Vulnerability = Relatability = Empowerment
Zachery Dereniowski has had many interactions with St. Clair College staff and students this semester, hoping to inspire whoever he meets on South Campus through this simple but powerful formula.
Dereniowski, 28, is a mental health advocate and social media influencer from Windsor with the moniker, @MDMotivator. Dereniowski has a unique talent for inspiring conversations about mental health and showing others empathy through creative videos in which he interacts with the public through goodwill gestures.
Simple things like Dereniowski offering strangers a blindfolded hug or lending an empathetic ear to anyone who needs one quickly earned @MDMotivator a following of over four million people and over 100 million likes.
But just two years ago, Dereniowski was on a completely different path.
Dereniowski graduated from the University of Windsor with a degree in Human Kinetics then achieved a master’s degree from Lawrence Tech University in Southfield, Michigan. In 2019, Dereniowski began taking medical school courses at the University of Sydney in Australia but suffered a string of personal and physical setbacks which led him to question his identity.
"I tore my ACL, and I couldn’t work out. Medical school was hard, COVID left me trapped and a lot of things came at me at once. It took me to my breaking point," Dereniowski said. "I finally took the blinders off and asked what my purpose was. I am capable but what is it I really want out of my life. After I asked those questions, I started to have mental health struggles."
After he sought counseling and a therapist suggested he start keeping a journal, Dereniowski came up with the idea of sharing his mental health struggles on social media to give people a voice and assurances they are not alone in their struggles. He was too self-conscious to share his content on Facebook or Instagram where his followers were family and friends, so Dereniowksi began sharing mental health content on TikTok - where no one knew him.
"It's really unfathomable, I was hoping to get 30 or 40 views on a video and just find that one person I could talk to about these problems with, and things really began to take off," said Dereniowski about gaining four million social media followers. "I started creating more and more videos about mental health awareness and now what I enjoy doing most is connecting people together through these social experiments while trying to promote unconditional love and kindness during these crazy times."
Dereniowski’s creative gestures of kindness seen on South Campus have ranged from giving random students a gift card for working hard, to standing outside with a blindfold on holding a sign asking anyone who is dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide or other mental health issues to talk with him about their problems. In a very short time, he has interacted with hundreds of staff and students at the College, making their day better in one way or another. Dereniowski says the results from these interactions have shown him what the true meaning of human interaction can be.
"The most powerful reactions I get are from the people you would least expect," Dereniowski said. "You never know what someone else is going through and sometimes the smallest actions can make or break someone’s day, because mental health is so invisible. These simple videos mean a lot because the little things matter."
Follow Zachery Dereniowski - @MDMotivator
- Brett Hedges