On March 27, motivational speaker Jeff Yalden spoke to FHS students, employees and parents across Friendswood ISD.
“I’m a man who lives with mental illness and I’m proud of that,” Yalden began his speech. “I have major depression, bipolar type 2 and PTSD.”
From an early age, Yalden said he knew he struggled with mental illness, but he did not dedicate time to work on himself; something he said is a common problem young people face.
“One day, I was looking in the mirror and that’s always been a hard place for me,” he said. “If you don’t like your reflection, don’t blame the mirror. Spend more time there. You have to learn to wake up every day and validate yourself. You’re beautiful, you’re strong, you’re smart, you’re courageous.”
Yalden said when he started working on his self-care and being present, his life changed. It has been through trying to get better that Yalden has shared his story with the world. He said he feels obligated to help young people, in particular, noting humans are most impressionable when they are young.
“You can’t let other people’s perception of you affect your perception of you,” Yalden said as he walked through the auditorium filled with tenth and eleventh graders. “Validate other people instead of looking for validation.”
He advised the students to ask themselves three questions: Is my life meaningful? Is my life fulfilling? Is my life rewarding?
If the answer to any of those questions was no, Yalden asked them to think on why. He said he believes a successful life can be measured based on those three questions, but he also reminded the audience bad things will still happen regardless of their attitude, choices and behaviors.
“We live in an imperfect world,” Yalden said. “Life isn’t fair.”
Yalden recalled a memory from his time serving in the marines. On Feb. 26, 1992, he was in Jacksonville, Florida when his life changed forever. It was getting close to time for inspection when he noticed one of his fellow military brothers did not come out of his room. When he opened the door, his brother was sitting in a chair with a distant look in his eyes. He looked up and said, “Captain Yalden, nobody cares about me.” Yalden looked at him and said, “I care about you.” His brother took a 9mm off of his lap and said, “Maybe you’re the only one.” Then he pulled the trigger.
“I live every day with [this]. I hear it, I see it,” Yalden said. “But in all these years, having gone through what I’ve gone through, I’ve come to realize life does not happen to us; life happens for us. No matter what you have gone through or what you’re going to go through, you are not a victim. I’m not a victim living with mental illness; I’ve chosen to be a victor. I don’t want to be bitter, I don’t want to be angry, I want to be better.”
He encouraged the students to do the same.
“It might not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility because you can’t change what you’ve been through or what you’re going to go through, but you can change you and how you respond every day,” Yalden said. “Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t let your story be who you’re going to be. You write your future. But sometimes, we just need to stop to be present to change the narrative.”
He proceeded to give the audience advice on how they could change their lives. To the students, Yalden said to get more sleep, eat better and put down the phone.
“More than four-to-five hours on your phone per day means there’s a 70 percent greater chance to have major depression. Let’s be a little bit less on, and not let this be our connection to the world,” Yalden said as he held up his cellphone. “Let’s be a little bit more present and let your heart be your connection to the world.”
To staff and parents, he encouraged them to build healthy, trusting relationships with students and the intervene early if they ever see signs of suicidal thoughts.
“The more you’re willing to listen,” he said. “The more they’re going to talk to you.”
The audience responded positively to Yalden’s message.
“It was very different because I came in with the expectation of ‘I’m going to fall asleep during this,’ and then within the first 30 seconds he grabbed my attention and it was so impactful and wonderful,” Friendswood High School tenth-grader Haley Permenter said.
FISD employee Dawn Claunch agreed.
“I really liked what he had to say,” Claunch said. “[Suicide] is a hard topic to approach with kids and young adults. [Yalden] gave some insight on how to do that.”
Yalden left his audience with one final message.
“I want you to be a person who has a growth mindset and not a fixed mindset,” Yalden said. “Life is a journey, we have to be patient in the process. Now go out there and be the best ‘you’ you can be.”