Today’s #SameHere Hero Story: Addison Brasil
When I was sixteen years I learned that my younger brother had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. From that moment our family’s focus became very clear – support Austin through what would be a rollercoaster of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, shunts, trial treatments, and of course a unique balancing act of taking turns silently facing our greatest fears. In the summer of 2008, Austin’s health quickly began to deteriorate. Aware that a handful of miracles and hail marys had already given us 3 extra years – he came home and began palliative care. Austin had shown interest in helping others in his situation and that summer I took that seed of his never-ending love, humor, and selflessness and created a nonprofit organization in his name Team Brother Bear Foundation. We had a sold-out 500 person gala within weeks and raised a lot of money – most importantly – Austin was able to attend. Unable to speak he gave his signature thumbs up to the standing ovation her received upon entering. Two weeks later, on a beautiful September day, we surrounded him as our hero took his last breath and passed away. The focus had been on him for years, I instantly realized I had lost my brother, my best friend, and someone I thought I’d spend the rest of my life protecting. There was no amount of charity work to reverse what would begin a long, beautiful, and sometimes terrifying journey of grief.
Three years later, I had finished college and returned home after traveling Asia for work. My dad’s second marriage had ended and his career had changed drastically. He was silently struggling with shame and for the first time in my life- the man who couldn’t stop talking or always had a joke was quiet for full moments at a time. Those moments made room for me. My brother and father were everyones favourite people and beyond fun and entertaining – this sometimes didnt leave much room for a third player in the big show. My father’s second marriage had impeded our relationship a lot, I have no bad feelings, but we lost a lot of time. This quieter time allowed us to really connect, share stories, apologize and love each-other in a way that we hadn’t. He was lighting up again after a while and wanted talked of a second act of life with a new gusto. He was becoming my best-friend, although I’d never tell him that haha. A few weeks later I went on a trip. We still talked by text and phone non stop. On July 1st (Canada Day) I noticed something seemed off but he was okay and he encouraged me to keep on the roadtrip to LA with my friends. That encouragement kept me there for another week and he picked me up from the airport when I returned to Toronto. Something was certainly off, his eyes, his hug, he had retracted in a way I didn’t recognize. His behavior and distancing himself from me over the next week or so lead to a lot of check ins, alerting family, doctors and whoever would listen that something was not right. I don’t think my father had ever missed a day of work in 35 years and he had stopped going all together. We chatted twice a day and I came when he would allow me. He mentioned going on antidepressants and wanting space for the transition. Then, he called on a Thursday night to tell me he was going to return to work on Monday and we planned a bbq for Saturday. On July 21st, after not hearing from my father (who was never quiet) all morning. My uncle and I went to his home. I was the only one with a key. We entered to find once again a combination of my greatest fears was possible. My father had died of suicide and was hanging infront of me.
Fast forward through hospital check-ins, medicines, holistic, alternative, coaching, support groups, and more of the same. I had landed on my feet back in LA. I finally felt like me again. People were noticing- they expressed deep relief and joy – I was back. In the spirit of that, I accompanied a close friend to a concert and we decided even though it was a Wednesday night and we had fitness classes booked for the am before work. We should celebrate how well things were going. (She had known me since the death of my brother) We would go out for one drink and dance because we were young and we could. That was the discussion. And we did just that. A few hours later, on the 11-minute drive home, our ride u-turned into an oncoming drunk driver. My beautiful friend was killed and I awoke to a split-open head, immense pain, and the inability to walk. It became apparently clear in the moments before the ambulance arrived my friend who was laughing just moments ago would never do that again. That these were her last moments and there was nothing I or doctors could do to save her. Months of hospitals, doctors, and a coach I owe my life to, Jenifer Merifield, I was walking and living in the world again.
My brother’s death felt like my loss of innocence. It brought on a deep grief that I tried to hide around the beauty of his life and legacy. I put on a strong face as long as I could and through myself into an odd balance of A type overachieving and over partying that was hard to detect if I was masterfully finding balance or covering up. I sought control, I was plagued by fear and when my grief would surface my chest and heart would hurt so bad I would scream and cry from the pain.
My father’s death didn’t make sense to me at the time and was traumatic beyond words. The aftermath was a true and honest fight for survival in the most basic ways, PTSD, compounded grief, night sweats, flashbacks, depression, cognitive functioning challenged. This reshaped my life in every way imaginable.
My friends death and the accident left me in unimaginable pain with PTSD, anxiety and for the first time in my life a deep, deep depression with strong waves of suicidal thoughts. I had never been so tired, in so much constant pain, and had a heavier heart. Even thinking about it now, I’m honestly surprised I made it through. Thankfully I had an amazing coach and team of doctors but more than that – my family. They were not only committed to my survival but would not rest until I felt I could thrive.
With my brother’s death it was a general ask for help – and when I felt I was being the most honest about my grief process I was offered a prescription or two to get through the high demands of my conservatory program. I was constantly seeking help.
With my father’s death and the accident – I felt unsafe in my own existence – the pain and grief were too deep to manage. Admittedly I was white, privileged, educated, and well connected – but it took a team of advocates, generosity, and every method in the book to get me back on my feet both physically and emotionally. The latter is still a daily process.
Meditation, breathing and grounding exercises became my basic non negotiable daily tools.
Beyond that I can honestly say that medications always felt like a temporary fix for me personally. But I recognized that at points the additional help to sleep or calm down was a necessary part of my recovery.
Two things are the reason I am here today. Connection and Coaching. Having a forward motion growth oriented coaching approach with my then coach and now mentor Jenifer Merifield is the reason Im not just surviving at age 31 – Im thriving. Yes, even after all I just shared. Mindset is everything and transformation is always possible.
Connection – first came from the SOS (survivors of suicide program in Toronto Ontario) Being paired up with two strangers for 9 weeks that allowed me to share without any preconceived notions of who I was or the potential I once harnessed. Just beautiful, raw, honest, people, who to this day I don’t know their last names. Beyond that finding likeminded people who take mental wellness seriously and are in it to support each other. Support groups, Excellence groups, consciously connected outings. This is why I have donated my salary and time to ensure that the tethr app was born and will become a brand people can turn to. Meeting others who know the struggle but want to thrive is difficult. Breaking through the social norms to get deep is not easy but has been essential to my life, literally, and growth.
I have come to learn that my story is something to be shared in the right time and place. Its hard to even small talk and avoid such big landmarks and dropping them casually can be awkward and isolating. It has elements that echo the most basic human fears around loss, love and heartbreak. In the right moments and with enough time, my story has always been welcomed and even championed. I am thankful for that.