By Erika J. Kendrick
I sat in my shiny red Toyota Corolla and stared over the cliff of one of the mountains behind Stanford University’s campus. It was time. The voices were telling me to rev the engine and drive my car right over the edge. Because of the pervasive stigma of mental illness, it took me far too long to talk about it. We just don’t talk about things like that in our communities or around our kitchen tables.
On average, 121 people commit suicide every day. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America and the second leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24. I was 19 the first time I was placed under suicide watch after trying to drive my car off that cliff. Today, I help people stuck in their metaphorical shiny red car on the side of their mountain.
I was diagnosed with Major Depression at Stanford University and then with Bipolar Disorder after I walked into a gunfight on 93rd and Cottage Grove. I was finally able to put a name to the terror I’d been experiencing most of my life – hearing voices, the relentless stinkin’ thinkin’ on repeat in my mind, telling me that I wasn’t good enough, and the seductive suicidal thoughts. It was time to learn about this thing that had been part of me since I jumped out of my third-grade classroom window.
The truth is that I’m now thriving, not just surviving, despite mental health challenges. I graduated from Stanford University with a degree in psychology and earned an MBA in marketing and international business. I’ve cheered on the court as a Chicago Bulls NBA cheerleader and worked at fast-paced record labels. I signed a two-book deal with Random House and worked two national book tours. Earlier this year, I signed a new deal for my children’s book with Little, Brown Publishing.
When I’m not writing, I’m working to improve the lives of others by traveling the country sharing my story of brain pain and suicide survival. After years of battling my mental monsters, I launched my Mental Fitness book tour, “Who Moved My Happy?”: a guide for discovering your HAPPY and winning at the game of life. I’ve presented and guest lectured at colleges and universities as well as the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, TEDx, national sororities and fraternities, middle and high schools, conferences, retreats, and national organizations, large and small. I’ve toured with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and am a speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where I’ve been inducted into their Hall of Fame.
People told me to shake it off or just snap out of it. Sixty one million Americans who are experiencing mental illness this year won’t be able to just snap out of it. There are 48,000 suicides each year and changing that begins with creating safe spaces for life-saving conversations. And I’m honored to do this work!