A few weeks ago, at The Royal’s Champions’ Breakfast, one of my heroes told his story. This young man is a student at Carleton, well-spoken and compassionate, someone I admire very much. I want you to hear his story, just as he tells it, and consider whether you would have his courage if you were in his place.

“Good morning. I am Kieran and I’m here this morning as someone who has fought hard to find my way out of the darkness. If I leave you with one message today, it’s this – you may feel it’s dark all around you now and that it’s always going to be dark, but take it from someone who knows – if you work on yourself; if you ask for help and receive it; you will find the light.

Almost 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that there would be a light at the end of that dark tunnel. I was a shell of my former self…for so long, it’s somewhat of a blur.

But this I do know. Back when I was twelve, my life was fairly normal. I had a pretty good handle on things. I was pulling in high grades. All was right in my world.

Then my mom got lung cancer. It went into remission, then came back – and it’s terminal.

This and a few other life events that happened around the same time really affected me. In a matter of weeks I found myself having to act – and do things – beyond what a kid should have to contend with.

I couldn’t just be a kid.

On top of all this, I had to change schools when my mom became ill with cancer a second time – and try to make a whole new set of friends and adjust to a whole new setting at a time when my life was such a huge challenge.

This is pretty tough for a kid to go through – and I started to drown.

My grades fell dramatically, to the low 50’s. I tried to put up a front, pretending that everything was alright. And even after talking with a teacher who advised me to tell my mom how I was feeling, things continued to get worse for me.

By the way, when I finally did tell my mom I wasn’t coping well, she was wonderful. And I was so relieved. To be honest, she is one of the main reasons I am still here today, in this world – she and the caring staff at The Royal.

After talking with my mom, I realized I needed help. The kind of help I couldn’t give myself – the kind of help even my mom couldn’t provide.

I made an appointment with my family doctor, who put me on an antidepressant. Four months later, another kind of antidepressant; four months later, two different kinds; and yet again another change in drugs four months after that. During all this horrible time – over a year or so – I was starting to hear sounds that were mostly gibberish. I was also thinking about suicide. You could say I had hit my all-time low. The drugs didn’t do anything for me; they just made me feel like crap.

That’s when I was admitted to CHEO. I was there for about three weeks. While I was there, I really hoped they could give me a miracle drug and I would be better.  At CHEO, they try to make you stable and after three weeks when I wasn’t stable, that’s when I was transferred to The Royal. I was about 16.

I was at The Royal for almost nine months. At the beginning I felt trapped, but I knew I had to be there…

I was so sick – struggling with thoughts of suicide, hearing voices, you name it. It’s all a bit of a blur looking back because soon after being admitted I had electroconvulsive therapy, followed by other types of intense therapies.

I love hockey and was playing house league hockey when I was admitted to The Royal. Because my mental illness was so severe, I was monitored fairly closely and wasn’t allowed out on day passes during the school week. It’s called being formed. All my rights were removed and if I were ever to leave the hospital I would be returned.

So here I was, stuck in a mental institution. And I couldn’t play hockey.

Looking back now, I believe with all my heart that this was the best decision I ever made. The staff on the youth unit really care about you. You can tell they love their jobs.

As time progressed, the staff taught me strategies for coping. Strategies that work. One strategy I use often is to find ways to divert my attention – listening to music for example. That really helps. If I’m having a really rough time and music isn’t helping, I’ll take medication – but I don’t like doing that because it makes me numb and useless for at least 12 hours.

I know that I’m going to have good and bad days. The thing is, The Royal gave me the safe environment I needed, where I could just be – and learn how to deal with all that life had thrown at me.

I have depression and schizophrenia, and whereas before I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I know now there is light.

I have learned how to deal with the fact that life isn’t always going to be hard. And I know that you don’t get something for nothing. It takes a lot of hard work.

Today I’m 20 years old and in my second year at Carleton, studying biochemistry. My dream is to get my Masters and maybe even my doctorate so that I can teach one day.

I feel so much better, and I am making a life for myself. I have the knowledge and the tools to know how to dig myself out of those dark holes.

I tell myself all the time, I want to feel better. I want to not be like this for the rest of my life. And while there are still dark days, I am feeling better.

I want to thank everyone at The Royal for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. To thank them for their patience and hard work; and for caring for kids like me.

I’m so grateful for The Royal helping me get my life back that I’m thinking about taking part in the butterfly art contest, and if I win the $1000 prize I want to give it back to The Royal for the youth program – to help other kids who need to find their way into the light.

You’ve changed my life – and you’ve probably changed hundreds of other people’s lives as well. To all of the caring staff at The Royal I want to say this: Thank You for helping me find the light…”

One story like this is also good for my dark days in medicine. I do love my job. Perhaps it’s not always evident to everyone around me but one young man has taught me that it is evident to the people who matter most.

I am sharing Kieran’s story with his permission. He has edited this post, which is dedicated to him, and those who love him.

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