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Opinion: I hit rock bottom 10 years ago. This is how I found my way back.

I struggled with mental illness. My good friend was murdered in New Westminster. I didn't see a way out. This is how it turned around.
Alex Sangha and January Marie Lapuz
The author, Alex Sangha, with his friend January Marie Lapuz. Sangha writes about the downward spiral his life was in, hitting rock bottom when Lapuz was murdered in New Westminster in 2012 – and how he has found his way back.

Ten years ago in April 2012, I celebrated my 40th birthday party.  I really did not know why I had a party, because I was really struggling in my life.

I was unemployed, on heavy medication for bipolar, overweight; I was living in poverty and barely surviving on income assistance.  I had very few close friends and was dealing with chronic depression. I was even bullied by some members of the gay South Asian community who choose to target and hate on me because of my life situation. They put me down in a very hurtful and traumatizing way.

Soon afterward, in September 2012, one of my good friends, January Marie Lapuz, who was in many ways even more marginalized than me, was murdered in her own home in New Westminster. 

My life had basically hit rock bottom. I saw very little hope.  I had many thoughts of suicide to escape from my struggles and emotional pain. My faith in God kept me going due in part to a spiritual experience I had when I was younger. 

I then discovered the Gay Warriors talking circle in Downtown Vancouver, and I started to learn about Indigenous spirituality and healing. Most importantly, I felt part of a community that did not judge me. My self-esteem and self-confidence and self-identity took a turn for the better. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

I became friends with a retired librarian who lived in the neighbourhood. He essentially became my mentor. We started going for weekly coffees. I found someone who believed in me, and slowly, week by week, I started to carve a path forward in my life.

Next month, in April 2022, I will be celebrating my 50th birthday.  My life has truly transformed over the last 10 years. For example,

  • I earned my second master’s degree and a clinical social work designation.
  • I have a flourishing counselling practice.
  • I published a book on current affairs.
  • I produced two award-winning documentaries that are having an impact on the lives of many people.
  • I worked as a youth counsellor, social worker and team leader with a non-profit and health authority.
  • Sher Vancouver has become a rapidly growing and expanding registered charity.
  • I purchased my first property.
  • I travelled to Ottawa to receive a national honor from the Governor General of Canada
  • Most importantly, I took in and supported a homeless disowned gay international student who in turn now is independent.

I am grateful for my second chance in life.

I learned there is something we can all do for each other.

Everything is possible if we work together. 

There is strength in numbers. There is strength in the community.

If everyone just helps one person in the world, then almost all the people of the world will be empowered.

I feel you just need to find that one mentor or community of people who believe in you and nurture your strengths. 

I believe we need to create a society where everyone can reach their potential and achieve their dreams.

Alex Sangha is a social worker, documentary film producer, and Founder of Sher Vancouver, which is a registered charity for LGBTQ+ South Asians and Friends.  Check out his award-winning debut feature documentary Emergence: Out of the Shadows.