Getting on the right track
AJ struggled with mental health issues from the age of 9 or 10. It was only when he found United Way-funded supports that he got the help he needed.
“I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety at about nine or 10 years old.
From my family’s perspective, it came out of left field. I was a really happy kid. I kind of just rolled with everything but then there was a sudden shift in my demeanor when I was just this ball of anxiety, which manifested in a lot of anger. My parents would just see the anger and not understand that there was anything else there. They didn’t have the skills or resources to deal with it. Even when my parents were trying to advocate for me, they got stonewalled.
A lot of my OCD is germ related. As my odd behaviour started and kids started to kind of give me a hard time about it, I think that’s where the social anxiety started to develop and then later the depression. I developed this feeling that I had to be perfect or I was going to fail.
My parents took me to a whole bunch of doctors who didn’t listen to me at all. It was just very clinical. I kept ending up in hospitals because I was so unwell.
I dropped out of high school and then I got fired from my job. My friendship situation wasn’t great because all my friends were moving on with their lives. I was treading water, if you can call it that.
When I was about 19, I went to emergency and they kept me for two days. After that, I went to a crisis house. They connected me with an organization and a youth worker. And right away, it was completely different.
She met me where I was at. She listened to me, she wasn’t telling me what to do, or imposing how I was supposed to be feeling. She just laid out all of my options. No one had ever told me I had options before, so all of a sudden I had this kind of control that I hadn’t had before. She told me to tell her what I wanted to do and she would help me do it.
She helped me settle back at home and to connect to services in her organization and in the community. It was the turning point that got me on the right track.
I eventually did some self-esteem work and some youth peer support training. Through the youth training, I learned about harm reduction and safer sex and alcohol and drugs, so that I could give back to the community. That was really empowering because all of a sudden, I was in a position where I was being treated as capable. I’m studying film at college now.
I have been through so many private facilities and doctors and therapists who just seemed really siloed. The United Way programs are more interconnected. It’s more like an ecosystem.
It’s not easy to ask for help and it’s not easy to get help. The more accessible it is, and the more options people have, the more likely they are to find something that fits for them.
I share my story in the United Way speakers bureau and with youth I work with because if I had been able to find that right person and right organization at an earlier point in my life, things may have been better. So it’s important to me to help people find the lifeline that I did.”