Chantal Bjorklundis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
Chantal Bjorklund is a nanny, originally from Sauk Rapids, MN. She was 37 years old when I interviewed her in Minneapolis, MN, on April 23, 2016.
My first attempt, I was thirteen, I think? I had just moved down from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities in the middle of the school year. I think I was in seventh grade. The first time, I guess, I read the back of an Advil bottle that said, “Do not exceed more than eight pills within twenty-four hours.” So I took nine and legitimately thought that I wouldn’t wake up. I took nine and went to bed, and clearly, I woke up the next day.
[It was] depression. Getting yanked out of a little pond where I was a big fish, and being put into a big pond where I was a little fish. I was a giant. My sister and I are thirteen months apart. When I was in seventh grade, she was four foot nothing—four foot six and about one hundred pounds, and I was literally a foot taller and about one hundred pounds heavier. We were like one in a million. She was short on growth hormones; I was like a giant. Literally. I was three hundred pounds by the time I entered high school. I’m five foot seven. I mean, in seventh grade, I wasn’t probably three hundred pounds by then.
Chantal: Fat. No way around that. Probably bigger than I am now. Anyway, I actually don’t know how to tell it.
My mom had gotten a job down here at the Ford plant, finally making enough money to get us off welfare. [That], essentially, is why we moved in the first place. It was my mom, my two younger sisters, and me. I went from having tons of friends—regardless of my size, I had earned my piece in the popular crowd. In Sauk Rapids, I was the class clown. The funny one. The center of attention, whenever I needed and wanted to be. Down here, I didn’t know anybody, and… I don’t know. Depression seems now so miniscule and so unimportant. But then, it was enough to make me suicidal, literally.
Des: It’s everything, right?
Chantal: The Advil didn’t work, obviously. At this point, I still hadn’t talked to anybody about anything. A second time, probably a month after that, I was home alone after school. I had locked myself in the bathroom, and I decided, this time, that I wasn’t going to fail. I was going to make sure I took enough. I just started swallowing Tylenol by handfuls and whatever else was in the medicine cabinet. I’m not entirely sure. Hundreds of pills.
It gets kind of hazy, what I remember. I remember my four-foot-eight sister kicked the bathroom door in. I remember that my mom was at work. She worked nights—part of that made it worse. Lonely, depressed, and your support person is gone when you’re home.
My aunt drove me to the hospital. I remember the ride there, her telling me that I shouldn’t have done this. How could I do that? And what about my sisters? What about her? What about everybody in the world who loves me?
I’m in and out of consciousness at this point. We pull up to United Hospital, and I see my mom. At this point, I’m just scared. I just want to go home. I thought, “Shit, it didn’t work. Now I’m embarrassed. Now you have to deal with not only your depression, but your shame, too.”
I remember my mom was sitting at the foot of my bed—this is really hard, because she died not that long ago—
Des: I’m sorry.
Chantal: I remember the doctor asking, “Chantal, did you want to die when you took those pills?”
To me, the obvious answer is, “What the fuck do you think? Of course I wanted to die! Yes!”
My mom just lost it. She was just my mom, my normal mom until then, but I’d never seen her so upset. That was kind of a turning point for me, like, “Okay, wrong answer.” You know? Wrong answer. I mean, no. I didn’t want to die. That instant, I wanted to change my mind, nevermind to hurt anyone.
That’s the last thing you’re thinking about, honestly. People who don’t suffer from depression don’t understand that. They don’t understand that it’s not about them or anyone else. It’s about being in a dark hole where there’s no light anywhere.It doesn’t matter, because you’ve done all that. It’s about… if there were a way to just remove myself from the world without hurting anyone around me, if there were a way to do that, that’s what I wanted, then. What is that? That’s still death.
Anyway, they decided that the best thing for me at that point would be to put me in the adolescent psych ward. We’re at United, and we go into the child psych ward. Granted, I wasn’t a part of this conversation about what would be the best thing for me. I was not involved in that conversation, as [I was] a minor.
I ended up getting my stomach pumped. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, ever, in the entire world. But it saved my life. I ended up getting checked into the psych ward pretty much in the middle of the night. Just the reality of it all—going through my bag, taking stuff out, like, “Oh, you can’t have your shampoo. There’s alcohol in it that you could drink. Can’t have your razor for obvious reasons. No, we have to lock the door to your bathroom during the night. I mean, you could drown yourself in the toilet.”
Things like this, and to be so candid about it… I was just in shock. At this point, I really do take it back. I’m like, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.” Whatever I can say to get out of here is what I want to say.
They had padded rooms. This is my first experience with depression. I’m literally scared shitless the whole time I was there.
Des: I believe that.
Chantal: Ultimately, they let me go home. It took three days. My mom and sisters came to see me. I don’t know if they would have had my nephew not been staying in the same hospital.
I was bawling. I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t do anything. I’m begging, I’m pleading, “Please. I know you think you’re doing the right thing. Please.”
Finally, after three days, they let me go home. It was supposed to be a two-week minimum stay. To this day, I think the best thing for me probably would have been to stay. But it’s one of those things. Probably not. What happened happened for a reason.
I get to go home. I can’t wait to see my sisters. I just want to be home at this point, and for things to be back to normal. I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected to be welcomed home with hugs, loving, and coddling. It was not that at all. I was almost in trouble for what I did to my sisters, for what I put them through. It caught me off guard. That was my first real, life-altering experience with guilt. That’s when I started living my life for them. That’s what I did for a lot of years.
Fast forward. Depression isn’t something that just falls away. It’s not something that you can cheat your way through. It’s not something that there’s an easy way through. It’s not something that you can medicate yourself through. Not really. Not and get healed at the same time. It’s not until you really want to live that you get rid of it. I don’t know what the stats are for real, but I’ve heard that for someone who’s survived lots of attempting again and then again, the odds just get worse and worse.
Des: We’re definitely at higher risk.
Chantal: I can see that. You can only live your life for other people for so long. I mean, it’s that pit that I talked about earlier, that darkness, like, “No matter what, no matter how bad things get, I could stay here, just kind of dip down a little bit. Just get my way back.” Inevitably, it would rear its ugly face at the least convenient time. Honestly, you don’t think about anything else but wanting to die.
It’s just so hard to explain to people, especially people who’ve never had depression. They want to see it in two dimensions, and not as three dimensional. You have to literally have experienced it. It’s not something you could teach someone.
The third time… It was probably not quite eight years ago, ten years ago. I was going to do it right this time, for the love of Pete.I’m not going to stick around and deal with the surface things or the consequences of my actions.
It had been like five years. Heavy years. I had gastric bypass. I lost, like, a hundred and twenty pounds. Then I had a reconstructive surgery where they removed a lot of the excess flesh from my stomach area and repaired a hernia. Long story short, that surgery went horribly wrong, and I ended up literally laid up for over a year with a nine inch hole in my abdomen an inch deep. It was terrible. It was awful.
First time I’d ever met someone who had gastric bypass, I was like, “Where do I sign up? I’m going to be there. First in line.” I made up my mind. That’s what I was going to do. That was one of the first things that I was successful at in my life. I followed the rules.
The compliments… Here comes depression, again. Wow. This fucking thing doesn’t go away. I’m surprised they didn’t catch this in the psych. How could I possibly be depressed? All sorts of reasons. This is attention I never wanted in my life, like, “What are you looking at? Especially you. And you? Fuck you, dude. Don’t even fucking look in this direction.”
For the first time in my life, I could drink without a hangover. That’s when I rediscovered alcohol. Ultimately, I look back and I didn’t know who I was. You lose the weight so fast.
Don’t get me wrong, my family—my sisters and my mom—we’re [close].No matter what, it seems like I’m almost talking down or negatively about them. I’m not trying to make them sound or seem negative at all. The point I was trying to make is that your family is not your psychiatrist, nor should they be. Nor should they be your therapist. If that is what is happening, then that is not the help you need. That is only going to make it worse. Not that they don’t love me and they wouldn’t do anything for me, but they couldn’t fix me.
The more we all tried and pretended that they could, that’s how I ended up in this vicious cycle of living for them. Put on a happy face because they’re calling. If I don’t answer the phone, I’m in one of my phases—whatever other thing I had to do to try not to be the black sheep. It was all a big facade. How long can you carry on like that? Apparently, thirty-two years, for me, because I didn’t have it in me anymore. Not out of anger or anything, but [because] depression had gotten that bad. The longer you try to hide from it and run from it, the deeper it sinks its claws in you. It really doesn’t go away until you get professional help, I think.
I guess there’s a difference from situational depression, but to have chronic depression, I don’t know. There’s no other way. Where else do you learn coping skills for yourself? A therapist doesn’t have ulterior motives. My mom just wants to put a Band-Aid on it. As long as it looks okay from the outside, for now, that’s going to be enough. Or [they’d tell me] I’m not really depressed. I’m just seeking attention. Everybody has an opinion.
I did find my mom’s journal once and saw the front page, a couple sentences about myself, and that was all it took for me to [feel] like I couldn’t ever talk about it. I was shamed. I was shameful. I just need more discipline in my life. Maybe that was my mom’s own denial. I don’t know. I’m not a parent. My mom’s very prideful. I think that would be a hard thing to admit. Not that you failed—that didn’t have anything to do with it—is what I want my mom to know.
Some of it, I guess, maybe did. She was young. They didn’t know what they were doing in the seventies, you know? I was born. My mom bawled when she found out [my sister] was coming thirteen months after I came out of her vadge, fucking ass-first without an Aspirin on an Air Force base, two thousand miles from home, without her mother. I don’t think she loved me very much in the beginning. I joke about it, but I’m always searching for reasons why. Why do I put others before myself?
I’ve tried to just shut out my family completely, but I’m not happy unless I’m helping others, too. That is always going to be a part of me, no matter what. I’m a caretaker—by nurture, by nature. I don’t know which, or both. That’s what I like to do, and that’s not going to change.
I’m jumping all over.
Chantal: The last time I tried to commit suicide… “Commit.” What was that article on your page? That we are not to say that word, because it sounds like committing a crime.
Des: It’s hard to break yourself of, because that’s how we think of it. It’s really hard.
Chantal: I had been self-medicating for the last ten years—basically since gastric. We don’t have health insurance here. I was a server after I left the casino.
Long story short… inevitably, I ended up at my mom’s house. That’s where my friends brought me. They didn’t know what to do with me. I drank myself to oblivion and was going home to swallow the painkillers I knew I had left. That was my plan. I had it written out.
When I got to my mom’s—it’s always a situation where I expect that I’m going to be comforted—it’s never that. It was always harsh and cold. But at the same time, everyone is entitled to handle my depression any way they want. That sounds weird.
Anyway, when I got up to my mom’s house that time, she’d had enough, I guess. She said, “You can make a phone call yourself. Find yourself a place to check into.” Basically, an ultimatum. It’s weird to find out after the fact that over half of people who call suicide lines are given ultimatums. There’s probably even more than that.
Anyway, she said, “You do it yourself. I’m going to do it at eight A.M. tomorrow morning if you haven’t done it already. You’re welcome to stay here for the night.” I guess that’s when I sobered up a little, like, “Shit. Mom’s involved? Fuck. Shit.” I knew she knew meant business.
At this point, I did want it. What I did want was a life worth living. A better quality of my life. I wanted to live, instead of get high. When you’re living for someone else, and nothing to you matters, it’s sad what it comes to. You do whatever you have to do to get through the week.
I’d coped to stay awake to do the eight A.M. shift. Started my evening shift with enough booze to repeat, like, “Oh, here comes my three day weekend. I better have enough pot and enough this and this to get through that.” The only thing I have is my job, and the bar friends that go along with it—that circle of friends who are letting me buy them drinks every night because I just need somebody to go with me to the bar. That sad cycle. I’d had enough, like, “One way or another, I’m done. I can’t.”
At that point, I had a painkiller addiction. My doctor prescribed originally when my plastic surgeon fucked up. Instead of me suing him, he just continued to refill my painkillers well into months to the point where I was convinced that I still had pain. To this day, I don’t know if Fibromyalgia is a real disease. I don’t know why I hurt every day. The more I learn, the more I learn that mind, body, and soul are all intertwined. The more that gets worked out, the better you feel physically, mentally. It’s crazy how things unfold again.
That night, I called the crisis line. Basically, that’s how I ended up at Human Services Incorporated. It was a nonprofit. They would’ve sent out a crisis responder team that night, but we all felt I was safe until the morning. It’s like, once you don’t succeed, it’s the last thing you want to do right after not succeeding—for me, anyway. Which maybe means you don’t want to die. Now I gotta go through the process of proving that I mean it and trying to get my life back to normal. Weird.
Anyway, those people, that’s where it started. That’s where my battle for my life started. I say battle because there’s no shitting around. The only way I can figure out depression is right through the middle of it. That sucks.
Finding the right meds, first of all… I mean, the first diagnosis was bipolar. [I was on] my third therapist before they realized that all of the behavior I described was under the influence, like, “No, I’ve never stayed awake for over twenty-four hours without coke. Are you fucking kidding me? No. How does that happen? Where do I get that?”
So, I’m on Lithium for three months. I can’t stop weeping. I’m just like, “Dear God, every single day of this, I’m on a quest to save myself. This isn’t about them anymore. This is about me. I want to want to live.” It just sucked. Every day, it sucked. Every fucking day.
It’s not hard not to drink. That’s why I know I’m not an addict. It’s not hard, it’s just boring. What do I fill my life with? Because that’s all that my life was.
Today, I’m on methadone. Still on methadone. I’m on the ‘done phase, so yay. For my painkiller addiction. But I’m almost done with that phase. Sobriety, for me, hasn’t been hard, aside from the physical factor. It’s just been boring. What do sober people do with their goddamn time? Holy shit, thank God for TV, in all seriousness.
It was funny how I ended up doing work for them. Fast forward a year and a half. Six months into therapy, I think I could finally look back and say, “Okay. Okay.” Every single fucking week, here I am again in the office. I had this cute little therapist who tried to say the f-word to make me feel comfortable, and it was so awkward every time she did it.I just wanted to say to her, “You don’t have to swear in front of me to make me feel safe. Chances are, I’m going to cry anyway because the air you filter into the room makes us cry when we come in here. You don’t have to say ‘fuck.’” God, it was funny.
Anyway, the first three months of therapy I spent to work up the courage to quit my job. That was the first immediate thing. I had to kind of work my way out from in. Part of the immediate things I could change, like, “Okay, my job is definitely creating this high stress.” Up until working there, I’d never had hives from anxiety…
It was like, “I’ll just be here making lots of money.” That’s why we all tolerated it, because we made so much money that we could afford our alcohol tabs. Not before, [we drank] right after. So we could afford the habits.
You couldn’t pay me to go back to that. I think of that existence now. Waking up every day hungover, every single day. Do what it took to get through another day, until I get the courage up to try again. Even if there wasn’t an attempt, it seemed like maybe once every year and a half where I’d just be so low where I was almost obsessing about it. But you can never talk to people about it. That’s not something that people want to talk about.
In all honesty, they’re scared of it. Either that, or they don’t understand it, and they’re not willing to. Maybe it’s not that they’re not willing, maybe it’s just that you can’t understand it if you haven’t experienced it. Either that, or humans aren’t capable of not being judgmental. People innately want to help, but you can’t unless you have the tools. Maybe just listening, and redirecting, and things like that.
These, what seem like simple, common sense tools that I’ve learned… why do I feel so foolish? You know what I mean? Like, maybe if I actually tried positive affirmations. It’s amazing. They fucking work. That’s where I start, just that first look at myself in the mirror, telling myself that I deserve a better quality of life, and believing it for maybe the first time. That’s what professional help gives you that your family can’t. There is no judgment. There is no preconceived notion of what they expect from you. I don’t know how to explain it. Walking in there, I could look around the waiting room and I just didn’t feel alone.
The psych ward was scary. That wasn’t me. They probably weren’t going to get anything out of me. At the same time, the professional tools I would’ve gotten then and there probably could’ve helped me cope through things. It doesn’t matter at this point, because, like I said, probably six months in was when I could look back and say, “Okay, I’m certainly not where I want to be, but now I know I’m certainly not where I’ve been. I’m going in the right direction. It’s not the end yet.”
I know I’m never going back there. These tools, you can’t take them away from me. Not only that, I never knew it could be like this. I never knew that there would ever be a man who would accept me for me. I never in a million years thought that. Honestly, before I met him, I never thought past my next painkiller. I don’t know…it’s crazy how life works. It is.
One day, my friend [asked if I would] volunteer to do some wine tasting at an event.
She said, “Would you help? Free wine.”
I was like, “Sure. Whatever.”
I walk in, and I’m like, “Canvas Health. How the hell do I know this name? How do I know them?” It was this huge charity event and auction. It was a mini Top Chef thing. Finally, it dawned on me in the middle of this thing that Canvas Health is the former HSI, which is the clinic that basically saved my life. They did not give up on me. They wouldn’t let me not come to an appointment.
The first three doctors didn’t work. I told them about Doctor—I don’t even remember his name. [It was] the first time I stood up for myself in the middle of treatment. I said, “No. Lithium is the wrong medication. I’m not bipolar, then. This is not working. I should not feel this way.” I’m paying out of pocket to be here, mind you. I am uninsured.
It took me a lot to be able to stick up for myself, especially to a male who was six foot seven and a psychologist, you know what I mean? I literally had my hand on the doorand was trembling. I know that he shouldn’t be yelling at me, first of all. Second of all, I’ve done my research. I want to try Wellbutrin. I don’t fucking care what is on your list of prescribable whatever. It was to a point where no one knows me better than myself. I know my symptoms. I want to be here. That was kind of a turning point for me, for sure, when I could own that.
It’s kind of where that domino effect takes hold of you, and you could just ride the wave for a minute where good things just happen. It’s like all of these good things happen right when they need to, right when you kind of want to just fucking abort mission, like, “Fuck this. I worked my ass off, and I’m fucking miserable. This is not better.”
I had to tell myself, “First of all, you’re on the wrong medication. Second of all, no, a doctor shouldn’t say that to you. You were right in sticking up for yourself. Not only do I not have to see that doctor again, I’m so afraid of starting over. I’ve taken this long, and without insurance, no one even wants to fucking look at me.” Thank God for HSI, you know?
Back to where I was. I know that Canvas Health, not only are they formerly HSI, but my best friend’s soon-to-be mother-in-law is in charge of marketing. And I put this all together while I’m [at the event], and I kind of had one of these epiphany moments. Goosebumps. Weird. Full circle.
I’m totally volunteering. If I hadn’t walked into HSI, I would have never volunteered for anything. I didn’t have room for it in my life of drinking and boozing and sleeping. Now I’m standing at this place, just getting into recovery almost. It felt like recovery from what was killing me.
So, my best friend’s mother-in-law, who I’d met a couple of times, is just an amazing woman. You know when you meet those people that you instantly click with? You just have good energy, as cliche as that sounds.
Des: It’s real.
Chantal: It is absolutely, one hundred percent real. Both she and I said that about each other, which was really funny. It was church marketing. Linda was like, “Can I tell my mom?”
I said, “Sure, whatever.”
That’s how I started working with Canvas Health.
I spoke at their annual fundraiser, to the board—the big wigs—the board of trustees and whatever. That was the first time I’d ever told my story to anyone. Second of all, to that many people. We’re talking about the CEO of Live Nation, and three big, grown-ass men bawling. It was one of those, “Okay, I’m going to literally just go with it,” situations. I didn’t go off my sheet and I went by the heart.
It was pretty cool. It felt good. I didn’t bawl, but I choked up to see these people so touched by whatever I was saying. That’s when I was like, “Okay, I can pay it forward. They saved my life. Even if it’s my life that is saved somewhere, third person, twice removed…”
Des: You may never know.
Chantal: I have the power to share my story, and that can help one family understand. There was a line after I was done speaking. My roommate, who was my date at the time, was like, “There’s like twenty people waiting to hug you.”
I said, “They’re in line for me?”
She’s like, “For real.”
I was like, “Holy shit.”That was crazy.
Everybody’s touched by this somehow, some way, some form. Depression, for sure. Not everybody knows somebody personally who has attempted suicide or succeeded. But probably.
Des: If they don’t, they will.
Chantal: Exactly. So, that was cool to be able to do that for them… It’s just crazy to think that ten years ago, I did not plan on walking in there. Fast forward ten years, and not only would I be this content, but happy.
I’m not gonna blow smoke. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are still bad days, but they’re never that bad. They’re never bad enough to not want to live.And how much I’ve learned about myself… I’m like, “I deserve it.” [I’m] learning to think for myself, and that it’s okay to have boundaries. Not only is it okay, it’s healthy. It’s okay to step away from your family, for the time being—permanently, if that’s what you need. Sometimes, you have to step out in order to step back in healthy.
I want to ultimately be the best role model I can be for my sisters. I want to return to that big sister they looked up to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that. Every day, I feel like I get closer to that. Every once in awhile, I do something they don’t approve of, but ultimately, they don’t know a goddamn thing about Methadone. You can’t just go home to your perfect little house and your perfect little life and not worry about it. And if you want to worry about it, you better come fucking armed with some knowledge. Don’t come at me about something you know nothing about. That’s just going to upset me—they don’t want that. We’re all really close now, especially since my mom died.
We went to see a psychic shortly after she died, and the first thing she said about my mom was that she apologized to me. Not my sisters, just me, singled out. She said, “Sorry you had to grow up so fast.” Boom. That’s all I needed, all those years.
It was like, “I’m not asking you to say you were a bad mom. I’m not saying you were a bad mom. I’m saying superwoman needed help. It’s not that you’re not superwoman, Mom, but you had an oldest daughter who did that shit. That didn’t get done magically. The little homemaker fairy didn’t come. That was me at nine roasting chicken. Now, you don’t fucking remember because you worked fucking nights and you weren’t there. My sisters? You don’t remember because you lived a different childhood than me. You had two moms. I had none. So fucking tell me how it was for me. And if it makes you mad that mine was different, I’m sorry you don’t have fucking balls to ask me how mine was.”
It took them a long time. Now it’s taken me a long time to learn to stick up for myself. It’s taken a long time for me to learn my sisters were fucking bullies, or that we all were at some point. Maybe I was just better at dishing it back then. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m just not as cruel as them. I don’t know.
I was thirteen months old when [my sister] was born. I’m a nanny now. I can see how it happened. I can see my mom hungover. I can see it all, like, “Go get me a diaper. Help me with this. Good job, Chantal.”
That’s how I got praised. That’s how I seek that approval. I still need others’ approval for everything.
And that’s just me. Sometimes, I need to be coddled. That’s not going to change. That’s me. It’s ingrained in me. I can’t change that. What I can change, though, is my limits. I can stop helping the people who don’t deserve it. Stop hurting me. Stop helping people who want help, who are going to allow me to give to them before me. They’re going to take. It’s like The Giving Tree. Take until there’s nothing left to give. Stop talking to those people. Just deplete and don’t refill. That’s true for me, anyway.
My circle’s gotten a lot smaller, but that’s okay. Guess what? Quality is way better than quantity. Coming from somebody who’s always been a social butterfly, I’m enjoying myself a heck of a lot more now. You know what I mean?
There’s just way more to talk about if you don’t see each other often. And you grow up. I don’t know, maybe that’s what growing up is—appreciating the people who matter. I don’t want anybody in my house. That’s not selfish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have to go somewhere out of obligation. It’s okay to say no. If people’s feelings are hurt, then they don’t have the boundaries that you’ve worked so hard to find. Stop internalizing things that aren’t personal. Not everything’s about me. And the things that are, it’s my choice. Fuck you if you don’t like me. Not really, but kind of.
That is the kind of attitude that has changed. Five years ago, I may have pretended like that’s what I thought, but that’s not what I thought. That’s not what I felt. That’s that other side. That’s that part where I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I will never attempt suicide again. Even though statistically, the chances are ninety-nine percent that I will.Give or take. You know what I mean.
I’ve never been content. What is happiness? What I’ve learned for happiness is today. Right now. Living. Breathing. I use content and happy interchangeably, because that’s all I was after. Maybe that’s me not trying hard enough. I’m happy with the current moment. I’ve never in my life planned for the future. I never, like I said, planned past my next painkiller. Sobriety has allowed me [to do that]. That’s huge, for me, anyway, like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never thought about it. What do I want to do?”
My mom knew before me that I was going to be a foster parent. How’d she know that I would want to do that? There’s things like that. Simple things. But simplicity is what I’m afraid of at this point.
Des: Well, what do you want?
Chantal: In life?
Des: Yeah. You said you’re planning.
Chantal: House. After house, then open my daycare. Foster care eventually, if I don’t have my own baby in the mix. Then start adopting them.
Des: A clan.
Chantal: Like my mom said: the rainbow coalition. She’s been pretty accurate on her dreams.
Des: Now you’re going to have to get a “Mom was right” tattoo.
Chantal: Mom’s always right.
Des: I have a “Mom was right” tattoo.
Chantal: You do? That’s awesome. Let me see.
Des: It says, “Mom” there, and you can’t see it over here, but in white, it says, “was right.”
When I got it, she was like, “It should say, “Mom was right.””
I was like, “Okay, I can fix that.”
Chantal: That’s awesome.
Des: The thing I keep hearing was that what you were always looking for was how you would treat people, what you would’ve given them.
Chantal: Right? Exactly.
Des: You wanted that comfort when you came home, because that’s what you would’ve given to someone.
Chantal: I’ve always said that. I just need a friend like me.
Des: Like, “Can I just clone me? I’ll be my friend.”
Chantal: Maybe I should just teach common sense 101.
I guess, like I said about my mom, when it comes down to crucial moments, she’s always responded the opposite way than I think she would. It’s just crazy. Never in a million years would I see that coming. Probably why it was so harsh is that I was blindsided. We were such a close, tight-knit family. Why are they not? You know what I mean? It was never like, “Don’t they know I just need to be loved? Feel that love or shown that love? Can’t they read my mind?” It just wasn’t about me.
Des: It sounds like you grew up fairly poor.
Chantal: Yeah, for sure.
Des: Do you feel like that could have anything to do with… she was struggling. She was working at night. Do you think that could have anything to do with the fact that she just didn’t know how to give, because all she was worried about was maybe putting dinner on the table or paying the bills?
Chantal: I do. I also think that she comes from a family—she has twelve brothers and sisters. They were raised, obviously, very poor. Irish Catholic. My grandpa was a heavy drinker. He was sexually abusive.
My mom, she got kicked by a horse when she was thirteen and literally had a scar around, like a horseshoe shaped scar. She barely survived. She had the first craniotomy at Regent’s Hospital here in town. She literally almost died. My great-grandpa was the one who saved her life by knowing that it was spinal fluid leaking out of her nose.
Anyway, long story short, she herself had survivor’s guilt, because she was the only one who wasn’t sexually abused by her dad and her brothers. She carried a lot of that with her when she got diagnosed with cancer. We had, like, five weeks from diagnosis until death. What she said was, “I kind of feel like I was on borrowed time, anyway.” Another thing she said was, “I always thought that God would never give me cancer because, having a bald head, you can see all of my scars from all the craniotomies.”
When we were younger, she was always very affectionate and lovey dovey. I don’t really know. It stopped. I don’t know when, but it did. I think she just physically wasn’t there, because she had to work nights. And I didn’t talk about problems.
What ended up happening at the end of that school year was that my dad decided that he was going to be the hero. Without even consulting my mom, my dad asked us if we’d like to move up here and live with him full-time during the school year. Of course I’m like, “Where do I sign up? Whatever I have to do. I don’t care if I need to fucking beat the shit out of my younger sis.”
[My sister], the one who was thirteen months younger than me, I knew she was down. I knew she wanted to go home, too. I knew that. But [my other sister] was a different story. She was still young young, where it didn’t matter if we went to school. Third grade was third grade. Well, it did matter, but you know what I mean. It wasn’t like moving in junior high, when that’s your world, that’s your friends.
I ultimately ended up moving back up north and we lived with our dad. I missed out on living a couple of years with my mom. After that, in the last few years before I really got help, I felt like there was a lot of animosity. I felt like, secretly, she hated me, or didn’t like me a lot. Of course, [I thought], “Am I creating this? Why am I feeling like this?” Something taboo I couldn’t talk about, either. Then I’m creating drama. Forget it.
By the time I was in therapy, I knew enough to know that it’s foolish to think that my mom doesn’t love me, first of all. Second of all, it’s probably really hard for her to talk about. I’m not saying those words, but essentially, I’m asking her to admit failure because I’m asking for credit. Why do I need credit? What do I need credit for?
Finally, one day my mom said to me, “Chantal, everyone who’s ever around you your whole life—” My mom is the smartest. She worked at The Ford Plant. She worked side by side with men. She was the first female millwright at the Ford plant. I mean, hell hath no fury… She said, “If everyone who’s ever wronged you your entire life came to your doorstep today and apologized, what would you do to live your life differently? Live your life like that, anyway. Nobody meant it. And if they did, what are they worth? You don’t want to hurt anyone on purpose. That’s absurd.”
All these things she said that I look back on now make so much sense. Right on. But I had to come to understand these things on my terms. I couldn’t do it because my mom wanted me to.
And when she wanted me to do it, I was feeling good. It was like, “Stay off of me. You just think I’m on something because I’m happy.”
I think, sometimes, it’s selfish to think that I was doing any more than what would be expected of me. It’s family. That’s what you do. You do what has to be done. Well, no. Not necessarily, okay? And there’s no way it’s legal today to do what was done then…
The first time I was sexually molested—and it took me a couple of years to figure this out, too— it was my uncle, and he was the youngest of the 12, and I told my mom what had happened. I was only four or five. Ultimately, it was my grandpa, my uncle, my mom and me, and my grandpa’s like, “Come over here and give your uncle a hug. He’s bawling and so sorry.” Which is fine, whatever. Great. It’s like, “I’m glad you’re sorry, but the last thing I wanna do is give this fucking guy a hug.”
What ended up coming from that situation, fast forward 25 years, was animosity at my mother, like, “Why did you make me hug him?” But at the time, my mom was too afraid of her own father to say, “Dad. No.” This is through years of therapy that I’ve come to understand why this happened.
Well then, after that happened to me, fast forward a couple of years, and [another family member] was touched by one of her cousins. Holy shit, did my mom go batshit crazy… Why from one extreme to the other? She was making up for the fact that she did it wrong the first time, which she learned through her own therapy. I didn’t realize at that age that she’d gone through therapy…
Des: How old was she when she had you?
Des: A teen mama. So you grew up with her.
Chantal: Exactly. My grandpa opened a bar in St. Cloud two years before that in ’77, and pulled my mom—she was a senior in high school—pulled her out. Granted, after the accident, she gained 50 pounds in the hospital. She went through her own identity crisis. She was popular, a cheerleader. She went back with a shaved head, a big scar on her head, and 50 pounds heavier. Her friends wouldn’t even talk to her. She had to be scary looking, but yeah. Basically, the only crowd that accepted her were the trouble-makers, which was the road my mom ended up taking.
Not ‘til her senior year did her counselor call her in. They were like, “Your SAT scores… Are you kidding me?” Literally swore at her. She qualifies for MENSA. Because of her fucking grades and she didn’t show up, nobody’s gonna take her on scholarship and blah blah blah. That defining moment for my mom, then, is a story that I retell. She’s a fighter.
She was the first one in her family to get a divorce. Now, I think all seven of her sisters are divorced, mind you, but at the time, it was still shamed. My mom was married, divorced, and three kids. Married, three kids, and divorced in a matter of two years. Figure that one out. The day the divorce was final, my mom found out she was pregnant with my younger sister.
Des: Shit. That’s some whiplash, right?
Chantal: Yeah… So, she had to do what she had to do to support us. There are not a lot of jobs that you can do Monday through Friday while your kids are at school to make enough money to support them as a single mother.
My dad was a deadbeat for a long time, until his dad died when I was in sixth grade. He started actually picking us up, more than one of us at a time. Then he comes and gets more of the hero status when he took us all three in. Then again, I became a parent, and my dad gets all the credit for being such a great dad. It’s like, “We were fucking raised before we got here, motherfucker.” Stop blowing up this man’s ego, first of all.
Every compliment he gets is a knife in my mom’s heart. Not only that, but he never consulted with her first. That was a dark time for my mom, and I never knew about it. It never came up…
Des: How long ago did your mom die?
Chantal: 2014.Two years ago. In November, it will be three years. Icky stuff. My grandma just died a little bit ago. Not that I’m not sad, but she’s 89 and four-foot-nothing. Little spitfire.
Des: Your mom must have been in her fifties? Fifty-five, fifty-six?
Chantal: Yeah. Fifty-three… It’s been hard, definitely, dealing with that. My mom dying.
Des: Yeah, when you lose a parent so young…
Chantal: And just feeling like she didn’t get to see the end. She didn’t get to see me happy. But she did. Right when I met my boyrfriend. He got to meet her, thank God. She wasn’t worried about me. She’d confide in me what she was worried about. Basically, the three of us getting along…
Des: Tell me why you decided to tell your story.
Chantal: Because of Canvas Health, how that kind of came full circle, and the idea that I could save a life. Because I was totally freaked out, and this is a big job. I kind of felt like I should try to do this. I didn’t even realize at the time how great it would be for me.
It’s not only the first time I’d written my story, but definitely the first time I’d told it to, not anyone, but a room full of strangers. That’s kind of cool. Not at the time. Right after it was done. It was really nerve wracking until I took a deep breath and whatever. What have I got to lose? Nothing. Everything gained.
It was about saving lives, for me. One person could hear it and better understand their son who took his own life. Imagine the peace that brings! I had literally had a couple of people in line say that, like, “I’d never heard depression described in a way where I could understand it. Thank you.”
Des: If you ended up in a room with someone who was going to read your story, either somebody who had lost somebody or somebody who had been through it themselves, what would you say to them?
Chantal: Don’t try to fix them. You can’t. It’s not because you’re not capable, or good, or whole. It’s not because you don’t love them. I recommend professional help, first and foremost. As much as they want to, I don’t think family can teach you skills that you need to get through being suicidal. And if it happened once, it’ll happen again. What are you going to do next time? What’s different?
If you can’t answer those questions, you’re not there yet. You know what I mean? Professional help, for sure. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that friends and family can do. After you’ve had the professional help, you know what those rules are, and you can help them to recognize signs in you. I can recognize myself. I’ve learned it’s all things that you can learn, but not by pushing it under the rug or pretending that it doesn’t exist.
I feel like I get depressed sometimes, but it’s not like that depression that ends in suicidal [feelings]. I mean, there’s many times I’ve even thought about it, how to do it, or even had a [moment] where I’ve gotten help or talked to somebody, reached out on my own before I realized what I was doing. Again, it wasn’t the right kind of help. I know it’s really hard to get the right kind of help because it’s so shameful. That is why.
Des: And uninsured.
Chantal: It’s a cycle. Exactly. Thank you, Obama. Everyone should have insurance.
Des: Thanks, Obama.
Chantal: For real. In the beginning, I was paying cash out of pocket. And I’m trying to quit this stressful job, but I need, like, three hundred dollars a month for [help]. Who decides which drugs are covered and why? Big Pharma, really? Is this all about money? Who is saying that’s okay? Who’s in charge of all of this, because why?
Anyway, what would I say? I would say get professional help where possible. If not, there has to be professional help. The things that you’re taught are, as foolish as they seem in the beginning… you have to start in the beginning. It’s the only place you can start, no matter what. There’s no skipping around it. You have to go through it. Otherwise, you’re cheating. The depression will know, and it’ll find you.
Des: Right. The only way out is through.
Chantal: It’s worse every time they find you. If you don’t get the help when you need it… Granted, it was an ultimatum for me, but apparently, I was ready that time. Canvas Health was there for me. A therapist, they’re there for you. They’re totally unbiased. They know nothing except for what you tell them.
I could’ve bullshitted my way through it, but I didn’t. I didn’t want the same outcome. I wanted to really want to live. If this is possible, then I’m on board one hundred percent. Let’s do this, because I don’t want to do that anymore. That did mean the first thing I had to do was remove the substances that weren’t helping. Okay, alcohol. Bye. As much fun as it can be, it’s not helping. It’s covering up my pain.
Now I’m dealing with physical pain all the time. Now what? That was a whole other battle within itself. It just seems like little battles, but I feel capable. They’re all manageable battles, because I have a basic skill set that you need to deal with life’s curveballs. When you’re prone to suicidal thoughts and tendencies, it’s so convincing. And it’s so easy. It seems like such a great option when you feel this bad, you know what I mean? I know you know what I mean.
Chantal: Not only is it a great option, it’s the only option. It ends it all. You don’t have to do this anymore. Exhale. Literally, exhale.
I’m sorry you still feel it. It’s no fun. But at least you have the skill set.
Des: Yeah. I think it’ll be a lifelong thing. I do. It is what it is. I’ve accepted it. I have the skillset, too. The tools and the people. You get through it.
Chantal: You know yourself better. For me, anyway.
Chantal: I know when I should reach out and when I want to reach out. I know they’re not always the same. I think that’s why you need to let your support system know, like, “Here’s some signs. Here’s what to look for, and here’s what not to say. Here’s what to say.”
Des: Yeah. Here is your memo.
Chantal: Exactly. Follow these instructions. We’ll all be fine.
Chantal’s story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks to Taryn Balchunas for providing the transcription to Chantal’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.