You Are Not Alone: Maddy’s Story

Something heartbreaking happened recently in my home community in New Brunswick- it has been weighing heavily on my mind for quite some time and as such I considered writing about it earlier on, but it wasn’t my story to tell.

Now that Maddy’s family has opened up about what happened and urged that her story be shared publicly far and wide, I feel comfortable writing about Maddy today and passing along the Murphy family’s message. I’ve included her father Mike’s post below: Maddy’s Story.

I live away from home now, so I only had a handful of opportunities to spend time with Maddy, but her life has touched my own. Maddy was a kind, funny, athletic girl, and my sister’s partner. She has left behind hundreds of people who fondly remember her dorky humour, love of animals, and easygoing attitude.

Her story is important not only because of her lasting legacy of kindness and love, but also because the way she left us was so shockingly unexpected, revealing the often silent yet intensely deep depths of depression. For a brief but agonizing time we were all waiting on breathing tests and brain scans, holding on to a slim hope that she would wake up in her hospital bed and have a chance at recovery, but we lost her.

It is immensely hard for the people left behind after suicide; I feel the pain of my sister so strongly, as well as that of my parents who have seen their beautiful daughter, who battles with mental illnesses of her own, crumble in response to the terrible news. Everyone struggles with a helpless feeling and the many painful questions that have no answers. I don’t know what to say or do other than to tell my family that I love them and I’m here for them, because there’s no getting around it- this is a horrible time. This is a new and painful reality that is hard to face- my father lost his best friend Jeff to suicide, so he understands the pain, and I hope he and Mom can help my sister heal. I’m very grateful for all of the friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers and everyone else who is supporting my sister right now as she grieves. I also hope my family can feel my love from afar, as I am thinking about them, and Maddy, constantly.

I’ve also wept for the people I’ve never met who are dealing with Maddy’s loss- her mother, her father, her siblings, all of her family and friends. I’m so sorry that this happened. It was overwhelming to see the huge number of people reaching out and sharing memories of their time with Maddy- clearly she will never be forgotten in the hearts and minds of so many people.

To Maddy’s family, and to my sister, thank you for sharing Maddy’s story. My heart is with you.

At the bottom of this post I have included some links, both Canadian and international, which offer support if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or has been affected by a suicide loss. Please know you are never alone.

Be strong, everyone. Rest easy, Maddy.

Many of Maddy’s friends and loved ones have gotten tattoos in her memory- her hockey number was 81

Maddy’s Story

Via facebook post from Maddy’s father, Mike Murphy
September 23 at 12:29 PMPublic:
 
Hi Everyone,
 
As I said this will be one of the longest posts you will ever read, and it will shed some light on how my life changed on September 12, 2019. If anything, please read the last few paragraphs as this is the underlying message we all need to hear.


My beautiful, vibrant, athletic, zest for life daughter Maddy Murphy has a story to tell. You all need to hear this and share with everyone you know because it’s so important as this affects so many people out there who are struggling with issues that we do not even know. Her story goes something like this…


From the moment she was born she was special, being a twin, she was the unlucky one who endured having her twin brother Mack sitting on top of her for the full term. I will always remember how we made jokes of her bent ear, crooked neck and cone shaped head from Mack. She was just amazing with those quirky features that went back to normal overtime, they were both healthy kids born at 7lbs4oz (Maddy) & 6lbs4oz (Mack). They both had a passion for all sports and excelled at everything they tried as they grew up together.


Maddy had a niche for hockey, her skating was strong (forward skating anyway), she quickly excelled playing for KVMHA in her early years. By the time she reached the age of 12 she earned a spot on the boys Pee Wee AAA Rangers Team. Maddy had a great year with the boys, this made her more determined as she set out to prove girls can play the game just as well. Maddy & Christina Rombaut were the only girls in the EDZA Program in the KV Area at that time, and the two teammates developed their talent that year, it was the beginnings of her crazy slap shot. Once Pee Wee was over the fun really began as the first Bantam AAA girl’s hockey team named the “Hericanes”, here Maddy developed bonds with her friends that are even stronger today than ever.


On the 2nd year of playing hockey something happened that changed her life in a moment, Maddy went to bed one night and woke up a different child. Maddy developed severe Tourette’s at the age of 14 with no explanation, this was the start of her first long battle that contained components with embarrassment, shame, ridicule and DEPRESSION. Maddy had to draw deep within herself as she focused on her sports with even a more determination than ever as she excelled to the top of her game. At the age of 15 one of her highlights was to play on the U18 Team Atlantic in Calgary for the Canadian Women’s Nationals, all along still dealing with Tourette’s and the silent disease of Depression. Maddy had many weekly sessions with Natural Path Therapy to try and ease the symptoms of Tourette’s & Depression, it was a battle. I still remember her always calling Tracy and asking to get in right away to help her, at least Maddy recognized she needed help and reached for it.


As Maddy began her high school years at KVHS in grade 9, she played hockey on the girl’s team while still playing for the Hericanes, there was a lot of running around to support the amount of hockey games. Going into grade 10 Maddy had the most fortunate opportunity to attend the elite school of Rothesay Netherwood ( RNS ), here she felt so welcomed she would spend so much time forming bonds with the girls in all sports. Maddy represented RNS in Hockey, Soccer, Rugby & even Volley Ball ( didn’t like ) sporting the number 9 ( #9 rides the pine ) the girls always cheered her on. This was every parent’s dream having their child immersed in such a great atmosphere.


Maddy was so happy or, so we thought….the disease that no one is aware of and what this whole story is about appeared for the first time.
She was a kid of the times on top of her game but Maddy was holding a secret from everyone, this would weigh heavily on her Mental Health issues even more. That underling Depression finally showed itself for the first time when Maddy thought the best part of her escape was an attempt on her own life in the form of pills not only once but twice this happened. This took us all by surprise that we were dealing with a young daughter that was displaying a smile on her face & a unmistakable laugh, the whole time was hurting so much inside. Taking the pills was a cry for help, although the help was there she needed something more. Maddy spent the night in the hospital for observation and released to follow up with a clinical phycologist. She always knew she had a problem, she would often text Kelly see if time was available to see her, Kelly always made time for Maddy.

After some time, we finally found out the secret she was hiding inside, low & behold Maddy was “GAY” like what was the Big Deal, but in Maddy’s world it was a big deal. After facing years of Tourette’s causing shame, embarrassment & ridicule, fighting the invisible illness it all took a toll on her. Her grade 11 year was one of the hardest years, she was losing that drive & the will she had almost to the point where I felt she succumbed to the battle of Depression. She was bullied by someone who was supposed to be one of her closest allies but ended up being her worst nightmare. Her academic grades were being affected, sports were slipping all at the most crucial time in her life. With help from her closest friends Kristen & the gang they helped her overcome this battle and expose what was going on in Maddy’s life. These girls help her get through a rough time in her life and as a parent I was so thankful.

After the years of therapy and countless visits to alternative care, the Tourette symptoms started to subside, the “Being Out Of Closet” had closure, things seem to be going so much better. Maddy started university, working different jobs and living life with such a zest. Maddy attended UNBSJ in pursuit of her Arts Degree, we all know she wanted to go to University to keep playing the sports she loved. She worked 4 different jobs at the same time, Rockwood Golf Course full time, worked for Vito’s Restaurant part time, The Saint John Marina part time & Harbor Station part time. Everywhere she went she made an impact on people a trait Maddy obviously picked up from her mother Mindy. Everyone on the outside looking in, she looked like someone who had it all, she met a beautiful girl named Chyanne & eventually fell in love. To the typical parents this was all good, things moving forward in life, she had the beginnings of a partner in life, dogs Bauer, Bailey & Thai, cats Sophie, Buddy & Tittin. Maddy always loved animals so much, she always wanted to pet every animal she seen and bring them home.

Maddy was a genuine kid who everyone thought loved life, she was known to post inspirational quotes and party like there was no tomorrow. Maddy & Chy traveled a lot and got to experience some spontaneous trips to see concerts or get their feet buried in the sand. Maddy had such a good relationship with Chy and they had so much fun together. Her young mind lacked the experience of life & relationships as she did not realize a relationship requires work. The highs and lows of all relationships are unavoidable, but to someone battling depression as Maddy has all these years, they look at though there is no light at the end of the day. She coped with her Depression the best way she knew how.

On Sept 12, 2019 my daughter Maddy Murphy thought the best way to ease her pain was to take her own life, she was a determined girl driven to succeed in everything she tried and unfortunately succeeded in her final task. The final chapter of her story will sum it all up on what the real meaning of this whole life story is about and why we ended up with a beautiful soul taken from us way to early.

Maddy had depression & knew it, its not like she didn’t try to help herself. Maddy went to countless therapy sessions in all forms, from Acupuncture, massages, chats with phycologist. She went to the family doctor and asked for an ESA ( Emotional Support Animal ) and purchased a Golden Retriever, she named him Beckett. Maddy has a passion for animals and Beckett would be ready for her in January. Just 10 days prior to Maddy taking her life she went to the Outpatient and asked for different meds as she knew she was not feeling well, she did this all on her own without telling anyone. The disease she has been battling was taking over and no one even knew. The biggest mistake Maddy ever made was the failure to see the support that was in front of her, she had a loving family with so many friends. When dealing with this sickness she was blinded by the pain she was in. I will never figure out what was going through her mind when she decided to follow through what she thought would be the best way to ease her pain.

Here is a girl who was so outgoing, determined, and everyone thought she loved life, we were all mistaken, all of us!

Depression is the “Silent Killer” that no one sees or hears, it strikes at the most vulnerable time in your life and leaves you helpless. This is the most important thing of all, this is what needs to be shared. Maddy’s life looked so good from the outside, but this is how she deflected her pain, by being the life of the party, working as hard as she could, playing her heart out in her sports, THIS is how she coped with Depression. Look around you nobody knows what is going on in people’s lives, just when you think things are so good they may not be. This disease of the mind can be so hidden with so many outlets for it to take a hold of people one wrong move and it has you. Don’t judge people based on their life from looking on the outside, get to know that person find out who they really are. We thought we knew our own kid better than anyone and never realized we would be sitting here trying to make sense of it all.

Everyone needs to remove the Stigma of this terrible debilitating disease, its out there and everyone experiences at some point in their life, its how we can recognize it and cope with it that makes the difference. The only thing I ask is for people to recognize the “not so” obvious symptoms, as no family should ever have to live through a tragic event like this. This was a complete tragedy that made no sense at all but if a positive can come of this that would shed light on the real “Boogey Man” Maddy’s story needs to be told. Maddy was so full of life yet such a hurting little girl inside. This is the sign that people need to see, the façade she was putting on for everyone around her. If this was a movie she would deserve an Oscar, I just wish it really was……

Maddy didn’t understand the consequences of her actions but at the time dealing with this terrible disease all she could think about is to end the suffering. Her suffering has now ended, I am at peace knowing she is not suffering anymore but my suffering through this tragic loss of life has only begun. My entire family has lost a piece of our hearts that we will never get back and we are devastated. No one should ever have to bury their kids. Please keep your loved ones a little closer, talk to them freely about Depression no one should ever need to experience what we just went through.

You touched the lives of so many at such an early age, I know there was more of you to give if I had only one wish it would to turn back time and be able to say goodbye.

May you rest in peace Maddy Murphy, you will be dearly missed and never forgotten!

Madison Claire Murphy born April 8, 1998 – September 16, 2019 #MM81 live on!

Beckett will be raised by our close friends, so Maddy’s spirit will live on, Beckett will be a reminder of a lost soul that had so much to offer this world and we are so thankful for this! #YOUmatter #MENTALHEALTHMATTERS its ok to not be ok!

maddy

RESOURCES

Canada Focused/Origin

Crisis Services Canada: Call, text, or chat support, and various resources

The Lifeline Canada: Links to Canadian crisis centres

Centre for Suicide Prevention: Suicideinfo.ca

Mental Health Commission: Toolkit for people who have been impacted by a suicide loss

Lifeline Canada: Survivors of Suicide Loss – Resources and Information

Lifeline Canada: Survivors of Suicide Loss- Support Groups

Mental Health Commission: Toolkit for people who have attempted suicide

 

General/International

Befrienders Worldwide: Providing emotional support to prevent suicide

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Homepage

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Guides relating to helping someone who is suicidal in a variety of languages

Suicide Stop International Help Center: Worldwide chat options

List of United States crisis centres

List of International crisis centres

List of Worldwide emergency numbers

American Society for Suicide Prevention: I’ve Lost Someone – Resources and Information

Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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#goodmorning #jasper #alberta #canada #travel #mountains

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Librarians, ghosts, mental-health & diverse characters: A Spoiler-Free Review of Archival Quality

Yesterday I was examining our library’s New Book display, as I am wont to do, and I noticed this book:

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Graphic novels are one of my passions, so poked through it and soon realized that this book was SO relevant to my interests that I had to read it immediately.

It’s a book featuring:

  • diverse characters
  • ghosts and creepiness
  • a librarian as the main character
  • reflections on mental health

So, I scarfed it down on my lunch break!

Weir and Steenz have created a compelling mystery buoyed along by a wonderfully morbid setting and interesting characters. The style of the graphic art is lovely, and for that alone I’d be glad to have this book on my shelf.

Capture33^A poignant observation from the beginning of the book: If I had to visualize it, I’d say it makes me think about the walls that protect beach towns from flooding. The water rises and then retracts, and the wall holds, but it leaves line marks. You can tell it’s been there. You know it’s coming back.

There were a few places that the story fell a bit flat (some plot points needed further explanation or illustration, and the ending felt a tad rushed to me) but overall I enjoyed this story.

I give it 4 glaring skulls out of 5!

Anxiety, Hell Practicums, and New Beginnings: In Defense of Medication

Long, emotional post ahead.

This is the most personal blog post I’ve ever written. I’ve recently seen some comments from strangers and well-meaning friends who criticize and doubt the necessity of some medications, especially mood-altering prescriptions. I understand where they are coming from- big pharma is scary, and it seems like some doctors’ answer to everything is to indiscriminately feed us more and more pills. Yet, as someone who comes from a family with many mental health struggles, and who has battled some of my own, I want to share my own story.

I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager, but it got steadily worse in my early 20s. Despite living a privileged life surrounded with wonderful and supportive friends and family (including pets!), I had these “monsters” holding me down.

This is a poem I wrote during that time:

btr

Traveling became more anxious than fun. I still didn’t have my licence because I didn’t have the confidence for driving. I was socially awkward and quiet, feeling overwhelmed with the world before I even got out of bed in the morning. I worried endlessly and catastrophized everything, anticipating the worst possible scenarios for just about any situation.

In my practicums while completing my Bachelor of Education, my anxiety reached new and debilitating heights. The pressures of being a teacher- the professional expectations, the perpetual donning of the “Teacher Hat”, and the reality of being at the front of the classroom, began weighing on me heavily.

I spoke with a counselor in university, as well as my doctor, and decided I wanted to first try to deal with it on my own- I learned a lot of stress-relief methods and breathing exercises, and they were helpful at the time to some degree. Dustin, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, was also a voice of reason who helped to talk me down whenever I went into full-blown panic mode.

However, my anxiety became extreme 2014-2015 during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, which included a 9 week teaching practicum that I now refer to as my “hell practicum”. I had struggled with previous practicums teaching grades k-3, so I decided to focus on my strength (language arts) and try teaching LA 7-9 in a middle school setting, hoping that it would be easier on me for the final stretch. This decision was a terrible mistake.

For the most part, it wasn’t the students that got to me- it was my mentor teacher. She was a no-nonsense authoritarian type who sensed my weakness and couldn’t understand where I was coming from. She didn’t know that I was at my lowest point mentally, and because of her open criticisms of other students and teachers, I didn’t feel like I could open up to her about it. By this point in my life I had already internally decided that I wanted to leave teaching and pursue Librarianship, but I still had to make it through the final practicum to get my bachelor degree.

My mentor teacher seemed to take a boot-camp approach to shaping me up to her liking, and I was simply unable to handle it at the time. Her tough-love method pushed me farther into my shell. She gave me armfuls of marking to do and little guidance for teaching her classes or using her rubrics. My inefficiency in her classroom was amplified by the fact that, since she taught only one subject, she had a rotating roster of students visiting throughout the day, and I had over 150 names and faces to memorize if I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with her kids. The students also sensed my submissiveness, treating me like a substitute teacher whom they thought they could fool, swapping desk assignments, protesting “our teacher lets us do this!” and so on. It was a recipe for disaster.

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My own personal hell.

I was having silent panic attacks where I led the class on uninspiring lessons that I could barely remember teaching afterward. My appetite disappeared- I had trouble swallowing food and would often begin to choke. I was administered a barium swallow test, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and attributed it to stress. I lost over 35 pounds (NOT in a healthy way- to this day I have a rare Eustachian tube disorder that I developed from losing so much weight so fast), and I had so much tension in my body that by week 3 I had to wear a back brace to the classroom to make it through the day. I tried to put on my best “fake it till you make it” facade, but I was not fooling the middle schoolers, or my mentor teacher, one bit.

My mentor began getting more agitated with my insecurities and vulnerability in her classroom. Things were not working out. She began gathering evidence of my shortcomings by secretly filming me as I taught, and spying on me through the classroom window when I thought she was leaving the room for a bit. Afterward she would confront me and say things like “I was watching through the window. What did you do wrong?” and I usually knew exactly where my shortcomings were: “when I was talking to X I had my back to the rest of the class, so they started acting out” or “Y wasn’t paying attention and when he didn’t listen to me I didn’t discipline him.” Exasperated, she would say “So if you know that you are doing it wrong, then why do you do it!?” My mental health was so frail that I couldn’t stand up for myself with these middle-schoolers, or their teacher.

I remember one evening when I fought back tears the entire bus-ride home, and when I got to my apartment I collapsed on the floor, bawling, my poor dog curling herself around me in concerned confusion.

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Life, without this goofball, would have been somehow even more unbearable.

Dustin was working night shift during this time and was gone before I got home, so I barely saw him back then. I would cry as I worked on lesson plans and marking into the wee hours of the night, and drink  copious amounts of wine to help me calm down and finally fall into a fitful sleep. I’d be gripped with terror when my alarm woke me, dreading going to the school to teach. My bus ride was slow torture as it carried me closer and closer to the school. I was on the brink of a total breakdown.

Finally, my mentor teacher couldn’t tolerate me anymore, and filed a Notification of Concern to the University. Crushed and ashamed, I remembered the pre-practicum pep talk we had gotten from our academic advisors months ago, where they briefly discussed Notifications of Concern with the caveat “but don’t worry, nobody ever gets those!” I guess I was the exception.

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Even though I thought I didn’t have it in me, I put on an even stronger fake-it-till-you make it face, trying even harder to buckle down and push through the final two weeks of my hellish practicum. It didn’t work.

My teacher backed out and said she didn’t want to complete the practicum, as was her right to do. I called Dustin, sobbing, and said “it’s over.”

I don’t blame my mentor, or wish her any ill will. She was just doing what she thought to be best for her students at the time. She has a teaching style that is the exact opposite of my own, and we didn’t mesh well together. Combined with my mental health issues, it just wasn’t working. And that’s ok. I wish her all the best, and I’m sorry that I put her through that stressful time, too.

Even though I was done, and I was exhausted and telling everyone DAMN THE WHOLE DEGREE, I’M FINISHED, my academic advisors wouldn’t let me quit. They defended me to the university, fighting for me, presenting my case as a hard working student who had a practicum assignment that just didn’t work out. Since my previous practicum mentors had given me good reports, and academically I was ready to graduate with distinction, I was allowed a replacement practicum. I owe my advisors so much.

Somehow, with the support of many people, I found myself in a new placement with a wonderful and supportive grade 1 mentor teacher. She was so kind, so understanding, and so helpful. She really saw that I had experienced something personally traumatic, and wanted me to succeed. She did things like recommending certain items at the library that might be helpful, and loaning me a class mic so that I wasn’t straining my voice so hard when trying to get the attention of the kids each day. This teacher was a lifesaver for me.

It was still hard for me because I had zero confidence after the hell practicum, but I had moments where I really enjoyed teaching those kids with my new mentor.

Although I didn’t think I could possibly get through a 7 week replacement practicum in such a devastated state, I did finish and graduated with my B.Ed. I remember coming in one day during the last couple weeks of my replacement practicum. I had told my mentor teacher that I had to leave a little bit early that day for graduation ceremonies. I started crying when I walked into the classroom. She had decorated the room for me. She told the kids I was graduating and they brought me flowers and little gifts. They said “Miss, show us your hat!”

And so, finally I had graduated. I felt great relief, but my heightened anxiety remained. I opened up to my doctor about the anxiety I had experienced, and she prescribed antidepressants. I was surprised and confused, because I didn’t think I was depressed. She explained that anxiety and depression were on a sort of spectrum, and that some of the symptoms I had been describing were indicative of depression.

I felt a bit wary of pills, but she thought that the right medication might really help with both my anxiety and depression related symptoms. So, I decided to give it a go.

It took some time adjusting and trying new dosage amounts, but once I figured out what worked for me, it was a truly life-changing shift. I didn’t realize that I was being held down so much until I was lifted up. I hadn’t realized that I could exist in this state: energized and happy throughout the day on a regular basis. Waking up optimistic instead of melancholic. I started feeling the way I used to feel before I knew crushing anxiety.

I can recall a flashbulb memory from when I was a teen. I can’t remember the context, but I wasn’t being myself, and my father asked me “what happened to my happy-go-lucky Shauna?”.

I don’t know what happened to her or where she went for so long, but I finally found her again.

I wish I had tried medication long before my practicums. I truly believe that I would have had entirely different practicum experiences. I never would have believed it, but in the 3 years since I graduated, I’ve accomplished so much and journeyed willingly outside of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled by myself to Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. My hubby and I went to Japan and I wasn’t anxiously anticipating problems to happen, I was just freely enjoying myself. I’ve taken on new projects at work and am even speaking at conferences now! I never thought I would be excited to present to a room of strangers, but here I am. I’m starting my MLIS program in the fall and I am going to be a librarian.

Although I didn’t end up going back into the classroom, my experiences finishing the B.Ed gave me tons of skills that I will carry with me into the future. And, my respect for teachers is higher than it’s ever been, because I KNOW how much you do, how much of yourself you put into your work, and how draining and exhausting it can be sometimes. To anyone reading this who dedicates themselves to an intensely emotionally and physically draining job like teaching, if you are struggling you aren’t alone. You do so much. Take care of yourself.

Lastly, I just want to say this: medication is not for everyone. Anyone who has questions about medication should talk to their doctor. Every medication and dosage affects every person a little bit differently. I was lucky that I found something that worked for me. For some people, the medication I am on makes things worse. Some people get by without medication. Yet, I will never feel ashamed to say that I take medication for my mental health, because I am living a much fuller life with this stuff.

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Facilitating a session at the Alberta Library Conference, 2018.

 

My SHINee Story: A Fangirl Falls Into a Kpop World

I am 100% a Shawol (SHINee World) fangirl. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know SHINee: SHINee is a korean pop group that debuted in 2008 and dazzled the world, shook up the kpop scene, and swiftly gained a reputation for being a group whose 5 members are genuinely multifaceted, kind, funny, and dedicated.

My love for SHINee came as somewhat of a surprise, as in my tween and teen years I sort of skipped the boyband phase alltogether (despite avidly fangirling over tons of other stuff). I guess by my mid-20’s I was ready for that kind of commitment, because I found SHINee and haven’t looked back.

It all started with this gif:

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I was browsing my old tumblr account one day, and somewhere mixed into the hundreds of book-related posts I usually scrolled, this gif boy introduced himself to me.

I wondered, Who is this impeccably styled, eye-patch donning, smirking man with the guyliner and flawless skin? 

His aesthetic was perfect, and his expression allured me. I had to know more!

I did some research and found out that this was none other than Kim Kibum, aka The Almighty Key, of SHINee.

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^ Key with his two flufferpups, Commedes and Garcons! ❤

I found the music video that the gif came from, a live performance of Odd Eye from the Odd album. The music, written by SHINee’s Jonghyun, was sensual, playful, and hypnotic.

I fell down the SHINee rabbit hole and I’ve never come back up for air. Two of my dear friends, who are huge TVXQ fans, were excited to welcome me to the world of Kpop, of which I knew next to nothing about.

When I found SHINee (and really, kpop in general) in 2015, SHINee had already been making music for 7 years, so I had a ton of quality content to catch up on! It was also cool that the members of SHINee were all around my age.

SHINeeOT5^ from the shineeusa unofficial fanclub blog

I came to respect and admire all of the boys in the group:

  • onew
    Onew, the oldest, the steadfast leader of the group who is always making puns and cheesy gags that really crack me up. He supports the members in any way he can
  • taemin
    Taemin
    , the youngest, the maknae, who alternates between shy sweet child and expertly dancing sex god, with seemingly no in-between. His face also lends itself well to various memes!
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    Jonghyun
    , born the same year as me, a talented vocalist whose emotions are so true and heartfelt they resonate not just in the lyrics he writes, but in his eyes, his voice, and his tears
  • minho
    Minho
    , whose sporty competitive side didn’t really resonate with me at first (as I know zero about sports) but once I saw his aegyo and the way he soaks up every moment he is performing for his fans, I really came to appreciate. My admiration for Minho was further bolstered when I watched him in the kdrama Hwarang! P.s. his abs are the real deal o.o
  • key
    Key
    , the first to catch my eye, and the one who is especially influential to me- my bias, my muse, my inspiration. Stylish, extra, diva Key, who pampers his dogs, follows a strict skincare regimen, and teaches me that style and fashion are fun. He can pull off literally any style, and his bedroom eyes are no joke, folks. He dances energetically every single performance, and his singing voice is a sexy whine that impresses whether it’s rapping or hitting a seriously high note. His talents range from singing and rapping kpop, performing in musicals, acting (DRINKING SOLO WAS AMAZING, DIRORIIII), creating custom fashion lines, the list goes on.

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^Even my car has SHINee Shawol pride!

Since I fell hard and fast for SHINee, devouring their immense backlog of music videos, albums, concert footage, tv appearances, and varity shows, I freaked out when I heard that they would be coming to Canada as the starring guests for an expo called Hallyu North.

I felt a little conflicted-  If I went it would mean a hastily planned  flight to Toronto (where I hadn’t been before), plus expensive expo tickets on top of that. Should I, a woman in her mid 20s who was saving up for her wedding, spend a ton of money to go on a last-minute trip to see a kpop band I’d been following for only a year, however intensely?

After tons of reflection, rationalizing, justifying, and consulting with my awesome then-fiance-now-husband, I came to my answer- HELL YEAH!

I decided I wanted to support SHINee on their first visit to Canada as a group. I snatched up some tickets and began dreaming of the Expo, which hailed itself as being a sort of Korean culture, entertainment, and food fest. I memorized the fanchants of popular SHINee songs and pulled anything out of the closet that even slightly resembled the Pearl Aqua Green color our fandom is known for. I got all my ducks in a row and waited anxiously for the expo date, which landed on the weekend before my birthday in May 2016.

What I didn’t plan for was the unpredictable monster wildfire that surrounded my town and resulted in one of the largest evacuations and costliest disasters in Canadian history mere days before my flight to Toronto.

^definitely one of the most surreal days of my life…

The wildfire, which had its 2 year anniversary a few days ago, May 3rd, could definitely fill its own blog post, so I will keep it simple here. As my fiance and I were fleeing the fire with our dog, we didn’t realize the scope of the situation. Before long, though, we realized that we wouldn’t be returning to Fort McMurray any time soon (in fact it was about a month that we were away before the town re-opened for residents). Since my flight was supposed to leave from Fort McMurray International Airport (which was closed due to seemingly inevitable fiery doom) I felt a crush of disappointment that it was unlikely I would make it to Toronto.

That feeling of disappointment brought with it some guilt. How could I be sad about potentially missing a concert when my father’s condo just burned to the ground and he was stranded in the north with nothing but his cat? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when teachers just drove through walls of flame with terrified students in their cars? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when many people lost their pets, and two teenagers died in a car crash during the evacuation? I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to see SHINee and reminded myself to be grateful that we got out of the fire safely.

By the time we were near Edmonton looking for a place to stay, it was apparent that we wouldn’t be able to return home anytime soon. So, I thought, if we are going to be wandering around looking for things to do and places to stay anyway, why not make the best of it and see if I could get the flight switched and go to Toronto after all?

I called Air Canada. When my call was finally answered and a man asked how he could help, everything came out in a frantic stream of babbling, blubbering in-coherency. It turns out that if you want good customer service, crying works really well!

So, we made it to Toronto. Feeling a bit guilty to be having a fun excursion given the circumstances, my fiance and I checked into our hotel in Chinatown and set about doing all the things we had originally planned- eating a delicious meal at Momofuku, browsing some local shops, and exploring Toronto.

^Thanks SHINee, for giving me an excuse to visit awesome Toronto for the first time!

I also took a few minutes to hastily write a letter to SHINee, which I would drop off at the expo entrance with all of the other fan gifts. I had planned to write them something a bit fancier than this sad looking note on hotel stationary, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do when she evacuates her town, yo.

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Finally it was time to head to the expo. We walked for over an hour to our destination, a huge expo building, and waited in the heat for several hours until we were let in with a clamour of hot, tired people (mostly girls). Unfortunately, the expo was a bit of a mess and became known afterward as a disaster. The “food fest’ turned out to be 2 food trucks with ridiculous lineups, one of which was shut down shortly after opening because they didn’t have a permit. I ate the only thing I could get my hands on- walnut wafer cookies (?) from a Korean grocery store stall. I met some other Shawol who were so kind and made me feel very welcomed, and we explored the expo together.

20160506_173821^Lynda, I took measures to protect your identity XD

The vendors were pretty scarce, several guests that had been announced did not arrive, and the concert, which was supposed to have a slew of warmup performances before SHINee, kept being pushed back as the organizers and volunteers struggled to get the hundreds of people into a coherent lineup according to the numbers on their bracelets.

20160506_172515^I mean, Hallyu North had this cute mascot, so they had that going for them? Even though he broke the #1 rule of being a mascot and began talking to me in a gruff, husky voice, but hey, whatevs.

However, none of this disorganization really mattered to me, and I was happy as a clam to be honest ( I was going to see SHINee!). It was only after talking to other Shawol after the fact that I  realized how truly poorly organized the event was. SHINee ended up having to come out later than scheduled, without the planned local acts before them, to a crowd of people who were sore and tired, in a venue that was clearly less than what they deserved, but they did not disappoint. It basically looks like they are dancing in a Highschool Gymnasium (these being the boys who sold out Tokyo Dome numerous times) but, you know what, they rocked it for us.

^Sorry that my videos are really low quality, but the boys are high quality sooooooo 😉

After the concert ended I joined the people outside who were dazed and shining like me. I chatted with a girl about how awesome SHINee was for a few minutes, and then we heard restrained screaming. We hurried over to see what the fuss was about, and it was the SHINee van leaving the arena. All of the Shawol respectfully stood on the sidewalk where we smiled and waved at the van with the tinted windows as it rolled past. From inside those darkened windows, a cell phone lit up pressed near the glass and waved back at us. I bet it was Key! It was exciting.

Later I talked with Shimmycocopuffsss (who was the MC for SHINee) during a live vid he was doing and asked him what he thought of the event. He said they asked him to be MC mere hours before the concert! He pulled it off professionally but man, SHINee deserved more preparation. Still, it was a memory I was happy to hold. I didn’t know if they would ever come back to Canada, but I hoped for it. My Shawol heart was filled, but still longed for a true concert experience with SHINee.

20160506_171900^Me & Shimmy

I wondered, would SHINee return after such a shoddy, if well intentioned, event?

The answer, again, was YES.

A more well-known company, KpopMe, posted an image on their social media hinting that a group would be coming to Canada. Shawol immediately recognized the V from the SHINee World V logo and we went absolutely wild.

It turned out that SHINee would be coming to both Toronto AND Vancouver as part of a North American tour in March 2017! I was at work when I read the official announcement, and I was afraid that when I drove home I would crash my car because I was so frazzled!

Even though we had just had our wedding recently and money was tight, I knew I had to go to this or I would regret it. This would be a proper concert! A real SHINee concert! Again I consulted my hubby and we agreed that, since I felt comfortable in Toronto, I would go alone this time so we could save a bit of money. (My dear hunbun puts up with my fangirling so well, but he doesn’t really care to join me for these kinds of things!)

I remember getting my tickets for this event like it was yesterday. I only got 2 hours of sleep because I was so anxious. I researched all of the different ways to get good seats from the tricksy Ticketmaster site. I set an alarm for over an hour before the tickets went on sale so I would be freaking READY. When the seats opened, I grabbed a decent one and felt so happy. Other Shawol told me that often better seats open soon before the concert, so I scoured the Ticketmaster site regularly and I did actually get an even better seat. I sold my old seat to a Shawol at a good discount, and she was totally happy.

And so, once again, I found myself in Toronto for SHINee (even though Vancouver is closer to where I live- the Toronto date was on the weekend so I wouldn’t have to miss much work.) I had a ton of fun exploring Toronto again, and doing a bit of a Scott Pilgrim tour.

I even visited my first Cat Cafe, where two Shawol noticed my SHINee shirt and we fangirled together! We all agreed that it was hard to function when you know you will be seeing SHINee in mere hours.

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I planned to meet up with a group of Shawol for a lunch at a Korean bbq place before the concert, but I got the time wrong and I was there 2 hours early… oh well, it was tasty!

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I visited a couple of nerd shops while I was out and about- when I saw two older white-haired ladies browsing manga animatedly together in a shop, I thought “Wow. Goals. Hope that will be me someday.”

Finally it was time to head to the concert venue, the Sony Center.

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^Thanks for the reminder, NOT THAT I NEEDED IT!!!

I got there with tons of time to spare, and the first few Shawol were beginning to trickle into the area. I decided to wait in the park across from the centre, and I saw a couple of girls milling about. I thought “they are probably Shawol” and approached a tad anxiously. They welcomed me into their group like they had known me forever, and we spent the afternoon grabbing fan swag, eating, and fangirling!

One lovely thing that happened: since the concert was sort of last-minute, a lot of people had trouble getting lightsticks. As any kpop fan will know, lightsticks and fanchants are an integral part of the kpop concert experience, and Shawol are proud to show off their Pearl Aqua Ocean to show their support for SHINee. I was fortunate enough to have ordered a lighstick on Ebay that arrived in plenty of time, as well as a special Key lightstick from a small group order, but many fans were resorting to aqua balloons and cheap glowsticks. Japanese Shawol found out about this and came to our rescue, sending hundreds of their lightsticks to us freely. Even now, thinking about this kind act makes me go all misty eyed. The Shawol community is beautiful.

Finally it was time- time to enter the concert venue. Everyone lined up in a big circle around the entire building, and the excitement was palpable. Shawol young and old were literally vibrating with excitement. When we were finally let in through the doors, we were welcomed by an aqua glow.

I left my new friends as it was time to find our seats. As I was approaching my area, a young woman said “Are you Shauna?” I was like “uh yeah!?”… Turns out it was the girl I sold my original ticket to! She thanked me for selling her the ticket at a lower price, and we wished each other to enjoy the show.

I found my seat about ten seats back from the stage and sat there, shaking. I shared some small talk with the girl next to me, and looked around in awe at the other Shawol playing with their lightsticks, readying themselves, and feeling just as on top of the world as me. SHINee songs played on the speakers, and a huge SHINee WORLD V display lit up the stage. Finally, the lights began to dim and we were transported into SHINee World.

After some fanciful intro videos, the stage went dark, and the boys began to perform Hitchhiking. The show proceeded in a blur of absolute joy. Some highlights:

  • The boys pressuring Taemin to speak english and he said “Next song is… Prism…”
  • The music cutting out during Prism when Taemin was singing, and Jonghyun saying “we need your voice! We need your voice.” to Shawol
  • Key throwing subtle shade at HallyuNorth with something like “It’s our first time in Canada… well, first concert”
  • Minho playing with the crowd, flashing his smiles, and shouting “Thank you for coming. Thank you for waiting. Thank you for SCREAMING!!!”
  • Increasing my love for the songs Ready or Not and Savior because they are SO JUMPIN’ LIVE THE ENERGY WAS CRAZY
  • Key’s solo dance during Juliette
  • Shawol fanchants were ON POINT- View, Sherlock, Lucifer and Everybody were perfect
  • Taemin’s Sayonara Hitori solo
  • Jonghyun and Onew duet
  • Key’s energetic dancing throughout
  • Performance of their new song 1 of 1
  • Whenever I knew Key’s solo parts were coming up I would raise my Key banner and Key lightstick extra high and jump up happily. It’s hard to say, but I really do think he saw me and I felt his gaze on me several times
  • Our beautiful Pearl Aqua Ocean, with much thanks to Japanese Shawol

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^Screenshot from a fancam: that’s me with my pink LilFreak banner! The no-photography policy was strictly enforced, so I decided to just let go and enjoy the show, but I am grateful to those who did take some photos to help us keep the memories alive.

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^Another shot of me from a fancam, basking in the glow of SHINee XD

Besides the video and talking portions of the concert, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet the entire concert. Finally, sadly, it ended, and the boys left the stage, Minho being the last to go, waving and smiling as usual. At the end I was exhausted and, like many others, sat there feeling a sort of high, not wanting it to be over. At the same time though, I felt incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see a real SHINee concert.

received_10158408983450261^I am but a speck in the SHINee World. I have this wonderful picture blown up on photo paper framed in my room and also at my work desk at the library ❤

I joined the zombie line of people shambling slowly away from the venue towards their hotels and cars. The hotel I was staying at was just a block or two away, and I followed a couple of girls inside. Nobody said a word as we climbed the stairs to our floors- we had left our hearts in the concert hall for the time being.

I look back so fondly on that day. It was a perfect day- good food, new friends, excitement, happiness, joy, music, energy, community. I felt closer to Shawol and SHINee than ever, and still do.

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^Confetti, streamers, ribbon, bracelets and a balloon from the concert

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^ Am I crazy? I don’t know, you tell me.

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^another happy moment ❤ Thank you Japan Shawol! On that note, my hubby and I went to Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, AND DESERVES ITS OWN BLOG POST <3), and I took the opportunity to visit both the SMTown Tokyo (SHINee bar!) and Shin Okubo (Koreatown), seeking out SHINee everywhere I went.

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SHINee has made such an impact on the lives of so many, both in Korea and around the world. They gave me inspiration, laughter and entertainment during some hard times in my life, and I sincerely believe that each member enjoys being on stage and interacting with fans. However, SHINee has been in international headlines recently for a heartbreaking reason.

*The following may be distressing to some readers. If you are a Shawol you know what I mean. I want to express what it was like for me personally, as I feel it will be good for me to get it out in writing, but I know some people would rather not dwell on the details as it hurts too much. Feel free to stop reading here ❤ 

The kpop industry is crazy intense. The rigorous training, schedules, travel, promotion, exercise, dieting, and so on, are absolutely harsh.

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“Idols”, such as the members of SHINee, are expected to put on a happy face 24/7 and push their own personal issues under the rug for the better image of their company. Those who confront mental health face stigma, and so some idols put on a brave face while they may be facing inner turmoil.

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Jonghyun was refreshingly open and honest about his depression. He spoke about it in interviews, expressing how he was dealing with this pain and trying his best to get through it. Tragically, he could not. Dear, emotional Jonghyun, who had openly wept during concerts, who crooned his thoughts softly to listeners on Blue Night radio show, who always shared thoughtful reflections and deep sentiments to his fans, was not supported in his time of need. The world failed him.

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I believe in my heart that Jonghyun did have joyful times with SHINee and with his fans. You could see it in his eyes. But then there was another side of him that was hurting even more than he let on. That, too, you could see in his eyes.

On December 18 I woke up extremely early for some reason. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and felt compelled to sit at my computer. Incredulous voices filled my SHINee kakao group chats and social media. What on earth was going on?

People were saying things like:

“Jonghyun? It can’t be true?! I won’t believe that.”

“No, don’t listen to this, we don’t have the facts.”

“That site isn’t a valid source. It’s just a rumor.”

The rumor was that Jonghyun was dead. I was so shocked I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. But the articles kept appearing, the rumors kept flying. He was killed. It was a plot. It was a suicide. It was a cover-up. It was an accident. It was a terrible marketing ploy.

What the hell was happening?

I had to go to work, but it was still unclear what truly happened. I was dazed at work, going through the motions as best as I could. By the afternoon, rumors that he was still alive (barely) in the hospital were disproven, and it was confirmed that Jonghyun was dead. Soon after it was confirmed as a suicide.

His suicide letter revealed that he was tired of carrying on for others, that he wanted peace for himself, and that his doctor told him that his personality was to blame for his depression. He finished by asking “please tell me that I did well”.

A brutal numbness followed, and Shawol came together in their grief. We worried for the SHINee members, we mourned Jonghyun, we felt guilty for not knowing how deeply he was hurting. We’re still mourning, and some of us are having troubles with our own mental health aggravated by this tragedy. I’ve heard that some Shawol have taken their own lives after Jonghyun left us, and that saddens me immensely.

Some will say to Shawol “can’t you move on by now? You didn’t really know him.”

Yes, it’s true that we fans didn’t personally know Jonghyun in his intimate private life. However, we closely followed his journey as an artist, we were inspired by his creativity, passion and kindness, his bravery taking a stand for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health in a society that still views these things as taboo discussion. We took his remarks to heart, and we truly cared about him as we do all of the SHINee members. Jonghyun was a part of our everyday lives, and losing him truly hurt. Furthermore, Shawol are a community who bonded over a shared love of SHINee, and the relationships and connections we’ve formed with each-other are undeniably real too.

“Life is a series of encounters and farewells. I believe we grow in the process.

For now, it is very sad but we will meet again.

We can hope for that day to come soon, and we will be able to greet each other with much bigger welcome.”

— Jonghyun

I hope that all Shawol can find peace when the time is right for them. Some find solace in spirituality, or religion, or things they perceive to be signs from him. I don’t know if I can feel peace that way, but it’s different for everyone. Personally, I was numb for a long time, but I have come to accept reality. Sometimes it really stings suddenly, but this is how it is now.

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Once again the kindness of Shawol uplifts me. Many have reached out in various ways, beginning initiatives in Jonghyun’s name to raise money for mental health causes, creating projects to memorialize him, and supporting other Shawol who were so lost in devastation that they didn’t know how to carry on. Shawol is the first fandom that I ever really opened up to and actively participated in, and it feels like one big family looking out for eachother.

One very kind Shawol extended the offer to bring messages from international Shawol to Jonghyun’s memorial in Korea. Thanks to this thoughtful person, my message for him made it to Seoul.

“Jonghyun, I hope you are finding the peace this world could not give you. You did well, and your legacy will shine forever.”

– Shauna D

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Jonghyun left us with one last posthumous album, Poet | Artist. I try as much as I can to remember him as the smiling, happy, laughing man that I know existed on the other side of his dark despair.  SHINee is always 5. I hope that Key, Minho, Taemin and Onew know I support them fully whatever they decide to do in the future.

And Jonghyun, you did well.

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