Gathering reminder of suicide’s reach

Shawano native tells of her struggles with depression, how cousin’s suicide woke her up
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Those in the Shawano area dealing with grief had the opportunity Sept. 28 to gather with others battling back to be themselves again.

Reaching Out About Depression and Suicide held a gathering at the Shawano Civic Center where participants used hollowed-out pumpkins or mugs for succulent plant holders, enjoyed music and pizza, and lighted candles in memory of those they lost.

They also heard the story of Shawano native Jaime Lee, who talked about how her depression from the loss of her father when she was very young caused her to sleep 16 hours a day, and it was only from losing a close relative to suicide that she woke up after 10 years of sleeping to cope with her depression to reclaim her life.

“I still do suffer from anxiety, so for me, it’s better to be from the heart and casual like I’m talking to old friends,” Lee said.

Lee was only 2 when her father was killed by a drunk driver, but his passing still impacted her on a level so deep that she didn’t realize until she went to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to study broadcast journalism and things started to “catch up” with her, she said.

“I started to notice my perfectionism coming through, my people pleasing, my worry being away from home,” Lee said. “I was on the news station there in college and I hated it because I had to be perfect. There was a teleprompter, and I couldn’t stutter, and I couldn’t say ‘um,’ and I couldn’t talk like I’m talking now.”

Despite her experience, Lee earned her degree, but instead of going into a career in television, she returned to Shawano, married her high school sweetheart and adopted a child. She felt at the time she had a great purpose being a mom, but when her son went to school, she felt her purpose was lost, and she began to sleep through the day.

“I secretly started sleeping, and no one knew it,” Lee said, saying she used her feeling of safety in the family home to avoid the buried grief from the loss of her father. “My drug of choice was sleep, and no one knew about it, because they’d see me out and about, so bubbly and positive. I was really struggling, because I didn’t have a purpose anymore.”

Lee became close to a cousin named Ryan and bonded through music and “alternative things,” she said, and utilized that connection to be open about how she was feeling.

“He was going through some life changes, as well, which I thought was just normal, that he was just anxious,” Lee said. “Secretly, he was struggling, too.”

About five years ago, as Lee was spending another school day in bed, she received a call and learned her cousin had committed suicide.

“It literally woke me up from my sleep — mentally, physically and spiritually,” Lee said. “I was heartbroken because of how much I loved Ryan and it hurt to know someone that I loved so much couldn’t love himself as much as I did. It woke me up to how I needed to take a look at my own mental health. I was secretly dying in bed.”

Lee believes she’s made a turn for the better by learning and teaching yoga, starting her Shawano News segments and telling her own story in the hope of helping others.

ROADS President Jenna Hesse noted the role of her group was to promote and educate about the resources available to people who are suicidal and/or dealing with depression.

“It’s a tough day, but it’s a day for us to come together to remember those that we loved, that we’ve lost and to support each other,” Hesse said.

Ellen Swedberg, who started ROADS over 20 years ago, noted that there is no one who has not been impacted by depression and suicide, whether it’s close friends or family or whether the depression comes from within.

“Mental health affects all of our families,” Swedberg said. “It’s out there. Suicide is becoming much more prevalent. Any time we can talk about it, educate about it or speak about it is a benefit to everyone.”

She added that suicide is non-discriminatory, and it doesn’t matter who a person is in life.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re male or female, rich or poor, black or white or green or orange or don’t know who you are,” Swedberg said. “It affects everybody. They say statistically, a suicide affects six people directly. Shawano has had one school principal that died by suicide, which affected probably 6,000 people. A doctor died by suicide, which is another 6,000 or 7,000 people.”