Taking off her mask: CofC senior uses her attempted suicide to stop others from trying

Emily Torchaina - Jefferson Awards recipient for September-00004.jpg

For most people, it’s not often they open up completely and bare their soul, sharing the darkest and most painful secrets of their lives – especially to strangers. But one College of Charleston senior does just that as often as possible.

That’s what makes Emily Torchiana this month’s Jefferson Awards recipient.

For those who didn’t know, they never would have known because Torchiana hid it all and did her best to blend in. That is, she tried until the pain became too much to bear.

“Dear Mom and Dad,” she wrote in a letter to them, saying goodbye. “I have felt trapped for so long and I don’t want to feel this way anymore.”

She urged her parents not to take on the guilt.

“There is nothing you could have done. I can’t even help myself. I now hate myself as much as everyone tells me they hate me,” she wrote. “I’m sorry and I love you all.”

That was almost eight years ago. Now, everyone knows and Torchiana wouldn’t have it any other way.

“All I remember is waking up to my older brother banging and actually breaking down my door as I was passed out in my own vomit from trying to commit suicide,” she said speaking to classroom full of students.

The trouble began her freshman year in high school when she was being cyberbullied.

“There were rumors about me being a slut, a whore, sleeping around with people. ‘No one like a girl like that. No one likes you,’” she recalled during her talk.

And the rumors couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I’m very religious and I’m saving sex for marriage. And at that point, I had only kissed two boys – maybe. It was so far from the truth,” she said.

The bullying continued into her sophomore year and by then the damage was done. The final nail was a text message letting her know her best friend had died of brain cancer.

“When she passed away, there was no point to live,” Torchiana said. “I felt so ashamed feeling so badly about myself, saying ‘This is it. I don’t want to wake up,’” she said.

Now 21 years old and five years removed from her attempted suicide, Torchiana spends her time speaking freely about being a survivor.

“I’m not sharing my story to get compliments or hear, ‘Look how strong you are.’ I’m looking for people who are currently struggling and can’t reach out to someone,” Torchiana said. “Maybe I can help in some way.”

Her words are courageous and she’s committed to her conviction.

“Put your hand over your heart. If you feel your heartbeat, that’s your purpose. When you wake up in the morning, you are here for a reason and this world would not be the same without you,” she said.

Torchiana is inspiring others to live.

“Prior to hearing you speak, I’ve had constant suicidal thoughts,” one student told her after a talk. “I was planning on acting on them this week. I reached out to my parents – thank you, thank you, for saving my life.”

Her reach is not even limited to speeches. She recently produced a two-minute video, and Torchiana’s hope is to shatter the mental health stigma.

“My Dad texted me after he saw the video and said, ‘I want you to know you are my hero,’” she said. “I used to see myself as a bad character in other people’s lives. Now I see myself as the main character in my own story.”

And that story is already a bestseller with plenty more chapters left to write.

“I’m so happy my brother didn’t have to walk in and see my dead body lying on the ground, rather seeing I’m able to recover,” Torchiana said.

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