A beautiful, blonde teenager lighting the halls with her big, toothy grin. Athletic. An infectious laugh. Boys by her side. Grades any parent would be proud of.
A scared child. Confused. Starving for her father’s attention. Suicidal thoughts.
I am a statistic. I was almost another.
My parents told me they were separating when I was 6. I don’t remember how or where in the house we were when they told me but I vividly remember crawling into the secret/not so secret dark cubby in my bedroom trying to make sense of what I had just heard. The cubby happened to lead to the back of the liquor cabinet in the kitchen and I recall thinking “if I drank all of the bottles maybe I would die”. Thirty minutes later red-eyed and snotty nose I emerged. Everything was just fine.
Shortly thereafter my mom and I moved to a new town and rented an apartment. My dad would pick me up on Friday and drop me back off on Sunday. Whenever we were in the car we would belt out Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark at the top of our lungs. While oblivious to the connotation of the lyrics at the time, going nowhere in the dark would periodically become my state of mind.
I never wanted to disappoint anyone. My mom bought me a BMX bike for my 8th birthday, cause yup, I was cool like that. There was an outdoor bike rack for residents of the building. After cruising the hood one night with friends, I was locking up my ride while doing the cross-legged shuffle aka the pee dance. I had been holding it for way too long not wanting to be the first kid to go home. Because it was never cool to be the first one to go home. I tried my best to make it look like my bike was locked and bolted into the apartment.
The next day all that was left was my coiled up slinky type lock; the one where the numbers had to the in the exact spot for the teeth to fit. While I was crushed it was stolen I was more upset that my mom had paid a lot of money for that bike and couldn’t bear to tell her. Overwhelmed with emotion I finally spilled what had happened.
While I wasn’t, and still am not, good with change it didn’t take long before I was into the new routine. It was actually great. How many people could say they had their parents’ undivided attention 7 days a week? During the week my mom made it was all about me with my dad doing the same on the weekends. I was the one and only girl in their lives and I was good with that.
At some point though I started spending more and more time with my grandparents on the weekends. I remember quietly slipping into my dad’s apartment one morning. The apartment happened to be in my grandparent’s basement so all I had to do was walk downstairs. I peeked through his bedroom door and there she was. I wasn’t his only girl anymore.
Even though I didn’t know what betrayal meant at 8 years old, that’s how I felt. But I was a pleaser. I plugged the headphones into the stereo so not to wake them and watched TV. Later on I was introduced to his “friend”; the one who later became his wife and mother to his three other children. Again, everything was just fine.
Fast forward a few years. The transition to high school was overwhelming yet exciting. I went from prancing around all high and mighty with my tiara on to being Cinderella before she married the Prince. Everything became a competition. From proving yourself to the seniors to wearing the right labels to boys. Oh the boys. I competed for their attention way too much. I always had a boyfriend.
It was during high school when I started to find myself lost in my emotions. I was vivacious on the outside but wondering where I ranked on the inside. My father had started to express his disappointment in my grades. Instead of coaching me in my cross-country training, he would compete with me. Still, I yearned to be his little girl so after a fight with my mom I tried moving in with him and his family. A few months later I was back with my mother as he and I were simply not healthy for each other.
When one of my boyfriends cheated on me, the same feelings of betrayal from when I was 8 again rose within. I was in the dark. While I had my mother’s and step-father’s love and support, I was too blind to see it. Suicide once again slipped into my thoughts.
I started to see a high school guidance counsellor in her broom closest. Literally and figuratively. I had to half shut the door to get around to the chair. It`s where I came to sweep things under the rug. Not long after that I was diagnosed with mild depression. My father and I stopped talking for a while.
I later went to college and partied like a rock star. As long as I was having a good time I didn’t have to deal with my feelings. Before moving out west I reconnected with my father only to have it end with me being hurt, again.
But I didn’t care. I buried those feelings. I continued to live a truculent and rebellious life. When I finally moved back home my head was foggy. It had been a few years since I had last seen him. Because he had the title of father, I had convinced myself we should have a relationship. I persuaded him to meet me for a beer. I gave him fair warning that I was quite thin and the doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong. The first words out of his mouth when he walked into the pub were, “well, you look like shit.”
That was my tipping point. I was already vulnerable. My darkness was once again triggered and I was left lost in my head going nowhere. I went to my doctor as I knew I needed help to manage. Well, technically it was my mother`s encouragement that finally made me go. It was the first time in 25 years old she used the word depression with me.
Not all people, however, feel they have a safe place to turn.
End the stigma
Today is the day I tell my story. Today I start the conversation.
Please, take the time to learn about mental health and suicide. There are a multitude of factors in depression and suicide. Make them both OK to talk about.
Break down the stigma that may help someone find the flame so they don’t have to dance alone. #ChangeStartsHere
Where I am today
This is a snippet of my story. There is much more to it but for today, it is what I am comfortable sharing. It is the start of my commitment to change the conversation. It is an attempt to illustrate that mental health and suicidal thoughts can occur at any age, to any person. Children and teens may use words like “I feel like dying” or “I just want to die” as an exaggerated expression. It does not mean you should ignore them. Ask questions.
Mental health does not discriminate. While my relationship with my father was not always stable, all other facets of my life were. My life was “normal”.
At 37 years old I am finally at peace. Content. Stable. Happy. I am an overachieving perfectionist so it came as no surprise when I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. I have worked hard over the years to get to a good place. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my amazing psychologist and the support of my family. Don’t get me wrong, I have not-so-good days. Episodic depression still affects me but now I am better able to manage it.
I still dance. But most of the time my dance parties are in the living room with the lights on.
Tell me how you’re going to change the conversation by leaving a comment below.
What you should know
Prevention is the umbrella in working towards reducing deaths by suicide. Changing the conversation will do just that. They will increase awareness and break down the stigma, making it OK to have the conversation before someone is in crisis.
Mental health statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association:
- Mental illness directly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
- Twenty percent (20%) of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
- Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
- Mental illness is caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors.
- Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
- Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
- Mental illnesses can be treated effectively.