It's amazing how one young girl created such massive change and growth. What power she left in the hands of her mom and the courage it has taken for her to carry it all out.
There has been lots of changes in the last two years. People are speaking out more about mental health; trying to erase the stigma that surrounds it. This is a good thing. People shouldn't have to suffer alone and people shouldn't feel they need to hide it. It's hard enough in this life when you are healthy mentally; add a dose of depression in there or anxiety and life can be debilitating. There has been more awareness on how we treat each other as human beings. You see the line "everyone has a story" posted often. Everyone does have a story. Some are far more difficult to read than others. Some people are forthcoming with their stories and others find such shame and sadness with their stories it makes it hard to express so it remains bottled.
Nowadays, keeping an open line of communication with kids is essential but what is more essential is actually listening to what they are saying. Listening without judgment and actually hearing their words. It's true when they say everyone wants to be heard. What is never said is that some people actually find it too hard to talk about the things that are hurting their souls. It doesn't mean they aren't screaming on the inside that they want to share; they are just to afraid or ashamed or just can't.
For me, through the process of creating art I find the words. They may not be seen on the finished piece and they may never be 'heard' by another person but they are there. Under each layer is a thought, a story a moment. We need to recognize that not only do people all people have a story but they tell it in different ways; we just need to pay attention and see the clues for how they are trying to show us.
Below is a post I wrote last year, a few days before the first anniversary of Amanda's death. It shares a bit of the back story on the creation of the piece, Snowflakes for a Cause. FULL proceeds of this print will go to the Amanda Todd Legacy Society.
Snowflakes and a Cause….
Published October 7, 2013
Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd has done something that many can’t even fathom. She has taken the grief from her daughter’s suicide and channelled it into bringing awareness to the issues of mental health and bullying. Having had many conversations with Carol over the course of the past year I knew Carol enjoyed my art and, on many occasions she has told me Amanda would have liked it too. During the evening of September 10th I got an idea to create a piece of art for Carol and zipped out to grab a canvas. Paint and ink flew onto the canvas like a fast moving river. Pinks for bullying awareness. Purples for mental health along with being Amanda’s favourite colour. Yellow for light and happiness. Snowflakes all different, unique, like people; Amanda is Carol’s Princess Snowflake. Two purple snowflakes to represent Carol and Amanda. Words representing courage, love, peace etched like writing on a wall. They’re the words I am, the words I want to be.
The original of this piece hangs at Carol’s house. To help raise money for the Amanda Todd Legacy Fund I am selling PRINTS of this image through my Etsy shop for $20 ( including shipping costs). All proceeds will be donated to the Amanda Todd Legacy Society. We all have a teenager in our lives, or a teenager within us, that deserves a fighting chance in today’s society. Let’s help Carol create a better place for our kids and each other.
My Connection to the Amanda Todd Story
As we approach the one year mark of Amanda Todd’s death I wonder if we have learned anything as a society. I wonder, at what point, kids will stop taking their own lives. When I was growing up, it wasn’t an option. It was never heard of. Kids were picked on, I was picked on. It was like a right of passage through high school. You knew who the shit dealers were and you and your friends stayed away from them. Photos were developed at the mall and everyone on their way to Zellers could see your pictures as they dropped down. You had to wait to develop that roll you took to see if any of the pictures you took even turned out. There was no instant gratification, we waited. If you wanted to get in touch with one of your friends, you had to wait until you got home from school and phone them. We didn’t have phones we could take with us. Our phones were connected to a wall. And, if your friend’s mother or father or older sibling was on the phone you got that dreaded busy signal in your ear for what seemed like an eternity! Songs were recorded on a tape and every kid wanted a walkman. How cool were those? Now, kids have instant gratification rolled up in one or two devices; their phone or their iPods. Before they even leave the school grounds someone has texted or snapchatted them. Their ask.fm sites are riddled with hate and stupid questions ~ and, most of them, anonymously. Yes, I read the ask.fm posts. I see the hate kids leave on each other’s pages. ”Go kill yourself” and “No one likes you why don’t you kill yourself” are common phrases masked behind an anonymous user. We live in a time where kids hide behind computers and typing words on a screen has no emotion. They are words and don’t cut as deep as hearing them come from a person. WRONG! What is missing is the look on the recipients face. What is unseen is the person reading who crumbles inside and feels so low and broken he or she can’t speak. What is missing is the human connection that comes with saying words to someone’s face or hearing their voice. Emotion is missing. Tone is missing. Names are missing. I often wonder how these kids could even think of half the shit they write. When I read these posts I see one thing. Kids trying to fit in. I see kids, being teenagers and trying to find their way. I see some kids with so much insecurity that they are placing their value and self worth on some anonymous person’s words. Having someone, anyone tell you that you are pretty can mean the world to a teenage girl, especially when perhaps you don’t see yourself as pretty. Reading the words, “you are ugly and no one likes you” will leave a far greater scar on the human spirit.
I tell my daughter and her friends, just get through high school and I promise your world will open up like you never imagined. What you don’t know in the early stages of high school is that there really is a great big world out there full of promise and joy. In high school it feels like you will never get out alive. It can be scary. Kids can be mean. Teenage girls can be really mean. It may feel like too much but you will make it through.
Amanda Todd made a mistake in judgment. Lots of kids today make the same mistake. It is so easy to see how, in a world of instant gratification and buttons to upload at our fingertips how easy and damaging that is.
In one second everything could change. One second.
YOLO has been taken in the wrong context. You only live once is suppose to mean live your life to the fullest. It appears, among our youth it means do stupid stuff because you only live once. Well… that split second decision could be your last. I am YOLOing myself, hoping that the life I am living is full of joy, possibilities, loads of love, adventure and laughter.
I never knew Amanda, personally. I knew of Amanda because a very good friend of mine was one of her teachers. I knew she was at risk of self harm. I knew many were trying to help and were hopeful. I saw her video when she first published it and I was so deeply moved by this young woman. Her courage. Her beauty. Her vulnerability and creativity. I knew I would have the opportunity to work with her at her school and wrote what courage and creativity she had and I looked forward to hopefully meeting her. I wanted to create art with her. I wanted to show her that there was another way to communicate her heartache, her visions, her beauty and creativity through art and let her know she was someone to me.
I never had that chance.
October 10th, 2012 I awoke to text from my dear friend telling me Amanda had taken her life. Even though I hadn’t known her personally, I was so deeply saddened. My heart ached for her mother, Carol. My heart ached for my friend and, even though I said to her “just know you did enough” I knew there would be blame and deep, deep anguish. How do you heal from such heartache? The video Amanda made went viral and the whole world knew her name, her story and, just like that, the blame and judgment started. Why oh why do we, as a society, feel the need to judge situations that are not ours? That need to tell someone else’s story and say how you would have dealt with it. No one truly knows how they would deal with something until it happens so we should find compassion and understanding rather than judgment.
I create when I need to work something out. I felt all kinds of sad and, yet, knew that video was going to be powerful. The card Creative, Brave, Courageous and Free came from an original piece I made for Carol days after Amanda took her life. I needed Carol to know I was thinking of her and that I thought her daughter was creative, brave, courageous and free. I added the words free because I knew that to some degree Amanda was free from the hurt and anguish of what she was fighting.
I had the privilege of attending the CABE’s Christmas lunch at Amanda’s former school a few months later and had the opportunity to meet Carol. When I first saw Carol, she was crying. I was surprised she could get out of bed. I asked her if she wanted to come sit with me at my table. We sat with another young man, a close friend of Amanda’s who is such a great guy. We talked. I listened. She cried and I tried not to. We hugged and I told her with time, I hoped she would be ok. What do you say to someone who’s daughter just took her life? We connected on Facebook and a friendship of sorts bloomed with late night chats. Sometimes we need not speak but simply listen and allow someone to work their stuff out without judgment on the should be doings of life. I have never walked a day in Carol’s shoes and therefore have no place to pass judgment. I think she, like her daughter has great courage and is so very brave. I could not imagine taking the trauma she has endured and waking each day with such fierce passion for change. Change with mental health. Change with how we connect online. Change with our youth and how they connect with each other. There have been many more families who have sadly had to face the same mirror each morning where they look into the reflection and wonder what happened and the oh how I wished…. But alas, that one second changed everything. We must care more deeply about our youth. We must care more deeply about each other.
Amanda had a dream to help kids. The Amanda Todd Legacy Society was set up in her memory to help raise awareness for mental health and bullying. Kids need to know there are people who care and love them and can help them. Carol writes her own blog and is very up to date with all the goings on in social media with links to helpful sites and different conversations. You can catch up with Carol here: http://caroltoddsnowflakes.wordpress.com/.