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Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre​

33 Victoria Street North (in the town of Saugeen Shores)
Southampton, ON Canada N0H 2L0

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Open Doorways

An Introduction
This artistic project was conceived at the opening night of the 2018 Mental health installation art show. Melissa Comyn felt catharsis through creating art pieces reflecting on her own and her families mental health journey. John and Melissa wanted to include others in the process and hoped they would also find therapeutic release through art. The process to create the Open Doorways photography exhibit began with the participants sharing their personal experiences, this sharing became the driving force behind the images created.  After meeting together a visual story would gain direction.  Each participant became the art director.   Then, courageously they joined in the creative process to bring these images about. We would like to thank the participants because with out their bravery this would not have been possible. We would also like to thank the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, Cathy McGirr and Chris Irvine for their commitment to mental health issues and for giving us this venue to open the doorway to more conversations about mental health. All photography by John Comyn, assisted by artistic partner Melissa Comyn.
Explore Mental Health Through Photography
Building from the “Breaking the Silence” art installation in 2018, the “Open Doorways” exhibition is another art installation exploring mental health through the art of storytelling and visual imagery. The exhibition is the creation of Melissa Comyn, Mother, Registered Practical Nurse and Artist and her husband John Comyn, born in South Africa, working in the sign industry, with a passion for photography. Throughout the exhibition, the visitor will explore various individual mental health journeys through the photography lens and written word. It is the hope that through the exhibition and the courageous stories of the individuals depicted that visitors will continue to engage and discuss mental health as a part of overall health and will have a better perspective of how an individual might feel, the mental health system and the resources available to help individuals along their journey. The exhibition is the creation of Melissa Comyn, Mother, Registered Practical Nurse and Artist and her husband John Comyn, born in South Africa, working in the sign industry, with a passion for photography. Throughout the exhibition, the visitor will explore various individual mental health journeys through the photography lens and written word. It is the hope that through the exhibition and the courageous stories of the individuals depicted that visitors will continue to engage and discuss mental health as a part of overall health and will have a better perspective of how an individual might feel, the mental health system and the resources available to help individuals along their journey.
Statement of Intent
Open Doorways is an exhibition to expand emotional knowledge and an exercise in empathy. By highlighting the challenges someone with mental health concerns could be facing day to day as well as in our healthcare system, I hope these images and concepts presented will give the viewer an insight to the struggle. A word of thanks to my husband, John Comyn, who assisted me with fabrication of this work. You are my creative partner and have always supported me on our life journey. – Melissa Comyn
Definition of empathy
1. the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also, the capacity for this 2. the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.
Artist Bio
Melissa Comyn is a self-taught artist. She spent most of her time painting with acrylics until her mid-thirty's when she was introduced to fibre art through a workshop and a fellow artist Bev White. Mental Health as subject matter has been second nature for Melissa due to personal and family struggles as well as exposure to ever increasing needs in the healthcare system.
Mental Health Care: Contact information
*Due to the sensitive content of this exhibit we encourage anyone requiring more information to contact our local Mental Health Services Providers: Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce or Grey Bruce Health Services. Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce (CMHAGB) Contact information:, Mental Health Crisis Line  1-877-470-5200 Southampton Mental Health Team – CMHAGB Contact information: 519-797-2880 Grey Bruce Health Services Mental Health & Addiction Services North Grey Team (519-376-2121ext. 2460) Developmental Disability (519-376-2121 ext. 2857) Psychosis (519-376-4220) Sexual assault and Partner Abuse (519-376-2121 ext. 2458). Crisis services (phone and in person) are available 12 hours a day though our crisis team. HopeGreyBruce Contact:, 519-371-4120 Keystone Child, Youth & Family Services Contact:, 519-371-4773 Kids Help Phone Contact: , Call a counsellor: 1-800-668-6868 Wes for Youth Online Contact:, 1-855-577-3737 HopeGreyBruce HopeGreyBruce Mental Health & Addictions Services is a non-profit charitable organization. It was established in 1985 to develop a number of community mental health and addictions programs across Grey-Bruce. Our organization currently operates 2 addiction programs and 8 community mental health programs. Contact:, 519-371-4120
Mental Health Care: Contact information
Keystone Child, Youth & Family Services We are a voluntary, non-profit prevention and counseling agency, which has been providing free help to children, youth and families in Bruce and Grey Counties since 1974. Our Programs and Services reflect a desire to help “Build Futures Together” with an emphasis on listening, partnerships, and creativity. Our vision is to provide “responsive, compassionate services for children, youth and families to build better and more hopeful futures”. Contact:, 519-371-4773 Kids Help Phone Kids Help Phone is Canada's only national 24-hour, bilingual and anonymous  phone counselling, web counselling and referral service for children and youth. Our service is completely anonymous and confidential - we don't trace calls; we don't have call display. You don't even have to tell us your name if you don't want to.  Contact: , Call a counsellor: 1-800-668-6868 Wes for Youth Online An online safe space where teens in Grey Bruce and surrounding areas can express themselves and get free support from professional, non-judgmental counsellors.  This one-on-one connection, away from any office, or the eyes and opinions of others gives teens the opportunity to share their feelings and concerns and deal with their life issues privately in a manner familiar and comfortable to them. Resources for teens and parents. Available 24/7, our online Resource Centre  provides high-quality, reliable information. Contact:, 1-855-577-3737
Thank You
Open Doorways would like to thank our partners and sponsors for their support of the exhibit. Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce (CMHAGB), Grey Bruce Health Services Mental Health & Addiction Services, Saugeen Shores Community Fund, Community Foundation Grey Bruce
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Mellissa Comyn -Depression
My depression has changed everything for me. How effective I am at work, how I sleep, eat, love others. The way I concentrate, how well I listen, how I judge people’s reactions to me. My ability to react to the situation at hand and interact with people. Everything is affected by this downward pull, the effort it takes to work against the desire to draw into myself and hide. The effort to live and to complete daily tasks, let alone try and do them with the smile that is expected. How can I do that with this haze over everything. Greyness over my life, work, family and friends. It’s not that those things aren’t enough, it’s that everything is tainted. In my head, over and over, is that inner voice telling me that I am failing, I should get better. I should do better.
Laurie Wells -Postpartum Depression
Imagine being handed your perfect, beautiful baby, and you feel nothing ... absolutely nothing. All you want is for it to stop crying and go to sleep, so you can do the same. No amount of sleep is enough and all you want to do is to crawl into your deep, dark hole forever... This was my life. I looked out the window and wanted to run away and wondered what was wrong with me. I forced myself to go to baby group and sit with other moms as I pretended that I was in love with my precious child. I was irritated by others doting over their babies and did my best to fool the world. I had to put on my “happy face” and greet the world like nothing was wrong. This was the most exhausting. I had to tell my doctor three times that I wasn’t feeling okay until she believed that what I was feeling was more than just baby blues. My life was a deep, deep fog.
Laurie Wells
I wish postpartum depression ended as your baby grew older. My baby is now 14 and I still am haunted. The guilt I feel constantly is like a huge weight on my shoulders. The first few years of her life were a total blur because of the depression. Bonding with her was something I had to work at as it did not come naturally. When my daughter asks me to tell her stories from when she was a baby, I have to refer back to the photos I have. Those are my only memories. Thank goodness I took photos. I still worry every day about our connection and I blame myself. What did she ever do to deserve this? Why me? I hope I didn’t ruin her for life. The guilt I have is real and sometimes crippling. That never goes away...
Stephanie Farrell -Alcohol Abuse Disorder and Depression
At first Alcohol felt like a warm bath, soothing, releasing the anxiety and stress of everyday life. My drinking progressed to daily, the obsession to control my drinking became all consuming. What was once my warm bath had become cold-frigid making me numb, frozen and stuck. I got use to it, found comfort in the numbness. I no longer knew or trusted myself. Isolation, confusion and self loathing took over, relieved only by drinking and the next day the cycle of addiction started again. I was drowning in my bath, alcohol was the water and I didn’t know if I had the strength to keep my head above the water anymore, I was tired. My turning point had come, drown or get help. Today I am 8 years sober, one day at a time with the support of my family, friends, employer, AA and my counselor. Since early sobriety I have walked my dog everyday, it’s such a simple pleasure but brings great peace. I am truly a grateful alcoholic.
Gordon Ross -Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
I was in the Canadian Armed Forces for 28 years and was a peace keeper in Bosnia for 9 months witnessing the atrocities of war. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 1999. After having PTSD for 2 years, I was still able to do my job until I was in an accident, that was not my fault, and was medically discharged from the military 2 years later, which equaled to a loss of my identity. Civilian life is very different from military life and it has been difficult to fit back in, and it has not worked. Having PTSD increases my isolation. I suffer from night terrors, flash backs, memory loss and I find it difficult to trust new people. On 2 occasions I have had suicide attempts and suicidal ideations, and have reached out for help and called the crisis line. Both times the police have responded and it has escalated to violence, where I have been hand cuffed and slammed into a wall and even tasered. My service dog was even taken away from me. I have married and divorced three times. I have been hospitalized many times, once for 2 1/2 months. I have found that when I have been my most vulnerable, I have been betrayed by law enforcement and the medical system.
Arthur McIntosh -Depression
When I look back on my journey with mental health issues, it is difficult to be decisive as to an actual trigger date as to when it became a serious problem. However I must say that when I had a stroke in 2001, that left me with permanent vision impairment as well as short-term memory issues, it was probably the most recognizable indication of the start of a terrible, terrible downward plummet. The loss of my driver’s licence left me feeling helpless, insecure, vulnerable and diminished my self-worth and independence. On many occasions my thoughts would turn to self pity and self loathing. I would question, “Why am I still here?” Coupled with an early and sudden end to my career, short years later saw my thoughts and feelings spiral into ones of possible self harm: “Maybe I should commit suicide” and “How can I make it look like an accident?” You see I didn’t want my family to be left with the shame or embarrassment and stigma associated with suicide. The final and by far the worst event came in 2016 when my marriage of over 40 years disintegrated before my eyes … leaving me with what I thought was the only viable course of action to take. After unsuccessfully attempting suicide, I was hospitalized in the mental health unit in Woodstock and later in Goderich. It was then, and only then, that I was willing to admit I had serious mental health issues and was able to receive the help necessary to address my demons.
Arthur McIntosh
Through the help of all those involved, including hospital staff and psychiatrists, and with the support of the CMHA staff in Kincardine as well as my children and friends, I am on my way to recovery. I am now an active and involved member of the community. Volunteering has become my passion and I do so at our local food bank and local drop-in centre “The Dory” and have recently started volunteering internationally. My most important role comes with working as a peer leader and educator for the South West Self Management Program LHIN. My new philosophy is “EVERYDAY IS A GOOD DAY, JUST VARYING DEGREES OF GOOD.” Thanks for taking the time to read and hopefully understand my story.
Anne-Marie Gomes -Bi-polar
There are 3 worlds, or “spaces” if you like, to bi-polar. The high, the low and “normal.” The High In this space, I am brilliant. I am confident. I am respected. I am unstoppable. In this space, there are no limits to what I can accomplish, I have endless ideas on everything and see no limits. I am outside the box and will fix the world and right the wrongs. My thoughts are fast, and so I usually have a lot of things on the go, and I can keep track of all of it. I don’t need a lot of sleep, so I have more time to do all the things I want. I can do everything and anything. There is no fear or anxiety. There is no negativity. To be truly honest, this is my favourite space to be in. I like it here. Unfortunately, this always comes at a price, which is the crash and burn and a fast decent into the low. The Low In this space, the simplest of things cripple me. The weight of something as simple as waking up and showering drops me to my knees and I do not have the energy for anything else. In this space, I am stupid, lazy, foolish and a burden to everyone around me. I don’t deserve happiness or fulfillment. There is no hope, there is nothing but restriction and negativity. I will never make a difference or accomplish anything meaningful.
Anne-Marie Gomes
My thoughts are still fast but they are disjointed and incomplete. They are all negative, and the desire to end it all is all-consuming. It exhausts me to even try and make sense of my thoughts or to quiet the constant negative thoughts, so I sleep. I go to sleep with a desperate hope that either I won’t wake up or that somehow, when I wake, things will be different, and when they aren’t I go back to sleep. This is, without a doubt, the hardest space to be in. I have to fight hard to get out of this space and each time wonder if it’s worth the fight. “Normal” In this space, I juggle the balls of life. I do the groceries, work, volunteer, be a mom, be a wife and try to find the balance, just like everyone else. I take my meds, see my Doctors and go to therapy. They tell me that bi-polar people can live normal lives and that this is it. In this space, I am acceptable to the world. Doctors, therapists, family and friends all say this is where I need to be. Underneath it all I don’t want this, I want the high back, but I try to stay here. My thoughts are slower here. They are more thought-out and choreographed to suit everyone else. They are usually still more negative than positive and I live with a constant longing to be more, accomplish more. I crave the high and fear the low. I try to convince myself that I can live with the compromise and be happy in this space. The truth of it is that I never quite get there, so I try more meds and do more therapy and eventually, find the high for a short while and then crash and burn again.
Abigail Brown -Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder
Depression: I’ve struggled with depression from a young age, of course I didn’t always know what it was. I remember feeling always tired and like I couldn’t do much of anything and I was always told I was just lazy. Depression has affected my life greatly, I dropped out of school for a year I swore I would never make it to 18, cause I felt like I had nothing left to live for. Being so young and living with depression is really confusing, cause I don’t remember who I was before it. And even now I can’t tell what part is me and what is my depression. PTSD: I Have struggled with PTSD since I was about 5 years old due to a major childhood trauma, from the age of 13 I started disassociating. A few months ago I was laying in bed and I felt numb and like I was looking at myself while I was laying there. I found out I do it to cope with memories and mental pain I feel.
Abigail Brown
Living with depression and PTSD is hard. I used a lot of unhealthy coping skills. I relied so heavily on bringing pain to myself cause I didn’t know how to deal with the pain I felt inside and I felt so ashamed that I needed to take it out in other ways. After a few years I knew I needed to be more then just my “Disorders” I started to use music as a coping skill and I started writing more. I started playing the piano and creating music, it became my outlet. I could say whatever I wanted and express my hurt and pain in healthier ways. Music changed my life.
Rebecca L. Knisley -Major Depressive Disorder, Severe Anxiety Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder
Pictured here are the cross, my brightly coloured beach towel and me playing the guitar. These three things are something I enjoy and help to bring me peace, calm and joy when I am well. When I am unwell I find no joy, peace or a sense of calm. They act as a gauge to me. When I don't want anything to do with them, I know I am very sick. I live with major depressive disorder, severe anxiety disorder, PTSD and borderline personality disorder.
Sean Comyn -Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Antisocial
I’m trapped, forced to watch myself suffer. I don’t know if I have feelings because I am the only one who understands myself. What if everyone else is right?
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