In 2002, life changed in a heartbeat for Forrest and Julie Willett of Midland. Forrest was seriously injured as a passenger in a car crash. The couple and their two-year-old son went from running a successful entrepreneurial business with offices in eight cities and 23 employees, to navigating Forrest's catastrophic brain injury. He underwent 14 surgeries and five years of full-time rehabilitation, speech, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. He developed depression and debilitating anxiety and was hospitalized several times.
Julie found herself wearing several hats, that of mother, business owner, caregiver and general contractor as they had a new home under construction at the time of the accident. During that time Julie also found a passion for designing and decorating that continues today.
Determined to get better, they sought help from several local sources, including Huronia Physiotherapy, The Macpherson Communication Clinic and Claudia Maurice Occupational Therapy.
It wasn’t easy, but by 2012 the neurology team at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto – where Forrest was once told he wouldn’t lead a productive life – invited him to speak to their staff. Now Forrest speaks around the world to schools, universities, hospitals and private companies who want him to help their staff lower stress levels and increase mental health awareness, notably Emirates Airlines in Dubai. “When people are stressed they cut corners and when they cut corners, people get hurt,” Forrest says.
Forrest’s book Baseballs Don’t Bounce has become a number one bestseller. And his story of overcoming physical and mental health obstacles is the featured foreword of Jack Canfield’s New York Times bestseller The Success Principles 10th anniversary edition with over one million copies in print.
As he looks around his newly-built home Forrest muses, “Now we get paid to travel. We never thought in a million years that talking about depression and things that were our worst problems would turn into our biggest assets.”
Their property in Midland is located on one of the highest points in the region, which means incredible views. To the north, the tree canopy of Awenda Provincial Park stretches as far as the eye can see and in the fall, the colour show from the leaves is breathtaking. The west-facing deck along the front of the home provides a view of the Blue Mountain ski hills in Collingwood, along with more gorgeous fall foliage.
The view of the great outdoors is more than just aesthetic; it’s therapeutic. Forrest recommends getting outside to help with depression and anxiety symptoms, and the Willetts surround themselves with greenery as much as possible. They have lemon, orange, fig and pomegranate trees in wheeled planters on the deck that they can bring indoors in cooler weather. “We have so much natural light it feels great to have greenery all year round,” Forrest says.
The couple worked with the IHD Design Build team of Dave Lalonde, Jacob Lalonde and Jason Regimbal and are repeat customers of Mike Wilcox Construction. Total square footage on the main floor is 2,640.
The remarkable open-concept kitchen, dining and family room has a feature wall made from a new product that simulates copper by MurDesign. The tall interior doors complement the high ceiling that slopes from 12 feet to eight-feet-eight-inches (doors sourced through Elmvale Home Building Centre).
The driveway resembles a parking lot, with more than 12,000 square feet of asphalt, because lots of space is needed for their guests and frequent entertaining. Friends were a key part of Forrest’s recovery and he gestures around his home and says, “If all this went away tomorrow, our friends would still be here.”
“When I was going through depression and anxiety I didn’t know what it was because nobody talked about it,” says Forrest. “Now the phone is ringing, and people are asking me to come to Switzerland, Africa and the Philippines to do talks on mental health. There is so much opportunity to turn tears into triumph. There is something about being open and vulnerable and saying yes, depression sucks, but it doesn’t have to forever.”
“People ask us if we would go back and change things and we say no, not at all.” You can read more of Forrest’s story at mentalhealthspeaker.ca.