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Horticultural therapy helps bring Bill Baker back from the brink

Bill Baker credits Providence Farm with helping him bounce back from mental illness. - Peter W. Rusland
Bill Baker credits Providence Farm with helping him bounce back from mental illness.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Bill Baker's long bounce back from a breakdown came through kindness, life purpose, and self satisfaction from Providence Farm's horticultural-therapy programs.

The well-adjusted green thumb chatting at Duncan's Coffee On The Moon was a far cry from the guy he was at Christmas 1980.

Baker was at the end of his tether for a bunch of reasons: he'd quit smoking, he was broke, and he had Christmas shopping to do. His hero, Beatle John Lennon, had just been murdered.

"I went completely delusional," said Duncanite Baker, 55.

He visited family in White Rock, but ended "walking in a circle for an hour" before being found by police and taken to Vancouver General Hospital for help.

"It was total overload from too many bummers in two weeks."

Ironically, those drags led to his finding correct drugs for several mental-health conditions spanning what he explained are schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and manic depression.

That help began when Baker moved to Cowichan in 1983.

He'd been writing on his typewriter, as therapy, to express his opinions about global affairs, the peace movement, apartheid, the Berlin Wall, and other worries.

Baker also found friends at Duncan's Wisteria House, and in Providence Farm's Friday Program focused on horticulture.

It morphed into the farm's popular Greenways program in 1987, as leader Christine Pollard, and farm-program boss Jack Hutton, saw Baker's bent toward helping himself and others with mental-health issues.

They span the brain injured, youths, folks with Workers' Compensation Board claims, substance addicts, and others.

Baker also dove into the St. Ann's Seniors Club where youths help seniors plant and harvest community plots at Providence.

"It's a lot of love they pass on in a casual manner."

He praised the Sisters of St. Ann, including Sister Frieda Rabb, for supporting farm programs now hardwired to Baker's life, and the lives of many other Cowichanians.

"None of this (community help) would ever have happened if the sisters hadn't come to Cowichan in 1864," said Baker, a stickler for dates.

Sister Frieda and Baker were also involved in the farm's peer-mentoring program he claimed reduced Providence's mental-health files.

But between 1983 and '91 Baker's mental health was still healing.

"I had four visits to Cowichan District Hospital's psych ward on the fourth floor."

He turned to smokes, java, and his typewriter — churning out a newsletter at Wisteria called The Cowichan Valley Psychiatric League: Up Or Down, We Get Around.

On March 11, 1987 a ray of hope shone.

A friend landed Baker a blind date, lent him $6 for flowers, and even drove him to Chemainus.

Baker met, and later married, his wife, Carmen. They have two grown kids, and their 25th anniversary was May 5, beamed Baker.

Family support aside, his happiness is helped by the anti-psychotic drug, clozapine.

"It stabilizes me during the day, and helps me sleep at night.

"Don't skip your meds; meds are your friend," he advised struggling youths.

Still, pills didn't cure his ills; hard work did.

Working at the farm, at local farmers' markets, and help from folks at Cowichan Mental Health Association are also Baker's big touchstones.

He also cited self confidence from Cowichan's Grow -A-Row vegetable-raising program, and becoming a master composter at Providence.

"We need a bubbler," he said of a gizmo giving oxygen to barrel composting.

Meanwhile, Baker aims to move into the planned Providence village, while wishing for more horticultural-therapy professionals "with degrees" for his beloved farm.

"I feel very lucky to be at Providence Farm," he stated.

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