Louisiana resident Emma Benoit remembers wearing a constant smile on her face “as a façade” in her early adolescent years to cover up her deep ongoing sadness.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Benoit recalled that while her life appeared to be picture-perfect on the outside, she felt herself slowly deteriorating mentally and emotionally.
Despite being raised in a close-knit Christian household of four, Benoit said that her faith took a back seat in her life for most of her teenage years because having popularity and notoriety among her peers was of the utmost importance.
Emma Benoit in high school as a varsity cheerleader | Courtesy Christy Warring
In high school, she became a varsity cheerleader and as a result, she had too many friends to count. However, her mental illnesses remained untreated.
In the summer before her senior year of high school in 2017, she said she could no longer masquerade herself as “the always-happy-person” any longer.
That summer, Benoit attempted suicide by shooting herself in the chest using a firearm that belonged to her father. She was left with injuries that disabled her.
Now 22, Benoit uses a wheelchair and a walker to move around as a result of the injuries caused by her self-inflicted gunshot wounds. She said that surviving the incident has brought her closer to God because she believes she was given another chance at life.
Benoit told CP that in 2018, the year after her attempt, she dedicated her life to Christ. She currently works toward suicide prevention as a mental health advocate.
During Suicide Prevention Month, which is observed every September, Benoit partnered with the American Association of Christian Counselors to create a video sharing her testimony in an effort to advance mental health awareness.
“In elementary school and middle school, I was so insecure and I was so self-conscious that my friends that I made weren’t really my friends. The person that I was portraying wasn’t always 100% accurate to who I was,” Benoit recounted.
“I always felt like I could never be myself and even though I had all these friends on the outside, and it looked great, it really wasn’t. It’s isolating. Because I didn’t feel like my friends would like me if I was myself. I felt like they would dislike me if I showed them a different side of me. I had a real big bowl of protecting my image. And I worked really hard to mask anything that might show otherwise.”
Feelings of Isolation
Benoit said in the same way she felt isolated in her youth, she “was struggling pretty severely with depression and anxiety and I had no idea that’s what I was dealing with.”
“I began to really struggle with self-esteem issues and self-doubt and peer pressure at a very early age. I was about 12 and came from an environment where those things are not really talked about. It was really challenging,” Benoit recalled.
Benoit said that as a teenager, there was always the lingering cloud of depression, and she also felt anxiety, which she described as a “crippling fear and feeling” within.
“I began to internalize all of those feelings. And obviously, as I got older, those feelings didn’t really go away. They just kind of grew with me. And so, it was really challenging for me to navigate my own mental health journey without the knowledge and the environment around me that was accepting of that conversation,” she said.
Appearance was ‘Everything’
Before coming to Christ, Benoit said she once thought that the way people viewed her and what they thought of her was “everything,” calling it “my go-to form of validation” that “gave me a short-lived feeling of confidence.”
“I put a lot of emphasis and value into the way I looked, into how well I was performing, and that really molded a person who was never really secure in themselves, who was never really confident,” Benoit admitted.
“It was a fake confidence because it was based solely on the external opinion of me from other people. So it was really challenging to feel like the only way that I’m going to feel good about myself is if other people tell me how great I am,” she continued.
“My high school years were filled with this great feeling of hopelessness and that ‘nothing will change. My life is going to be this hard, forever. It’s so permanent.’ And those feelings only grew bigger and bigger; the longer that they went on, unaddressed and not talked about.”
The suicide attempt
On the night of her suicide attempt, Benoit said she remembers she was home alone because her parents were at work.
Benoit began to have a panic attack, with her first response being to call her mother. As she talked with her mother on the phone, another work call came in and her mother put her on hold.
During those few moments waiting on hold, Benoit recalled retrieving her father’s gun and shooting herself in the chest, describing as a spur-of-the-moment decision.
When her mother took her off hold, she tried to return to the call, but realized Benoit was unresponsive. She left work and drove home to find Benoit lying unconscious.
“My mother told me that on that night when I wasn’t responding on the other line, she had a really bad gut feeling that something horrible had happened. She calls it ‘mother’s intuition’ or a ‘higher power’ that showed her that she needed to go home,’” Benoit said.
“When my mom came into my bedroom, I snapped out of unconsciousness for a brief moment and I remember her coming into the room and falling to her knees and saying: ‘oh my god. oh my God, just keep breathing.’ I vividly remember that. But, that’s the last memory that I have from that day.”
Her mother rushed her to the hospital. Benoit had a severed carotid artery, which caused a blood clot that pressed on her spinal cord, injuring it. She also suffered multiple strokes during the surgery to repair the artery.
Benoit said she believes that her mother rushing home that evening was a sign of “divine intervention” from God to give her another chance to live.
“Quite frankly, it was one of the first miracles that happened in my story. Because prior to me making the attempt, I had made no mention of being suicidal and no one knew that I was thinking like that,” continued Benoit.
Peace Through Faith
Benoit said that she has found peace in her faith, telling CP that Christianity changed her perspective on life and her viewpoint on her pursuit of happiness.
“Once my life was spared, I felt like there’s got to be some reason why I’m here. So, I decided to just really put my effort and energy into learning more about God and learning more about the Bible and learning more about Christ,” she said.
“I’m so grateful for this journey. I look at things so much differently now. I just see things in a different light. And I mean, it truly all boils down to the fact that we are imperfect human beings, and it’s not our job to fix ourselves. We can’t rely solely on ourselves in this life.”
Benoit said that her nondenominational Christian faith has been instrumental in helping her walk through her recovery process.
“My faith has been super crucial for me in my recovery because I’ve been able to totally give everything to God and just rely on Him completely and utterly to get me through hard things. And I’ve really realized that while I might not be able to pray away my depression, I certainly can utilize the tools that I believe God has given us in this life to navigate life in a different way,” Benoit said.
Additionally, since her suicide attempt, Benoit has seen a therapist whom she said helps her navigate life alongside Jesus.
“I believe that some tools that God equipped us with are: therapists, counselors, teachers, knowledge, education and medication — which are all wonderful things that can help lead to break through,” Benoit said.
“I believe that those are skills and gifts that we have been given that have equipped us to help one another through life. And honestly, I think my overall perspective on life is much different because I know that there’s hope. And I know that this isn’t our permanent home.”