continents, before returning home to Vancouver 469 days later.

His round-the-world solo bike ride was much more than a super-sized adventure, however. Fueling the trip was a highly personal cause. Driven by his experiences with bi-polar disorder, and the shame associated with it, Michael used his global tour to draw attention to the stigma surrounding mental illness. He called his journey Ride Don’t Hide.

After completing his trip, Ride Don’t Hide became an annual community bike ride in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association. This year, rides will be hosted on June 21st in 27 communities across Canada, with a goal of raising over $1,000,000 for youth and family mental health initiatives.

I recently talked with Michael about Ride Don’t Hide, and his experiences with sharing his own story about mental illness.

You started Ride Don’t Hide in 2010 with a very audacious personal challenge: To cycle 40,000 kilometres around the world to raise awareness for the stigma surrounding mental illness. What compelled you to take on such an epic journey?

MS: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the idea of cycling the globe for the simple pleasure of having a heck of an adventure. Previous to RDH I had a number of long-distance bike tours under my belt. The illusive idea of cycling around the world for an extended period of time was a dream that had been building for 15 years.

I had witnessed first-hand the impact that Terry Fox and later Rick Hansen had on drawing attention and much-needed funds to their respective causes. Like many people, I was drawn to the courage and perseverance of these men and their ability to challenge societal constructs that had previously negated cancer survivors and paraplegics to the sidelines of life as objects of sorrow. The spectacle of these two Canadian heroes overcoming their disabilities and doing seemingly insurmountable physical feats left me with the idea that perhaps some day I could hijack the same spectacle to draw attention to the absurdity of mental illness stigma and erase the notion that mental illness is a sign of weak character, mind, and resolve.

Michael riding through the Bolivian Andes during his 40,000 km bike ride around the world
Michael riding through the Bolivian Andes during his 40,000 km bike ride around the world

 

Your trek spanned 469 days, and crossed six continents and 33 countries. Can you tell us one of your favourite stories from the road?

MS: I will never forget waking up early on the first morning after the first night of the 16 month adventure. I had left Vancouver the day before and was now in Washington State near Bellingham in a cheap motel.

I am sure that many people when waking up in a foreign bed have a split-second thought of, “Where am I?” and then a moment later a realization they are on holiday abroad, or perhaps at a relative’s place.

That first morning I woke up from a night filled with vivid dreams of deep emotion with every muscle in my body aching from the hard cycling the day before. It wasn’t just a question of “Where am I?” It was one of “What have I done?”

I looked down at the foot of my bed, and there propped up against the wall between the TV and the small desk with a coffee maker on top was my impossibly loaded bike all geared up and ready to go. A wave of fear, panic, and exaltation washed over me like I had never felt before and have never felt since.

I had put a 15 year-old beautifully haunting dream into action. I had begun and there was no turning back. The next time I would be in my own bed, in my own home, in beloved Vancouver, would be over a year away. Or, perhaps, if bad luck would have it, never again.

Though I was trembling, a broad smile crossed my face. And I began to prepare for day two of my 500-day global ride.

Michael fixing his bike in Hong Kong before starting out in China
Michael fixing his bike in Hong Kong before starting out in China

 

You did the vast majority of your trip solo. How did you overcome the loneliness and isolation?

MS: The fear of being alone for extended periods of time was a very frightening aspect that had me worrying and procrastinating about doing a solo cycling trip across Canada when I was in my twenties. When I finally did the trip in 1993, the very thing that I feared the most was in fact what I missed the most upon completing that trip: Time alone to let my mind wistfully wonder and linger upon anything it desired.

So by the time of my departure for RDH in 2010, I was eagerly awaiting the alone time.

I tend to be a very social person who is often interacting with other people in work and play. My life is immersed in the company of others. So the isolation of long solo bike trips has offered me something that, prior to these trips, I didn’t know I was missing and now I was craving. For me, being alone on the open road is a meditative and almost spiritual experience.

That said, when one is bored or feeling lonely on the bike there are many silly ways to pass the time or to seek social interactions. Obviously an iPod loaded with audio books and music is a luxury I could not have done without. At other times, I would play little counting games or set small challenges for myself to break down the day.

True isolation for long stretches of time was less common and relatively easy to break. Sure, at times the language barriers had communication with locals as virtually nothing more than basic introductory words and a few utterances around my need for food and shelter. But I was in contact with my campaign team, family, friends, and my then girlfriend, and now wife Deborah So, on a semi-daily basis.

Whether through email, Facebook or Skype the world is always with you. Though at the time I was in need of the emotional connection offered through social media, I now look back and view some of my time on-line as lost moments of opportunity. If I could do it again, I would force myself to disconnect more often so that I could live in the moment, and appreciate and learn more from the unique communities I visited.

Michael's trusted lone companion, resting during a climb up the Colombian Andes
Michael’s trusted lone companion, resting during a climb up the Colombian Andes

 

After completing your journey, Ride Don’t Hide became an annual mental health awareness event in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association. How did Ride Don’t Hide transition from a one-man bike ride to a 6,000-person movement?

MS: The transition of RDH from one man’s global ride into a national annual campaign of many communities was made possible through one wise decision, aided by two powerful forces.

The wise decision didn’t take much thinking on my part. I simply had to let go of the RDH brand.

From the very beginning CMHA endorsed RDH and, as I progressed around the world, they put more resources into the campaign. That said, RDH was my brand. Upon completing the ride, we wanted to leverage the groundswell of media attention surrounding RDH into an annual anti-stigma campaign. But creating an annual campaign of significance was something that I could not do while teaching full-time and starting a family with my wife Deborah. So upon returning from my global journey, I immediately gave the RDH brand to CMHA so they could build on it. And build on it they did! The following year saw two community RDHs in British Columbia with hundreds of cyclists participating. I knew I had made the right decision to let go of my baby.

Following that first RDH in 2012, two forces have taken the campaign on a trajectory of about 50% growth per year.

RDH’s quick and intense growth was made possible through the fact that CMHA is Canada’s largest, oldest, and arguably the most respected non-profit mental health advocacy organization in the country. With over 100 branches in every province and territory, CMHA has a network of employees, volunteers, and branch offices that has enabled RDH to expand quickly.

The second force that helped RDH catch on and grow is something less tangible. With medical advancements helping us understand the brain and social media connecting us and dissolving our differences, society was ready for a new construct of the human condition. More than ever before, we are now accepting all the expressions humanity has to offer: From gender blurring sexuality, to interracial couplings, to seeing physical abilities as opposed to physical disabilities. The stigma surrounding mental illness was ripe for the picking, ripe for the destroying.

Over a thousand cyclists ready to start at Ride Don't Hide in Vancouver
Over a thousand cyclists ready to start at Ride Don’t Hide in Vancouver

 

You have gone public about your own experiences with bi-polar disorder. How difficult was it to first talk publicly about this? 

MS: The hardest part of RDH wasn’t the thousands of kilometres of road, nor the isolation, nor the extreme weather. The hardest part of RDH occurred before I left.

Prior to the campaign, only my immediate family and tightest circle of friends knew that I was bipolar. To go into my employer’s office and speak of my mental health challenges, and that I wanted to start this “crazy” anti-stigma campaign… To have that first RDH newspaper column written in Vancouver 24 Hours, a newspaper read by 250,000 people daily… And to sign off on that column with, “I am Michael Schratter and I am bipolar.” I was shaking like a leaf during much of that first month when I came out publicly with my mental health challenges. The fear of being judged, of being ostracised and banished was so strong. At times I would sob to the depths of my core, not out of fear but rather of relief. The catharsis was overwhelming, the weight off of my back felt so light. The end of my hiding, the end of some three decades of hiding. Ride don’t hide!

When not cycling the globe, Michael is a teacher and part-time journalist in Vancouver
When not cycling the globe, Michael is a teacher and part-time journalist in Vancouver

 

How do you think sharing your own personal story has impacted others?

MS: The premise behind RDH, and something I have tried very hard to model, is the idea that if one person takes the first step in breaking the silence of the stigma, then others will also find it possible to be courageous to be open.

And the idea worked right from the beginning.

Before I left on the global ride, the campaign team threw an up-scale launch party and fundraiser at a swank art gallery in Vancouver. Soon guests were two and half glasses into their wine and chatting away. But instead of the usual light conversation one would expect, people were having these wonderfully frank conversations about mental health. The space had been deemed safe for the disclosure of mental health stories, and now people were letting go of the burdensome weight they had been carrying, the weight that comes with being silenced for so long.

Later, after disembarking on the global tour, the emails, the face-to-face conversations, and the Facebook updates started pouring in. Almost all these conversations revolved around the same theme: letting go.

Though the conversations have continued, those early days back in the summer of 2010 will always be seared wonderfully in my mind – to see people feeling free of their shame, their guilt, and their fear. For people to stand up and say, we are changing our course of travel towards a direction of better understanding and acceptance. And it will be okay.

This is what Ride Don’t Hide is all about.

How has sharing your personal story about mental illness changed your own views?

MS: Sharing my own personal story has had a great impact on my well-being in two ways.

At an immediate level, RDH has lifted away the shame, confusion, and fear of who I am. To a certain degree we are all products of our past. For me, growing up in “small town BC” in the 1980s while dealing with a mental health challenge was not easy. It was not exactly a progressive time or place to open up about my difficulties. The mental illness stigma created very powerful and heavy negative emotions.

The stigma was heaviest as a teen and later in my twenties. As I grew up, I became more and more confident with myself. But I have to say, it wasn’t until my early forties – after completing RDH, and after the campaign was so well received – that the shame I felt fully lifted.

The second way sharing my personal story has changed my view is in the act of viewing itself. Until very recently, the “story” of mental illness was portrayed and thus viewed very negatively. It was a story told by extremes. This was a false portrayal, a false view if you will. One-in-five people in Canada deal with a mental illness of a varying degree in a given year. That’s roughly seven million Canadians. Obviously, if all the afflicted were dangerous, or incompetent at best, our nation would be in a state of crisis.

The vast majority of people who deal with a mental illness are productive, competent, well-balanced individuals who have careers, families, and friends. Unfortunately, the masses understandably stay silent and hide, as they don’t want to be associated with the powerfully destructive portrayal of mental illness. It is only until the bulk of these seven million choose to stop hiding and come into view that the accurate story of mental illness can be revealed and the stigma dissolved.

Starting a movement is hard work. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change and wants to make it a reality?

MS: Two things to remember:

  1. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
  2. Enrol others in your dream.

Starting any entrepreneurial (social) project requires a person to be confident enough with their vision to take the first step to make it real. The key is not to let the long exciting road ahead loom so large and daunting as to prevent the first little step forward – a first step that can be any small task that progresses your vision along. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

Enrolling others in your dream starts to make it real.  Whether a spouse, a partner, or a friend, find one person who is supportive and tell them your idea. Enrol them into your vision and have them believe in it.

No man is an island unto himself. Always remember that it can’t be done alone, nor does it need to be. In my opinion, no matter how passionate and intelligent you might be, it is imperative to realize that you can’t build your vision by yourself. There simply isn’t enough time in the day. Not to mention, there are others who are more talented than you at certain tasks that need to get done. And lastly, get constructive criticism along the way. Leaders need feedback more than anyone!

Finally, how can people get involved with Ride Don’t Hide?

MS: If you are interested in becoming part of the Ride Don’t Hide movement as a rider, volunteer or sponsor, please go to www.ridedonthide.com or contact me personally at michael@ridedonthide.com.

Michael Schratter is a Vancouver School Board teacher, part-time journalist and the founder of Ride Don’t Hide. In 2010, Michael cycled the equatorial distance of 40,000 km through 33 countries and six continents to raise awareness around the absurdity and inhumanity of mental illness stigma. Today, Ride Don’t Hide has become Canada’s largest annual participatory mental health awareness event.