Local broadcaster Greg Mackling is well-known to Manitobans as a warm and friendly co-host on 680 CJOB’s The Start. Mackling spends his weekday mornings sharing the stories of our community, but it is his own personal journey of living with a mental health issue that he is now sharing with the hope of helping others.
In spring 2000, Mackling had just turned 30 and was in the process of taking the next step in his career. He had moved out west to Calgary to take a high-level sales job in the telecommunications world with a six-figure salary. Life was going well for him, and he felt like he was making a difference.
But on a Friday night in June 2000, his life changed in an instant.
Mackling was sitting at a red light and was rear-ended by the driver of a car going over 90 kilometres per hour. His car was a write off, but for the first few days Mackling thought he was fine aside from being a bit sore. It wasn’t until he went into work Monday morning that he realized something was wrong.
“One of my co-workers said that I look like a ghost,” recalls Mackling. “They took me to the hospital and that’s sort of when my journey started.”
His trip to the hospital did not result in a diagnosis, but as time went on it became clear to Mackling and those around him that something was not quite right. He found that he was having difficulty organizing his thoughts. The day he knew something was really wrong was the day his mother came over to visit and noticed something amiss when he picked up the phone to call his brother Kevin.
“She looked at me and goes ‘What’s wrong?’ and I go ‘I can’t remember Kevin’s phone number,’” said Mackling. “My brother and I are, and were particularly then, quite close. I probably phoned my brother three or four times a day. That’s how close we were. So when I couldn’t remember my brother’s phone number, I knew that was an alarm bell.”
Not long after, Mackling drove from Calgary to Vancouver to see friends. He took a strange route through the Fraser Canyon that he had never taken before and began experiencing dark thoughts.
“I can look back on that now and remember what it was like to be contemplating all these things,” said Mackling. “I was in a very dark place.”
This road trip was the turning point for Mackling that prompted him to seek help. He reached out for help through his Employee Assistance Program and took some time off work. Following an assessment, he visited with a psychologist and began taking medication in an effort to get better. While initially supportive, his colleagues grew impatient as they did not understand what was happening to him.
“It was eye-opening, and in retrospect, it was kind of devastating,” said Mackling. “It was just one more thing that I was dealing with. Things got really tough because I didn’t have a cast, because I wasn’t walking around on crutches or anything like that. There was a sense that I was playing the system. I tried to go back to work a couple of times and I just couldn’t do it. I got very, very depressed.”
Near the end of the year, Mackling gathered with colleagues he considered to be friends and was called out for his perceived behavior.
“It was basically either you’re with us, or you’re against us,” said Mackling. “They were my teammates at work and were frustrated by my lack of production, my in and out. That was really tough.”
Ultimately, Mackling was forced out of his job and struggled financially to make ends meet. He eventually gave up his apartment and headed back to Winnipeg in 2001, where he moved in with his grandfather.
“My grandpa was really one of my best friends,” said Mackling. “He was my mentor. He was my confidant. Despite not really understanding what I was going through, he just unconditionally supported me and gave me a place to live.”
Mackling continued to face criticism from other loved ones who did not believe he was experiencing a mental health issue.
“I did misrepresent what I was going through because it was probably worse,” said Mackling. “I always tried to put on a brave face and I had my lawyer tell me, ‘Greg, you don’t look like someone who’s dealing with what you’re dealing with.’”
His lawyer helped connect him to a psychiatrist in Winnipeg, and more than a year and a half after his car accident he was diagnosed with a frontal lobe brain injury. With help from an additional two psychologists, Mackling felt like he was starting to get his life back on track and credits the treatment he received with making a world of difference in his life.
“It saved my life. Plain and simply. My kids are here because of it. I am here because of it.”
Twenty-two years after the car accident that changed his life, Mackling can’t believe how far he has come.
“I’m lucky,” said Mackling. “I’m very lucky. I have a wonderful family. Two incredible kids. My wife is wonderful and supportive and I’ve repaired some of the relationships with those that maybe wronged me in the worst times of my life, or that didn’t understand what I was going through. I’m living a dream. Twenty-two years ago, I lived a three-year long nightmare. And now I live a dream.”
While Mackling considers himself one of the lucky ones, he is quick to acknowledge there are others in our community who are without a support system and face barriers to accessing treatment. It is this knowledge that drives Mackling to share his story and advocate for others.
“There are people out there who have the ability to do things that are far more impressive than yapping for four hours in the morning,” said Mackling with a laugh. “But if there are people out there that hold me up as an example, I know there are other people out there who just need that second or third chance to unlock who they really are and be given an opportunity for a return to what normal looks like and can look like for them.”
It is this opportunity to help others that inspired Mackling to emcee Victoria Hospital Foundation’s 7th Annual Miracle Garden in support of Mental Health following our 50th anniversary celebrations last year.
“The awareness and the conversation is so important,” said Mackling. “We just can’t stop talking about this because there is lots to do, we’re not done here celebrating 50 years! This is a launching pad for the next 50 and events like the Miracle Garden Party are celebrations of what’s been done, but also have to be a rallying point for what’s left to do.”
Proceeds from The 7th Annual Miracle Garden Party support mental health initiatives at Victoria Hospital and in our community such as the recently opened Manitoba Blue Cross Mental Health Assessment Unit, a private and supportive space in Victoria Hospital’s Urgent Care department where an interprofessional team provides specialized mental health assessments and care for those in need.
Mackling can see the value of projects like the Manitoba Blue Cross Mental Health Assessment Unit.
“If it can be recognized quickly that you’re in a state of emotional distress, or dealing with something that’s accommodated or better diagnosed in a different space, I think that’s incredible,” said Mackling. “Because when you’re dealing with a mental health issue, I assure you, your brain is racing 100,000 miles a minute. So a place that’s designed to calm you down, a place that’s welcoming, that is devoid of all the bings and bongs and the noises of a traditional Urgent Care department, it’s beyond thoughtful. I think it’s brilliant. It’s another example of how far we’ve come in the understanding of meeting people where they are at in the moment when it’s needed.”