Nobody knew that I had struggled until my suicide attempt. What I want parents to know

It meant that I felt isolated and alone. I thought there was just something wrong with it me and I was the problem causing those feelings. But couldn’t do anything about it. I told myself that the therapy was for people with more serious problems than mine.

No one ever suspected that I had mental health issues.Holland Cheerleading

This lack of community and conversation about mental health contributed to what drove me to attempt suicide. But the overwhelming feeling that drove me to try to end my life was overwhelming despair. I wanted my pain to stop. (Editor’s note: AUJOURD’HUI does not go into the details of the methods used for suicides or attempted suicides.) Almost immediately, I regretted what I had done. I knew I really didn’t want to die.

When I woke up in the hospital, it was clear that I had many physical injuries. My journey involved a lot of physical recovery, and I focused my energy on that first. I was paralyzed from the neck down, which meant I was a quadriplegic. I needed to relearn how to take care of myself. I also experienced several blood clots in my brain which led to a series of strokes and cognitive issues. I needed to go to speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. I have regained about 80% of my abilities, but I sometimes use a wheelchair. I can now walk and drive and feel sensations in my limbs and torso. But the nerves in my left hand have been severed, so I can’t use those fingers very well.

During my stay in the hospital, I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened – I think my brain was trying to protect me from those difficult memories. When I got home, everything rushed. I felt both victim and executioner. I had this difficult injury that required me to relearn a lot of the way I did things. But I inflicted it on myself.

After working on my physical health, I focused on my emotional strength. Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety seemed revolutionary. I now had words to describe what I had been through. But it also made it more real. Although it might sound scary, it was also empowering because it felt like something I could work with. The therapists I met made it clear to me that I could successfully receive treatment and live with mental illness. It gave me the hope and perspective that I lacked.

Everyone was shocked that I was struggling.  I hope that by sharing my story, I encourage parents to talk about mental health with their children.
Everyone was shocked that I was struggling. I hope that by sharing my story, I encourage parents to talk about mental health with their children.Holland Cheerleading

As I recovered, so many people said, “Not Emma.” No one expected me to attempt suicide. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to share my story: I want parents to recognize the warning signs in their children. Looking back, the biggest signal that something was wrong was when I skipped a cheerleading tryout. After a lifetime of loving the sport, I just stopped caring. I started hanging out with new friends that I wouldn’t have befriended otherwise. I got angry easily and often felt frustrated – two huge character changes for me.

It’s hard because sometimes people get frustrated or make new friends, and it’s not always a cry for help. I wish someone had spoken to me about my feelings so that I didn’t feel alone and struggle so much.

When I was first in the hospital, I was focused on my physical recovery, but when I started talking therapy, it was like learning a new language to express my feelings.
When I was first in the hospital, I was focused on my physical recovery, but when I started talking therapy, it was like learning a new language to express my feelings.SmileStyle

I encourage parents to err on the side of caution. If their teen starts acting differently or suddenly loses interest in something they once loved, ask them about it. It may be nothing. But if it’s anything, this conversation could be the start of a dialogue that could lead to them getting the help they need. I hope parents start talking about mental health and make sure their kids know that if they’re having trouble, they can talk to their parents. I didn’t know mental health was something I could discuss.

I’m on a mission to share my story by taking my documentary to communities and anyone who listens to them, to help them open their own conversations about mental health. I hope this will encourage others who struggle with being vulnerable with a loved one. I want them to understand that they are not alone and that there is help – and that you can overcome your mental health issues and thrive.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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