Open­ing up

Bell Let’s Talk Day has special mean­ing for T. J. Smith.

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - BY MELISSA JENK­INS Melissa.jenk­ins@tc.tc

It’s been a year since TJ Smith of St. An­thony opened up about his strug­gles with men­tal ill­ness for the first time.

He was 29 when he was di­ag­nosed with se­vere de­pres­sion and checked into a Nova Sco­tia hospi­tal to be­gin his re­cov­ery.

The past year has been a jour­ney and a learn­ing curve for Smith, one that he has been openly talk­ing about since Bell Let’s Talk day in 2016.

With Wed­nes­day, Jan. 25 be­ing Bell Let’s Talk Day for 2017, it was a fit­ting time for Smith to share his ex­pe­ri­ence. He was on a day pass from the hospi­tal when he first went pub­lic.

“(Last year) I made a post on Facebook and had 500-600 likes, nu­mer­ous com­ments from friends, fam­ily and also from strangers,” Smith said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon from Nova Sco­tia, where he lives. “I knew then I was over­whelmed, but I knew it was some­thing special, some­thing that needed to be done to help oth­ers.”

For over a decade, it was like he was putting on a dis­guise and per­form­ing a role. He de­cided enough was enough.

“I was done with the ly­ing,” he said. “I was sick of putting on the magic show for ev­ery­body… At that point some trig­gers made me say, ‘OK, you need to go get help buddy be­fore you do some­thing stupid.’ Which I al­most did.”

Smith has had many thoughts of sui­cide, and some­times still does. He came close to giv­ing in to the urge be­fore he got help. But af­ter the past year, he is grate­ful he didn’t end his life. The num­ber one rea­son? His son, Nash.

“I don’t live with him, I don’t see him (all the time),” he ex­plained. “And when I do see him, I cher­ish the mo­ments and the time with him. I look at him when were to­gether and the stuff he says makes me laugh. And I just think, ‘You al­most killed your­self. You never would have ex­pe­ri­enced this.’”

Nash plays hockey, like his dad, and is at the age where read­ing, writ­ing and count­ing are on the to-do list. These are things Smith is happy he gets to ex­pe­ri­ence with his young son.

“It takes my breath away, re­ally, how special he is in my life,” he said. “He’s num­ber one, he’s al­ways num­ber one.”

His jour­ney has not been with­out hic­cups. There are still times he thinks of sui­cide and he strug­gles with a gam­bling ad­dic­tion, things he’s con­stantly work­ing on and learn­ing from.

It’s friends, fam­ily and even strangers that help get him through those rough patches. Some­times he will re­sort to post­ing on Facebook with his strug­gles, in hope for some­one to be awake or around to help him through. He of­ten hears from oth­ers who are also strug­gling at that same time.

“I’m help­ing oth­ers while help­ing my­self,” he said.

Get­ting past those set­backs made him feel con­fi­dent and re­silient, us­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences to learn and grow.

Some­times Smith has to stop and think about what he’s been through to rec­og­nize how far he’s come in the last year. His fa­ther, Ralph Smith, is one of his big sup­port­ers.

“My dad says, ‘Look how far you’ve come,’” he ex­plained. “I don’t re­al­ize it as much as he may re­al­ize it, or other peo­ple may re­al­ize it un­til I ac­tu­ally stop what I’m do­ing, re­flect, look back at my jour­nal writ­ings… And it’s like, ‘Oh yeah. You’ve come a long way,’”

For Smith, one of the big­gest things he did in the last year was quit drink­ing. He came home for Christ­mas to St. An­thony and didn’t drink, which was quite the test, he said. He’s at­tended bach­e­lor par­ties and other par­ties in Nova Sco­tia, and they too were a strug­gle. But he made it through.

It’s been nine months since he had al­co­hol, and he doesn’t re­gret giv­ing it up.

Even though it’s been a rough year for him, Smith still wants to con­tinue help­ing peo­ple, shar­ing his strug­gles and help­ing oth­ers through theirs.

His blog — tj­smith­fight5. blogspot.ca — helps give peo­ple a glimpse into his thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences. For those who read it, be pre­pared there are some dis­turb­ing and graphic de­tails in some of the posts.

At the end of the day, Smith wants those who need it to seek help.

“Take the first step and the hard­est step,” he said. “Go see and talk to some­body. Prefer­ably a men­tal health pro­fes­sional, but if you can’t, a peer sup­port worker or a fam­ily mem­ber. Break the si­lence. It’s the hard­est step.”

It took Smith 10 years to take that one step, and he hasn’t looked back.

“It’s like build­ing a house,” he con­tin­ued. “You have to start with the foun­da­tion. And the first step is ask­ing for help.”

TJ Smith (left) says his son Nash is his big­gest mo­ti­va­tion.

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