Translator: Robert Deliman
Reviewer: Denise RQ I was barely a teenager
the first time I tried to kill myself. If I knew then what I know now, well, it probably wouldn’t
have changed very much. And it probably
wouldn’t have changed very much because sometimes
it doesn’t matter what you know, what you feel just takes over. And there’s so many ways like this,
that our perception becomes limited. In fact, our perception is its limits. And these limits are created
by our biology, by our psychology, by our society. These are the factors which create
that bubble which surrounds us that is our perceptual field,
our world as we know it. Now, this bubble, our perceptual field, has this incredible ability
to expand and to contract based on changes in any of those factors
which create and inform it. Most of us have experienced the challenges of the contraction
of our perception from time to time. Think about that time
when you got cut off in traffic. In the city, it was
probably today, let’s face it. When it happened, maybe you felt your heart rate
start to quicken, your face flush. You jammed on your brakes
in order to avoid a collision. And when you did, you focused in
on that one license plate as it sped by. Maybe the only thing to go
through your mind at that time was how creative you could be in the words you were about to hurl
out the window at that guy. Eventually, your perception
would have returned to normal. You would have relaxed,
you would have gone on with your day. You probably would have
even forgotten about it. But imagine you didn’t. Imagine you stayed there, stuck there,
in that narrow, dark place. Well, that’s what it can be like
to live with a mental illness. At least, that’s what it was like for me, at the depth of my own
mental illness as a teenager. My perception had become constricted,
and darkened, and collapsed. I felt like an asthmatic who had
lost his glasses in a hurricane. So, when I was sitting in that chair, across from my eighth-grade
guidance counselor, the only thing that I could think
was, “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not smart enough.” “You’re not enough.” And it didn’t matter if I was because these were
the constricted limits of my perception. So, when I held that eight-inch
chef’s knife in my hand, and I raised it to my throat, and I pressed it there and I felt
the blood begin to trickle down my hand, the only thing I could think
in that moment, “Nobody would even know you’ were gone.” I heard the guidance counselor
ask from across the room, miles away, it seemed like,
he said, “Mark! Please don’t.” I heard him, but I wasn’t listening. I just took a deep breath. “I don’t have a choice.” Had the guidance counselor
not reached for me from across the room, tackled me to the floor,
wrestled that knife from my hand, maybe I wouldn’t be here today. I think about that a lot. Now, not all days were that traumatic. In fact, most days I probably
seemed just like any other normal kid, if not a little quiet. And because the truth is, I was. In fact I was so normal, most people
would have never guessed. They probably would have even been
surprised to find out how I would hate the way the sunlight came
into my window every morning when I would wake up. And I know that some of you
know that feeling, too. I was so normal that a few years later, after not getting the help
that I so clearly needed, most people would have never known
that I was the one that had caused so much
commotion late one night when I tried to jump from an overpass. Then again, if they did know, I would
have been the last to find out anyway because that’s how
these types of things go. People seem plenty eager to talk
about mental illness and about suicide just as long as it’s behind closed doors
and in hushed voices. Well, this is the part that I’m doing
differently with you today by sharing with you my experiences, I hope to raise my voice,
and I hope to open those doors. And this is how I do it: I remember. I remember I was wandering
the empty streets of my hometown. I was alone this time,
unlike that other time, and it’s because I wanted to die alone. My mind was running, screaming,
shaking, collapsing in on itself again. When you’re in that place, and your perception
is collapsing like that, those old thoughts kept coming
back again, “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,”
“You’re not enough.” So, I walked up, and I approached
the railing to the overpass. I walked along it, I looked over, I came to a light post
on my left-hand side, and I stopped. “Should I hang in there
for just one more day?” That’s a phrase people always seem to ask themselves
when they’re suicidal, I have found, I asked it to myself
and others with whom I’ve worked, young people today,
they’ve asked it, too. It’s this instinctual word of hope, “Should I hang on there
for just one more day?” For what? To be that crazy kid? I’ve already held on for this long,
and things haven’t gotten any better. Why would I keep trying
what hasn’t been working? I’m not crazy. My perception was collapsing. It was squeezing out that instinctual hope
that everybody has inside of them. So, I climbed the railing in three parts,
like rungs on a ladder. I was being very careful not to slip. I climbed back down the other side again. I had very few choices in my life. But this, this was certainly one. And I needed something, anything,
that I could be certain about. So I turned around. I felt the railing
pressing against my back, just below my shoulder blades, I stretched my arms out
on its cool metal surface. I remember feeling raindrops
under my fingers. I looked down at my shoes. My running shoes were old,
worn out, tired. My heels were on the concrete,
my toes were on nothing. I looked past my toes to the ground,
50 or so feet below, and on the ground, I saw
a rusted out chain linked fence topped by three strings of barbed wire. As I was standing there in that moment, the only thing that I could think
from my collapsed perception was “How far out would I need
to jump from this bridge so I wouldn’t land on that fence?” Because I just didn’t want it to– I just didn’t want it to hurt anymore. In that moment, my entire life
was completely in my control. And when you’re living
in a hurricane like this, all the time, that’s a really unfamiliar,
but really satisfying feeling. To feel like you have control
over your whole life. So I stayed like that for a while. I just stood there in that feeling, experiencing that feeling of having agency
over my life for a change. Eventually, I was brought back
into the present by a man’s voice over my right shoulder. I talked to him for a while, but, even today,
I don’t remember about what. He was wearing a light brown jacket,
but I don’t remember his face. I didn’t look back long enough,
and I never saw him again. Before I knew it, I could see flashing
lights from the corner of my eyes. I looked to my right and to my left, and there were three police cars
on either side blocking off the street. There were crowds of late night gatherers,
gawking at me from either side. This was two or three
in the morning, I guess. Either they came home from the bars or they just walked up
to see what was going on. A male voice from my right side, I heard
him scream to me, “Jump, you coward!” OK, that’s enough. Again, I took a deep breath in and as I did, my arms
seemed to rise from the railing like they’d suddenly
become weightless and unburdened. I could feel the edge of the concrete under the arches of my feet
begin to shift. I started to pitch forward. And as I did, I felt the wind blow around my body,
and on my face, and through my hair, and it felt free. Then, an arm reached around my chest,
a hand grabbed the back of my shirt. The man in the light brown
jacket later told police that my body was completely
limp when he grabbed me, and he dragged me
backward over the railing. Can suicide really be a choice
if it’s the only choice available? We ask ourselves,
“How can it be the only choice?” “How can it even be a rational choice?” And hopefully we wonder,
and we ask ourselves how we can help. Well, we can start to help by better appreciating
that our mental health is contingent on the state and the flexibility
of our perceptions. Whether we have a mental illness or not, how expanded or how contracted
our perception becomes impacts the choices that we make. When I was standing on that bridge, my perception was so collapsed
that I only had that one choice. When we encounter
the suicide of somebody else, we always seem to try to rationalize it. I hear it all the time. And I think that’s
because we’re uncomfortable with feeling helpless
and with not understanding. But since we know that our perceptions
are created and continually informed by our biology, by our psychology,
and by our society, we actually have many entry points for potentially helping
and better understanding suicide. One way that we can help is to stop
saying that people “commit” suicide. People commit rape, they commit murder,
but nobody has committed suicide in this country since the early 1970s
when suicide was decriminalized. And that’s because suicide is a public
health concern, not a criminal one. And it’s a health concern, we know that. 90% of people who die by suicide have
a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death. And we know that, with medication,
with psychotherapy, these treatments work, so we need to make these treatments more available
and in an informed way, to everybody. And we can be a part of that change,
whether we have a mental illness or not by taking charge of our own mental health
when we go in for our annual physical, we make a point of doing
an annual psychological, too. At both the individual and the societal
levels, we can challenge our old ideas like that old idea of saying
that people “commit” suicide. When I first started out doing this, I used to beg for somebody to do
something about suicide and stigma. Well, that’s not acceptable anymore. So instead, I’ve started doing something. When a leading cause of death
among new mothers in the first year after childbirth
is suicide, that’s not acceptable either. When our First Nations Inuit
and Mantis communities are being ravaged by a suicide rate 5-6 times higher
than the national average, that’s not acceptable. When almost a quarter
of 15 to 25-year-olds who die by suicide, that is not acceptable. So, like I said, when I used
to plead for people to do something, and that’s not acceptable either, well, you’re here
and you’re doing something already, because you’re changing
the way you think, and that’s what changes the world. So, for those of you who might be thinking
about suicide today, good. Keep thinking about it. And then, start talking about it. And then, start doing
something about it, too. And for those of you who might
be contemplating suicide, I know that there’s a hope
somewhere deep inside you. I’ve felt it, too. Keep that hope alive. We need you. We need you to be leaders
in this conversation, whether we are ready to have it or not. And trust me, if you’re anything like me, it’s this conversation
that’s going to keep you alive, every single day, as though you’ve got just one more day. Thank you. (Applause)