Content Warning: The following story contains descriptions and information about depression and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of people who have died by suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 for assistance or text HOME to 741741 to anonymously chat with a trained crisis counselor.
I was just 13 when I attempted to take my own life for the second time. It was a very difficult and confusing time. Both of my parents were battling addiction and internal challenges. I felt so alone, so hopeless, so lost…until one simple act of kindness would forever change my life.
Shelby was a high school student and intern at the Inspiring Children Foundation in Las Vegas. She had taken on the role of a mentor and older sister figure in my life. With her warm-hearted spirit, she always made me feel safe and welcome. One day Shelby would be at the right place, at the right time, and would change the trajectory of my life simply by asking me how I was. I confided in her, and told her I no longer wanted to live. She listened to me, full of compassion, and then made the wisest decision possible at the time. She introduced me to her mentor, Ryan Wolfington, Founder of the Inspiring Children Foundation. Shelby knew Ryan could help because he had done the same for her and countless others. This simple act of kindness brings me to tears of joy. It allowed me to meet the man and organization that would save my life.
Meeting Shelby, and subsequently, Ryan, was the first time I had received the support, wisdom, tools, and guidance in dealing with my depression. I recall being in the mental hospital after my second suicide attempt, and I was at my lowest. Ryan came to visit me. That visit, or the wisdom contained in our conversation, completely changed the course of my entire life. Ryan shared a collection of insights that allowed me to snap out of my negative thoughts and into reality. I realized the thoughts in my head were not me, and were not the truth. This conversation inspired the realization that happiness was possible for me and that I could snap out of my negative thoughts and feelings at any time, through practice.
From that moment forward, I embarked on a journey of healing, made a commitment to meditate every morning and night, to stop doing things I knew I shouldn’t, and to make the right choices. With each right decision, my happiness grew. The growth was exponential.
I soon started healing my relationship with others. I began to run towards my pain, instead of trying to escape it. I forgave myself for my wrong choices and gained empathy and understanding for my parents. I stopped blaming them and began to understand that they were lost, just like I was.
One of the greatest gifts along this journey was being able to share that kindness with my father and heal my relationship with him. In the beginning, everyone other than Ryan told me I should never speak to my father again. They told me it wasn’t healthy, as his addiction and mental state worsened. However, Ryan encouraged what I already knew to be true inside of myself, that I should continue to talk to my father and heal my relationship with him.
My father triggered what seemed like every ounce of anger and sadness I had ever held onto in my life, and talking to him allowed me to face and heal it head-on. I made a commitment to talk to my father every single day, in the midst of him projecting his anger and sadness onto me. He began to tell me I was worthless, that he was going to kill himself because of me, that it was my fault that he was drinking, and much worse. These phone calls were one of the greatest gifts I ever received. It allowed me the opportunity to practice letting my anger go, to have patience and understanding for my father’s suffering. In small doses, I confronted the relationship on the phone, on my terms. I was able to let go and heal at the deepest level.
In the beginning, Ryan sat with me and helped me breathe through these calls, showing me how to not react and listen deeply. When everything in me wanted to hate, I chose to breathe it out and love instead. Eventually, I could make these calls on my own, and eventually, the triggers, anger, and sadness were gone. This allowed me to heal my relationship with my father. I realized that just like I wasn’t my negative thoughts, my father wasn’t his, and I got to see the kind and loving spirit beyond the negativity and addiction.
A few years later (when I was 16) , my father passed away due to his addiction. While this was something I had always feared, when it actually occurred, it became one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed with gratitude because I knew I never gave up on him – it was like all those times I chose to love were preparing me for that very moment when he passed on. I also realized that my father wasn’t his physical body, he was the spirit within it. That his spirit of love and kindness would forever live inside of me, yet now without the pain he suffered here. Through living by that spirit of kindness in my own life, I feel connected to him all the time. This event led to yet another act of kindness when my Foundation peers, interns, and mentors helped me put on my father’s Celebration of Life.
Here is a video of the event they created for my family….
Throughout this whole encounter, I was also repairing, healing, and growing my relationship with my mother, who I had not lived with for seven years. Now years later she is sober, we have healed together, and are the closest of friends. I would never have imagined I could have such a special relationship with her as I do now.
I was also blessed to meet Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jewel, who has since become a mentor to me personally and a crucial part of the Foundation. Honestly, I felt mentored by her before I knew her because her music and autobiography helped me find hope during the darkest time in my life. Her Jewel Never Broken program taught me so many mental health tools that I accredit to my healing today, a lot of which are available on her JewelNeverBroken.com website.
Thanks to the kindness of Shelby, Ryan, Jewel, the Inspiring Children Foundation, my mother, and countless others, I found love for my life again and peace inside of myself. I now get to share that same kindness that they showed me to others in a new online mental health community me and the children created called INSPIRE HOUSE on twitch.tv/inspirehouse, as well as through my involvement with the Born This Way Foundation as a Youth Advisory Board Member and incoming freshman at Stanford University.
It is such a gift to be able to mentor and communicate with people at all stages of their mental health journey and to share my story and insights in the same way Ryan and so many others have shared with me. There is no greater gift, and as my mentor Jewel says… “In the end, only kindness matters.”