Your Story Matters

Understanding people is one of my top priorities in growing my relationships and perspective on life. I always want to know why they are the way they are and what matters to them. In friends, students, family members and quite honestly strangers I meet traveling or out at the bar, I am insatiably curious to know their story. Storytellers also love hearing great stories. In my coaching business, we are often asked what our “why” is for being a part of this business. The question is asked when we begin the journey as coaches and then it is asked many times as our personal business evolves, naturally the “why” evolves. My mission not only in my new career but as a human being is to use my story, my struggles and my triumphs to lift others up and inspire them. I am surrounded by a team full of incredible people who share their deepest struggles with their body image, mental health, financial trouble, self-confidence issues, relationship problems, (the list goes on) with their followers, friends, family and anyone on the internet to see. As I evolve as a person, a writer, a business woman and a human being I realize that the story that I know so well, my own story, is not something I have put in the spotlight lately.

Now I am living on the other side of the planet with people who haven’t known me longer than 6 months at most. The funny thing about constantly meeting new people is they can only meet you where you are. We can share stories about our past but people tend to judge us by our present. I notice this when I walk down the crowded streets in Sydney. If I’m on my way to work in my “teacher dresses” I give off a much different persona then if I’m in my activewear going to the gym or my casual beach clothes. People deal with me in a much different manner as well. We subconsciously put strangers in boxes and molds and sharing our stories about the inside are the best way to break those. Sometimes I would like a sign on my forehead at the bar, “More than just a pretty face”. Not because I am looking to meet anyone, I am currently the happiest I’ve ever been in a relationship. I just want people to stop judging the shell of me and start being interested in what is underneath. Due to the overwhelming response from my friends, old and new, of how happy I look and seem, I want to go a bit deeper than that shell. Right now, I am happy. But the struggle it took to get here can not be forgotten.

Social media is terrifying when it is used to magnify the good and stifle the bad. I will always be an optimistic individual but I refuse to discount or discredit the struggle and the pain that have been such a real catalyst in shaping me into the woman I am today. I accidently became involved with an Australian organization called One Wave, which raises awareness for mental health. I found out about a free Sunrise Bender yoga class on Bondi Beach when I first moved to Sydney and decided I had to try it out. The first time I went I was sold and have been going back nearly every Friday since. One Wave is a surfing community raising awareness for mental health and every Friday they celebrate Fluro Friday, where everyone dresses in bright, neon, wacky, rave-esque outfits and comes together to surf (or do free yoga for those of us who don’t surf). They kick off the morning with someone sharing their story about mental health and how it has affected their life, either their own battle with a mental illness or someone close to them. It is incredible to hear their stories and see the courage and refuge they have found in having a positive community to support them. We all deeply crave to feel love and acceptance. Why not help eachother get that satisfaction? I decided one early morning on the beach that I wanted to share my story. Not that morning. But some morning in the future. I will keep that promise to myself. For now, I am choosing to share it with you. My family, friends, and followers. Many of you know parts of this story, some of you know most of it, none of you know it all. I often exhaust all my energy on helping others because right now I am strong enough to do so. But it has not always been that way. It is pretty terrifying to be so vulnerable but at this point in my life and my journey, I know that I am ready.

My whole life I grew up with mental health as a very apparent part of my reality. My mother was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and from a young age I watched her battle with demons I did not yet understand. In middle school I met new friends and became extremely close to a few in particular. One girl was named Corey. Corey was a beautiful, goofy, empathetic girl who initially hated me because she thought I was trying to “steal” her best friend. We bonded at our catholic school’s dance inappropriately grinding with cute boys and running away from the chaperones. We quickly grew into sisters . Corey and I could talk for hours about boys, clothes, food, movies, and typical teenage topics. But we also shared a bond that was much different than the average middle school friendship. We had heart to hearts and deep conversations about life. We shared our secrets, fears and dreams. As we got older and our friendship developed I realized I saw the world through a much different lens than Corey and she saw that too. I tried to help her see things with a positive outlook but I later found out she too was suffering from depression. Once she was diagnosed, I tried to be there for her in exactly the same way I was before. I told her about my mom. At that point my mom’s mental health was slowly declining and I felt helpless because two women who I loved so deeply, did not love themselves(on most days). But there were the good days. The days where the sunshine would come through their eyes and they would make me laugh and smile and I would forget either of them were sad at all. When my friends would come over, especially Corey, they would go lay in my mom’s bed where she was grading papers and chat with her about life and everyday things. I would lay with them but sometimes I would wander off and Corey and Erin would stay behind with my mom and chat. I loved the days I saw the sunshine in their eyes.

Heartbreakingly, Corey decided to take her own life our junior year of highschool. She battled her depression, she was in therapy and taking medicine. She confided in our inner circle(Erin, Shelly &I) that she had feelings like she wanted to end her life. We knew she was struggling but we had NO idea just how serious she was. That day, October 30, 2006 changed my universe forever. It absolutely shattered my heart into a million pieces and I was left screaming in the hallway, sobbing on the gymnasium floor, clutching my best friends with every ounce of strength I had left. Losing Corey and going through the grief process as a 15 year old young girl opened my eyes to the world of true despair. It showed me what people meant when they physically “couldn’t get out of bed”. I spent days and nights paralyzed by sadness, guilt, anger, denial and regret. All while watching my mother fight the same battle. A woman who I needed to take care of me more than ever. There are so many ways people handle tragedy, but we were led by the example of Corey’s incredible parents, so our friends and community joined together in our grief and allowed it to make us better, kinder, more empathetic individuals. We became a voice for depression in young adults, a voice for suicide prevention, and if anything a voice for appreciating your life and people who are in it because you never know when that can come to a crashing halt.

I grew up with sadness. It shaped me into myself. I didn’t hide from my pain. Sometimes I definitely drank through it. We all felt such a tremendous loss but we felt it together. We talked about it out loud to anyone and everyone. We talked about her to anyone and everyone. We still talk about her to anyone and everyone. Anyone who has met me and developed any sort of close relationship with me knows who Corey is. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Her life made me into the kind of person I am. The kind of friend I am. I never assume anyone is “okay”. I never assume anything. I take people for what they are and who they are and I celebrate the beauty inside of them. As I stumbled through my grieving process I watched my mom’s situation deteriorate. I resented her. I resented her for something she could not control. Something that just killed my best friend. But I had to learn the valuable lesson that mothers aren’t only mothers they are people, too.  I tried to be there for my mom but I was angry and I was broken. I came home one day to find that she, too, wanted to give up. She attempted to take her own life and landed in the ICU. The road to recovery for her, our family and especially inside of me was a long one. A very, long, confusing, journey with feelings of anger, helplessness, pity, anguish, empathy and scorn. But mostly, love. Today, I feel strong enough to share this part of myself because my mom is in better condition than I can ever remember. I would say she is “back to her old self” but no, she is even better than the mother I can remember growing up.

The twists and turns that I maneuvered through(usually in silence) did not make me weak. They made me strong. I took what I was dealt and I learned to deal with it. I learned to turn my pain into progress. I learned to give my heart to others instead of closing it off. I learned to never hide my feelings or my emotions from myself. Even if I wasn’t ready to share it with everyone, I never lied to myself. And then there were those who I could lean on. Those who literally picked me up off the ground so many times. My father, my brother, Erin, Shelly, Shafer, Krohl, Gina, Grace, Lisa and Dave and moving forward in life Alex and Kyndell,  you gave me and continue to give me so much through your love and your friendship. I never felt like the weight was too heavy to bear because you lifted me up. In the pain, I found some of the best antidotes I could possibly imagine, my words and my body. I learned to channel the pain into my writing. My thoughts appear in words. I write in my head when I think. I would pour my heart into the paper after Corey died and I haven’t really ever stopped. Her life, her friendship and her death lead me to discover my passion for writing and led me on the quest to write novels for a living one day. Or if not for a living, definitely for a life.  After I learned to channel the pain in writing, I also needed a physical outlet. This is where I fell in love with running, exercise, yoga and pushing my body to the limit any new way I could find. I needed somewhere to put the pain. So it went into my notebook or into the pavement. Once I engrained those habits into my life, I realized they were not just habits they were passions and they were giving me the strength I needed to survive. Without them, I’m not sure I could have coped in the manner that I did.

Today, if you meet me or when you look at me, you DO see a girl who “looks so happy” and for the first time in a very long time, I can say I genuinely am. Losing Corey at such a young age and fighting for myself in the sadness afterwards made me into this person who is not afraid to take chances. I learned my lesson quickly and painfully that our time is so limited and we must explore, absorb and cherish the world around us every single day. So many people don’t have the capability to follow their dreams due to a plethora of reasons, but I am so fortunate that I am capable, supported, willing and EAGER to live a life that matters. For such a seemingly happy person, it feels strange to have such a strong tie to death, sadness, grief and despair, but I refuse to be silent about things that matter. I am here to tell you and to show you that there is HOPE no matter what situation you are in, things will always change and things can always get better. Don’t shy away from how you feel. Don’t forget WHAT YOU FELT. Do I think it’s necessary for everyone to share their story? No , of course not. Is it hard to open up? It’s taken me almost a decade. But, to think about the people who I can touch, move, impact or even nudge in the right direction of understanding is worth it to me. We are all connected and what happens to some has happened to many.

If you look at me and think I will never be that happy, I promise you, I thought the exact same thing. But now it is genuine and I have learned to deal with what whatever life throws at me with a smile. I value my life and my health more than anything. I celebrate the fact that my mother has found strength and in turn has given me strength, especially in the last few years of my life. Mom, you are my best friend and I am so proud of you. You have faced so many hardships and you have come out on top. You are the kindest and most supportive woman and I can’t imagine my world without you in it. I celebrate the life of my dear friend Corey, not just with my words but hopefully in the way I live my life. I intend to tell your story Corey in the best way I know how. Your influence is endless. Just like heart disease, cancer, alzheimer’s, you name it, mental illnesses can be deadly. People who suffer from mental illnesses deserve awareness, respect, support, empathy, sympathy and love. It doesn’t just affect those who suffer but anyone and everyone who cares about them. No, you may not understand what it’s like, but do you have to understand what it’s like to have cancer to be compassionate towards people with cancer? Of course not. I have so many friends and family members who are suffering or have suffered. I see you, I feel you and I am here for you. Our mind, our body and our spirit all work as one and each entity of us deserves the utmost tenderness, compassion and respect. I don’t want my story to leave you feeling sad, I want it to leave you…feeling. Because that to me is the ultimate kudos for my story and my “why” , to bring about feeling. We feel things when they matter, and this matters a whole lot to me. In my heart of hearts, when you read this I want you to feel like you matter. Because you do. Everyone has a story and every one matters.

3 thoughts on “Your Story Matters

  1. Melinda Donovan Bell says:

    Susannah… You paint such an honest poignant picture of what the families and friends live through watching their mentally ill loved one suffer. You actually live it too in as much anguish as the depressed person.Hopefully,your message will encourage others to not give up and seek help. Both as caregivers and patients. I could never have returned to such a healthy wonderful view of life if I hadn’t gotten therapy, medication and unending support from you and your father and so many other family and friends who never gave up on me.Tragically, Corey did not live to see she was surrounded by all that. I understand because I too was that depressed that you absolutely are incapable of seeing past the pain. By you telling her story Susannah.. You make sure others know how much they matter. They may get a second chance.
    I am so proud you have grown into such an amazing person through all this pain.i know living with a depressed mother is so difficult and scary and hard especially for a young child. We are both so blessed to have your wonderful father who was and is always there for us. Continue to tell your stories and I guarantee you will be saving lives. You helped save mine.. With all the love in my heart.

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