At the start of her life, Jill Furan lived like a normal kid. She enjoyed being outside and socializing with her friends, much like the other children around her.
However, around the age of 10, things changed — she started to notice that something wasn’t quite right. Now, instead of wanting to be outside with her friends during recess, she would instead stay inside and help the school guidance counselor with filing papers. By the time she hit seventh grade, she lost all of her friends and started cutting and burning herself. She started dressing in black clothing, began listening to dark music and watching dark movies. Some of her role models in middle school included Kurt Cobain and Sylvia Plathe, who had their own mental problems as well.
Furan’s parents were unaware of any of the problems that their daughter was going through mentally.
She even resorted to cutting and burning herself during her middle school years.
“I felt completely alone and I was completely alone because no one else around me felt this way,” Furan said.
Furan, the 2012 Miss South Dakota International, told her story Thursday in a presentation titled “A Different Kind Of Lifeguard: Blowing The Whistle On Depression, Self-Injury and Suicide,” at the 2012 Mental Wellness Conference at Mount Marty College. The event was hosted by Yankton Area Mental Wellness, Inc.
It wasn’t until the seventh grade that Furan finally gained the courage to tell her parents the problems she was dealing with. However, her parents thought that her problems were just a phase and did not want to take her to see a doctor despite a history of depressive disorders in the family.
“After my parents told me to stop cutting, I started to take small amounts of pills like Ibuprofen and Tylenol,” Furan added.
By the time she was 13, she began considering suicide and she thought that pills would do it. A short time later, she swallowed 30 aspirin in a failed effort to take her own life.
“I very truly wanted to die,” Furan said.
Furan said the doctors she began seeing in high school thought it was not a big deal that she was cutting and said that she was doing it to gain attention.
“I needed attention, I needed someone to step in and health,” she said. “I graduated high school and began to be full of hope for the future — I bought into the power of positive thinking.”
So, Furan said that when she started school, she was not going to take her medicine or see a counselor.
However, this did not work out well.
She finally started seeing a counselor at school, and she said that she did not want her condition to scare away any of her new friends or her boyfriend.
On Thursday, Furan praised the institutions that are willing to address the issue.
“It’s wonderful that colleges recognize depression as a disability,” she added.
But after about her first year of college, “everything fell apart,” she said.
During a routine physical, Furan’s doctor told her that she needed to go back on her medications immediately. The doctor told her that if she did not begin taking her medicine again, she would not be able to accomplish any of the goals that she had for the future.
The problem only got worse when she began drinking heavily when she turned 21.
However, with help from medicine and her counselors, she has been able to turn her life around.
Furan attended South Dakota State University, graduating last month with a bachelor’s in English. Currently she is seeking a job as a counselor.
Furan offered a lot of tips and advice for those battling depressing during her presentation.
One of the tips she gave was encouraging those that have a depressive disorder to get a pet that requires minimal maintenance because of the therapy that it can provide as it can act as someone to talk to.
Furan found a toad outside her house seven months ago, and she adopted it and now cares for it. She said it is one of the best things in her life and every time she gets depressed her mom asks what the toad would do without her.
“I hope that I can help someone find one reason to live, no matter how small it is,” Furan said.
Furan also said diet and exercise help ease her depression.
“When I eat crap food, I then feel like crap,” she remarked.
She also said that people that cut themselves should substitute that for other physically painful activities, like running or other forms of exercise.
Furan advised that kids in school should pay attention to their friends’ behaviors that could indicate signs of depression or suicide. These signs often include marks from potential self-injury, the child giving things of sentimental and financial value away, any sudden change in behavior or the mentioning or use of drugs and alcohol.
She added that if kids have friends with these symptoms, they should notify a counselor or trusted adult and act as an adult themselves in order to potentially help, or even save, a friend in need.
One of Furan’s biggest goals in life is to be a mother, and she admitted that she is “terrified about the potential of her future kids to be depressed.” However, she added that because she has battled with depression, it could be easier for her to know what her kids might be going through.
Furan told attendees Thursday that even if they have a depressive disorder, they can still do anything, even though it might be more difficult.
“One thing that people can never lose is hope,” Furan said. “No matter how little the hope is at times, I still have it.”
You can follow Andrew Atwal on Twitter at www.twitter.com/andrewatwal