Having a successful kidney transplant should have been a joyous occasion, Dan Hemsworth thought.
But for him, the happiness and gratitude he expected after his surgery were glaringly absent.
Dan, a hockey coach in Salmon Arm, explained that in 2018 his spouse Jess donated her kidney to him.
Staying in Vancouver together right after the transplant, he felt flat, devoid of feeling.
She asked him a question and, suddenly, it became clear. He realized he was suffering from depression.
“I had no emotion about the surgery, I had no emotion for my dear wife who just gave me the biggest gift in my life. It was crushing to me and her.”
When they got home to Salmon Arm, life got busy again.
“Things were happening, but I didn’t go and deal with the guilt I felt, not sharing that joyous occasion with my wife. Feeling guilty, I just kept on waiting and waiting and waiting.”
And he just kept feeling worse and worse, more ashamed, spiralling into a dark well of despair. In December of that year, he made a decision.
“You’re better off not around as you’re making everybody feel bad,” he thought to himself.
His decision was suicide. He wrote notes for his wife and kids, apologizing and expressing his love for them.
But just as he was about to carry out his plan, a voice in his head said, “No!”
He snapped out of where he was at that moment and began to cry. That turned out to be the beginning of relief and healing.
Dan explains that, as a child, he felt a weight but always tried to hold his feelings inside and deal with them himself.
He said he didn’t have a bad childhood but he felt dark inside.
“Until I got to the point where I attempted suicide, I thought I could handle it myself.”
Dan realized he needed to talk to somebody, so he went to a counsellor.
He said he felt horrible and disgusted with himself after what he’d just been through, but the counsellor said he needed that point to move through his life and feel better. What the counsellor said resonated with him – that he didn’t have to feel guilty.
“It took such a weight off me.”
Dan thought of cancelling the next appointment because he was feeling so good, but he didn’t.
Key for him was to be honest about what he talked about, he said. Without being open and vulnerable, he couldn’t have received the help to truly get better.
He said he and his wife’s beliefs aren’t aligned with medicating.
“That’s why I say if you talk honestly, it’s the best. For me it was the best medication.
“I’ve always kept my feelings inside and never shared them, and to me, it was a whole new world.”
He said when he was growing up playing hockey, things were different, with no concussion protocols, for instance.
If you “got your bell rung,” you were on the bench for a bit and then back on the ice.
“That’s how we grew up, you don’t cry.”
Dan said last year a parent reached out to him about their child who was struggling. He let the young person know that he was available if they wanted to talk.
After that, he realized that sharing his story can be useful both to him and to others.
He said with today’s world and all the social media, “kids are influenced by so many things that don’t allow them to be true to who they are.”
“If I can help them understand to be proud of who they are, they will be stronger and better.”
He urges young people, if they are struggling, to let somebody know, somebody who they know they can go to who will listen or who can facilitate help. Perhaps that means parents, or him, or a professional.
Dan points to COVID-19, and how hard it’s been on everybody.
“It’s added more stress, more challenges, it weighs on people.”
He said while ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ is good, it’s just one day.
“It has to be every day we check in with the ones we love.”
Dan also shared his story on the Salmon Arm Minor Hockey Association website.
To learn about resources in Salmon Arm and area, you can reach the local Canadian Mental Health Association branch by calling 250-832-8477, going to their website at www.shuswap-revelstoke.cmha.bc.ca or their Facebook page, Canadian Mental Health Association Shuswap-Revelstoke.
More information is available about suicide prevention on the CMHA website on the Ask About Suicide page.
If you or someone you know is in crisis now, you’re asked to call the local crisis line at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or call 911.