The Jennie James Depression Research Fund – What is it?

20 Apr

I struggled with what to call this post.  My working title was “Who was Jennie?”, but that didn’t seem right.  You see, despite the face that Jennie is not physically present on earth anymore, I couldn’t bring myself to write in the past tense.  I really wanted to call this post “Who IS Jennie” because to me, Jennie is still very present.  She’s in my mind and my heart.   To me  Jennie is present in beautiful days and in every time I am thankful for how far I have come in my own journey.  To me, she is in every dressed woman with a great manicure because that was her!  She is in the sound of her unique “radio announcer voice” in my mind and she’s in my mental photographes of her brown eyes wide as she’s telling a great story. 

I first met Jennie in April of 2002.  We met at a time when we were both struggling with a major depression and had each left our lives in Toronto to come back to Ottawa and live with family.  Jennie was 30 years old, the exact age I am now.  I was 22. 

We met in what were probably some of the worst days in our lives, but managed to form an instant friendship.  Jennie beautiful, well-travelled, well-educated, intelligent, and warm seemed to have everything going for her.   Even on her worst days she had lipstick perfectly applied – a signature shade of reddish-brown to match her beautiful wavy brown hair.  Under the confident and well packaged exterior,  there was pain.  I knew all too well the lows she was experiencing and the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that were following her around at that time in her life.   Despite this, she always there to offer a hug, a kind word or to crack a joke.  She cared for and connected with people easily and still managed to retain this part of her spirit under the weight of a major depression.

I formed what I felt was a special bond with Jennie when we met.  While we lost contact  at times due to moves or old email accounts, the universe found a way to bring us back together via a chance encounter.  This allowed us to continue our friendship from our most challenging days into recovery.  I was lucky to see Jennie when she was at her best: starting a new career, a new relationship and moving into a cute new apartment.  Due to the similarities in our stories we were able to relate and share feelings that it seemed no one else could understand.

Jennie and I began new jobs at about the same time.  While Jennie’s job offered her the flexibility to do what she needed to maintain good health, mine did not.  I quickly became overwhelmed by the pressures associated with my new role and reached out to Jennie for support.  She was there to offer sage advice, and when things really fell apart for me, Jennie was there to pick me up, dust me off and assure me that brighter days would return.  She helped me believe that everything would be ok and that I would not be unemployed forever. She firmily assured me that I was certainly not the loser I felt I was.  Her support at that time was critical: she knew exactly where I was at and was able to offer me the right words to help me to bounce back more quickly than I would have otherwise.  Watching her excel in her new job made me feel like I could also and that there was hope that I could one day manage my illness and a career.

The last time Jennie and I spent time together we  sat in her apartment drinking wine, eating take out, sharing stories and giggling about our new-found loves.  That evening everything felt right and I could see live taking a turn for her – she was thinking about a future, enjoying her job and living fully. 

In losing her I felt that I didn’t appreciate that time enough. I wish now that I would have lingered longer over that conversation and those last sips of wine to save up those moments with her for when I needed them in the future.

Jennie died by suicide on July 5, 2003.  She was 33.  For all those who had the pleasure of knowing or being close to Jennie it was an indescribable loss. 

Despite the sadness surrounding this loss, I feel that in Jennie’s passing I was given the push I needed to get serious about taking care of my own mental health.  I had coasted for too long without ensuring I had the supports I needed in place.  It set me on a journey to get more consistent support.  In death, Jennie was once again there to give me direction when I needed it.

To my beautiful friend Jennie who inspired many smiles, laughs, feelings of comfort and gave me direction – I’m so excited to honor you through this fundraiser.   I’m thinking of your beautiful smile, laugh and voice knowing you’d be proud.

The Royal has provided the story of how Jennie’s Fund was established by her family, which I’m pleased to share with you here:

 “About Jennie

Jennie was a beautiful, gregarious, and intelligent young woman. We remember her ability to light up a room with her quick wit and her keen interest in others. She had a remarkable and very unique ability to offer her friends relevant guidance and support without judgment. She was accomplished professionally. She held a graduate degree with distinction.

In fact, at quick glance Jennie was a young woman who had the world at her finger tips. And she did; until her mental illness began to cripple her. Jennie suffered from clinical depression for most of her adult life. She was hospitalized for several months in 2003 with a major depressive episode. With the care of professionals at the Royal Ottawa’s Mood Disorders Clinic, she embarked on a remarkable recovery to become fully functioning. In 2005 her illness began to cripple her again. In her own words “the pain and darkness has come back like an old friend.” After years of suffering from this pain; Jennie died by suicide on July 3, 2005. She was just 33 years old.

What we have learned about Jennie’s journey with this debilitating disease is that it is misunderstood and stigmatized. Even the medical diagnosis and treatment of depression is not well understood and defined. We have also learned how powerless family and friends can be.

We did not have the power to save Jennie from her dark days or from her decision to end her life. What we have today is the power to promote awareness, understanding, research, and treatment of depression. We have the power to end the silence surrounding suicide.

Our family has established a fund in Jennie’s name to support specialized depression research and in particular, research that will contribute to better and more effective diagnosis and treatments that will have a measurable impact of the reduction of deaths due to suicide.

Ben James and the James Family


2 Responses to “The Jennie James Depression Research Fund – What is it?”

  1. Francine April 21, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    You are quite the woman Miss Laura Hammond. Thank you for sharing this personal story….you are a true inspiration and I’m so blessed to have you in my life. I have no doubt that Jennie is smiling down at you… proudly.

    Francine xo

  2. Pat Button May 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    A great story for a great girl!

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