Jadell Lee knows all too well the road to recovery is not straight and narrow. Meeting him today, you would never guess he survived a suicide attempt in college. An accomplished professional dance educator who prepares others for careers in the industry, Lee has his life together. He works as a dance professor at Seton Hall University, a resident instructor for The Dance Center, and an instructor at Thrive Dance Experience. He is also a respected Assistant Director and judge for CRU Dance Competition and serves as a Guest Master Instructor for Abby Lee Dance Company. All of these accomplishments stem from a healthy self-image he has fought like hell to achieve.
A victim of the lies he believed about himself, Lee spent his adolescence through his college years suffering from depression and the damage it inflicted. Enduring years of bullying, harassment, and hazing in his formative years, Lee allowed these opinions to shape his self-image and personal identity.
“You just don’t realize how much your upbringing shapes you until you are grown, and you see yourself as this person you don’t know,” says Lee. He admits his childhood was difficult. He grew up a latchkey kid of a single mom trying to provide for four young boys. “It’s a matter of circumstance,“ says Lee. “We are all given our circumstances. It’s what we do with them that matters.”
In Lee’s case, his circumstance gave him a lot of time alone to hone his exceptional skill—dance. Lee explains that dance was his escape from reality, but it couldn’t fix his damaged self-image. Lee says he knows now that the hurtful comments of others were incredibly influential in a negative sense. As a result, he never learned how to connect with people and handle relationships and rejection. This shortcoming eventually led to a suicide attempt in college.
“Looking back, what I’ve discovered is I believed what others taught me about myself, but these were lies that damaged my self-image so badly I didn’t have the confidence to connect with people. I could not have real relationships,” explains Lee. He goes on to say that he gave too much power to forces he could not control. He placed too much importance on creating a successful relationship, which he understands now was impossible at that point in his life. “I allowed rejection to define me. And when a relationship failed in college, I felt that was the end of me,” he says. So, believing this lie, Lee took a handful of pills to make it official.
Surviving his suicide attempt was the opportunity Lee needed to set his mind right. “I had five days in the hospital under psychiatric evaluation with nothing to do but reflect,” says Lee. “At this point, I gave myself permission to dispel the lies. I allowed myself to identify my flaws that brought me to this situation.”
One of his self-discoveries was that he was not taking care of his mental health. He had no idea how to address stress, and he put on a facade to hide his inner struggles. “I was very good at faking it,” says Lee. “I was the life of the party. The ‘me’ others saw was happy and fun.” But in truth, Lee was not happy. He had never learned how to forgive himself, so, in turn, he could not forgive others who rejected him. The consequences included harboring spite and ill feelings as grudges that damaged him from the inside.
Amid all his self-awareness, Lee says he made his most compelling discovery. “I realized depression is not a curse word, a death sentence, or even a stigma—it’s an opportunity.” For Jadell, confronting the lies and acknowledging the truth allowed him to heal. Admitting he was depressed. Admitting his faults and admitting he needed help gave him an abundance of opportunities that eventually reshaped his self-image and helped him develop into the real Jadell Lee.
This transformation, however, was not easy. True healing takes counsel, forgiveness, time, and a pursuit of balance in physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and emotional health. But his work has a silver lining. Jadell says, “In learning to manage my thoughts, emotions, and reactions to challenges, I began to see my resilience, grit, and strength.” Jadell adds that using his past to unveil his path gave way to his purpose—to help others heal, learn, and grow to greater versions of themselves.
In addition to repairing his psyche, Jadell uses all he’s learned to help others. This devotion includes sharing his love for dance. What was once a way to escape reality has developed into a life-long passion. Lee received his Bachelor’s degree in Dance from the University of California, Riverside. Today, he enjoys sharing his craft as a dance educator, touring adjudicator, and adjunct professor.
Lee says he helps others by incorporating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into his coaching and even his dance so people can build the emotional skills they need to move forward. Lee, who admits he faked his stable emotional state for years, advocates following this essential policy: “If you see something, say something.” And Lee says it doesn’t hurt anyone by simply asking, ’How can I help?’ “Being available in this way,” adds Lee, “might save someone’s life. At the very least, it could make a huge difference.”
Today, Jadell is happily married. In addition to his teaching roles, he shares his story as a motivational speaker and has written a book titled Your First Position. Looking back, Jadell knows the bullying and harassment of his youth stole his self-esteem and affected every relationship he tried to build: romantic, platonic, and professional. Because of this, he found himself becoming what others either wanted or expected him to be. Knowing this truth about his life fuels him to teach others that self-love is the main criteria for navigating this complicated world. After you can master the art of truly loving yourself, other relationships become possible.
Jadell will be the first to admit life is good, and he offers the following wisdom: “The things we struggle with don’t go away—we just learn to manage them. I try to teach people that challenges and failures do not define us. Rather, they are opportunities for us to become who we truly are.”
You can follow Jadell on Instagram.
Cover Art by unsplash.com/@esdesignisms