It’s summertime, and July is traditionally a time when we think about vacations, sunshine, and the beach, but for me July also represents a different period of time in my life. It is the anniversary of my Dad taking his own life.
Now before you disregard this post – as I’m sure you’d rather be thinking about the beach – hear me out. Many people do still struggle in the summer.
Mental health awareness has made huge gains in the last 5 years in terms of our openness to talk about this issue, and I embrace the opportunity to share my story publicly as often as I can. I believe mental health challenges like depression can be overcome, but to do so we need to keep the discussion going.
If you’re not familiar with my story, my father was paralyzed in 2002 after he fell from a tree while building a tree stand. During the recovery process he became very depressed and eventually took his own life five years later.
Ironically, in 2006, just four years after my Dad’s injury, I too broke my back and was paralyzed. Fortunately, since I didn’t sever my spinal cord in my motorcycle accident, with an enormous amount of both physical and mental effort, I was able to recover and can now walk again. I went on to compete in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, winning a bronze medal with the Canadian Sledge Hockey Team.
Life was good right?
Well, the short answer is “No.” In both the year following my dad’s passing, and the year after winning my bronze medal, I felt like doing the same thing as Dad. I wanted to take my own life.
You see, I know what it feels like to be suicidal and to feel like there is no way out.
Have you ever been there?
Every year, as July 27th approaches and I reflect on my Dad’s and my own experience, it always makes me think “How many other people are out there struggling with the same issues right now?” Chances are, there are many of you. It makes me want to share my experience and what I learned on how you can overcome depression. How you can “be the hero in your own movie” (another common theme of mine) and how you too can succeed in your battle to regain mental health and wellness.
My message (and this blog) couldn’t be more timely as just about a month ago I received a message from my friend Wes Knight of the podcast Creating Space. The message concerned a family friend whose 13 year old son had just sustained a spinal cord injury following a diving accident. Wes requested I share a few words with the family on my thoughts about what to do, what to think about and what to focus on, especially so soon following the aftermath of such a traumatic accident.
What I shared and what I can tell you is that whether you are dealing with any kind of life changing injury or even if you are just struggling in general, the principles I learned from seeing my Dad suffer are those I used to turn my life around during the dark times. When depression and suicidal thoughts threatened to overwhelm you, there are steps you can take to help to keep your head afloat whenever things become challenging.
I encourage you to watch the video for yourself, but in the meantime if you’d like a summary of the key takeaways, here is what I believe:
1. Life IS Worth Living.
There is life after a spinal cord injury (or a divorce, or cancer, or losing a leg, or bankruptcy, whatever it is that has become your obstacle). If someone else has been through what you are experiencing and they’ve made it back on top, you can too. There are countless examples around us and they are easy to find in this world filled with social media. There are so many ways to connect and find others living the kind life you are hoping for. Search out those people and use them as your healing inspiration.
2. Accept Responsibility.
I preach about accepting responsibility at every chance I get because when you acknowledge that you are responsible for how you handle a situation. you take your power back. You are in control. If you allow others, an event, or “the story you tell yourself” to control you, you will just end up spinning in circles trying to get your mind right.
3. Focus on Attitude and Gratitude.
My Dad chose the “victim” role. He focused on the negative things that happened and chose to “blame the tree.” I can’t emphasize this one enough – when something negative happens to you, you may not be responsible for what happened but you are responsible for what you do about it! Your attitude is a major determining factor in both recovery and digging yourself out of a gutter.
Choose to continually work on having a positive attitude by focusing on gratitude. I highly recommend you go out and immediately buy “The 5 Minute Journal”. When I was in rehab I had someone bring me journals from the dollar store. I didn’t consciously know at the time what I was doing – I just started writing. What ended up happening though, was that I basically began celebrating my “wins.” Each day I would celebrate being able to get out of bed. Being able to tie my own shoes. Being able to dress myself and eventually, being able to take my first steps. This simple exercise will help you pay attention to the small things in life that really matter and not let you get so bogged down with the daunting, daily tasks or things you feel like you are missing.
Journaling those small wins was kind of like the “highlight reel” of my “hero in my own movie” moments.
There are of course many other ways to handle dealing with depression and by no means is this enough to cover the topic thoroughly. However, my hope for you is this: just as I take a moment each July to remember and reflect on my Dad and both the attitude and actions he displayed in his own life (and the consequences of those actions) that you too will pause to reflect and think for yourself on how you have the power to choose your path.
Make positive choices, and remember these three tips to help defeat depression and to be the hero in your own movie!
Whenever you are ready here are the 3 best ways I can help you:
- Get a FREE copy of my autobiography, Still Standing: When You Have Every Reason to Give Up, Keep Going (here)
- Looking for a speaker for your next event? Watch Kevin’s keynote reel on The Hero Mindset (here)
- Interested in team building? Come play and and learn more about the Sledge Hockey Experience (here)