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