This is it, she thought. I’m going to take one last look around at my home, and it’s going to be done.
“But then God saved me,” she says.
Descent Into Depression
Valentina hails from the northern Manitoba town of Grand Rapids Misipawistik Cree Nation, where her father is a commercial fisherman and her mother is a family enhancement worker with the province’s Child and Family Services.
With an older sister, a younger brother and two loving parents, “I grew up in the best small town ever with a wonderful, loving family,” she says.
But from the age of 13 to 17, Valentina fell into deep grief and depression after the death of her grandfather.
“I took it really hard and his passing hurt immensely,” she says. “I couldn’t grieve properly. I learned that what I was feeling and experiencing wasn’t healthy, so I dealt with my grief. But the depression stayed and it started to feed off my 13-year-old self’s insecurities and lack of self-esteem.
“I knew that if I didn’t get better, I wasn’t going to exist anymore.”
Unfortunately, Valentina had no idea how to deal with her depression.
“I handled it in horrendous ways,” she says now.
That’s how she found herself on the floor of her family’s kitchen, a knife pressed against her wrist. Her parents and siblings had left for the day and she was home alone.
As Valentina sat on the floor, she looked up.
“There, kneeling before me, was an angel,” she says. “He was staring at me and looked so incredibly sad. The angel—for that is what I instinctively knew he was—placed his hand on my knee. I looked at that hand on my knee but I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel anything there. And then he faded away.”
Valentina sat on the floor for a long time before finally, slowly, removing the knife from her wrist.
“God saved me,” she replies now when asked about the incident.
“I was raised as a Christian, but during the years when I was depressed, I would ask, ‘Why, God? Why are You doing this to me? Why are You allowing me to feel such pain? Is it because You don’t love me?’
“Of course He did,” she goes on and smiles through her tears. “How could He not?”
Valentina is convinced that at the moment when God sent His angel to her, He was telling her, “It’s OK. This is real. Life is real.”
“God had been with me through each and every day I had suffered,” she says, “but I hadn’t allowed Him to help me when I was going through my pain, and I should have let Him in.”
A Life Past Graduation
For a while, Valentina tried to deny that morning but the next day on her way home from school, the memories hit her full force and she accepted that what had happened to her had been real. By the time she returned home, she threw herself into her shocked mother’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably.
“We’re going to get through this,” her mother told Valentina. “You, me, your family, friends, community and God. We’re going to get better together.”
It took much healing but a restored Valentina graduated from high school.
“I never thought I would because I never thought I would live that long,” she says simply.
Valentina is now in her fourth year at Booth University College in Winnipeg, pursuing a degree in applied psychology.
“One of the reasons I want to become a psychologist is to help people like me,” she says.
At home, Valentina advocates for more resources and funding for mental-health workers and for more awareness of depression in her community.
“I know what it’s like to suffer but I was wrong to isolate myself,” she states. “No one need get through depression alone.”
“I Can Do That”
Not everyone knows what they are going to be when they grow up, but Valentina McKay has been certain since she was eight years old.
She was mediating an argument that her older sister and her boyfriend were having when her mother told Valentina, “You should be a psychologist.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“They help people with their problems, like you’re doing right now,” her mother told her.
“OK! Cool! That’s what I’ll be. I can do that,” Valentina replied.
“And it went from there,” she laughs. “That’s how I got to Booth University College’s applied psychology program.”