Brockville man rebuilds life after suicide attempts

Paul DeSchiffart skates over a sheet of ice in his backyard every night, hockey stick in hands, to clear his head and remind himself everything gets better.
Paul DeSchiffart, 23, is rebuilding his life after multiple suicide attempts. ((CBC))

Paul DeSchiffart skates over a sheet of ice in his Brockville, Ont., backyard every night, hockey stick in hands, to clear his head and remind himself everything gets better.

The skate is part of 23-year-old DeSchiffart's work to rebuild his life, one year after trying to commit suicide on multiple occasions.

He became depressed during his second year of studies at Carleton University. His long-term girlfriend broke up with him, and he started drinking and doing hard drugs daily. His depression got worse, but he kept it hidden.

"I just let things build up over time, and never really took care of anything. I think I cried myself to sleep every night thinking 'when's this going to stop?'" DeSchiffart said.

"Eventually it got to the point where I just couldn't handle it anymore."

DeSchiffart dropped out of classes and moved home, but like most depressed youth he stayed silent about how he was feeling.

It's estimated one-in-five teenagers in Ottawa will struggle with depression, the largest risk factor for suicide.

Family saw warning signs

Suicide prevention

Groups that provide support to youth:

Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario (1-877-377-7775)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa (613-260-2360)

Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth (613-264-1415)

"We knew that there was stuff going on," DeSchiffart's mother Trish said. "And we're like, 'what is he doing?'"

DeSchiffart seemed to be in a constant daze, she said, and would isolate himself for weeks at a time.

"We would try to confront him about it," Trish said, but each time DeSchiffart would reassure her that he was fine, or that he would talk to someone.

"It was hard. And how far do you push? What do you do?" she said.

DeSchiffart admits now that he put a "a mask on" for everyone, but that he kept his depression inside.

"I had so much sadness ... there was no light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the end of the tunnel was suicide. That finally I won't have to live," he said. DeSchiffart said he attempted suicide 10 times in 2009, but each time he would either fail or back down at the last moment.

"It got to the point where I would be doing something at work, and people would be talking beside me, and I wouldn't hear a word they were saying -- all I was thinking about was how I was going to kill myself when I got home," DeSchiffart said.

DeSchiffart hits bottom

He said his lowest point happened that November, when he wrote a suicide note and headed down to train tracks nearby his family's home. He hid in the bushes to wait for a train to come.

During that time his ex-girlfriend called his mother, who woke to find his note and see her son was out.

"It was horrible. Fear just welling up in you, like, 'where is he?'" Trish said.

She drove frantically through town, pulling up beside the tracks just as her son emerged from the bushes with a train visible in the distance.

Trish persuaded him to come home, and the next day he was sent to the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital.

"He was so distraught. His tears, saliva ... he was just a mess," Trish said. "I felt so bad for him."

DeSchiffart received two months of treatment and counselling for his depression and substance abuse, and is now working to rebuild his life.

Rebuilding a life

He works a construction job, has a new girlfriend and car, and has a new outlook on life.

"I can't say things are perfect — Ha! Who can? But things have gotten a lot better," DeSchiffart said.

In the future he hopes to go back to university where he will study to become a counsellor. 

"You just gotta remember that things do get better," DeSchiffart said.