Max: Finding resilience through the pain of chronic illness

Resilience is the foundation for positive mental health and well-being. It allows us to confront difficult experiences and challenges in a more meaningful and productive way, enabling us to learn, grow, and become stronger from them.
Research shows that it’s not just what we go through that affects us, but it’s also the story that we tell ourselves. And if we stop and make meaning of life’s most difficult moments, they can actually help us develop a sense of purpose, take appropriate risks and create positive relationships with others.
Everything in life, both good and bad, can teach us something if we’re willing to learn from it. With resilience, we can turn obstacles into advantages and use them to create a life of greater meaning.
Here’s how Max’s experience with resilience has improved his mental well-being.


Max Goldsmith

A good campfire, s’mores, camp sing-alongs and kayaking. These were some of the things I was looking forward to on my way to camp for the first time.

Do you know what I wasn’t looking forward to?  The worst-case scenario I encountered on the way to camp.

We were driving down the highway when I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom—badly! My camp counsellor–who was one of the nicest people–brought me to the front of the bus and asked the driver to stop. But we were on the highway. There wasn’t anywhere to stop.

While the driver looked for an exit, I started to panic. My stomach was gurgling, the need to go was getting worse, and we weren’t getting any closer to finding a bathroom.

My camp counsellor tried to distract me with some games. And at some point, while I was counting all the white cars that passed us by, I realized that I had pooped my pants.

I was humiliated!

Eventually, we made it to a gas station where I could change, but the mark it left on me that day goes beyond the mark it left on my underwear. That was the day I became “that kid.” The one who is a little too much, who doesn’t fit in and causes problems.

But really, people just didn’t understand me and what I was going through.


Surviving years of chronic illness

I’ve had digestive issues all my life. I was chronically constipated, sometimes I would overeat, other times I would struggle to eat anything at all, and there were many times when I was in a lot of pain. This went on for years and years, but no one could tell me what was wrong.

And what’s worse, it felt like no one believed me either.

People would tell me that this was anxiety, that it was all in my head, and that if I took better care of myself, I wouldn’t feel this way. They made me feel like it was my fault like I didn’t deserve to be helped, and I started to really hate everyone around me. I even started to hate myself. I was so overwhelmed, I was in a lot of pain and I didn’t know what was going on with my own body. I couldn’t see a future for myself and was worried about what I would do if this didn’t end soon.

After years of being in pain, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory disease that primarily affects your digestion. I was given some medication to help with the pain, but it didn’t really help. I still kept getting sicker and I kept going back to the hospital looking for relief. But no one would take me seriously.

One night, the pain got so bad, I thought I was dying. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. My body was out of control, I was having violent twitches as a result of not being able to eat enough and I was scared that I was going to get seriously hurt.

I went to my local hospital, but the nurses dismissed my cries for help. They told me that it was all in my head, blaming what I was experiencing on my autism, and committed me to mental treatment. The doctor wouldn’t run any other tests, even though I was in unimaginable pain, and they wouldn’t address any of my symptoms. I was even tied to my bed and told that I wouldn’t be released until I stopped acting psychotic.

It was so degrading. I felt like an animal, an object like I was being punished for needing help. I was starving, dehydrated and alone – they didn’t contact my family and I was too afraid to ask for anything myself. When the psychiatrist finally came to see me, he could see that I wasn’t having a mental episode, and released me.

23 days later, I was on an operating table. I went to a different hospital with the same symptoms and, finally, someone heard me. It turns out the pain I was experiencing was due to a blockage in my intestine and my only option was to remove it through surgery. Finally, FINALLY, I was getting the help I needed.


Reframing pain and finding resilience

I was really angry about how I was treated for a long time. There were so many times when I thought it would be better to give up than to deal with this pain because it felt like I wasn’t ever going to get the help I needed. I was miserable and just didn’t want to be alive anymore.

But at some point, I started to change the narrative. I actually found solace at a camp for people with Crohn’s and Colitis disease. When I told the camp nurse my story, she helped me realize that I was telling myself the wrong one. I had been telling myself the story of what happened to me and what was done to me, but the real story is how I survived. I kept going back seeking help, even after how I was treated, even after so many people told me “no.” I kept fighting for that help and I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.

Today, I’m still dealing with Crohn’s disease, but I have better doctors and support. I still struggle sometimes with my physical and mental health, but I think back to how I felt then and how I feel now and I’m so proud of all the progress I’ve made. This experience has given me the confidence to trust myself and my instincts because that’s what saved me. It’s given me the courage to look at other areas of my life and advocate for myself in a way I wasn’t able to before. I can see now that I never really wanted to end my life – I just wanted a better one.

I don’t want to let my struggles define me or prevent me from doing the things that matter, because otherwise, what’s the point? I get to do things that the younger me would be so proud of. I could never fully see a future for myself, but now I do. I can see myself being the person I’ve always looked up to, and I can look back on these moments and be grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.

Even though I still get depressed sometimes, I’m not going to let those moments break me. I’m not going to let them stop me from living my best life and doing the things that matter to me.


Learn more

Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being. LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.
Want to join people like Max and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 5th, 2023

Mental Health May: LiveDifferent is helping young people feel connected

Circles program’s road team is coming to schools across the country to deliver a message of purpose and belonging to students who need mental wellness support

LiveDifferent, a non-profit organization that focuses on inspiring young people to make positive changes in their lives, is encouraging schools and organizations to book their Circles program for the upcoming school semester.

With all the issues that youth are facing—depression, bullying, peer pressure, suicide—there tends to be a common thread: A lack of connection and purpose.

In about 70% of cases, symptoms of mental illness begin before age 18. During this month of May (Mental health awareness month), LiveDifferent invites schools to invest in their students’ well-being and host its Circles mental wellness programming.

Through in-school assemblies and peer-mentorship curriculum, the Circles Program gets to the root cause and helps youth deal with these issues in a positive way. Circles helps young people explore important values, build stronger relationships and get activated in kindness—leaving them more compassionate, resilient and hopeful.

“At LiveDifferent, we believe that young people have the power to make real positive change in our world,” says Johnny Henderson, Director of School and Community Programs.

The Circles Program is designed to give students an opportunity to explore topics such as resilience, empathy and altruism. It includes interactive activities such as group discussions and compassion projects that help students develop strong relationships with one another while learning about teamwork and empathy. The program also encourages students to take ownership of their mental health by creating action plans for managing stressors such as bullying or anxiety.

“Our goal is to help them build a sense of purpose while giving them practical ways to make a difference—our starting place is helping build meaningful and authentic peer-to-peer relationships,” says Henderson.

LiveDifferent is calling educators to book for the 2023/2024 school year. Schools can book a one-hour assembly and choose to include additional breakout sessions or book an entire LiveDifferent Day. Learn more about Circles at or watch this short video to see Circles in action:


About LiveDifferent

As a Canadian charity since 2000, LiveDifferent helps young people explore and instill important values, build stronger relationships and get activated in kindness within their communities and abroad. To date, LiveDifferent has reached over 1.7 million students across Canada, engaged more than 6,000 volunteers who have helped raise funds and personally helped construct over 590 homes for families. LiveDifferent’s Road Team also travels to remote Indigenous communities in Northern Manitoba and the Northwest Territories to facilitate its life-promotion programming called Circles. To learn more about LiveDifferent, visit

Author: Gina Alward

Date: May 2nd, 2023