I’d say I’m in touch with reality – I know what the hell is going on around me. But nothing screams “reality-check” like sitting across from a girl with ocean-blue eyes, who’s telling you how grateful she is her attempted suicide failed.
Over the course of an hour, my emotions did a complete 180. First, I was heartbroken, then I was flooded with hope and positivity.
Six months earlier, 16-year-old Sela Caskennete tried ending her life. She consumed over 150 pills. By the time Sela’s mother found her unconscious, covered in her own vomit, her chances of survival were slim. Nine hours had passed and poison control was unable to relieve Sela’s system of the toxins.
Some time later, a photo of a bruised arm with IVs stuck in it appeared on my Instagram explore page. In a sea of engagement, pregnancy and bikini posts, it stood out. I clicked it. For the first time, Sela was sharing her story. And I wanted to know more.
“My last resort was to kill myself.”
When Sela woke up in the hospital and the doctor asked her, “Are you happy to be alive right now?”
She didn’t say, “Yes.” But she also didn’t say “No.” I don’t blame her. I fought the tension in my throat as she told me, “What the hell was I supposed to say?”
Today, Sela can confidently say, “Yes” to the doctor’s question. She has worked tirelessly to accept her second chance at life. She’s joining the fight to end the stigma around mental health.
As early as in Grade 6, Sela started to experience long, draining periods of sadness. Her family was going through some difficult changes and at 11-years-old, she lacked the skills to communicate her struggle with those around her. Slowly, she lost interest in the things she loved and fought to stay in control of her surroundings.
Starving herself was Sela’s only refuge. In 2014, about 28% of visits to Canadian emergency departments were for eating disorders. Between her eating disorder and the debilitating days of depression, Sela lost hope.
“This happened to me and people know this happened to me. It’s time to move on and help others suffering.”
“No one should feel like their last resort is to kill themself,” Sela explained. She can remember having a string of days where she convinced herself things would get better. Then one morning she couldn’t find the strength to put on a brave face for another day.
“I sat in class and started crying uncontrollably, so I ran home as fast as I could. It was at that moment I realized there was nothing left for me. I took the pills and went to bed.” Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among Canadian 15 – 24 year olds.
Social media has positively influenced Sela’s healing process and confidence. “I was never someone who talked about feelings, but by posting my story online, it helped me come to terms with it. This happened to me and people know this happened to me. It’s time to move on and help others suffering.”
Sela is challenging the notion that social media profiles are fictional tales of perceived “picture perfect” lives.
Behind every social media profile is an individual breathing and making decisions. Behind those stagnant photos are humans living their lives with ups and downs – whether we like it or not.
Sela is challenging the notion that social media profiles are fictional tales of perceived “picture perfect” lives. She has come to understand, and embrace, that there is no such thing as perfection. “I’ve let go of comparing myself to other people. I’m not beautiful like anyone else on this planet – I am beautiful like myself.”
Having personally suffered from severe anxiety all my life, Sela and I discussed the importance of learning to be kind to yourself. I joked that it’s sort of like learning to fall in love with yourself – accepting every inch of your body and stopping negative self-talk.
I asked Sela what “self-love” means to her. “I realized I needed to dedicate more time in the day to me,” she explained. “I’d force myself to go to the gym, play guitar and get out of the house. The more I did these things, the more I realized how happy I was capable of being.”
“Happiness isn’t a destination.”
Part of Sela’s recovery has been challenging conventional ideas of happiness. It isn’t something we can purchase, put in our pocket and take out whenever needed. Happiness is earned. It’s a skill and like any skill, it takes practice.
“Happiness isn’t a destination.” She explained. “Reaching this place where you are happy every day of your life. Everyone has bad days – it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Not allowing yourself to have “off” days would be denying yourself of self-love. With mental illness comes moments of irrational thinking. “Just because I am having a bad day, doesn’t mean that I am going back into depression,” said Sela. “I’ve learned to be realistic of my emotions.”
With so many different (and distorted) ideas of what it means to be happy, intelligent or beautiful, setting realistic expectations for ourselves can be hard. It’s important to step back from the situation we find distressing (I sometimes like to picture myself physically stepping away from the situation) and reevaluate our self-talk. It’s a practice I call “defogging”. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is what I am worked up about worth my energy?
- Am I setting unrealistic expectations of myself? Others?
- Is my internal conversation showing myself I love me?
The list could go on forever but the point is, these questions focus on you. Mental health and happiness is a process that takes time, commitment and determination. “If I can get to this place of acceptance, anyone can,” explained Sela. “I refuse to let my second chance at life go to waste.”
Sela is determined to create a community around the idea of “blind hope.” A concept she uses to remind herself that everyday is a blessing. A bad day is 24 hours, not a lifetime.
Honesty is cool. Authentic is trendy. Having courage is always in style.
Online, it’s easy to perceive others as plastic, fictional characters. Sela posts photos of her beautiful sunny smile but she also lets us know what it’s like to have a shitty day too.
Honesty is cool. Authentic is trendy. Having courage is always in style. Thanks to Sela, I’m reminded that social media can be a fantastic tool for being heard and listening to others – for being human.
If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts or impulses, there is help available. Some resources include:
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.