She had it all: beauty, brains, a good job and a beautiful family. But Shaneen Harris found herself staring into the bathroom mirror, a bottle of pills at her side. She was depressed and suicidal and sought a way out. But a voice inside of her held her back. The message? “That’s enough. We’ve got work to do.”
What drove this electrical engineer to execute her plan to commit suicide? Even as a little girl, she followed all the rules. She never missed a day of school from kindergarten through 12th grade. Her mother told her, “If you just show up, you’ve won half the battle.”
Her trajectory is proof that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. “Growing up I always struggled with anxiety and depression,” says Harris, who was born and raised in Akron. “I didn’t know what it was. I just thought I was different growing up. I didn’t know there was something wrong. Most African-American communities do not talk about depression, let’s be real.”
She had been a symbol of hope for those around her, and people in her neighborhood called her their “smart ghetto girl.” Harris received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University (both in electrical engineering) and landed a good job that afforded her the finer things in life.
But that wasn’t enough to provide true happiness. She found herself in debt and depressed more than ever. She felt like there was a thick cloud around her.
And in that aforementioned moment in the bathroom, she thought, “I’m suicidal, not crazy. No one was here but me. I did hear a voice.” She adds, “My grandmother told me, if you ever hear a voice, answer ‘Yes Lord.’”
She set down the pill bottle. She prayed, and she found her purpose. She recalls saying, “Lord if it’s you, help me to write (100 poems).” Out of that came “Self Pledge,” her re-dedication poem.
She was then able to write 120 poems, and the result was the book called “Reflections Of My Thoughts,” which chronicles her journey from anxiety, depression and suicide to the deliverance she found in Christ. Harris also is able to use her writing to inspire others that there is recovery from mental illness.
Harris, who has a husband and three children and lives in Wadsworth, has long possessed a knack for writing. She wrote her first book, “The Case of the Missing Birthday Cake,” when she was 9.
“If people are entertained in the process of listening to and reading my poetry, that’s fine. However my primary purpose is to encourage, educate and empower them,” says Harris.
Listening audiences truly resonate with her message “to be more.” Her passionate resolve is palpable in the words she speaks and brings to life. Her poetry engages and inspires the “living dead” who have long given up on their dreams, and she re-awakens the potentiality of every listener with latent desires yet to be fulfilled.
Harris’ message resonates with those who have lost touch with their dreams, desires and God-given destiny. Her words incite a revolt in the souls of her listener, causing them to ask questions like, “What caused me to put my dreams to sleep? Do I really want to wake up the desire that I thought would never be fulfilled? Should I take the risk to ___ again?”
She says, “If I can help just one person not take their life, I’ve done my job.”
Here’s a quote from her poem “On the Horizon” (you can also see her reading her poetry in the video below):
There is a new day, hold on live long enough to see it. There’s a promise and a hope within the next second. If you just keep breathing long enough to receive it.
Video edited by Darrell Weems.