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“I suffered from anxiety disorder and depression, which quickly spiraled into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Agoraphobia”

Article: A Musician’s Canna-Comeback

If you’ve been following our #End420Shame series for the past year, you’re no stranger to the healing and restorative power of cannabis. Still, even after interviewing dozens of individuals and talking to hundreds more, many stories still surprise me. That’s definitely the case with Mark Ward.

Mark doesn’t have the usual story of struggling with a disease or disorder and finding freedom through cannabis. Instead, his story of redemption is thanks to cannabis advocacy and it starts at the age of six.

“I’m no stranger to trauma,” shared Mark. “My mother left when I was very young, and my father was murdered in the city before I reached my sixth birthday.” Worse yet, Mark lived in a city full of socioeconomic turmoil, and he was alone. And while he tried to put on a good face and fake it until he made it, inside he was broken. “I posed as a popular and well-rounded social chameleon, floating seamlessly from clique to clique,” he remembered. “But, inside, I had developed several anxiety orders, social and otherwise.”

Unfortunately for Mark, things only got worse his senior year. He was a bulky kid and that made him a target for assault and regular altercations at school. As he was walking home one night, after staying out late to visit a friend, things took a turn for the worse.

“For seven years, I barely left the room I was renting unless it was necessary. I lost track of the days…”

“I was rushed from behind by a mob of gang members and held against a fence while they took turns beating me and rummaging through my pockets,” Mark said. “If it wasn’t for a friend who witnessed everything and rescued me with his car, I wouldn’t have survived. Then, a little while later, word got around that the gang planned on finishing what they started. Those were the last days I spent in Lowell before moving to Rhode Island to finish high school.”

For a short while, things were better in Rhode Island. Mark discovered music and performing as a healthy form of self-expression, and he became the lead vocalist of the metal band Sully of Souls. Singing became his passion and he played at every venue possible from bars to clubs, festivals and music halls. He finally felt like he belonged, but life has a way of getting in the way of happiness.

Not long after graduation, Mark started training and working at a marketing agency when suddenly it seemed like all the trauma and pressure he’d overcome from his past caught up with him. Everything collided at once and, at twenty, he went from being able to sing in front of hundreds of people to not being able to leave his home.

“I suffered from anxiety disorder and depression, which quickly spiraled into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Agoraphobia,” Mark remembered. “Agoraphobia, for those that don’t know, is a crippling fear of leaving one’s home or safe environment. From what I can only attribute to nerves and pharmaceutical medication, I also developed agonizing digestive disorders such as GERD and diverticulitis.”

Mark felt like he’d reached the very bottom. He was only in his young twenties but his illnesses took everything. He lost friends and loved ones because they couldn’t understand what he was going through, and, at one point, he was even hospitalized.

“For seven years, I barely left the room I was renting unless it was necessary. I lost track of the days,” shared Mark. “And the pills that my doctors said would make me better, instead were followed immediately by what could only be described as a mild state of catatonia.”

When he could, Mark pretended like he was still a functional part of society by promoting bands, events and causes via a social media group he’d created called Local Noise Entertainment, but it wasn’t reality. He was hurting and stuck inside of his own mind.

Then, one random day, everything changed. He received a call from Corey Agin, the Executive Director of Rhode Island’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). It was his saving grace.

Corey thought Mark’s marketing background would be a perfect fit for NORML, and it was an opportunity Mark couldn’t refuse. Suddenly, it was as if a new world had opened up. Mark learned everything he could about cannabis and cannabis laws. “Corey taught me all about the ideal ways to use medical cannabis, and it wasn’t long before I started to grasp how to use the plant for desired therapeutic and remedial purposes,” he said.

Tragically and unexpectedly, Corey passed away a few short years later but his mentorship and lessons on cannabis stayed with Mark. When he moved to Massachusetts, Mark continued the fight for cannabis legalization and even became more actively involved by rallying and writing articles about reform. He started volunteering at MassCann NORML and attending events as an educator.

Mark’s life had taken a complete 180-turn. Suddenly, thanks to cannabis and his fight for legalization, he had the physical health and emotional confidence to once again try out for a band and perform in concert. Something he’d long given up as a lost cause.

Now, once again, Mark is the lead singer for a metal band, Synthetic Mindset, and has been performing at packed concert halls all over New England. And it’s cannabis that Mark credits for his new chance at life.

“It was cannabis that saved my life, not teams of doctors, their hospitals and their barrage of addictive pharmaceuticals,” shared Mark. “For too long, I felt as if I was a prisoner of my own mind—destined for isolation because of my own solitary confinement. Cannabis was nothing less than a new beginning, an indication of now unbridled possibilities. And as my long missed musical outlet has now been made possible once again, I feel as if I’m rising through the ashes of despair that once was.”