In line with Suicide Awareness Day in September, PGR is raising awareness around a very taboo topic: Suicide & Depression. We’ve interviewed several individuals (heroes) about their lived experiences; stories that we hope will bring you healing, hope, and a deeper level of understanding.
In our interview below, we feature Emma who is now a dedicated athlete and advocate for those struggling with mental health issues. Her story is one of suffering, but one that is also filled with hope, triumph, and a willingness to thrive amidst adversity.
Tell us more about your journey?
My entry into the world was traumatic. My birth mother suffered a brain aneurysm and died whilst trying to give birth to me. My twin brother and I survived.
My father threw himself into work – he was away a lot, and I was often left with various nannies. When he remarried, I was then left with my stepmother and stepsister. I felt very alone, unwanted, and abandoned, as it seemed like he prioritised his new wife and her daughter.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst. For two years, I was sexually abused by my twin brother. This had a devastating effect on me, and it still does. I suffer from PTSD due to this – coupled with other traumatic events such suicide attempts and sexual assaults.
I grew up confused, unsure of my identity. I had been told I was a donor egg baby too – so there is a woman in the world somewhere who is my genetic mother. I cannot trace her and probably will never be able to.
Although I grew up with a wealthy lifestyle since my dad worked so hard, all l really desired was words of acceptance, love, and praise from him. I needed emotional support, not money. At the same time, I know he did the best he could, with the trauma he had been through in his life too.
How did you get diagnosed?
On my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with depression by a doctor.
He just said, “take these pills”.
At that point, I had already been drinking and smoking heavily for 6 years. In fact, when I was 15, I had gotten intoxicated to the point where I was unconscious for 17 hours. These were my forms of self-medication – to numb the pain and void inside me. Anything to stop the pain in my head.
In my head, I was screaming but nobody could hear me. Nobody knew my pain. This carnage and insanity continued for years.
When I was 24, I tried to end my life in Austria. I was then moved from the hospital, strapped down, and put away behind bars in a mental institution for 1 week. To this day, not many people know about this.
I often overdosed — on drugs, alcohol, pharmaceuticals – and was resuscitated twice in 2017. The first time was by a friend who found me unconscious and not breathing in my apartment. The second, I was cut down after I tried to hang myself in a hospital with IV drips around my neck.
These memories still haunt me — the extreme despair where I felt killing myself was the only option I had left. I remember feeling so unworthy, neglected, shameful and disgusted with myself. It seemed like ending my life was the only way out of the misery I felt daily.
Tell us more about your recovery journey?
In 2015, I found that running longer distances and Triathlon helped. It gave me focus and a place to channel my inner pain.
I started competing in 2015 and then qualified for GBR in the same year. I completed a 140.6 Ironman and started being successful in lots of races. This helped me manage my emotions.
At the same time, this alone was not enough.
In 2017, I moved to Asia and started an incredible journey. I got myself sober in 2019, ended an abusive engagement, and in 2020 won an Ironman 70.3 thereby qualifying for the World Championships 70.3.
Unfortunately, just seven days before this race, one of the bodies of my best friends was found. To this day, I have no idea how I found the strength to start that race… let alone win it. I believe Stephanie was with me the entire way. The grief I still feel from this loss is unimaginable. She was the most incredible human to grace this planet.
I continue to deal with and process the various traumas in my life – some are still ongoing. The relationship with my ‘family’ is almost non-existent. When I made the decision to tell them about my incest abuse, some even called me a liar and blocked me from their lives.
I’ve had help from counsellors, psychosexual trauma therapists, EMDR therapy sessions, drug and alcohol abuse teams, social workers, and even Alcoholics Anonymous has been part of my story. I’ve met some incredible souls through this programme, and I know I am not alone in this world. There are millions of people like me, who became addicted to substances to try to help them cope. My most helpful form of recovery has been opening up and speaking to other individuals who have experienced a life like mine. I now know, I am far from alone.
I am now a sponsored athlete, competing for an Elite Triathlon team, and share my story in hopes that I can reach others who are suffering or struggling.
What did you wish you knew back then?
I wish I had spoken out sooner. I went through so many years of hell — hiding my drinking, hiding my abuse.
I wish I had asked for help when I was 15 — the first time my life was saved in hospital.
I wish I knew that there were/are so many resources available for those struggling with their mental health.
I wished I had known that I was not alone.
My younger self was a little child who was hurting so badly and just wanted the love, care, and attention from her father… which was not possible (due to his own unresolved past trauma). Instead, I just struggled with feelings of rejection and abandonment for many years.
I wish I had told myself:
What are some misconceptions about suicide and/or depression that frustrate you?
Mental health and mental illness aren’t spoken about in many countries. Living in Asia the past four years has definitely shown me that.
It makes me feel sick thinking about (and seeing) the severe lack of understanding and compassion for fellow humans who are dealing with small and big problems (often in silence). They get treated so poorly in some places.
Suicide is not selfish.
Yes, the person leaves behind people who care about them – but think about the person who took the courage to end their own life. It is not something they really wanted… they just saw no other way to end their suffering. They saw no light at the end of that long dark tunnel. Imagine the deep pain they were in, to have to go through ending their own life. I’ve been there – It’s horrific.
Mental health is real.
Just like we need to look after our physical health, it is just as important (if not more), to self-care and look after our mental state of mind too.
What advice do you have for those who are struggling?
If you are currently struggling, please know you are never alone. There is so much help out there ranging from support groups, qualified professionals, and other individuals who understand how you are feeling. You just need to muster up the strength and courage to reach out and say, ‘I need help’. Trust me, you will not regret it.
Sharing your problems with someone you trust or who is qualified can help you find solutions and bring even more hope to your life. Internalising the pain only destroys you emotionally and even physically. Value and love yourself enough to try to heal with the help of others.
For everyone else: The nicest thing you can do in your day is kind to someone.
If you see someone struggling, don’t ignore it hoping it will go away – offer a hug or kind word. You have no idea the impact you could have on someone’s day by just one small act of kindness.
Also, mental illness isn’t what it seems. Someone who is loud and seemingly happy can actually be suffering with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grief, abuse, loneliness, an eating disorder etc. Always remember, you never know the battles others are fighting.
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