Ashten's Gala Speech, 2017
Hi everyone, my name is Ashten. I would like to start off by introducing Wayne; he is a case manager supervisor at the Open Door and has worked there for 12 years. That makes him like, really old. I’ve known Wayne for 2 and half years but, for both of us it feels more like 50. If I’m being honest, Wayne was a giant pain in my ass, right Wayne?
I was suffering from depression and really bad anxiety which for me meant that I didn’t want to do anything. I had no desire to pull myself out of bed and go to school because what was the point? I didn’t want to socialize or open up about all the chaos in my head because who would care anyways? I didn’t want to do my chores or attend workshops because I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to make important phone calls because my anxiety was telling me that it would probably kill me. I wasn’t given a choice of whether or not to do these things, I had to do them or I wouldn’t have anywhere to live. Rules and structure was the absolute last thing I wanted but I think the Open Door knew it was exactly what I and other clients needed. I think us young people resent what we know deep down will help us, we fight it because were scared and hurting on the inside and what teenager likes being told what to do? Wayne forced me out of my shell; he got me to open up and begin to trust himself and the other staff. As much as he was a pain in my ass, I know I was a pain in his. I’m very stubborn, hard headed and sassy; and when I’m hurting I’m anything but easy to deal with. I’m loud and obnoxious, I speak my mind and I have no problems arguing. I may be small but my personality is anything but small. And for some reason Wayne put up with all my crap, he was there when I needed to talk, made me talk when I didn’t want to, got me to socialize when I couldn’t care less and put up with all my sarcasm and pranks. And fortunately for me, he didn’t take my jokes at him seriously and always joked right back with me. during my time at the Open Door I was also extremely suicidal and had a few suicide attempts and I can’t imagine how hard this was on the Open Door staff. I feel bad for putting them through that but without them there supporting me through it, I don’t know what I would have done. It takes a special person to work with and support youth like me and it’s amazing that all the staff at the shelter have that determination and caring nature to put up with teenagers.
The staff at the Open Door supported me in multiple ways; they didn’t just put a roof over my head and food on the table. They are so much more than that. When I came to the Open Door I was in a very bad place, aside from the obvious homelessness. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, I was molested by my step father for almost ten years of my life. A few years before I came to the Open Door, I had found the courage to tell someone about the abuse. My step father was charged and sentenced with 15 months house arrest and 2 years of probation following that. Roughly two years after this he ended up back in my life and back in my home. At first, I was desperately trying to fix my family; I had blamed myself for my family falling apart. I thought all the pain everyone was feeling was all my fault, I wanted to fix it, I wanted to make my family whole again. I didn’t realize the affect this would have on me. I was terrified of him, I couldn’t eat or sleep because my body was stuck in fight or flight mode. I was constantly waiting for him to sneak into my bedroom as he had throughout my childhood. I started having flash backs and panic attacks at home and at school. I used self-harm as a way to try and cope with all the chaos inside of me and within the first five months of living in Camrose I had 3 suicide attempts. I couldn’t do it anymore; I couldn’t pretend I was okay with this anymore. I decided to flee my home and report my stepfather for breaching his probation. Shortly after this, I found myself with nowhere to go, no family to help or support me. I remember how terrified I was as my principal brought me to the Open Door, it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I remember my first night there, Bob was going through my stuff and Alison was being her goofy self. In my first moments at the Open Door I never thought they would become such a huge part of my life.
The next few months would be some of the hardest in my entire life and I don’t know how I would have survived without the support of the Open Door. In the next few months I had multiple suicide attempts, self-harm episodes, flash backs and panic attacks, denied help from many health care workers and the case in which I had lost everything for had been dropped. During this time, I was a complete wreck, falling farther and farther into the depths of despair. I was devastated by the lack of support I was receiving from the health care system. I can’t even describe to you how devastated I was when the case was dropped due to a crown prosecutor not properly doing is job. I lost hope in everything and without the Open Door there supporting me I don’t know if I would be here today.
I was not an easy client to deal with; they had their work cut out with me. if you were to tally up all the hours they spent talking to me, making sure I was okay, I’m sure it would blow your mind. No matter how busy they were what time it was, or how little my problem may have seemed they were always there, always willing to take the time to calm me down, let me cry my eyes out or rage on about how awful the world was. I can’t even count how many times I relied on the staff to get me through all these moments of turmoil. They dedicated so much of their time to support me through all the crap the world threw at me and I honestly never expected a shelter for youth to be filled with such caring, kind, and compassionate human beings. Not only did they spend so much time listening to all the mess in my head they supported me in attaining help from Alberta works, I believe I had to apply 3 or 4 times before I received some financial support from Alberta works. They were also there to take me to the hospital when the suicidal thoughts would get really bad, even though I really didn’t want to go. I’m pretty sure every staff member has been threatened a punch from me at the mere mention of unit 3. They supported me when doctors told me my mental health was not sever enough to qualify for a treatment center for PTSD and helped me get into counselling with an amazing therapist. They supported me throughout the justice system when I was awaiting trial and when I found out the case had been dropped. They helped me in all areas of my life and most importantly, helped me overcome and heal from all of the awful in my life. They helped me grow into the awesome human I am today and helped shape who I am.
The young shattered, broken, devastated girl I was at the shelter is not who I am today. It’s amazing how I began to grow and heal when in a safe, caring environment. I walked into the shelter damaged and broken but came out strong and healing. The Open Door taught me that no matter what my past was, no matter what I had done or what I had lost that my future was bright. They showed me that despite every awful thing that happened to me, I deserved to be happy and that it was possible for me to happy. They taught me not to give up in the face of diversity but to stand up and fight for myself. They took my low crumpled self-esteem and helped me build a solid foundation of self-love and courage. They changed my life simply by showing me they cared and not everyone would give up on me. As a youth who found myself in a situation where many doors were shut on me I was blessed to find the one and only door that was open, the Open Door. For the longest time, I was so focused on everything that I had lost that I didn’t really appreciate what I had gained. I realize now that I gained something so much greater that what I lost, I gained a true, caring and supportive family. My family is not made up of blood and DNA, my family is made of teachers, friends and the staff at the shelter. These are the people who never gave up on me no matter how crazy I drove them or how many mistakes I made. These are the people who were there for me in the worst moments of my life. These are the people who helped me get to a place where I am no longer a hostage to my past, helped me silence the suicidal voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, helped me learn and grow from the abuse I suffered and gave me hope in my future and in myself. I’m happy to finally be able to say that I am no longer suicidal and have not had a suicide attempt or self-harmed in almost a year. That’s the longest I’ve ever made it since I was 15 years old. I’m in a place in my life where I am able to come off of all my medications for anxiety and depression and that feels amazing! I recently regained contact with my family and am talking with my mom and working on our relationship. My heart is truly happy to have a connection with my family and especially my mom. I’m in a happy, loving and supportive relationship with an amazing man and we are proud renters of a little apartment. I have an amazing job opportunity at the insurance company Combined and will be going for my training in October! I am now in such a good place and couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out. My life has changed in miraculous ways and it would not have been possible without the amazing support of the Open Door. In doing this speech today I’m amazed at the complete difference in my life and in myself. My life has completely changed and I can’t thank the Open Door enough for everything they have done for me, they changed my entire life. The community of Camrose is truly blessed to have such an amazing organization looking out for the lost, scared and hurting youth in this community. Thank you for your time and I hope you have a lovely evening.
Yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk Day, and they ask people to talk about what Mental Health Means to them. To me, Mental Health means being able to talk to Open Door staff at any time of the day about what is on my mind. The Open Door has been on my side every step of the way.
Throughout my life, I have been through abuse, emotional, physical, and sexual. At first, I did not know how to cope with it all, so I self-harmed. Depression is a very hard thing to get through. Every day is a battle for your life and I struggled for years. I came to the Open Door feeling worthless and alone. I was living in Wetaskiwin at the time, sleeping on the streets, and benches, in and out of trap houses, and then I found the Open Door. I consider the Open Door to be my home.
When I first came, I didn’t know anyone, and I had to make new friends. Making friends was hard especially in a new town and in a new school. Through the Open Door, I was able to meet many new people and supports. They helped enroll me in school, set me up with mental health appointments, hooked me up with the LGBTQ+ community, and looked after my basic needs.
Every day is still a battle through my eyes, but every day it gets a little better.
You guys don’t know how much you do. I appreciate all that you do.
You guys saved my life. Thank you.