2 Connecticut women look to help, inspire others facing mental health struggles

Nyberg

(WTNH) — The world is difficult these days. People of all ages are struggling. Two women who know despair are coming to rescue others.

Melissa Bernstein of Westport founded the half-billion toy company called Melissa & Doug with her husband. Bernstein is going public with the dark part of her life, detailing it in a new book called LifeLines.

“You look at me and you think, she has it all. I mean, if you see some of my photos, six children all doing well. More material goods than she can imagine, a very large company that’s growing and thriving. Like what more could the woman want? But the truth is, despite all that, I was absolutely empty inside,” Bernstein said.

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Melissa Bernstein never fit in. From the time she was a little girl, she knew that. She’s an introvert, spent most of her childhood alone creating things in her head, even two imaginary friends, and read the thesaurus for fun as words are everything to her. People validated that she was different which left her feeling worthless.

“They said you’re so… usually it was, ‘You’re so weird,’ ‘You’re so emotional,’ ‘You’re so strange,’ ‘You’re so overly intellectual,’ ‘You speak with big words.’ I think I got this message early on that I wasn’t okay as I was.”

She suppressed who she really was and went inward to survive.

“I thought that perfection was the only way and that humans could only show that everything was amazing. Feeling great meant I was worthless and I truly believe that with every ounce of my being to the point I nearly killed myself,” Bernstein said. “Creating was my salvation. For thoughts that were so dark and so despairing that if I didn’t channel them into something I would have drowned or taken my life.”

She wrote thousands of verses as a kid and into adulthood to try to express her feelings and squirreled them away never sharing them until now. They’re in her book LifeLines. Her hope is her words will resonate with those longing to be understood.

Her message – those who create wonderful things march to a different drummer, Don’t discount them.

“From composers to poets, they say 60 to 90 percent are depressed and no wonder because what you’re writing about is trying to come to terms with some of the incongruities and despair that life has to offer.”

Creating tens of thousands of toys saved her.

It’s a mission also shared by Gillian Anderson of Trumbull. Anderson lost her 15-year old daughter to suicide.

“My daughter Abbey took her own life at the age of 15 six years ago and it was her friends that really empowered me to want to make a difference and help others, to open up and talk about mental health, mental wellness and suicide prevention.”

Anderson says Abby was so good at hiding her pain, which is not unusual for people suffering from depression.

Related: CDC grants Connecticut $3.5 million for suicide prevention

“It just seemed like things were going really well. That things were improving. That’s what she lead us to believe. That’s a side of her that she wanted everyone to see. It wasn’t just us as a family. It was also her friends. Her closest friends, her best friends, didn’t even know that she was struggling,” Anderson added.

There is such a stigma around mental health which can lead to shame, and that has to stop.

“Believe me. When you are alone and in that dark hole and you think that you are the only one struggling and that you’re not worthy, the disease is really telling you that you’re not worthy and it’s going to be best for everyone. It’s heartbreaking It’s absolutely heartbreaking as a parent to understand that.”

One year ago, My Friend Abby was formed. Right from the start, the Andersons let the community really know why Abbey died. They wanted to be honest to help others.

Melissa calls Gillian her hero. In their own ways, they are creating movements to others they are not alone, ever.

The message here is being human is imperfect, and that’s okay. If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help out there. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is free, confidential and provides 24/7 support.

Crisis Text Line is free as well, providing 24/7 support. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.

Both Gillian and Melissa will be featured in My Friend Abby’s Get Real Conversations on Thursday at 7 pm. You can sign up for the event here.

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