Amanda Stidam 

"My life was always about making my mom happy; being the person she could live vicariously through. 

I never realized this meant I had no identity of my own until she took her life. So, at the age of 35, one day after that milestone, I began the journey most of us begin at birth. It's taken me ten years to start to know who Amanda really is, and just as long to feel like it wasn't my fault that she left. 

I often speak about suicide and mental illness for mental health awareness events. I compare my life before Mom died to that of a ballerina in a jewelry box. 

When she opened the lid, I danced. The rest of the time, I waited for her to tell me what I was supposed to do. Don't get me wrong, I love my mom beyond all reason. Looking back, however, I know her mental illness manifested itself as she controlled and formed my identity into a puppet that acted out the life she wished she could have lived. 

It wasn't intentional on her part. She was coping and surviving with an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. I didn't know this wasn't normal. 

As children, our world is formed by example. As adults, we have to decide to change or hide behind our experiences. It's taken me ten years to finally start to be me; to live a life I've designed and can be proud of. 

It wasn't easy. I destroyed a lot of myself in the process and I hurt people who loved me. I'm not proud of some of the things I did and I didn't enjoy some of the lessons I learned, but it was worth the journey to get to where I am today. 

As bad as it sounds, one of the greatest gifts Mom gave me was taking suicide off the table for me. In those dark hours when I really want to leave this life, I remember all those lessons I had to learn after she died and I am brought back to myself. 

I can't subject my daughter to a life of questioning 'why,' and so I fight on to live a life designed by me. 

As much as I miss my mom, I know she's proud that I broke the cycle and can hold my head up and be proud of who I am. I speak out about the stigma of suicide and mental illness. I care for my own mental health and, most of all, I've learned that it's okay to love myself, flaws and all. 

If I could turn back the hands of time, I'd certainly try to help Mom stay here. I'd keep her close to me and my own beautiful girl... but it doesn't work like that. 

All I can do is learn and grow from the experience. I remember her as the smart and loving mom she was instead of how she left us."