Here’s the story behind my 8-month hitchhiking adventure from Toronto to Vancouver Island. I was 21 at the time, on the verge of finishing university, and desperate for a change in the way I was living my life.
It was near the end of my fourth year at University when I took a break from my studies to embark on my first adventure across Canada.
At this time, I was studying Biomedical Sciences and decided to add a minor in Psychology to my BSc. Since this was late into my degree, I didn’t have all the requirements to graduate, so I would have to come back for another semester.
After checking out courses in the upcoming semester, Winter 2012 had far more interesting subjects than Fall 2012. So, once my decision was made, I had an 8-month window to do whatever the hell I wanted.
My Breaking Point
To pay for the yearly $6000+ tuition fees and the $13,000+ in living costs (i.e., apartment, food, lifestyle, etc.) I used to clean machines at a potato chip factory.
I started this job when I was 17 and worked two 12-hour shifts every Saturday and Sunday for the next 4+ years.
It paid $17+ per hour or roughly $350 per week after taxes. In the summer, I would look for more work and ended up doing general labor for 45+ hours per week at $12 an hour — that’s an extra $6,500+ after taxes.
I was self-sufficient and had enough money to pay for university, a car, and a place to live. However, being in a full-time pre-medical program, working 24 hours every weekend, then adding 45+ hours of physical labor in the summertime — this pushed me to my breaking point.
You see, I didn’t have many friends growing up, and I was never close with my family.
I moved out of my parents’ house near the end of high school because I was fed up with getting kicked out, sleeping in my car, and crashing at a friend’s place.
During the summer of my 3rd year, all the pressure from school, work, and a lack of social support led to some really bad decisions.
Drinking, Drugs, and Gambling
I can’t remember how this happened, but I reconnected with some old friends from elementary school. I spent whatever free time at their place where we would drink, do drugs, and gamble.
I was never into the hard stuff like cocaine and LSD. Instead, my fix started with alcohol but quickly led to a monogamous relationship with Mary Jane.
Alcohol really fucked me up.
On weekends, I would drive to work at 6:45 am. My head would be smashing with a hangover. Sometimes I’d still be drunk.
If I arrived late, I would sit in the office and get lectured by my boss then hide in the toilets until the first break. If I arrived on time, I clocked in, went to my machines, then puked my guts out on the factory floor. The smell of oily, rotten potato chips and the buss of factory machines always did me in.
Then, I fell into a deep depression.
I started drinking more and calling in sick to recover. On the days I called off, I would wake up sometime in the afternoon then head over to my friends’ place to do it all again.
I hated losing money.
To make up for the $165+ I threw away, my friends and I would go to the casino and play poker. When we arrived, it was ritual to smoke a massive joint before going inside.
Lucikly for me, it wasn’t hard to turn $100 into $300 then $300 into $1500.
It’s difficult to explain, but, I played better poker whenever I was high. I would be detached from my thoughts and feelings. Whether I got busted on my bluff or raked in a huge pot, there was a constant buzz of harmony in my brain.
This went on for about a month before my boss started giving me disciplinary writeups for my negligent behavior. The factory I worked for had a union. This meant after three disciplinary writeups you could be suspended without pay. After two suspensions, the company could fire you.
I stopped drinking alcohol and got my act together after my first suspension. And, that’s when I made my commitment to Mary Jane.
Mary Jane — Goodbye, Brain!
Near the end of summer, I was working 7 days a week again. I would visit my elementary school friends only when I needed to restock my weed.
I smoked up 2 to 3 times a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. When I got into making my own weed oil, I would spend 4 to 6 hours in a state of mind that was completely detached and free.
Marijuana was my vacation to get away from reality.
When school started in September, the aftereffects of my summertime decisions impacted my ability to perform academically.
I couldn’t focus. I felt severely depressed. I struggled to keep up with assignments. And, I relied heavily on marijuana to get myself to sleep.
After struggling to pass the first round of mid-term exams, I stopped visiting my friends and started to go through withdrawal. There were days when I would be walking around my campus in a catatonic state. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know how to change my fate.
Whatever You Do — Don’t Diagnose Yourself
Abnormal psychology was one of the courses I was studying during the fall semester. It covered all the mental disorders in the DSM-V. From schizophrenia to manic depression to anxiety disorders —this was a deep dive into the problematic behaviors of the human mind.
Here’s what my lecturer said on the first day:
“One thing I need you all to remember,” he began, “as we learn about each mental disorder, whatever you do, do not go around diagnosing yourself, your friends, or your family.”
“Psychologists and psychiatrists undergo intensive training to help them determine whether or not an abnormal mental state is present,” he continued. “In one way or another, every person exhibits some form of the behaviors we’ll be learning in this course — however — it’s when individuals exhibit behavior at the far end of the spectrum where problems emerge and intervention is needed.”
I was stupid. I completely ignored my lecturer’s advice.
As the semester progressed and my general knowledge of mental disorders increased, I became the world’s worst psychologist.
My mom suffered from an anxiety disorder.
My older brother was a narcissist.
My lab partner was a sex addict.
My cousin had an internet gaming disorder.
I had an unhealthy mix of bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia.
System Error — Please Contact Your Admin
Things got bad. Really bad.
In October, I had some time off for thanksgiving. There were a few midterms I had to study for, but I needed a break. So, I returned to old habits in the summer.
I bought a bottle of rum and drove to a park. I’ve been here before and knew that not many people would be around. I walked around until dark and drank the entire bottle until I was blackout drunk.
I don’t remember how I got home but I woke up the next day in my bed. My car keys laid in the middle of my room while vomit was all over my bed. I started to cry so hard when it dawned on me all the dangers and risks I put myself and the community in.
I need help.
When the weekend was over, I was back at campus, wandering around once again in a catatonic state. I explored new buildings and eventually came across the administrative offices. On one of the doors, there was a sign that caught my eye:
Counseling Services — we’re here to see you succeed!
I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and was greeted by a woman with a big smile, sitting behind a desk.
“Welcome!” She said. “How can I help you today.”
“Uhm… I’d like to learn about your counseling services.”
It took 15-minutes to explain all the services.
“So, would you like to book an appointment? You can get started as early as next week.”
END OF PART I
By the way, I’m currently practicing my storytelling and crafting a writing style for my first book (to be published in October 2020). If you have any thoughts, feedback, or suggestions–I’d love the hear them.