Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sheldon Crocker - One Step at a Time

I recently had the great fortune of meeting an incredible man named Sheldon Crocker. I was so happy to be able to connect with him and reading his story reinforces to me that there are so many things that connect us all as we try to find our life's purpose.

Sheldon identifies as being a person with a disability that he says isn’t a disability. His belief is that a person is only as disabled as they let themselves be. He says that people with disabilities, like everyone else, must be free and empowered to make their own choices and to live with the consequences. That is how we all develop our character and personality. That is the real meaning of choice and control.

He plays pool using just one hand in the competitive Canadian Poolplayers Association against players using two hands, and he has managed to win a Top Gun Award and has also competed at the national level in Las Vegas.   

When he was a child, it was thought that he would never be able to walk. Sheldon wore braces on his legs with a bar between his feet connecting both shoes until he was about four years old. He learned to walk by placing  his back against the wall and sliding along. He knew from a very young age the message that he still feels to this day: "If we don't push ourselves, if we don't step out of our comfort zone, if we don't set goals for ourselves then can we say we are really growing, progressing and truly living?"

Sheldon has pushed himself to achieve goals that many thought were unattainable. This year, he completed the Tely 10 Mile Road Race, and also recently participated in the Terry Fox Run here in St. John's.

Sheldon is actively pursuing a career as a professional speaker and is an advocate of equal rights for all persons with disabilities. The following is from a talk that Sheldon recently gave at an ExxonMobil fundraising event for United Way. Thank you, Sheldon, for allowing me to share your powerful story here as well.


As an only child, I grew up in a small Newfoundland community during the 1970s and '80s. Being the only one there with a physical disability, I was picked on, laughed at and bullied by the other children because I was "different". My home life wasn’t the best either. I had no supports and was forced to grow up long before I should have had to. For really no reason besides getting a few marks lower than my cousins, my mother always compared me to them. "Why can't you be more like them?" she would say. 

My entire life I felt like I had to prove myself to people, that I was just as good as others. As a kid growing up with a disability, I wasn't able to participate in activities and sports like other kids. Just about every recess time while I was in grade 8, I'd stand there telling other students to line up in front of me in single file, and take turns punching me in the chest as hard as they could to see who could knock me across the floor the furthest, to see if anyone could make me feel pain. At least this way, I felt important and that people were paying attention to me and that I didn't appear to be this weak little disabled kid.

I started drinking at 11 and doing drugs at 13 to numb the mental pain. I had no confidence and terrible self-esteem. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone who wanted to be close to me, because I was convinced that I was stupid and worthless. I struggled with addictions, homelessness and poverty. I was physically unable to cook for myself, so ate only microwaved processed food (when I saved enough money to do so). I stayed places that had no hot water, no heat and I ate donuts off the sidewalk. 

I told myself I had to be strong and get through it on my own. I lived rough and by my wits. I slept on friends' floors. I was happy, and I was miserable. But it was an amazing journey. All the while, I managed to go to two colleges and graduate with two diplomas. I helped people see life in a different way. "If you're surviving and trying to strive ahead with a disability then why are we holding ourselves back?" people would say to me.

After 7 years of this, I moved to St. John’s. I continued with college and fortunately, the Guidance Counsellor connected me with Emmanuel House, a residential treatment program of Stella’s Circle. Through this program, my life changed dramatically. I quit drinking and using drugs 17 years ago and never looked back.

Prior to getting connected to Stella’s Circle, my life was a real struggle. I didn’t have much hope for anything; I had mostly depressing dark thoughts. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere, didn’t feel included, even when out in society I mostly kept to myself. I didn’t see a way out of the darkness. With the help of Stella’s Circle and the direction they provided, they helped me see that there were people who truly cared. They were the light in the darkness that I held tight, and each day was brighter and less shaded because I was gaining hope for the future.

Upon leaving Emmanuel House, it was determined that I was eligible for the Community Support Program, another program of Stella’s Circle. Workers from the Community Support Program help me shop for groceries, cook meals, and clean my apartment. They have also provided moral support, encouraging words and at times, words of wisdom. 

I am proud to say that I graduated from The Employment Program - New Beginnings offered by Stella’s Circle, in 2014, and I feel like every day is a new beginning. This program has also helped me to feel empowered and realize that I am capable of working. 

My self-esteem and self-confidence have grown significantly with the help of all of the programs at Stella’s Circle, including the Inclusion Choir. It has been one of the most therapeutic and best things I’ve ever been a part of. It has helped me step out of my comfort zone, feel less isolated and I’ve grown tremendously as a person. I just recently celebrated my anniversary of being in the Inclusion Choir. I call it my anniversary of liberation out of silence. For most of my life, I’ve been told: “Kids are to be seen not heard.” I felt like I was without a voice. The Inclusion Choir is one of, if not the most positive thing that I’ve ever been a part of in my life. In the past, I tried to keep my distance from the events and programs of Stella’s Circle because of the social stigma I felt attached to it. It’s so awesome to see each year how the social stigma around mental health becomes less and less with the great work of this organization and others like it. 

With regards to my physical environment, I am grateful to have had a roof over my head for the past 19 years. I don’t have to worry about sleeping on park benches in January anymore. Working with an occupational therapist, I’ve had my bathroom adapted so I can be independent with my personal care. I have a hospital bed that is comfortable and adjustable that I can get in and out of. I have modifications done so I can reach my clothes hanging in the closet. I am able to access my computer through voice command and the setup is ergonomic. These changes at home have helped raise my confidence to look for work and access the community. The older I get, the more I feel these services will be useful in helping me maintain an adequate quality of life.

I believe that understanding my personal experiences and the support that has been necessary to help me live in the community is valuable. It will help develop an understanding of what support is needed to continue to help people, like myself, age successfully in the community. No person anywhere, especially here in this country, should live in the shadows or suffer alone, because they can’t afford treatment. I've learned through my connection with Stella’s Circle that fears limit us and our vision.

This may seem really obvious to a lot of you, but it wasn’t for me, so I’m going to say it anyway: There is no reason to feel embarrassed when reaching out to a professional for help. There is no reason to be ashamed and most importantly, no need to be afraid. People do not need to suffer. There is nothing noble in suffering, and there is nothing shameful or weak in asking for help. I am thankful for the help I received. If people hadn’t had the strength to encourage me to seek professional help, I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to even exist, to say nothing of truly living. 

Believing that it takes the whole community working together to change social conditions is essential. There is hope for everyone, work hard, believe strongly, focus, be aware of your thoughts and we can all change our lives if we want to bad enough. The journey of life is taken one step at a time. 


One of the primary reasons I speak out about my mental illness, is so that I can make the difference in someone’s life that I wish had been made in mine when I was young, because not only did I have no idea what Depression even was until I was in my twenties, once I was pretty sure that I had it, I suffered with it for another ten years because I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, and I was afraid.

Those of us who live with mental illness need to talk about it, because our friends and neighbours know us and trust us. We need to share our experiences so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids.

People tell me that I’m brave for speaking out the way I do, and while I appreciate that, I don’t necessarily agree. Firefighters are brave. Single parents who work multiple jobs to take care of their kids are brave. People who reach out to get help for their mental illness are brave. I’m not brave. I’m just a man who wants to share his story with the world, who hopes to speak out about mental health so much that one day, it will be wholly unremarkable to stand up and say the words: "My name is __ __. I've lived with Chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed."


Sheldon has had the opportunity to share his powerful message at several local events, and he welcomes requests from businesses and organizations looking to hire an inspirational speaker. Sheldon can be reached at

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