I Am Alive Today


Burns Weinrib, Evelyn1


1Retired Educator, Mental Health Advocate

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Depression, Attempted Suicide, Aged

I should not be alive today. I am 83 years old and five-and-a-half-years ago, when I was seventy-seven, I made a very serious decision to end my life. It was not a cry for help, proven by the fact that I made two further attempts while in the hospital being guarded 24 hours a day. I planned it for one year. But I am glad now that I survived, as I have learned a great deal and am living a full, worthwhile life.

Depression is genetic in my family, my father having been depressed as long as I was mature enough to realize it. When he was eighty-two, he died by his own hand. Thus, I am a suicide survivor, as I feel guilty to this day that I, the eldest of four siblings who loved him dearly, could not save him. We did not know at that time what his behaviour really was; but we thought it was a sign of weakness and did not talk about this to anyone.

I suffered in the same way since my teen-age years and was no more aware of the underlying causes than I was about my father's situation. From the age of seven to fourteen, my family lived in east Toronto. I loved living there. It was a diverse community which consisted of people of many religions, races and colours. Although we were one of a few Jewish families, I felt no discrimination. My life consisted of school and baseball, both at which I excelled. Boys meant only one thing: how well they could play baseball. My depression began when I was fourteen, my family having moved to Forest Hill Village in north Toronto. I had culture shock. The teen-age girls were not interested in sports and I did not share their interests. So my marks dropped, and I was a very unhappy and angry person.

This painful existence continued for two years until, at the age of sixteen, I decided that the cure for my unhappiness was to get married. I thought I could escape the pain in this way. The man I chose was a good man, but not for me. The only thing we had in common was that he was Jewish. He was not educated, and we could not discuss issues on an equal level. So, I was seventeen, married and became pregnant almost immediately. I knew nothing about birth control and, either he did not know, or he did not care. I learned from this that one should not make serious changes while in a state of depression.

I gave birth to my daughter at eighteen. I did not want to be a mother. I would meet my friends carrying their school books, while I was wheeling a carriage. I wanted to be where they were. I hated nursing my baby. I would read a book to try and forget what I was doing. I felt like a cow. My daughter developed a rash. Upon finding out that I did not like to breast-feed, the pediatrician advised me to stop. I did, and the rash went away. I realize now that I had post-partum depression. My daughter and I did not bond. I was unable to give her the warmth and love she needed. To this day, we have a strained relationship. Thus I learned that it is best if a child is born into a caring environment in order to thrive.

After my son was born three years later, my unhappiness continuing, I sought a way out. I tried volunteering and working in a store, which was my family business. Neither worked. Luckily, I thought to myself, “Where was I happy?” The answer was, “In school!” So, at twenty-eight I went to Grade 13 so I could attend Teachers' College. Becoming a teacher saved my life.

My life changed again, when, at the age of sixty-five, mandatory laws forced me to retire. I had divorced my husband after forty unhappy years and had married again to a man I truly loved. The only thing we did not have in common was that he was not Jewish. We were matched on an intellectual and educational level.

But how to spend my days? I tutored and volunteered; and eventually volunteering became my full-time job. But my life changed again after my husband died, and I developed neuropathy, a nerve condition, causing me pain in my legs and back, and a loss of balance. As I was a very independent person, the thought of being handicapped and requiring help led to my decision to end my life while I was at the top.

My next lesson came while I was in the hospital being seen by a psychiatrist, who was helping me put some meaning into my existence. I was allowed to leave the unit and walk where I would meet people I knew from my years of volunteering in the same hospital. It is to some of them I owe my recovery. It was the way they expressed their concern for me and how they hugged me that penetrated my wall; and I felt worthy of love. A person who is so depressed and plans suicide does not love herself and feels unworthy. I have now told these individuals how important they were to my change of attitude.

So it is now five-and-a-half-years later. I now have a renewed purpose in life. I volunteer six days a week, as many hours as staff, lecture to all 1300 students in the hospital and at the university, to seniors in hospital and in private groups about mental health. I have been on major radio, TV and written media, which has spread globally. I want to erase the stigma of Depression and Mental Illness, so that those in need will reach out and seek the help they need to lead a full life. For most of my life, what gave me the strength to live was teaching. I now have a purpose for the rest of my life, to continue to teach others to be aware of the signs of depression in them and those in their lives, and to reach out for help.


The author does not have any conflicts of interest to declare regarding the publication of this article or its content.




Copyright (c) 2017 Evelyn Weinrib-Burns

Journal of Recovery in Mental Health ISSN 2371-2376