November Second

 

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One year ago today, I attempted suicide for the first time. 

How could I of all people, someone who has always been so open about their mental health, get to that point? Because I wasn’t talking about it. 

I had just gone back to school after taking a break to address my anxiety, and I thought everything was okay. I was living in a new place and studying new things, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. When my depression came to haunt me I would give in and let it take over. I wasn’t reaching out for help when I was feeling down and I wasn’t communicating how I was feeling to my friends, my family, or even my roommate. Nobody knew what I was going through, and I felt alone even though I was surrounded by so many people. 

Depression isn’t something new that I’ve been battling either. It’s been part of my life for a long time, but on that day, it just became too much. I felt hopeless, and I was willing to do anything to make that pain go away. 

When I woke up the next morning, very much alive, I didn’t know what to do. 

How do you tell someone who cares about you and thinks they know everything about you, that you wanted to end your life? I was stuck remaining silent about my mental health, even while I was reaching out to others every day, urging them to get help. I was the very definition of a hypocrite. 

Only recently have I become comfortable talking about that day, and still many of the important people in my life do not know that I’ve been there. With some of the people I have told, there has been resistance from them in terms of me continuing to talk about it. One argument is that by me talking about it, this person thinks that I may place the idea of suicide in someone’s brain, and eventually that may push them to attempt. I really disagree with this. Having been there, I know that in the moment and in the time leading up to it, nothing else mattered. No one’s opinion of me, things they had said to me, or way they perceived me, mattered to me. It was a decision I made on my own and was completely isolated from anyone else’s choice of words or opinion of me. I do not think by me talking about that night, it would ever place the idea of suicide in someone else’s head.

Since then I have known that my days as a mental health advocate were far from over. If people like me were struggling to talk about it and seek help, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone who didn’t know what was going on. 

So, roughly a month later, I came up with the idea for Project Pilgrim. The idea behind this project was to get as many people talking about mental health – in any way possible. The project involved photography and mental health stories, as well as a blog series. It finally came to a peak when I hiked 1000km along a pilgrimage this summer, and I did it for mental health. Throughout the trip, I interviewed dozens of pilgrims and heard their stories from all over the world, which I have since published in the Project Pilgrim Book.

Since that trip, I’ll admit that I haven’t been 100%. My depression visits often and crushes me when it does. However, I’m trying to keep my head up. I’ve continued my project and, as a result, have been given some amazing opportunities – like meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last month. 

I’ve begun to look at my own mental health issues differently too. Addressing my mental health problems and treating them like what they are, problems with a solution – this is essential for what I need to feel better right now. As well, almost every day now, I meet someone new and talk to them about mental health. Whether it’s over coffee, at my work, or even out at a bar, mental health is now an integral part of my life. I think this is a big step forward in helping me feel better again. 

There have been studies done that show that while more females may attempt suicide, males are much more likely to die by suicide. 

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still around, and I’m trying every day to prevent people from ever feeling how I felt. It’s so hard, but I hope that one day all of my work with mental health will come to an end. I hope that one day advocacy won’t be necessary,  because this will be a very simple and easy conversation for anyone to have. I hope that getting help may be as routine as brushing your teeth or going for a regular checkup. 

Mental health is such a huge part of my life. I hope that in any of my work I have done in this field, I have helped someone, even just one person, be more comfortable reaching out and talking about how they are doing.

If you’re struggling, please reach out for help. People do care about you and no matter how hopeless it seems, there is always something you can do to feel better.

- Connor McCracken, Founder of Project Pilgrim