Have you ever thought about how one day you could wake up and your whole life has changed? Well, that happened to aspiring golfer Don Walin, 33 years ago.
Hailing from Wetaskiwin, Alberta and now living in West Kelowna, Walin started playing golf when he was seven years old. He had always dreamed of playing professionally, growing up right across from the local golf course, he would play anywhere from nine to 45 holes a day.
In 1989, Walin was three years into a promising career in the Canadian Professional Golfers Association (CPGA). He was working at Glen Meadows Golf and Country Club as an assistant golf professional in Sidney, B.C.
Then, he woke up in a hospital and didn’t remember why.
“I was 24 years old, and everything up to that point was completely normal in my life,” said Walin. “I ended up in the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria in the psychiatric ward. I was actually missing for three days, no one knew where I was. They diagnosed me with manic depression, which they called it at the time. Now they call it bipolar disorder. I spent six weeks in the psychiatry ward and I had never heard of the illness before, myself or my family, none of us knew nothing about it. That was my first full-blown manic episode.”
Walin doesn’t know how he got to this point but after learning a little more about his diagnosis, he was able to put the pieces together of how this first episode could have happened.
“It can often be genetic, but we really don’t know anyone in my family that had it,” said Walin. “For me, I had a tremendous amount of stress in my life work-wise and just in my life in general. I really think it was an accumulation of just way too much stress that triggered my manic episode in the first place.”
After working through the episode, Walin tried to go back to work at various golf courses in B.C. and Alberta and play golf but after a few months, he found himself in the psych ward again.
“Because of my illness, I couldn’t work anymore. So, the CPGA put me in the retired category in 1996,” said Walin.
Walin explained that for most people, including himself, manic episodes can work as a cycle. It starts with the bipolar phase and can transition into a depression state.
“I was hospitalized in psychiatric wards 10 times between 1989 and 1999,” said Walin. “For me, the depressed episodes were a lot worse.”
Through thick and thin, his family was always there to support him through these life-altering experiences.
“I have four older brothers and my mom was a huge help. I ended up losing at least a few jobs because of my illness and I didn’t have any money or any place to stay so I was lucky to live with my mom,” he said.
Throughout the nineties, and episode after episode, psychiatrists tried him on all different kinds of medicines but it took a long time to find the right one.
“In 2000, my psychiatrist up here in Kelowna put me on different psychiatric meds that started to work for me,” said Walin. “I went through a major lifestyle change as well to reduce stress as much as I could. I started feeling better in the spring of 2000 and I’m still feeling pretty good right to this day.”
Since 1999, Walin hasn’t had an episode or been hospitalized.
He credits humour as a strength in helping him through his journey with mental illness.
“I think there’s still way too much stigma with mental illness, the general public needs to be educated more,” said Walin.
This is why Walin has decided to take his journey through mental health and share it in a book titled, ‘The Crazy Golf Pro: My Journey with Bipolar Disorder’.
Even though he didn’t consider himself a writer, his wife encouraged him.
“The purpose of my book is to give hope and inspiration to as many people as possible, especially those with a mental illness and their family friends and loved ones,” said Walin. “People can have mental illness and they can still do well and live a normal life.”
Walin wrote on and off since the early 2000s, finally finishing the book around 2016.
On top of bipolar disorder and seasonal depression, which he calls his, “mental hat trick.”
Although he doesn’t play golf anymore, he is still a massive fan of the game.
“I think it’s the greatest sport in the world.”
As for his favourite golfer?
“I mean, Tiger Woods. He’s maybe not my favourite person but I got to put him up there.”
His book was named one of the best new bipolar disorder books by Book Authority.
Walin is holding a book signing next month at Indigo at Orchard Park Mall on Saturday, June 11 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.