A young men’s personal quest for serenity took him places he would have never expected. Nepal, India, the Amazon, Jackie Chan has traveled a lot. Today, the cofounder of Zen’s Outdoor Leadership Camp for Youth, a not-for-profit promoting leadership training and global citizenship among youth through empowerment, education, and outdoor camp experiences, is at peace with his condition but it took him years of trial and error to find his way through the turmoil.
“I have Tourette Syndrome. I wasn’t diagnosed until maybe 7 years ago, when I was 26. I grew up having these urges to twitch and blink my eye and make all these movements and noises. Having that and going through school was really tough. I don’t know how, but I hid it pretty well and then I got in college and it became a little more agressive.”
At that time, Jackie had no idea he had Tourette’s. The rise of his symptoms sent him into a spiral of depression. He’d skip school for weeks at a time, stay in his dorm. He still managed to finish college but was not really interested in working in the film and television industry even though it was what he had studied for. He traveled a bit and volunteered abroad for Students Crossing Borders. That’s when he decided to go back to school to become a teacher but his attempt at doing so wasn’t quite as straightforwards as he’d wanted it to be. After an initial social anxiety and depression misdiagnosis, Jackie went back to his doctor, bringing forward that he thought he might have the Tourette Syndrome. A few tests confirmed his doubts and he was prescribed medication to help manage the symptoms.
Jackie was happy to have that sorted out. He could start his studies at Lakehead University with one less thing to worry about, or at least that’s what he thought. Two and a half months in, he fell hard again.
“I was just becoming so tired. I could stay up for 4-5 hours and would have to take a nap. I was chronically spiralling into this depression. There was just this one night where I was not feeling good at all. I was in Thunder Bay all by myself, I wasn’t close to my family at all, 26 years old and couldn’t get my shit together. I thought this whole Tourette syndrome would solve everything. I had to drop out and sell everything. I lived at my friends mom’s place for a while, slept for 20 hours a day. It was just because sleep was far better than being awake.”
It took a bit of time for Jackie to get back on his feet. Slowly but surely, he got out of this dark hole. He started using positive self talk as a way to motivate himself. He also went back to the gym. The first couple of times, he was only there for 20 minutes, slowly easing into the new routine. Eventually, he got a little better.
“I had not such a good family life so I messaged my friend at Lakehead and told them that I needed to go back and start fresh, again. I just told everybody that I would go back to school, without any money, having just wasted a lot of money. I didn’t want them to chastise me.”
They did not. Luckily for Jackie, he got help from his friends and he was able to go back to Thunder Bay. He found a job and started University for a second time. This time however, he had a whole wellness approach with him. He had started practicing meditation and it was doing him lots of good. Happy to be back to his old self, he was going to take these hard times and turn them into something better.
“I contacted this women who was running this not-for-profit, Students Crossing Borders, with whom I went to Jamaica with in 2007 and 2009. At this point in time it’s 2011. I told her I wanted to go back to Jamaica and follow through this idea that I had in 2007 which was to start a Youth Empowerment Camp. For about 9 months, we started planning it. Then I went with her organization in March to finalize the planning of my project.”
Shortly before leaving, Jackie’s contact had to cancel her trip to Jamaica as she had been diagnosed with cancer. And just days after he got back from his trip, she passed away. It was quite the emotional time for him. He was so happy with how his project was going and then this happened, but with the support of peers he kept going.
“I had a couple of friends telling me; you know what, fuck it! Let’s go to Jamaica and make it happen. I had no idea how but had some connections and decided to go for it. That was March 2012. In July of that same year, I went down with five people. We gathered kids with the principal at the school and took 13 kids to come up to this camp for a five days retreat. These kids live in Riverton City which is pretty much Kingston’s landfill. They live in and around a landfill. There is no trees, there is no nature. The idea was to be able to take these kids and to be able to show them this experience in the Blue Mountain National Park.”
The first edition was a success and a great motivation for Jackie who has organized trips to Jamaica every year since and has recently added Nepal to their area of work. His project has now transformed into a not-for-profit organization called Zen’s Outdoor Leadership Camp for Youth (ZOLCY) which he runs with a partner. On top of giving some Jamaican kids amazing experiences, they are also helping form the next generation of Canadian teacher by getting them to volunteer in these amazing environments.
“Over the years, we probably took 30 students from the outdoor recreation program to Jamaica. We had lots of support from individual professors. Some would help by buying things that we needed for the trip, take us to the airport.”
While working towards making ZOLCY a sustainable not-for profit, Jackie has also graduated from the Outdoor Recreation program at Lakehead University. He even manages to get all his last year courses either online or without having to attend class and spend his last year traveling the world.
“I was writing essays on my iPad cruising down the amazon in a cargo boat in a hammock for twelve-thirteen days. I wrote my last exam in India next to the house of the Dalai Lama and after I wrote that last exam, I took a motorcycle and went cruising all around Northern India. One thing led to another, nothing was planned, I went down this path. It also was about how I could understand my Tourettes from a non prescription medication point of view. I was my own personal quest. I didn’t need to go all around the world to find them but those experiences and those learnings really helped.”
Jackie learned about meditation in a way that helped him manage his Tourette’s and live with it. Having trained martial arts for years, he knew how to get in the zone and be focused and knew how much it helped him but he had to know how to apply that to other areas of his live and be present in the moment. While in India, he also got to experience Laughter Yoga and became an instructor. He liked it so much he uses it at the summer camp where he works and introduced it as part of the ZOLCY program for both kids and volunteers.
“Laughter Yoga is like meditating to me, just like martial arts was. People think that meditation is about sitting in that lotus position and doing Om sounds. It is, but hockey, dance, gymnastics, rock climbing can also be forms of meditation when you get into that zone and you’re so focused. It helped me a lot managing my anxiety and letting emotions pass. In my experience, medication made me feel really weird and it wasn’t really working for me. This is for me another kind of medication.”
Over the past five years, Jackie has finally found his way and is helping make the world a better place by sharing his views and learnings with others and being open to new experiences. He now hopes to develop ways to introduce wellness in the classroom and help teachers with what is now a pillar of teaching in Ontario. Having spent some time with Jackie, I can tell you your kids wellness in in good hands as I have rarely laughed so much as I did during that Laughter Yoga session and I encourage you to try it out.