Mental Health: A Journey To Light
Written by: Ava Hill
“There was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you can do, determined to save the only life you could save.” Mary Oliver “The Journey”.
I don’t remember seeing stars that night. As I walked aimlessly into the night with the song “Day Old Hate” ringing in my ears and it being the last song my old soul ever heard. There was a long path that led to this final walk. I had initially hoped this path would lead to steps that would bring me to a door; bring me to a way out. Instead these steps led to a new journey; a new awakening, an awakening that acted as a liberation from my inner demons and my past that used to follow me around like a shadow.
I grew up in a home that was cold and dark. Cold because my parents had a never-ending battle over the thermostat and dark because we never seemed to have any working light bulbs. It was an old farm house that embraced me with a sense warmth just as my mother would when I arrived home from school each day. Unfortunately, my school years didn’t embrace me in quite the same way. I was an eccentric individual who instead of marching along to the beat of the drum, preferred to march to the song stuck in my head.
I had a figure that resembled a bowling ball with feet, large and often times crooked glasses, and a sense of humor that was far beyond my years. I never thought of myself as different from my peers until it was brought to my attention in the eloquent subtlety that children and teens possess. I listened to their not so constructive criticism and worked to lose weight and maybe march to that beat everyone else seemed to hear.
My freshman year of high school I had posted a wonderfully edited selfie, as we all did in the early 2000’s, and was struck with a comment that still resonates with me. The words “YOUR SO UGLY” illuminated in my newsfeed. It mainly resonates because of the horrific use of grammar, but as a fourteen-year-old girl who had worked hard to lose weight and discovered the wonderful world of contact lenses, it was devastating. I had always struggled with my image and identity. The image reflecting back at me was an enigma brought to life by the cruelty of others and the ability of my mind to turn the imaginary into my reality. The mirror reflected a distorted dark image that I was slowly becoming unable to recognize.
Senior year was not what I expected. While everyone was discussing future plans of where they were going to college, their future degrees, and hopefully impressive salaries after easily thirty years of debt repayment, I was left without a plan. I had no idea what path I should take and because I didn’t see a path, I believed that there just wasn’t one for me.
I ended up at a university I had no interest in attending working on attaining a degree I had absolutely no interest in attaining. Despite my lack of interest however, I was enjoying this new pace of life. I was living on my own for the first time in a small cell of a dorm and experiencing the obviously responsible unsupervised college life. All seemed well for a while.
Unfortunately, my college experience didn’t involve typical stressors. Naturally I worried about test scores and essays, but I had a stressor that followed me like a shadow. I had a high school companion that I brought with to college who quickly became a malicious presence. It was a short high school relationship that began in the spring but failed to blossom. The relationship began to fall just as the leaves were and just like leaves in fall, this person was reluctant to accept the change in seasons and refused to fall gracefully. Granted, I was not a saint at the time of our relationship. I cheated, lied, was absent in my mind and physicality, and was fighting an internal battle of the mind that was not prepared for the outcome that later ensued.
Shortly after terminating the relationship, my cellphone and social media became a catastrophic war zone. Computer screens and voicemails acted as bullets and grenades annihilating the world around me and created chaos for the voice within me. Every word that flashed across my screen imbedded itself in to my brain like a bunch little bugs. They dug into my brain and acted as a reminder that I was a monster that deserved whatever was coming my way.
Coming from a family of writers, I believe in the power of words. It’s amazing that with all of the words in the English language; all of the words that had already branded themselves into my brain over those few months that it took two to completely decimate the walls of my brain. “Kill yourself.”
Smoke and haze became an escape. Night after night my world was moving in slow motion trying to delay my thoughts enough to catch sanity from mid air. Passion for life was falling through my fingers like sand and embedding itself seamlessly into the earth leaving no trace left to be found. Each day acted as an endless circle with no destination and no purpose. The light in my eyes was dimming and losing its ability to illuminate more and more each day that passed by. There were no lights to guide me along this journey anymore
In the fall of 2015 I woke up on a park bench after attempting to take my own life. It was a time that I have little recollection of, but it was a moment in time that changed my life forever. It was a moment that led me to a new path. I had no idea where this path would take me, what my purpose was, or why I was saved; but I knew in that moment that I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to finding out and fulfilling my purpose.
I didn’t see stars that night. I don’t know if it’s because it was a cloudy night or if I was so lost in the darkness that I had lost all ability to see them. All I can remember was that the street lights were fading faster than I was able to run, and I was so tired of running. So, I stopped and I found a quiet place on a park bench to close my eyes for the final time.
I didn’t have any feelings of fear or anger. I didn’t want revenge on those who had hurt me. I didn’t want to place guilt onto those around me. I didn’t want to leave my family with lifelong pain and the never-ending question of “What did we do wrong?” In that moment, all I longed for was peace and freedom from pain. I believed that the only way to obtain that peace and freedom was to close my eyes and let my soul rest.
Initially hen I closed my eyes there was a brief moment of serenity. All that was racing through my head for so long was fading away. All of the worry that had consumed my life was evaporating into the night. The weight of my pain and sadness that had taken over me was lifted of my shoulders. Although I was alone in this moment, I had a sense that there was a hand holding me and it gave me a feeling that it wasn’t my time to leave. I just didn’t know why.
My eyes opened. I took in a chilling breath of air that filled my lungs with life. While the moon lifted the tides, it carried my new soul along with it. Light radiated like a spotlight enveloping my body and erasing the shadows of my past that always lingered behind me. I had not lost life but I had shed the skin of my once broken and listless soul, revealing a new sense of self and a new sense of purpose.
I knew I had been given a second chance and I was not about to waste it. I knew I needed to save my own life. I decided it was time to speak up and talk about the darkness that was within me and it was the hardest first step that I had ever taken. Allowing myself to open up to anther individual and learn to trust again was a long process, but it came with a lifesaving reward.
I knew that with this new life I had the opportunity to make a difference. That’s exactly what I have dedicated my life to. Once I had found my light again, I made it my mission to help others find theirs.
I now advocate for suicide prevention across the Midwest as a spokesperson for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a worldwide ambassador for The Peyton Heart Project. Both of these organizations have a goal to raise awareness and bringing hope to all who are struggling.
The Peyton Heart Project mission truly gave me my purpose in life and has allowed me to literally scatter hope and light around the world. The Peyton Heart Project is a suicide prevention and anti-bullying project. Its mission is to raise awareness for suicide prevention worldwide in part by creating handmade hearts representing the lives we have lost to suicide and attaching messages of hope and available resources. These hearts are then scattered in public places for others to find. Peyton hearts have been scattered across every US state and abroad to 60 countries worldwide.
I am a worldwide ambassador for this project and the first to be from the state of North Dakota. After making my first heart, I couldn’t stop. I have made over 6,000 hearts for the project scattering 2,000 across 6 states. Each heart acts as the physical embodiment of hope. When I was lost in the darkness there seemed to be no hope and no one that was in sight that would understand the battle waging within me. Sometimes what humanity longs for most is compassion and kindness. By making and scattering hearts I have the opportunity to bring hope to someone who may need it most.
As an ambassador I have been able to represent the project and advocate for mental health with three North Dakota Mayors and discuss mental health policy with North Dakota Governor, Doug Burgum, I have shared my story and provided resources to thousands of students and have raised thousands of dollars for suicide prevention. I have put every ounce of my new life and light into fighting this battle. I fight not for my own sake and past suffering but for those who are still fighting and searching for their light.
In three short years my life has changed entirely. I started as a lost girl waking up on a park bench to becoming a business owner, pageant queen, an advocate for suicide prevention, a worldwide ambassador, and a Woman of the Year nominee. I made a decision right there on that bench to begin a new journey knowing that it would be challenging but ultimately ending in the greatest reward possible. We all have a mission in life and we discover it in unusual and unsuspecting ways. Mine happened to present itself to me when I had no ability to see through the fog lying ahead. I learned how to not only trust in the journey but to give myself to it entirely. Giving myself to a journey full of hope, healing, and light.
I have learned that your past does not define you. What you bring to the present and what you plan to bring to the future, that is what defines you. If I continued to allow my past to control my life, I would not be who I have become. I would not be penning these words. I encourage everyone I come across that there is always light. It’s not be easy to find, nor is it supposed to be but it is out there waiting for you with a purpose. I am forever grateful for the darkness. I am forever grateful for those chilling breaths on that cold morning. I am forever grateful for my journey to my light.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or having thoughts of suicide, please contact 24-hour Crisis Hotline at
or text the Crisis Text Line at
To find resources in your area or to become involved in the fight to prevent suicide, please visit www.AFSP.org.
Ava Hill is an ambassador for the Peyton Heart Project, an AFSP advocate and a public speaker; helping bring light to the commonly dark subject of mental health. The Peyton Heart Project is always looking for potential ambassadors, those who want to makes hearts, and donations. To learn more about The Peyton Heart Project or to contribute to the cause please visit www.thepeytonheartproject.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up with Miss Ava Hill on instagram @misskindredintl
For more stories on mental health and tips and tricks on how to overcome the trials and tribulations of mental health, be sure you order the Winter 2018/19 issue of The Volk!