Four thousand on-lookers watched as Derian Moffitt stepped on to centre ice. Donned head-to-toe in a Cat-in-the-Hat costume, holding a pink broom, he laughed and joined a small pumpkin girl and 18 other costumed heroes in an epic broomball battle at a recent Giants hockey game.
Up until recently, this kind of attention would have been a horrific nightmare for Derian. Since his earliest memory, Derian, now 20, has lived with crippling anxiety – sometimes so bad it left him unable to leave the house.
“He has always feared what people would think of him,” says Youth Unlimited outreach worker Cassia Philipson – aka the small pumpkin girl who joined Derian on the ice. “This fear stole Derian’s joy, peace and so many healthy opportunities.”
“Anxiety is a thief,” says Derian. “It steals a lot from someone – especially someone in high school.”
The most common mental illness
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety affects six percent of youth and is considered the most common mental illness affecting this demographic. The Canadian Mental Health Commission reports that 70 percent of young adults with mental health problems say their symptoms began in childhood and that early intervention is key for future success.
Derian first encountered Youth Unlimited through Cassia, while volunteering as a youth ambassador on the North Shore CityFest youth council. Derian soon realized he’d found a youth worker who understands his struggle with anxiety and could journey with him in it.
“Mentorship is the biggest part of Youth Unlimited,” says Derian. “Youth workers, I feel, are the most important thing growing up.”
Hungry for more
Derian grew close to the Youth Unlimited team in his community. And soon he met someone else that would have an even greater impact on his life.
“In the past, I would have described myself as an atheist,” says Derian. “I was anti-Christian with a biased opinion towards faith. I would never have thought I would have a connection with God and know him so well. And it’s all thanks to Youth Unlimited.”
God caught Derian by surprise. In the past, he was suspicious of Christianity, but also hungry to know more about this God behind YU’s loving actions. He attended Youth Alpha, and along the way, Cassia gave him a Bible.
“I still have it to this day,” he says. “There are different passages where I have written in it. That’s something I never thought would happen, because I’m not a book person. But the Bible’s different!”
While his faith and strong community helped Derian make huge inroads in working through anxiety, he recognizes that it can’t be cured instantly. It’s a slow journey and one best not walked alone.
The barren land
Derian’s anxiety and depression escalated last fall. A few caring friends became fearful that Derian might be suicidal so Derian was taken to the hospital. Kept there in a room with a police officer watching him, Derian felt scared and alone.
“I felt so out of place, in a barren land,” he recalls.
In spite of the darkness, Derian risked reaching out to his YU community, not really expecting anyone to show up. But, sure enough, before too long, YU youth worker Andrew Chong strolled into his room. He sat. He hugged. He listened. He stayed.
“To see Andrew just show up without any explanation made me feel really cared for,” says Derian. “Because of all the anxiety I deal with . . . it’s really hard to maintain relationships. But Andrew’s presence made me feel safe.”
A life transformed
Today, Cassia and Andrew can see that Derian has grown by leaps and bounds. He has developed the relational network and coping strategies he needs and is reclaiming his life from anxiety.
“I’ve had the privilege of watching Derian grow from a place where his anxiety crippled his everyday life to where he is today – thriving,” says Cassia. “Though there are still moments where he struggles, he’s decided that he won’t let anxiety be a thief any longer.”
“I felt God more through YU,” Derian reflects. “I feel like that’s the most magical thing: God placed YU in my life.”
CityFEST, the largest Youth Week event in the Lower Mainland, is put on by the youth of the North Shore, with support from multiple community supporters, including Youth Unlimited [and North Shore Alliance Church]. Activities include live local youth music and a dance showcase on the big stages, skate and long board races, local youth art show, food and more.
Details: Saturday, May 6, 11 am – 4 pm, at 23rd and Lonsdale in North Vancouver
About Youth Unlimited
Youth Unlimited has been helping young people discover their potential since 1947. With eight chapters in Greater Vancouver, YU provides caring relationships and developmental opportunities for vulnerable youth through relevant programs and individual connections, aimed at fostering mental, physical, social, spiritual and emotional well-being among young people in the community. www.youthunlimited.
This article is re-posted by permission.