Two years ago, Pauline Turgeon was in a dark place. Struggling with mental health issues, suicide had come to mind. “I didn’t see a way out,” said the 35-year-old mother of four.
She sought help in the London community and, slowly, began to see light.
“I reached out to so many people, every available resource. I became my own project,” Turgeon said. “Over the course of a few months, I started to realize I needed to strip away everything I thought I knew about being a human being in this world. I have been building myself up piece by piece. It’s like peeling back an onion. I’ve excavated myself completely.”
One morning, Turgeon woke up with one thought: She wanted to go to Western.
“The decision to go to university was driven by an inextinguishable desire for self-betterment and personal growth,” said Turgeon, now a second-year Arts & Humanities student. “I’ve always been good in school and writing has always been my thing. It has been life-changing and, looking back, I recognize today I wouldn’t have been ready for it earlier, to cope with the stress.”
Her time at Western has been “mind blowing” – interacting with students and faculty, taking notes, prepping for exams and, yes, writing essays once again.
“The first essay I wrote I struggled so much sitting in the coffee shop crying, thinking I can’t do this,” she said. “But I just surrendered it, and when I got it back, the first essay I had written in 17 years, I got a 90 per cent. For me, that just laid the foundation – I can do this. I’m absolutely at the right place at this point of my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Turgeon will, in fact, be doing ‘something else’ next February, as she joins a group of students heading to Peru for Western’s Alternative Spring Break. Having received her first passport in May, she thought this volunteer experience would be a chance to have an impact on the lives of others.
Turgeon was one of three students to receive an RBC Foundation financial award of $1,000 toward offsetting costs of the $2,800 trip. But, like many, Turgeon didn’t have the remaining $1,800 sitting around.
“I’m very open on Facebook about my struggles, and emails began coming back saying, ‘There was a reason you were chosen’ and that I should start a fundraiser,” she said.
She created a funding website. If she didn’t reach her goal, any money raised would be donated to London Mission Services. In just four days, she was at $1,400. She passed the goal soon afterward.
Almost half of the money donated was from anonymous donors and people Turgeon didn’t know.
“It’s taken a lot for me to comprehend this,” she said. “I need to internalize this because, where I’ve come from, it is really hard for me to understand. I’m still wrapping my head around it, this sort of generosity. How do I say thank you?”
With plans to cross the stage at Alumni Hall in 2017- as well as plans for graduate school in Montreal already on her mind – Turgeon said there will always be daily challenges she will have to face. But she has made a lifelong commitment to recovery and will take every opportunity she can to inspire others to do the same.
“I can handle those fears now, where before I couldn’t have coped with that. It is nice to say, ‘I’m a student.’ But, at the end of the day, I still have kids, I’m a mom and in hardcore recovery. Being a student is not my only job and worry, but I can now cope with it so much better.”