By Renée Hartleib |
Social Entreprenuer, Author, Philanthropist. That’s how Fergus Dearden describes himself on his Twitter feed. He could also have added Voracious Learner, as the 31-year-old routinely educates himself in a wide variety of subject areas. He has studied Japanese, and is currently learning all he can about investment banking and computer programming languages.
Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Dearden’s family moved to Port Hawkesbury when he was seven years old. Both of his parents had mental health issues, and his mother was chronically in and out of psychiatric institutions, making his growing up years difficult. “I was the oldest and ended up shouldering a lot of responsibility and dysfunction at a very young age,” he says. “It definitely affected me.”
Dearden didn’t really understand the extent of this impact until October of 2006, five years into his studies at Saint Mary’s. Suffering from years of depression, insomnia, and obsessional thinking—and having witnessed his father’s death in October of that year—he was finally diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, a mild form of bipolar disorder. “In retrospect, the onset was probably in my teenage years,” he says. “When I look back, I can definitely see signs of how things weren’t quite right.”
The doctor he worked with at SMU, Fiona McGrath, continued to meet with him every couple of weeks after his diagnosis. “She had faith in my ability to make myself better,” he says. “I feel so blessed to have met her and to have her in my life.” McGrath also encouraged Dearden to take a natural supplement that, coupled with talk therapy, helped set him on solid ground again.
“I learned a lot about myself in those years and really worked hard to get to know myself and discover the root of some recurring issues,” he says. During his second period of being homeless in August 2011, Dearden started to truly find himself. As a Philosophy and English major, he had a lot of questions and decided to start writing as a way to explore his own life and experiences. It’s from that place that the writer in him was born. The result was a book called The Coffee Shop Meditations.
“I think of the book as spiritual poetry,” he says. “It helped me a lot to write it, and I wondered if it would help others too.” To that end, Dearden found a publisher in the University of Toronto Press, but opted to self-publish and is currently selling his book on Amazon. He hopes to raise $10,000, which he will donate to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
This one project is really only the tip of the iceberg for Dearden: “I feel like I can really go after what I want now. I’m an entrepreneur at heart.” One of his many goals is to open his own investment firm so he can help struggling students, environmental causes, and those living in poverty.
Ten years after Dearden began his studies at SMU, he graduated with a BA and BComm in 2011. He is very grateful to have benefitted from some amazing instructors “who taught me how to think.”
Some things though, he learned all on his own. “I had to grow up really fast so I skipped a lot of emotional development steps,” he says, “that were crucial for social survival.” Dearden had to teach himself self-awareness and self-acceptance, and how to establish relationships with others that were meaningful and respectful toward his values and beliefs.
The Saint Mary’s grad is hopeful that his story will inspire people. “I have come out of the other side of mental illness, I live without medication, and I am thriving in life. I want people to know there is a way out of mental illness,” he says. “It’s beatable, you don’t have to suffer alone, and you can heal yourself.”