This June 1 marks seven years since one phone call brought me to my knees and changed my life, as I knew it.
But, of course, it wasn’t about me.
It was about Melissa, a close friend of mine since elementary school. She had taken her own life hours before, as another friend’s hallowed voice informed me on a balmy Tuesday night after what had been a beautiful, sunny spring day. Melissa had left work early and was gone before the sun went down.
She had just turned 28-years-old; we had celebrated the occasion in an epic night at the Drake Hotel, where we spent longer than we probably should have – given the party that was happening upstairs in her honour – in the bathroom, discussing the future: boys, career, kids… it was all on the table.
I had zero clue, zero intuition, zero anything that this would be one of the last honest conversations we would ever have.
I had zero clue, zero intuition, zero anything that this would be one of the last honest conversations we would ever have. Three months later, I was speaking at her funeral; the funeral of a beautiful girl whose death shook the city; the funeral of someone who posted upbeat photos and cheery status updates just days before she ended it all; the funeral of a girl who – had she just held on – could have gotten through it, as we all told ourselves.
It’s been 2555 days since she left. Seven years. Seven birthdays of hers. Six Christmases. And not a single day has passed that she doesn’t cross my mind.
For a long time, I thought about her each time I looped a scarf over my neck and pulled it closed. I pictured how it would feel to pull harder and have it so tightly constricted around my neck, unable to breathe, gasping for air like she did. Another friend told me she had similar thoughts when she or her kids were near cords. It wasn’t about wanting to inflict harm; it was desperately trying to understand, to feel, to know a little more.
Why? Why? Why? Her loved ones collectively asked.
When someone dies from an illness or an accident, you have answers. With a suicide, you can point to certain catalysts that may have played a role, but the truth is that you will never know what was going on in that person’s mind that day. And there comes a point when you need to stop trying to.
With a suicide, you can point to certain catalysts that may have played a role, but the truth is that you will never know what was going on in that person’s mind that day.
Three months after Melissa’s passing, the powerful Bell Let’s Talk campaign was birthed. Not long after, a growing – and long overdue – dialogue began to emerge surrounding mental health. It was accompanied by slow erosion of the long-held stigma. Celebrities have vocalized their struggles with mental issues; social media campaigns that expose the realities of living with mental illness have gone viral; some schools now replace detention with meditation. Workplaces are finally making their employees’ mental health a priority.
Armed with the notion that it’s ok not to be ok, each Bell Let’s Talk day, I witness dozens of social media friends “come out of the closet” with their own mental health struggles, taking to Facebook to free themselves from their once secret that they had struggled or do struggle with; things like eating disorders, anxiety, depression, OCD and addiction.
But, just seven years ago, it was all still taboo. I’m not here to play the “what if” game. Maybe Melissa’s outcome would be different had society been different. But maybe it wouldn’t. Between the constant stimuli, social media anxiety (those perfectly filtered Jones’ are tough to keep up with), the state of the world and the insane cost of living in cities like Toronto, life can be damn tough.
Maybe Melissa’s outcome would be different had society been different.
What have I learned? I learned to talk. I learned to connect. Last August, my world came crashing down. I was broken, completely anxious and felt totally alone. I would go out at night to distract myself; I’d pretend everything was ok. But when I stopped pretending one day – when someone asked me how I was after an air kiss in the middle of some superficial event – I replied “not great.” And guess what? The other person – an acquaintance that seemed to “have it all” – wasn’t great either. Instead of discussing work or how busy we were, I continued to have these deeper, honest conversations – in the most unexpected of places – with many people.
I know healing, wellness and feeling good takes a lot more than conversations for some. But talking, relating and developing strong human connections in our increasingly disconnected society has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned through the tough times. And that’s my silver lining.
Do you know someone struggling with mental illness? Why do you think there is still a stigma attached? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.