CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- On the runway, Brandi Pope has always shined. But for years, few people knew that the Chesterfield model, wife, and working mother was suffering in the shadows and even considered taking her life.
“I know what it feels like to feel hopeless and so desperate that it feels like that’s the only option,” Pope said.
Shortly after winning her first title in the Mrs. Virginia United States pageant 2011, Pope was diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness called Gastroparesis. The condition can lead to severe discomfort and pain.
“It just became so overwhelming that I started to fall into a deep depression,” Pope said. “It was about that four-year mark that I said ‘I can’t do this, I can’t physically do this for the rest of my life!’”
It was in her darkest moment that Pope said she felt like suicide was her only choice.
“In that time, I felt completely hopeless and I felt I couldn’t be everything I needed to be to my husband or my children,” she said. “I just remember thoughts of taking my own life came flooding in and I just thought if I take my own life, I can end this pain.”
Pope said mental illness also ran in her family. Her father died in a drunk driving crash when she was a child. He struggled with alcoholism and depression.
It was divine intervention, Pope believes, that saved her own life the day she planned to carry out her suicide.
“I’m a woman of faith and I heard the voice of God so strong and he said do not give up, I’ve brought you this far and your breakthrough is coming!”
Immediately, Pope said she sought treatment for her depression and began reaching out for support from her friends and family. She also decided to spread awareness about mental health and suicide through non-profit work.
“I knew then and there that I was going to make it through this and I was going to help others because I don’t believe that anybody goes through anything difficult in life without there being a purpose to it,” Pope says.
Through her work with Runway 2 Life, an organization dedicated to mental health awareness through fashion, Pope said she’s found a platform to speak honestly about her past.
Pope has also created a social media support page called Safe Surrender.
“The phones are ringing quite literally off the hook because there are so many people struggling,” Pope said. “My strength is mentoring people, encouraging people, lifting people up, and I wanted to create a space for them to be able to come and just feel they have a safe place to be able to share what they’re going through and share their struggles.”
Pope said once she received mental health help, she was able to focus on her physical health and find permanent relief from her condition by changing her lifestyle and gaining a more optimistic viewpoint.
Pope will head to Las Vegas in October to compete in the Mrs. United States Pageant. This time, however, she said it’s not about capturing a crown.
“I’m just going in with the full confidence knowing my ‘why’ and I feel that’s the first step,” Pope said. “If you know why you’re competing and why you’re going into this, that’s half the battle.”
Runway 2 Life is also hosting a special fashion show on October 1st at Kanawa Plaza in Richmond to support mental health awareness.