Sep 5, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
I’ve always wanted to save lives. As a child, I played with a Fisher-Price doctor’s kit and then planned my whole life around it. I took all of the right classes in high school and university, got top marks and volunteered at the hospital. I even slept in pilfered scrubs. Unfortunately, that’s as close as I got. In my final year, my life took a turn and I never made it to medical school. I tried to kill myself instead.
I’d been depressed since high school but I had been able to keep it in check. In university, things escalated and the people became too many, the expectations too great. The only coping mechanism I had in my arsenal was avoidance. I began turning down invitations from friends, broke up with my boyfriend, and started skipping classes. I was living at home but my family didn’t know anything was wrong, I was too good at acting normal.
“I’m fine,” I lied with every breath. It was exhausting. Soon it had been weeks since I’d been to a class, months since I’d spoken with a friend, forever since I had told my family the truth. Before I knew it, the end of term was approaching and I panicked. I couldn’t see any way out and I was too ashamed to ask for help. I almost died of embarrassment.
I lied to my doctor to get sleeping pills. I lied to my family to stay home that day. I lied to myself that no one would miss me. I finally put on paper the letter that I had been writing over and over in my head for weeks.
I was too good at acting normal.
I only survived because my sister came home early. I woke up in the emergency room with my stomach being pumped full of charcoal. I immediately began to lie again and told everyone I was fine and that it was a mistake. My depression remained undiagnosed, untreated, and untalked about. No one outside of my immediate family ever knew anything had happened. Again, it was too embarrassing.
Over twenty years have passed since my suicide attempt. I managed to finish my science degree but I knew there was no way I could hold myself together for medical school. After I got married and my two children were born, I again hit rock bottom. This time suicide was not an option; my babies had taken that card off the table. Instead, I steeled myself to talk to my doctor, received a diagnosis, and started treatment. Varying degrees of feeling less bad became my normal. Still, I kept silent. My depression remained my shameful secret.
Two years ago, I crashed again. I didn’t know how to go on living the way I was and I knew I couldn’t keep up the lie anymore. I “came out” of the mental health closet and disclosed my illness and long struggle in a blog post that was read by thousands of people. The response was huge and it was all positive. Now that I’ve started talking, I can’t stop!
I don’t want anyone else to be too ashamed to ask for help.
I’m consumed with a passion to reach out to people who may be having their own struggles with mental illness. I want to break down the barriers that surround the subject of mental health and let people know that it’s okay to need support. I don’t want anyone else to be too ashamed to ask for help; to die of embarrassment.
Now, through my writing and public speaking, I’m sharing my story. I’ve become part of my workplace’s mental health campaign as a course facilitator and “lived experience” speaker. The most rewarding work I do, however, is with young people; kids who are at the age when I needed help the most but didn’t get it. This year I’ve given over twenty talks at area high schools and universities.
I started my campaign by asking a friend if I could speak at the high school where she taught. After this first presentation, a student approached me. She was depressed, lonely, and scared. She was thinking about suicide and I was the first person she felt she could tell. We talked for over an hour, and by the end of our time together, she agreed to be seen by a mental health nurse. Now, something like this happens almost every time I talk and I’m driven to share my story because of the lives that I may be saving.
Turns out, I didn’t need to go to medical school after all.
Stephanie Reidy is a medical researcher by day and a writer by night. Recent publications include essays in The Globe and Mail and Chatelaine. She is also a regular speaker at area high schools, universities, and professional schools on the topics of mental health and suicide prevention. Stephanie lives in Halifax with her amazingly understanding husband and their two sons. She can be found at EscapingElegance.com.