The following is a speech that was presented by Tian, a Spectrum client, at the 2018 Spectrum Sleep Out. It is part of the Spectrum Youth Voices series.
I’m guessing you already know the kinds of services Spectrum has to offer and I’m also guessing you have some assumptions about the individuals Spectrum works with.
Before I accessed Spectrum services, I assumed every person was homeless because they were in foster care or in some other type of unfortunate living situation. Boy was I wrong.
Every individual who utilizes these services is as one-of-a-kind as the circumstances that brought them there. I am no exception. Three years later, I still find a knot in my stomach and a little water in my eyes when I think about the events leading up to moving into the Landing, Spectrum’s emergency shelter.
However, when I think about how far I have come and everything I have accomplished, I am amazed and overflowing with gratitude. Four years ago, I was on top of the world after being accepted and awarded presidential scholarships at all of the colleges I applied to. I was graduating magna cum laude, I couldn’t wait to get out of the seemingly small and mundane town of Burlington, and I was ready to take on the world to make a change. What I didn’t know was that I would return less than a semester later and make my impact here.
It’s still too painful for me to delve into specifics about my return, but it happened at the end of 2015. For many months after being back in Burlington, I somehow carried on with life. I smiled, I made commitments, and I packed up the house I had lived in for 15 years and watched it start its own new adventure with its new inhabitants. Despite all this sadness that was weighing me down, I continued to smile, and have summer adventures and just take life day by day. Except I’m a planner and spontaneity was not, and still isn’t, my forte. So, summer 2016 can basically be titled “The Summer of Pretending.”
Like most things in life, I found that the pretending was manageable until it wasn’t. By the end of the summer I found myself falling down the all-too-familiar rabbit hole of depression, anxiety, and more.
I managed to pull myself out of the rabbit hole with assistance from inpatient psychiatry at UVMMC and, when I was ready to be in the world again, I came to the Landing.
Without a job or school, I spent my days at the Drop-In Center and what I realized after about ten minutes of being there was that I was not ready to be in the real world. I was still seriously depressed and anxious and, for lack of better terminology, a “hot mess”. I might have been out of the rabbit hole but I wasn’t ready to wander away from it.
Fast-forward two years and here I am. I have now been living on my own for nearly four months. I also just took a midterm for one of the two classes I am taking at CCV. Neither of these things would be happening if I hadn’t found people to encourage me to wander a little farther from the rabbit hole every day. And I definitely wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had Spectrum help me understand the importance of building and maintaining healthy connections with positive peers in my community.
I still don’t have a job and I am still a hot mess, but I have something that I didn’t have when I first came to Spectrum. I have a wonderful community of people who support me with pretty much anything and everything, and I have an endless amount of gratitude for the work that they do and the people who support them. I have a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what being successful in life means, and I have a clearer idea of who I am and who I want to be.
I don’t know what I would be doing these days if I hadn’t stumbled into Spectrum when I did, but I know I am so glad I did. And I’m really glad it wasn’t easy because now I know what I stand for and what I value. Today, I am standing here because of Spectrum, and Spectrum is here because of people like you who show support—whether it’s making meals, making monetary donations, or being crazy enough to sleep outside in March. So, from the bottom of my heart to yours, thank you!