On April 8, 2019, Gina's daughter Katie was pronounced brain dead as a result of taking her own life at the age of 23 years old. This was her 53rd suicide attempt.
Katie and Gina had been estranged for a couple of years prior to Katie's suicide. Years of Katie being in and out of mental health facilities put a strain on their relationship, and Katie came to a point that maybe it hurt her to face her mom--perhaps a reminder of her own hurt. As a mother it was agony for Gina to watch her child suffer inside for over a decade. The hours in the hospitals, the over 52 suicide attempts, they had Gina in a place that she often prayed that God would have mercy on Katie and end her pain.
Gina watched for two days as medical professionals did what was medically required to prove viable life unlikely so that Katie would be able to donate her organs as she would have wanted. Why? Because that first night at the hospital Gina made a promise to Katie--a promise that she would make sure that Katie's life counted--that she would help Katie give meaning to her suffering.
For over a decade Katie struggled with chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which also presented with severe psychogenic seizures. Not only did her seizures cause medical concerns, but also the increasing severity of Katie's attempts. When Katie died, she was in a physical rehabilitation center learning how to walk again after her most recent suicide attempt. Katie experienced good days, great days and also hard days. She struggled to love herself and she wanted desperately to be loved. She was loved much more than she was able to see.
Katie was an amazing young woman. She loved animals. She had a gentle spirit. She had a smile that lit up the room, and a mind like no other. Katie saw things as they are as well as how they could be. She would sacrifice herself to help another, and would smile through the pain. One of her greatest dreams was to become a doctor and it is through her death that she was able to help countless others through organ and tissue donation. Katie’s life mattered. Your life matters too.
"It wasn’t until months later that I was able to bring myself to read some of the journals she kept during her times in the hospital. It felt like a violation of privacy at first, then disbelief and heartache over what I read, until finally incredible compassion for the battles that she fought I had known nothing about."~ Gina Casner
Katie’s journals became Gina's last source of connection to her daughter, and they told a story--Katie's story. But not just her story, the story of others she had helped even in her darkest hours, quotes she loved, songs she had heard, and random hopes for the future. Katie's journals became a way for Gina to understand a glimmer of what deep depression and mental illness can feel like and she knew that these journals were a way that she could help her to help others.
It is true that Katie is no longer physically with us, but her story lives on and is helping countless others to realize the need for suicide prevention, the need to strengthen community, and to help bring others together in order to come out of their suffering.
Katie did not want to die. She wanted to stop feeling the pain that she so deeply felt so much of the time.
If Katie were sitting next to you right now, she would want you to know that you matter and to hope always for a brighter day. You too, can become Chronically Strong.