A million years ago, I was a teenager who was very driven. I thought I had my whole life planned out. I was committed to achieving my dreams and I worked very hard to creep towards them. I knew how to get through high school quickly and successfully. I knew how to balance those academic needs with my athletic goals and plans. I knew where I wanted to go after high school, what my first career would be, then what schooling I would do to achieve my second career goals.
Then, as life is likely to do, I was thrown a curve ball that I didn’t see coming. With only a few years to make everything I wanted happen, I watched everything fall out of my grasp. As a cocky, driven teenager who thought I had everything under control, I was devastated.
But I was also lucky. Once I came out of my self-pitying funk, I looked around. I had people around me who motivated me and let me try new things, introduced me to new ideas, and supported me when I took my first timid steps in new directions.
I had a teacher who insisted that I, a straight A student, go see the guidance counsellor, and persisted when I refused multiple times. I had that guidance counsellor who saw through my bravado and introduced me to goals that would help me get back on track. One of the things he had me do was explore applying for a national scholarship called the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award. I probably would have resisted, but he broached it as a challenge, knowing that I was not one to back away from a challenge. So, I researched Terry Fox and learned a lot more about what he stood for, what he dreamed, what he accomplished, how he persevered despite adversity. How, even though he lost the battle, he is still winning the war today. There were a lot of correlations between his story and mine and I was sad to say I had not done nearly as much to persevere…yet.
Terry Fox’s story inspired me and gave me the kick to get my life back in order. I was headed in a totally different direction. I had to humbly start over in many ways and try on things I had never considered, (including eventually, a never-before-thought-of career in education).
I never met Terry Fox, but he changed my life and pulled me out of my own hardship. He helped me see how to take my driven spirit and drive it in a different direction, and that it was ok to do so. It wasn’t failing, it was adapting.
I’ve been following the semi colon project with great interest. In any school I have worked in, mental health issues are a concern. They affect students, staff, and families, both directly and indirectly. And, although public perceptions are slowly changing, there still is shame and blame associated with these illnesses. This, of course, only contributes to making the problems bigger and more difficult to manage.
I wonder now, if I hadn’t had help, especially in the way of mentors like Terry Fox that I could learn from and be inspired by, what I would have done. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think I would have been able to pull myself out of my funk as well as I did. While I am grateful I received that national scholarship, I think my life would have been forever changed even if they had not granted it to me.
We all need mentors to help us get over ourselves and provide us with hope. I faced physical adversity and found a role model in Terry Fox. For others with mental health illnesses and struggles, I have wondered who would be willing and able to mentor them well.
I think the semi colon project can help. People face all kinds of adversity and need all kinds of mentors. People who have faced the strain of mental illness and now see light on the other side need to be visible for those who are still in the dark.
I am glad for the semi colon project. I am proud of those who stand up and are willing to be those mentors. Terry Fox may be forever known as someone who changed many lives, but I have full confidence that your strength will be an inspiration to many who desperately need it.
Thank you, semi colon people. You will change lives.