Strolling along a sidewalk in Downtown Vancouver, Ron Diaz was minding his business, harbouring scant desire to draw attention to himself.
Sporting a pair of dark sunglasses on a grey day, however, provided enough ammunition for a random passer-by to spout, "dude, it's cloudy, what's with the shades?" For all she knew, Diaz could have been actor Vin Diesel - or at least his older and slightly heavier brother - and he just didn't want to be bothered by his fans.
The truth behind the glasses, that the stranger didn't bother to find out, is far less glamorous than a Hollywood star who just wants to be left alone.
"I just laughed and walked on," said Diaz, 46, of Steveston.
"I was wearing my shades because a migraine was coming on. But it's the kind of thing that does happen; a complete stranger making a judgment call."
It's those everyday instances that Diaz has grown accustomed to ever since his world started to fall apart about four years ago.
It's those everyday instances After battling searing migraines for most of his adult years, depression started to creep in and gradually consumed the ingredients of his relatively healthy life - a loving family, a home and a steady job.
Diaz tumbled hard from the tree of life, snapping every branch on the way down.
"I couldn't take noise levels and being in a large crowd was an issue. A fire truck going by would cause panic for me," he said.
"It was distressing for me and for people around me."
But to the naked eye, his severe health issues are invisible. To people around him, he was still Ron Diaz, the talkative, colourful sales executive.
"Every time my brothers saw me, they assumed I was OK," recalled Diaz.
"They couldn't understand what was going on inside.
I don't look sick, so I can't be sick, right? "But you can't tell how bad my migraines are, can you? And you can't possibly know how deep the depression is?" Diaz's story is all too familiar to Dave Thomson, public education co-coordinator at the Richmond Centre for Disability (RCD).
Thomson, who suffers from chronic pain and fatigue, has experienced similar judgement from total strangers who're completely unaware of what's going on in someone's life.
"When you see Ron, he looks great," said Thomson, the drive behind next week's
Invisible Awareness Day in Lansdowne Centre.
"But no one can know what he's gone through to get to where he is now.
"If you don't carry a cane, don't have a cast on or you're not in a wheelchair, then there's nothing wrong with you, right?" Four years ago, when Diaz hit what he calls "rock bottom," he had to move out of the family home and back in with his parents, who also helped him attain PWD (persons with disability) status.
"After a little while, I managed to get another home inside the same co-op as my family, but I quickly found I couldn't support myself, so my parents moved in with me," said Diaz.
"But I attempted suicide one year after the break-up. It was my wife who found me.
"What also didn't help is the stigma attached to being a PWD; people think of you differently.
"They look at me and go, "what's wrong with this guy? Nothing as far as I can see."
Two years on, and after 18 months of trying, Diaz finally got admitted to a psychiatric treatment centre at UBC's hospital - "that was the beginning of my road to where I am now," said Diaz.
road to where I am now," said While inside, Diaz was voluntarily given ECT (electro-shock) treatments; 16 of them, that eventually had some positive results.
"It basically resets the brain," said Diaz.
"I spent four months at UBC, only coming home on the weekends. But when I came out, it was like a massive cloud had been lifted, I felt so positive about everything."
It was one week after coming out of UBC that Diaz first brightened the front door of RCD.
"It was about a year ago now that I turned up outside RCD with my mom. She had just had knee replacement surgery and I wanted to see what help she could get," said Diaz.
"But I kinda came here for myself and for her. I wanted to check out what resources they had for me.
"I was very aware that this was the
"I also felt this need to volunteer and help out, in the same way so many people had helped me over the last few years."
Diaz met Thomson for the first time and the pair talked solid for two hours.
"We talked about what we both went through, the programs available and the support on offer," beamed Diaz.
"And I went that same night to an event at Richmond Hospital, hosted by RCD. It was a play about living with chronic pain. It struck so many chords with me and really hit home."
The two kept in touch via email before Diaz "kind of disappeared again."
At the other side of the so-called 'honeymoon' period, the meds weren't working any more for Diaz and he slipped right back into depression around September of last year.
"It wasn't until January of this year that the doctors found a new medication, but it was going to take three months to work.
"I started taking it, but all the time I was trying to get back into UBC for more
"Then, in May, all of a sudden, the medication started work; the sky wasn't grey any more and that positive feeling was back."
Diaz volunteered to go back into UBC to get off as many of his medications as possible. He was in there for three weeks.
"But while I was in, I spent a lot of time talking to the other patients and I made some breakthroughs with people that their doctors couldn't.
"The doctors recommended I support my peers when left the unit, as it seemed so natural to me."
Three months ago, Diaz strode out of hospital and straight to RCD, where he volunteered to help run public speaking courses, a skill he prides himself upon.
"This was me re-entering the world; it was a re-awakening," said Diaz.
"I was leaving there pumped that I was giving something back to people who really needed my help.
"Everyone in my life could see a huge difference in me. I'm feeling so good and strong and very positive.
"I now know to look for the triggers that send me off on the wrong direction, and I try to stay within a zone so I can control the things that set me off.
"I think they call it a 'functional range.'" Diaz has just finished helping RCD out with an English comprehension course for people in their late 50s to early teens.
Later this month, he's going to be helping them with basic English and public speaking classes and, of course, Invisible Awareness Day.
"You absolutely never know what someone's story is, so you should try to never make assumptions," said Thomson.
"Not being believed is probably the most frustrating thing of all.
"I've had to sell myself to my brother for 15 years and I still think he doesn't believe me."
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