Melyssa Ford had so much going for her—a successful career as a model and TV personality, a loyal fan base and a positive outlook on life. But all of that changed on June 28, 2018, when her SUV was clipped by an 18-wheeler and her car went careening down a California highway. Though she doesn’t remember much about the accident, the physical effects and the emotional trauma of the crash are still with her today.
“It comes back in dreams—the sounds of metal scraping on the pavement, which is one of the most horrible sounds in the world,” she says. Ford fractured her skull, suffering a massive concussion, bleeding on her brain and a traumatic brain injury. “I had to walk with a walker for about a month,” she recalls. “I just could not right myself or stand on my own. Lying down felt like I was being submerged in water. It was this weird sensation of almost dry drowning, which is an awful feeling.” Though she’s lucky to be alive, her recovery has been difficult, and it came with a debilitating new challenge: severe depression. “It was the most frightening experience of my entire life because I truly could not see tomorrow,” Ford admits. “I actively thought about suicide.”
With the aid of a physical therapist and a psychologist and the support of friends like radio and TV host Claudia Jordan, who started an online fund-raiser to help cover Ford’s massive medical bills, Ford has been able to piece her life back together. “For me, recovery is just getting back into the gym, developing overall strength, improving upon flexibility,” she says. “I also have to do cognitive therapy and memory exercises because my memory is just terrible.”
So many people are suffering in silence as I chose to do for so long. Now I try to be more open.”
At 42, Ford didn’t believe in sharing every single moment of her life on social media. But when she opened up about her struggles with depression and her journey back to health, it was only to help her heal. “I’ve spent the better part of my life hiding when I was in pain,” Ford says. “I had this mantra that I used to repeat to myself ever since I was young: ‘Never let them see you shook—never.’ That did not work anymore. I was up against something I wasn’t prepared for.”
She soon discovered that being so transparent about her vulnerabilities was helping others deal with their own challenges. “The outpouring of support from total strangers and Instagram friends and just everybody was amazing,” she says. “I’m so grateful for it. It made me realize that I need to be a lot more vocal about what I’m going through because so many people are suffering in silence as I chose to do for so long. Now I try to be more open.” Turns out that letting people see her fears has become a powerful part of her healing.
This profile appeared as part of a larger story inside the July/August 2019 issue of ESSENCE. Check back next week read the next incredible survivor story.