KITCHENER, Ont. -- Barry Shainbaum's struggle with mental illness led him to broadcasting and the launch of his radio show on Faith FM seven years ago.
Faith FM, a Kitchener-based not-for-profit radio station, asked Shainbaum if he was interested in hosting his own show after contacting him to be a guest on another program.
Shainbaum's show began in 2005 with a focus on the Jewish community and issues pertaining to the Middle East. It has evolved over the years to feature a wide range of topics -- from the 9/11 attacks to stories of abuse -- and diverse guests whose faith and strength against adversity inspire listeners.
But what not all listeners may realize is Shainbaum's life is as inspiring as the guests he interviews.
At the age of 18, Shainbaum began having hallucinations and delusions, causing him to spend a summer in a psychiatric ward at Hamilton General Hospital.
It took another four years and a second breakdown before he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"I was told I would be sick for the rest of my life," Shainbaum said.
Living with mental illness in the 1970s, the stigma associated with the disorder was not only felt by Shainbaum but his family and friends as well. The diagnosis, however, did help him get the medication and psychotherapy needed to control his symptoms and stave off depression.
While living with the disorder created an additional challenge in starting his life as a young adult, Shainbaum found a path for himself in photography.
But in October 1986, after finding some success and stability, Shainbaum went through another breakdown. During what he calls a dark depression, Shainbaum stopped working, had a run-in with the law and in May 1988 ended up living a psychiatric boarding house in Toronto.
"My life was hell," he said.
What got Shainbaum through those dark times was his ability to find hope and faith in himself, accompanied by the belief somehow he would overcome depression.
"What I've learned is that the tiniest step forward is a tiny step forward and tiny steps forward become larger steps forward," he said.
Shainbaum's determination to never give up despite his hardships eventually paid off. Riding the bus one day in 1989, he said he felt he was no longer sick and was free of bipolar disorder.
With support from his doctor and parents, Shainbaum went off medication for the last time and never looked back.
As he rebuilt his life, Shainbaum rediscovered his passion for photography and spent three years compiling a book featuring inspiring figures such as Nelson Mandela and Jane Goodall.
Shainbaum also began working as an inspirational speaker and volunteering with mental health organizations in Toronto to help others find the faith and hope they need to overcome the challenges of living with mental illness.
"It's knowing that you have to meet life halfway, you have to put the effort out," said Shainbaum of his current attitude toward life.
Looking back at what he went through, Shainbaum said he thinks of his mother's saying -- "Dear, things happen for a reason" -- in coming to terms with the past.
"Why did I have to suffer so much? It was meant to be," he said.
"Without the suffering, I wouldn't be doing what I do today."
Shainbaum's radio show Perspectives airs Sundays on Faith FM. Podcasts of his show can be found on his website (www.barryshainbaum.com).
-- The Canadian Press