Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Telly James uses his past to educate community members about the risks and signs of suicide.
“I suffered with suicidal thoughts from when I was 17 until… to be honest…I’m being extremely real… up until now.” Says James.
James tells his story for two reasons: it helps him come to peace with it and it offers whoevers listening that can relate, that they’re not alone.
James believes troubled youth spend too much time wondering if they’re the only one experiencing their pain, and that by sharing his story, they can easily accept it.
“It frees up your imagination to go out and do something, or create something.” Says James.
The aboriginal suicide rate is three times that of the general Canadian population, and on the 3,100 Indian reserves across Canada, aboriginal youth are five-six times more likely to commit suicide than general Canadian youth.
James could’ve been one of those statistics.
One night James’ mother had sat him down. He had gotten into trouble the night before and thought he was in for a lecture.
“She threw a pack of smokes at me and said ‘here, you’re going to need these’ I was like ‘for-real?! A pack of smokes? I ought to piss my mom off more often.”
But this time she was not only angry. This time she had something to tell him that would change much in his life.
“I knew what she was leading up to, I just wanted to hear her say it, but I (could) already feel myself coming apart inside,” said James.
When James was 17 he had found out that the man who raised him, and the man he called dad, was not his biological father.
“Almost like those cartoons, when someone gets punched in the teeth and they shatter slowly piece by piece? That was my heart.” Knowing this sent James down a dark spiral of suicidal thoughts, he said.
From there on, James said he lost the motivation to live, and he resorted to partying and alcohol to fill that void.
James said that he harnesses his questions of identify and loss to help others. He knows what it’s like to be in that pain, and to feel that hopelessness.
James can laugh at his past now, but adolescent mischief, loss of identity and a rough relationship with his parents left him vulnerable for suicidal behavior and thoughts.
Today, James is 37 and a father of two girls, he is also a successful stage actor with appearances in the critically acclaimed TV series Blackstone, and CityTV’s Young Drunk Punk. He is also a prominent figure in his First Nation community, through his work at Siksika Health Services as the Suicide Prevention Coordinator.
“We have to share our stories so we can find the humanity in one another.”
He stresses that he places no blame on his parents. Both had gone through Indian Residential Schools. His father attended St. Mary’s Residential School on the Blood reserve, and his mother the Old Sun Residential School on Siksika Nation. He says both were just trying to keep sane while raising a family.
“They gave me all they got, even if it wasn’t much.”
It’s been a resilient journey for James, and he thanks his parents for teaching him the profound lesson of not judging people by one single action: “we have to show our parents a little more grace, and not expect that we had to have that cookie cutter childhood.”