Life Coach
Camille Ellis says her coaching practice is a way to honor her son’s life. The Santa Cruz County life coach has channeled her grief into helping others who have also experienced losses. (Contributed)

After the rush of the holidays and the bills that come alongside, and with the constant news about grocery magnates ramping-up shrinkflation and regulators allowing massive electricity price hikes, January can be quite the dismal time.

It’s ironic that many end up feeling these sorts of difficult emotions at a time that’s supposed to be all about rebirth, so the Press Banner reached out to a Santa Cruz County life coach to get her take on this phenomenon. It led to quite a frank and revealing conversation about a devastating loss and how she chose to process it.

“The holidays are a great distraction for people,” said Camille Ellis, 58, a life coach based in Capitola who met her husband when he lived in Ben Lomond. “As soon as they’re over, there can be a huge crash.”

January is now recognized as Mental Wellness Month, and for good reason.

After all, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Twenty percent of adults in the U.S. experience seasonal affective disorder.

More than 180,000 Californians were experiencing homelessness in 2023, according to federal government statistics (up from about 150,000 in 2019), and these people face more extreme conditions as winter rains arrive.

One U.K. researcher even attempted to determine the most depressing day of the year.

Cliff Arnall crunched the numbers (using a complex-looking formula) and put his name to the concept of Blue Monday, though this turned out to be a PR stunt to sell vacations.

But that doesn’t mean the January slump isn’t real.

Ellis says it can be a particularly hard time for people who have dealt with personal loss or have other forms of grief that they haven’t fully processed.

“You just go through miserable times,” she said. “It’s OK to feel grief. So often people push it away because it hurts.”

During such moments people may turn to overeating, drinking alcohol or doing drugs, instead of dealing with their trauma, she adds.

Ellis knows this pain all too well, because she’s experienced it herself.

After a troubled adolescence, her son took his own life. His name was Wesley, but everyone called him Wes.

“He was a troubled soul from the beginning,” Ellis recalled, describing how she pulled him out of the school he was attending and enrolled him at San Lorenzo Valley High. “That was the only high school in town that didn’t have gang activity. And he wanted to play football.”

Wes would get caught up in bad situations when he would stick up for the underdog against bullies or fall for get-rich-quick schemes involving drugs, she says.

For Ellis, it was a relief to be able to keep her son away from some of that, even though it meant she had to drive into the Santa Cruz Mountains from down the hill, each morning.

“I grew up in the mountains, so windy roads don’t phase me—and it wasn’t that long of a drive,” she said. “It was just our life at that time.”

Still, Wes continued to struggle with classes, though he did manage to get his diploma through an independent studies program.

But even on the cusp of adulthood, Wes was feeling like his life was fraying.

“He was 18 and he came to me and he was crying, and he said, ‘I think I need a counselor. I want to kill myself,’” she said. “Nothing had worked out the way he planned.”

They had a good talk and Ellis told him she’d get him the help he needed.

“He said he was OK, and then he took his life three months later,” she said. “He was disturbed from birth, and I did my very best for him…We had been to many counselors.”

Wes died on Oct. 3, 2010, just ahead of the holiday season that year.

“I had to allow my son to be gone and be OK with it,” she said. “I was grateful that my son left me a note. I was grateful that I got to see him. Some parents don’t get to see their children after they die.”

Ellis says she channeled her grief into helping the people around her who were struggling to process her son’s suicide.

“It was the beginning of my grief coaching,” she said.

Looking back, she sees that experience as serving to help those youth when they experienced other losses of loved ones, later on.

Ellis says the key, for her, was to realize that, even though her son was gone, she was lucky to have had the time with him that she did.

“My son’s journey was over, but he was a great teacher and he taught me a lot,” she said. “I’m taking my grief and I’m using it to create a better purpose for myself, a better direction.”

She operated DevOcean Salon in Santa Cruz for more than three decades. But when the coronavirus arrived and forced shops to close, she decided it was time to pursue her counseling aspirations full-time.

“I’d already been coaching, but I just got more education with my certification,” she said, noting that coaching is technically different from therapy, which requires more training to conduct.

She decided on studying with The Life Coach School, a Texas-based program that has received criticism from some for its high cost (around $18,000) and the cult of personality around its founder Brooke Castillo.

Ellis admits it was quite expensive but says she got a lot out of the program.

And she says she’s glad to now be guiding clients toward the renewal she achieved.

“I feel like it’s an extension of my son’s life,” she said. “I believe that everybody has a soul and that soul has a journey. And we are here to learn and teach and experience.”

Anyone with a mental health crisis can call 988 (the 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center. (Línea Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio [ayuda en Español] 1-888-628-9454.) Other resources include the Trevor Lifeline (LGBTQ) 1-866-488-7386, the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 and 911 for emergency services. They can also contact the Suicide Prevention Service of the Family Service Agency of the Central Coast:

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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