How I hit rock bottom and recovered


Jericho Caleb Dancel, Community News Reporter

My best childhood memories include spending time with my parents and brother: playing in the snow and going on weekend hiking trips.

That is why I took the news so hard.

It was in the middle of winter and I was in sixth grade in Maryland, where my dad was stationed for the Navy.

I was in the living room watching a movie with my little brother when my dad took me aside and asked me where my mother was. She had been gone the whole day without calling or texting.

I almost immediately regretted the words as they tumbled out of my mouth: “Mom is with her friends, who she meets up with to look at other men on Facebook.”

The arguing between them felt almost non-stop in the days after and within a week we were in some office where legal custody of me and my little brother was decided: We would stay with my dad, while my mom was only allowed to see us on weekends.

The years after were some of the toughest years of my life.

I stopped talking to my buddies at school. I pushed away all my friends. My grades started to fall and I was on the verge of failing multiple classes.

We all moved to California after my father was assigned to a military base in San Diego. It was an opportunity for a fresh start. But the pain still lingered.

It remained a constant pretty much until my sophomore year of high school.

That’s when I heard about the school’s wrestling team through my P.E. teacher.

At the time, I thought it would be a good distraction. It turned out to be so much more.

Kearny High School 2013 - 2014 Wrestling team. Photo Courtesy of Jericho Caleb Dancel
Kearny High School’s 2013 – 2014 wrestling team poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of Kearny High School and Kearny Galaxy news site.

Joining the team ended up being a life-changing decision that would pull me out of my depressed state. It gave me a new sense of purpose and drive.

My coach had me set goals for weight loss and competitions. For instance, I was supposed to train hard and lose twenty pounds in two months, which would take me from 190 pounds to 170. It was ambitious but he set me up with a diet plan that I stuck with and I worked hard doing the recommended exercises.

After two months, it was time to do the weigh-in. That day, we were all going to a tournament and during our pre-tournament weigh-ins, I looked down at the number on the scale and almost couldn’t believe it.

“I did it!” I yelped inside, beaming on the outside.

My teammates congratulated me and my coach said that he was proud of the progress that I had made. I looked around at my teammates that day, and I realized that I had found a group where I felt accepted.

For the next three years, I was in a better place. I had found a renewed sense of purpose in pushing my mind and body to new heights and pursuing my dreams. It was exhilarating and I was proud of what I had accomplished. It made me feel as if I could achieve anything if I worked hard at it.

Jericho Dancel and his wrestling teammates sit on some bleachers wearing maroon uniforms.
Jericho Caleb Dancel sits with his wrestling teammates. Photo courtesy of Kearny High School and Kearny Galaxy news site.

As I prepared to graduate high school, life was full of possibilities. I dreamed of being a journalist, a novelist and an actor. But when I shared some of those ideas with my parents as I planned my major in college, I received a harsh reality check as I heard their words: “You will never make any money doing any of those things. Look at your cousins, they’re making tons of money in computer science. You have three options: computer science, law, or medicine. I will not send you to college to pursue dead-end degrees.”

I was devastated.

In the end, I chose computer science. Soon after, I found myself spending hours at a time studying coding languages and creating computer programs in college and loathing almost every minute of it. Day after day. Month after month. For three years.

“This is all worth it. You’re doing this for your future.”

Those were the words that I kept repeating to myself to justify why I was living a life that really didn’t belong to me. As the years went on, I slowly started to feel myself slipping and my life lost all meaning.

I turned to alcohol and drugs to take my pain away. I gained back all the weight that I had lost during my three years on the wrestling team. Life had turned bleak for me again and there seemed to be no end to it all.

My third year was my breaking point. I had suffered a mental breakdown early in the first semester and I contemplated suicide.

My plan almost came true. The night that I wanted to end my life, I had a vision of my grandmother. She told me to keep fighting through all the mental pain that I was going through. I also thought of my younger brother, who was eleven at the time. “I have to take care of him and see to it that he doesn’t grow up the way I did,” I thought.

I decided to tell my parents how badly my life was going.

Their response surprised me.

“We’ll support your decision to switch to a new major,” my mom said to me as I fought back tears.

With that, I chose a new major: journalism. This change gave me a reason to live again because I was finally living the life that I wanted. My choices mattered. I had control over the direction of my career and the kind of job I would be doing for most of my waking hours.

Soon after, I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help rid me of my alcoholism. I started attending therapy to cope with my psychological issues. A lot of good came out of this situation and I’m glad that I was able to find the strength to hold on to life. Currently, I am excelling in journalism and I started a personal growth journey to become the best version of myself through diet and exercise.

People are stronger than they give themselves credit for. A combination of outside influence, willpower, and proper motivation helped me get through these two dark periods of my life.

The first step is often the hardest one: Admitting to ourselves that we are going through a tough time and seeking help. I remained in denial for years before I finally decided to seek help. On my own, I wouldn’t have been able to start the healing process. 

What also helped me was finding a reason to go on and reminding myself of it. My reason to continue living was my younger brother. 

I forgot who told me this but these words resonated with me in the early stages of my recovery. “Dying is easy. Living is hard.”

I share my tale for whoever needs to hear it, either now during the pandemic or at another point: You are not alone.

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]