Happy Birthday to Me!
3 years ago, on August 17, I started my first Hero Holiday. It’s amazing how my life has changed in the last 3 years because of Hero Holiday. I would like to bring you back to the school year of 2006 – 2007, my grade 10 year. Throughout grade 10 I was bullied and harassed by my fellow students. This had an effect on me. I had problems with low self esteem, I was depressed, I was suicidal. The more depressed I got, the more social anxiety I felt. The best thing that happened to me in high school was when LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) did a presentation at my school in the spring of 2007. After seeing their presentation I immediately signed up for the Mexico Hero Holiday.When the school year ended, I was so depressed and so anti-social that all I wanted to do was stay in my room and play video games. Day in and day out, that is what I did. I became comfortable in my own environment. I was afraid of the outside world. Answering the phone, opening the door to the house, and even going on facebook became the hardest tasks for me. I would do whatever it took to avoid anything social. This did not help me, the more I stayed in the house the more depressed I got. I thought this was normal. It’s what all teenagers do. That’s why I kept this to myself. My 16th birthday was special. No, I didn’t get a get a car, a new tv, or new clothes. Instead, i found out I had social anxiety from doing online research. Lucky me huh.? A couple of days I visited the doctor and was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. I remember the night of August 16, 2007, the night before my hero holiday trip. I was a nervous wreck, I could not sleep. I did not want to go to Mexico, I did not want to leave me room. The only reason I followed through with the trip was because my parents paid for the trip. I took the greyhound form Victoria to Abbotsford to meet up with the hero holiday group. This was was a BIG step for me. I was so nervous, so far away from home. When I met up with the other 27 participants, I barely spoke, even though we had a group dinner and orientation together. On the 18th, we headed by bus down south to San Diego. On the bus, I’d didn’t say a word til 7 hours into the trip. Not even to the person next beside me. A game of Texas Hold’em became my haven. I got lucky and played well, I actually won. My confidence grew, I started to open up. My true colours started to show, and by the time we hit Mexico no one could shut me up! For me this is what I call social high. This is when your surrounded by people who make you so happy that there is no way you can ever feel bad. I thought that feeling would only last for so long, and then I would revert back to my anti social, depressed self, but that didn’t happen.In Mexico I saw what poverty looked like. Poverty surrounded me 24/7. I realized how lucky I was not to worry about my needs, like water food and shelter. During my house build I became attached to the kids on my site. The family welcomed me with open arms, just like everyone on the Hero Holiday trip. By the time my trip ended, I realized I could never go back to my old self. I had to change. I had to be more confident, more social, and more importantly I had to be happy with the person I am.During the first week I got back I told everyone about my mental illness, and I wrote a blog for LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) about my battle with mental illness. I became a role model in my school for mental illness. During my grade 11 year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) did another presentation at my school. I was part of the presentation. I talked about my trip for 2 minutes in front of 700 people. A year ago this would have been my worst fear, but a after my life changing experience, it was as easy as waking in the morning. I didn’t stop there. I did presentations for my friends, for the church I went to, and high schools in Victoria as well. I became a role model among my friends. In January of this year I shared my story on the local news. It’s only been 3 years but I’ve changed so much.At this very moment, I’m in Mexico. I’m a summer intern for both hero holiday trips in Mexico this August. A couple of days ago, I just finished my 6th house build, and I’ve been on 5 hero holiday trips so far. Even though I’m not the best builder, I try to be the most welcoming and social person on every trip. Since I’m loud, random, entertaining, caring, and Asian, I stick out like the great wall of china! During my stay in Mexico I try to make friends with everyone. My Mexican friends and I share a special bond: we have a secret hand shake. Every time I meet a nice person I do the secret hand shake which turns into a hug. Because of my experience with Hero Holiday, I have friends all over the world. I have friends like Duncan from P.E.I, to David who works at grocery store down here in Mexico.I encourage everyone to come on a Hero Holiday. You meet people your age, and become close friends. You will build a house for a family, whom you call your own. You will cry when you give them a house and say goodbye. When it’s over, you will never regret it. Your life will be changed, and you will always want to go back to visit. That’s why I’m back for the 4th consecutive summer. You only live once, and life is too short. For me, I never lived untill I went on a hero holiday trip. For me, today is my 3rd birthday. Happy birthday to me!~ Johnston