Because she lived in a different state, AJ's mother, Michelle, says she didn't really recognize the changes in her son's behavior. "His straight A's had gone to D's and F's within a matter of less than a semester," she says. "He also seemed to be agitated, angry for no apparent reason. He wasn't sleeping like normal people—eight hours a night. He was sleeping more like two to three hours a night."
AJ says he doesn't blame his parents for his fate. "Really, to be honest, there was nothing my mother or my father could do," he says. "My personality was self-destructive and no matter how great my life would have been or could have been, I still would have found fault in it."
Now, despite total blindness and more surgeries to come, AJ says he feels his life is full of joy. "Now that I see my blessings and I recognize that my family and friends are there for me, I have purpose," he says. "I found faith in God and I go out and I share my message with people. We all make mistakes, but if we learn from them, that's what life's all about. We have to crawl before we walk. I might have crawled a little bit further than other people but I'm able to walk now and share my story."
To people, especially teenagers, who think that suicide is the answer, AJ begs them to reconsider. "If we just step back and strive towards tomorrow, it will get better," he says. "And the day after that will be better than the day before. So never give up. You don't know how many people you're going to hurt by leaving them behind."
If you or someone you know suffers from depression, call the National Hopeline Network 1-800-442-HOPE (1-800-442-4673) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It's toll free and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.