A page from The Next Day.
Tina Kardassis, 34, has had a lot of rebuilding to do. As one of four interview subjects for The Next Day, a new graphic novella and interactive animated documentary based on surviving attempted suicide, she has opened up and revealed some of the most intimate details of her life—but for a good reason.
“I went through hell as a kid, and I just don’t think there’s enough education about depression,” she says. “To me, depression was when somebody died, and you were sad about it, so I didn’t know what was wrong with me. […] My suicide attempt is one of the things I’m most ashamed of in my life, so this was my chance to turn a negative into a positive, and be able to help others.”
This is the driving hope behind The Next Day, published by the innovative new multimedia company Pop Sandbox (the people behind last year’s highly acclaimed graphic novel Kenk, based on Toronto’s infamous bike thief). The graphic novella, illustrated in a touchingly simple, child-like style by American comic book artist John Porcellino, launched last night to an overflowing room at the National Film Board.
The project is the brainchild of Paul Peterson, a former counsellor, who conceived of the idea about 10 years ago after coming across a wrecked car being towed away on a snowy day in Napanee. He later learned that the car’s driver, intoxicated, had gone home afterwards and killed himself with his cancerous wife’s morphine, essentially orphaning their two children, since his wife died shortly after.
Peterson was left wondering, what if that driver had waited one more day? Would he have made the same decision if he wasn’t acting on impulse? And what if you could tell people that life can get better?
With that idea in mind, Peterson got together with the Pop Sandbox team to create something that discussed depression and what comes after attempted suicide. They wanted it to come from real people’s stories, but they also wanted to make sure it was safe for those people to participate. One of the concerns was whether talking about suicide would escalate the risk of self-harm, so one of the criteria for inclusion was that participants needed to be two years away from their most recent attempt. Through collaboration with a representative of CMHA, they found four volunteers willing to share their stories.
Panelists from last night’s launch. Photo by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.
Kardassis, whose depression wasn’t diagnosed until she was 26 years old, was at a bar—a familiar place during her toughest years—when she suddenly started crying, and started to make her way home. “The whole way home I thought ‘I’m gonna end it,'” she told Torontoist after last night’s presentation. “I went home and tried to hang myself in the closet, just like that. It wasn’t something I’d been building up to, or thinking about, or planning, it was kind of a spontaneous event when I was extremely intoxicated. It scared the hell out of me. The belt that I was trying to use to hang myself slipped through, thank God.”
The next morning, she told her parents about it straight away, and by the next week, she started taking medication to help control her condition. Since then, she has also entered therapy to make sure it never happens again.
One of the things Kardassis was emphatic about last night was how good life can be afterwards; she is now married, with a house and three obviously beloved cats. It looks like she may have also found new friends in her fellow participants, Chantel and Ryan (the fourth, Jenn, works as a nurse and couldn’t make it to the event), who she actually met for the first time at the launch. Sitting side by side in the audience as their own recorded voices suddenly came through the speakers, they held hands in support of each other. According to Kardassis, it was an instant bond.
As for the interactive animated documentary, which is set to launch online sometime later this month, The Next Day co-writer Jason Gilmore says it takes parts of the recorded interviews from the four participants and allows the user to choose keywords that guide them through an empty house surrounded by a coming storm. “We chose that metaphor because of the connections that we made between the participants,” Gilmore says. “They all spoke of this process of dealing with suicidal thoughts in the same way, which was very much like a storm gathering.”
In choosing the unusual approach of a graphic novella and an online animated documentary—and next year, possibly a play as well—the team behind this project is aiming to reach the very demographic most at risk of attempting suicide. “I feel really proud, even though we just had to tell our story,” Kardassis says. “When we’re young, we don’t know what’s going on, and that’s when we need the education. Even as a 20-something I still didn’t know what depression was; nobody told me what that was, and I didn’t understand it.”
The Next Day is available in bookstores now. The interactive animated documentary will be launching online later this month on the NFB and TVO‘s websites.