Captain’s log, Stardate January 2011. Where unfortunately many have gone before. I’m twenty-six years old and thinking about dying… actually, I’m not being entirely truthful. I’m very much in the midst of a suicide attempt.
I don’t really want to die. I just want the emotional pain to stop… and I don’t know how to do that. Hell, two guys in my life—my father and grandfather—each didn’t know how to make their own terrible personal pain stop and now both were, well, dead.
My grandfather, Haakon—a Norwegian guy who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—ended his life by suicide in 1966 because of the overwhelming post-traumatic stress he suffered because of the war.
My father, Douglas—an American guy who was chronically unhappy and an abusive man—ended his life by suicide in 2009, the catalyst being a divorce with my mother along with long-term depression and other mental health issues.
How did I get to such a dismal place in my life so quickly, just shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of high school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I’d have it all together. After a couple of years singing on Broadway, I would have scored a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioned seamlessly to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. After which, my getaway home in the Hamptons would be featured in Better Homes & Gardens, and my face would grace the cover of National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.
But instead, “perfect” was unattainable (it always is). I only managed to perform in some of the small and medium-sized professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show, and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father died by suicide himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.
This storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions, such as my aforementioned suicide attempt.
Both Haakon and Douglas suffered their pain in silence because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and asking for help. I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through. But I didn’t want to die and so I had to take a chance.
I started talking. First I called my mom. She helped me through that initial crisis of my suicide attempt and we became friends again. She never called me “crazy.” I then started reaching out to the positive friends I had in my life. They hugged me and helped me with open arms. They never told me I was “less than a man.” Soon, I got more help by seeing a professional counselor, and by writing down what I was going through in a journal.
But this idea of keeping silent continued to bother me. I did some research while in my recovery and discovered that each year, suicide kills over one million people worldwide… and that many of those one million never speak up about their emotional pain because of the stigma.
I had to figure out a way to reach people. So, like any other actor, writer, or comedian living in New York City whose life dealt them a crappy hand, I created a one-man show (the love child of stand-up comedy and traditional theatre) … and it toured theatres and universities in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia—and people were getting help.
But I had to keep talking because this isn’t just a Rivedal problem or United States problem… it’s a worldwide problem.
I had to get other people to tell their stories, so I started The i’Mpossible Project. Why? Because storytelling is one of our oldest traditions. Stories can make us laugh or cry… or both at the same time. They can teach, inspire and even ignite an entire movement.
The stories of The i’Mpossible Project are true tales from real people who have achieved incredible feats in the face of overwhelming odds, showing that impossible is actually just a state of mind—and that anything is possible: an entrepreneur using his battle with alcohol abuse to empower others; an award winning high school student who battled bullying, self-harm, and an eating disorder to become her best self; and an actor who calls his depression “my frenemy Dewayne” (you can read a couple of the stories HERE)… because it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to need help; people have your back… there’s hope.
It’s been six years since my own crisis and life is definitely looking up. The writing and being creative thing is going well, I am happily married; but most importantly, I’m able to give and receive help and love, and with hard work I’m able to stay mentally well—all because I took a risk and told my story.
No matter what society says, it’s COOL (as in “okay”) to tell your story. Don’t ever forget that you are important, and your story needs to be heard so we, the human race, can learn how to live and love better. #iampossible
You can pre-order a copy of the new The i’Mpossible Project book at www.iampossibleproject.com/preorder
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Josh Rivedal (founder, executive director of The i’Mpossible Project) is an author, actor, playwright, and international public speaker on suicide prevention, mental health, and diversity. He curated the 50-story inspirational anthology The i’Mpossible Project: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible. He wrote and developed the one-man play, Kicking My Blue Genes in The Butt (KMBB), which has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. He writes for the Huffington Post. His newest venture is a mental health based curriculum, “Changing Minds,” which combines lecture, group discussion, storytelling, and improv theatre.
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