I wrote this post not only on to have my voice heard, but on behalf of a sweet, funny and caring voice that sadly can no longer be heard. A voice that has left this world far too soon. A voice that fought a hard battle against mental illness, but sadly was taken by it. A voice that I can still hear perfectly, that I will remember and cherish every single day because it was truly such a special, a one-of-a-kind voice.
Jord, this is for you:
Jordana Stepak was my cousin, but she was also my best friend. My grandfather remarried her grandmother when we were 5 years old. Needless to say, she had been in my life for as long as I can remember. I have the best memories celebrating every Jewish holiday and birthday together at our grandparents when we were young. Running up and down the hallways of their building, swimming in their indoor pool, and indulging in the most delicious Friday night dinners with our massive extended family. If anyone ever asked Jord or me how we were related, our answers would be, we’re cousins, we’re blood. Because that was how we felt about each other.
As the years went on, our friendship really grew into something special and unique when we entered university. I went to Ryerson and Jordana was studying History at Dalhousie. The two of us had a lot in common, from our love for Pacey from Dawson's Creek, to our obsession for Young & The Restless and other horribly amazing television shows that we would discuss on a weekly basis.
Let me tell you a little bit about Jordana. She was a shopper. She was so good at it that she became my own personal shopper. Jordana thought that I needed a lot of help since I hailed from Kitchener, with my questionable street style and sparkly blue eye shadow... think Tai makeover from Clueless. Jord was proud of the strides I made finally transitioning into a somewhat fashionable Torontonian.
Eating together was probably one of our favorite activities. We could enjoy eating a grilled cheese or relishing in foie gras at the finest restaurants in the city. As long as there was food, there was always great conversation to follow. Boy drama, that was usually the number one topic of conversation for us, we could talk for hours playing out situations and discussing our horrible dating lives. I’d usually be in tears from Jordana’s self-deprecating stories.
Over the years, I visited Jord at Dal where she drank me under the table at St. Patty's day, we traveled to Mexico together, and celebrated every milestone together. When my nieces came into the world, ‘Ordy’, as they liked to call her, was their honorary Auntie. Jord joined us in monthly taco nights at my sisters and endless babysitting hours that we happily banked together, playing and laughing hysterically together until we passed out likely before the toddlers did.
Jord and I had an unbreakable bond. My favorite though was the way that she could make me laugh, until I was in tears. I will miss that more than anything. She was overly dramatic (but that's honestly one of the things I loved most about her) which made her the BEST storyteller. She was sincerely compassionate, she lifted people up, she made people smile, was self-deprecating, sarcastic and undeniably hilarious.
Jordana lit up a room. Her beauty was blatantly obvious. Not only was her outer beauty obviously radiant, but it was the beauty inside her that made her so special. Jordana knew how to make people feel amazing about themselves. She could see the beauty, courage, and determination in others that she sadly couldn't see in herself. I remember a conversation Jord and I had recently, I had just been let go from my job, my boyfriend broke up with me and it really just wasn't my month. I remember we were having dinner and she looked at me and said "How do you do it Stace? How do you deal with all of this and still get out of bed everyday and function? If it was me I would be having a breakdown." I never thought much of the comment then, but obviously hindsight is 20/20. I told her "I just, do. Because really what other choice do I have? I'm not going to sit at home everyday and be miserable.” Looking back I realize, what Jordana saw as a mountain, I saw as a molehill.
On February 4 of this year, my world was changed forever. That was the day that Jordana took her own life, the day I lost my cousin, my best friend. I still have a hard time believing it. My stomach turns and my heart aches for the loss that I feel inside knowing that I can't pick up the phone and call her, but what hurts even more is that I didn't know the deep suffering that she was going through. When Jordana was around me, she was always happy. She had anxieties, but in this day and age, quite frankly, who doesn’t. She hid it well. As close as we were, I never truly knew the deep suffering she was going through. I wonder everyday if I could have done something to help her, if anyone could have.
Life has been different since February 4. I think about her every day. I feel a hole in my heart that wasn't there before but I also appreciate life more. I try and tell the people who I care for that I love them, everyday. I try and make an effort to be nicer to people, because you truly never know what people are going through. I made amends with people who I had petty fights with; I try to not take things for granted, because I know how fortunate I am to be on this earth. I have made these changes because of Jord.
Here's what I take away from this heart breaking experience and loss and here is what I want to share with all of you. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, big or small, we are so quick to judge people based on appearances, rumors, petty drama, but we truly don't know what goes on behind closed doors. I think we all need to be a little bit nicer to people. It goes a long way. I also realize that mental illness does not discriminate, beautiful, smart, young, old, funny, outgoing, good family, Jewish, Christian, it doesn’t matter. We need to stand up against the stigma and fight this battle together.
For anyone suffering silently from any kind of mental illness, please, I beg you, to tell someone. I wish Jordana would have told me. You need to know that people care about you. You are loved. You are not in this alone. It may seem hopeless at times but there is a way out of the darkness. You can find the courage to speak up. I think campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk Day are incredible, and it does give people an outlet to talk, but we should be talking 365 days a year about this stuff. We can’t be afraid to talk about it. That’s the only way we are going to shatter the stigma of mental illness.
I wish Jordana could have seen how incredibly much she was loved, I wish I could have helped her out of the darkness. I wish she would have told me, or told someone how she was feeling. We had so much more living to do together, places to travel, celebrate our dreaded 30th birthdays, march in each others weddings and have kids of our own one day, grow old together. But I know she is looking down on me, on all of the many people she loved, watching over us.
My heart will never fully mend, but I will do my best to honor Jord and celebrate life each and every day. I will miss our vacations, our taco nights at my sisters, playing hairdresser together with my nieces who adored her, gossiping on the phone for hours, dinner dates at Caren's Wine Bar, and discussing Y&R but I will still do these things for her, and think of her always. I love you Jord. xo
If you are wondering how you can help, there are many ways to do so. You can share your voice, like I did. The Dialogue Project is an amazing outlet to have voices like mine heard, and others who have struggled with any kind of mental health issues. Quite frankly, there is something very therapeutic about writing a Voices entry. It allows you to face your fears, be honest, be brave, be heard, be proud, and the greatest reward of all, you have the chance to help others who may be suffering, and you could save a life. If you would like to donate towards mental health causes in honor of Jordana, I would strongly recommend The Dialogue Project. They sell beautiful totes, pouches and tees with their symbolic elephant beautifully illustrated on their items, which represents the proverbial 'elephant in the room’. Together we can all help break down the stigma associated with mental health, and it starts with you.