It's been almost 13 years since Brandi Care Hicks tried to end her life, and the spiraling depression that engulfed it, by jumping from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. As she told parents of Arundel High School students about her near-tragedy Tuesday night, the Severna Park resident visibly choked up once — when speaking about the joys she would have missed had she lost her life that day.
Hicks, 29, spoke about her ordeal during "Mind, Body and Soul: A Mental Health Awareness Evening," which focused on identifying stressors in teens' lives. She relived her experience in vivid detail, reading from notes she had jotted leading up to the suicide attempt, the leap of more than 100 feet into the frigid Chesapeake Bay waters, the wrenching pain she felt (she suffered only bruises) while subsequently being rescued by boaters sailing nearby.
And the person who before the suicide attempt showed few signs of her inner struggles — excelling in the classroom and in sports — spoke gaining a sense of hope upon discovered that she that she suffered from a treatable depression. She spoke about how far she's come since her near-tragedy and subsequent recovery led to reports on "Oprah" and "Dateline NBC," the latter of which she featured during her speech.
Five years ago, she married her college sweetheart, Philip Hicks, whom she met at Virginia Tech. They now have two children, ages 4 and 2. Hicks has traveled extensively in Europe and now works as a project manager for Marriott International.
"Unfortunately when I was depressed and I didn't have my rational mind, I got to the point where I said, 'I don't care if I go to college, I don't care if I do this, I don't care if I do that,'" said Hicks. "It's just unbelievable what a great experience [college] was."
She showed on a projector screen snapshots of her stay in London with the Big Ben clock tower in the background, of Philip holding her in his arms on their wedding day and their children with faces covered in birthday cake.
"To me I can't fathom [nearly having] lost this dream and this hope of having a family and having children," Hicks said. "As a family now we get to build memories one moment at a time, and there are so many cool things, birthday parties, amusement parks, vacations. Even the day to day, the first time of potty on the toilet and all that cool stuff. Those are things that I might not have experienced."
It is Hicks' hope that her story and images inspires parents to read the warning signs of depression in their children before it's too late. Her speech was part of a program at the Gambrills school that featured breakout sessions on such topics as anxiety, substance abuse and cyberbullying.
"Our target was the parents," said Rebecca Schrader, school psychologist at Arundel High. "We felt our need was getting parents on board with the fact that mental illness affects everyone, and sometimes it's not just a teenager being a teenager."
Hicks is slated to speak at a student assembly at Chesapeake High School in April. She has also spoken at the University of Richmond, the Johns Hopkins University and at mental health organization events.
"To get me [to recovery] was just focusing on getting healthy, doing what I needed to do to get better and starting to share my story," said Hicks, who ultimately underwent medical treatment and counseling. In watching herself tell her story on national television shows, she says she can see how much she's grown and learned about herself through recovery time and educating herself about depression.
"When I talk and share the story, I feel like I'm connecting with people," Hicks said. "Sometimes I think to myself, 'Is this uncomfortable for them because it is so personal?' There have been many of times when I've cried while presenting. It's still such a personal thing, and I look back at the person I was and the story I'm telling, and it almost seems like a completely different person when I was actually depressed. "
Her message left an impression on parents who attended the event.
"A lot of things you don't realize what your children are going through," said Ingrid Colbert of Annapolis. "It was very interesting to see someone that has experience with depression and feeling so out of pocket that you would want to do that."
Hicks said that parents should look for warning signs even if their children are excelling in school and sports. Parents like Veronica Platt of Crofton said comments such as those were "an eye opener," and added, "It made you think that you may have a certain mindset that a person is depressed because of a certain lifestyle, but she proves that it can happen to anybody."