Sugarless Triumphs in the Trenches

by | Feb 17, 2021 | Blog

Dear Boundless Families:

Military generals of old would say that the tides of war turned in the trenches. For many teenagers in today’s trenches, the enemy is one’s own mental health – trying to achieve an elusive sense of balance amidst the many adolescent fires raging about them. The battle waged on one’s own depression and anxiety can be relentless and muddy.

And then something gives, if you stay right where you are and fight. Tales of triumph surface.

Take C, for example.

He has struggled with depression for so long, he fears his fear – a toxic brew of anxiety and dread. His knee jerk in the past would be to throw in the towel, and find comfort in an emotional cave to lick his wounds.

One recent morning, on a sunny hike with Bretton (mental health counsellor), C confided that it was time to call it quits. “I’m scared that I won’t be able to handle my depression.” Fearing the fear can be insidious.

Bretton asked him,

“What would it look like if you don’t throw in the towel”.

They played out the scenarios together while walking under that exquisite blue sky. It boiled down to one fundamental question. Is it more effort to stay or to leave?

C may have shifted his thinking. Maybe, just maybe, breaking a pattern of cutting his losses and running. He’s having a ball, as much as he will allow himself to. He’s become a sharpshooter (see below).

A, who wouldn’t and couldn’t meet your gaze on day one, said to me yesterday, “Nice to see you”. I nearly had a conniption. A doesn’t say those things. I queried Kevin, her leader, “What’s up with that”?

His smile borders on gloating, for he takes pride in A’s transformation,

“She has gone up and down that hill (referring to a gruesome climb and descent on skis) so many times, she’s forgetting herself, just breathing, and getting out of her own way. She’s getting some grit.”

I am thinking that one can talk until you’re blue in the face about “instilling confidence”, but I’ve been in this school long enough to know that the elixir of self-esteem must be independently earned. A is on the road to doing just that.

This resilience and confidence is being acquired across the board, with each kid facing their own demons on their own schedule using their own unique strategies. it’s a marvel to behold.

They are sewing a lot in these trenches. Elaborate weaves so I am told. They will be coming home with gorgeous stuff of their own making.

Kevin had a bunch of them doing riflery. I was unaware we even had rifles. “Seriously Kevin?”

He tries to calm the grandma inside me. “Ah, they’re just pellet rifles. Chill.”

He is incorporating rifles into an intricate biathlon to be held next week. While it’s no surprise the boys are going nuts over this, it is Z who excels at the craft. She kept hitting a teensy weensy target from forty metres like it’s nobody’s business.

“I learned it back home”. Z is a refugee from a scary place.

While the mid-session mud-puddles were as deep as one would expect for spending forty days in the trenches, it’s soon coming to an end. Kids feel it in the air. The sun is starting to linger past 6:00pm.

As such, the culminations are speeding up. Kids have doubled down their efforts. They are learning so much.

Rowan, our English teacher, is giving me two hours with the kids on Thursday. My goal is to offer intellectual recess. Some strange insignificant excuse to hang out with them, and they with me. I can’t wait.

Now please forgive me, but I’ve left the worst for the end.

I learned today that there is this no-sugar thing happening among the kids and staff. I am guessing half of your kids have given up sugar for weeks now, inspired by that scallywag Kevin, who has led them down a path of good nutrition and extremely boring desserts.

Don’t kill me. They may try and convert you when they get home. And that is coming so very soon. Wow, time has flown.

Best wishes,


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Steven Gottlieb
Steven Gottlieb