Edmonton man raising mental health awareness with Movember campaign
‘I’m hopeful that my story will help other people realize that there’s help and support out there’
Seven years ago, Darwin Li was trapped under a capsized dragon boat on the North Saskatchewan River. A teammate was able to pull him out fairly quickly, but the minutes he spent struggling under the water have stuck with Li since that day.
"There was a moment where I was about to lose consciousness ... I was [taking] my last waking breath and it was full-on panic. That's when [my teammate] reached her hand down, and that was an amazing feeling," Li said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"For something that happened so quickly, it's had a lasting effect. I haven't been quite the same person."
Li, who coaches the Oil City Crew Dragon Boat Club, experienced frequent panic attacks and flashbacks before he was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety in 2012.
Despite spending 16 years coaching and competing at the national level in dragon boating, Li said he had to force himself to step onto a boat again several days after the incident.
It took a co-worker sharing his own experience with PTSD to help Li understand what he was going through. After that, he sought out professional help to cope with the trauma.
Now Li is sharing his story and raising money as a part of the annual Movember campaign, in the hopes of helping other men overcome the stigma of struggling with their mental health.
When Li shared his struggles with friends, family, teammates, even strangers, he said they opened up to him in turn about their own challenges.
"I respect that and we share a bond," he said.
Turning his near-death experience into something that could benefit others has also helped Li heal.
"It has centred me and given me reason and purpose to my life," he said.
Li acknowledged that he'll likely struggle with PTSD his whole life. A couple of months ago, he was watching Gravity, and was triggered by a scene where water floods into a small compartment.
"It's the kind of thing that never really leaves you," he said.
Since the near-drowning, Li has learned how to recognize his trigger points and control his symptoms.
"I'm hopeful that my story will help other people realize that there's help and support out there," he said.
"The main thing is, you're not alone."