A Life's Story

October 24, 2020

The good fight

Stephanie Siddle didn't want to be defined by her demons; she wanted her struggles to inspire change

By: Kevin Rollason

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Stephanie as a young girl.</p></p>

SUPPLIED

Stephanie as a young girl.

To family and friends, it was as if there were two Stephanie Siddles.

One was the friendly Stephanie Siddle. The one who was always laughing and helpful, the one who would literally give the shirt — or, in one case, a jacket — off her back to someone in need.

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Siddle and her brother Chan.</p></p>

SUPPLIED

Siddle and her brother Chan.

But then there was the other Stephanie Siddle. The one who turned to alcohol and the drugs she became addicted to as a teenager, ended up with the wrong crowd and angrily turned on her friends, shutting them out for years.

Actually, there was also a third Stephanie Siddle — the one who desperately sought help for her addictions and wanted others to get the same assistance.

Sadly, Siddle didn’t get the help she needed. She died on June 16, of a suspected drug overdose. She was just 33.

It’s a tragic story, but Siddle not only fought to help others, she also packed a lot of good experiences into her life, starting with getting to be part of a loving family.

Siddle’s adoptive mother, Corinne Siddle, and her husband, Allen, don’t know anything about Stephanie’s biological dad, but they were told her birth mother had issues with addictions. She remembers the day Stephanie came into their lives at just three months of age.

"She said it was the defining moment of her life, when she became a Siddle," Corrine said. "She was part of a family. She said, ‘I never belonged to anyone else.’"

Siddle’s start in life was rocky from a health standpoint.

"She was just seven-and-a-half pounds," Corinne said. "She was so sick. She was in and out of hospital — we were frequent flyers.

"We fostered her and then adopted her after that. We adopted her when she was two. She was our second foster child and our first adoption."

Corinne said they were told the child had what is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but it never affected her cognitive abilities.

"She was never a problem at school — she was so smart."

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Stephanie and her dog Nova.</p>

SUPPLIED

Stephanie and her dog Nova.

Siddle went to Sun Valley School, followed by Chief Peguis Junior High and River East Collegiate, where she graduated with honours.

At the same time, Siddle was a figure skater, going to competitions across the province and to Minot, N.D., where she won a medal.

"They put her in the wrong category — the kids were older than her — and she did a routine to Take Me Out to the Ballgame and she took gold. They were amazed this little girl from Manitoba could skate like that," Corinne said.

Megan Maxwell was Siddle’s skating coach when she joined a synchronized skating team put together to compete in the Manitoba Games in The Pas in 2002.

"She was a strong skater," Maxwell said. "This group of girls came together; we practised once or twice a week and they gelled.

"She was eager and she was engaged. It was such an amazing experience — they came out with a bronze medal."

Maxwell was surprised to later see media reports that the former skater had become addicted to drugs.

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Stephanie Siddle riding the gondola in Banff, Alta., </p>

SUPPLIED

Stephanie Siddle riding the gondola in Banff, Alta.,

"I had no idea — she seemed so happy. I will always remember her smiling face at our synchro competitions, bus trips and practices."

Siddle also played baseball and soccer for the Gateway Community Club, which is where she met some of her best friends, known as the "baseball girls."

Lisa Poggemiller was one of those girls, though she’d first become friends with Siddle in early elementary school. Their friendship continued right up to university, where they took psychology courses at the same time.

"When she was younger, she was always very nice and very friendly," Poggemiller said.

"She was always kind to people and helping people."

But that changed when the addictions took hold. The baseball girls tried to get her help, but Siddle turned on them; they ended up being estranged for years. It was only in the last few months of her life that Poggemiller began talking to her again.

"She was in hospital in February and we all went in to visit her," Poggemiller said. "She was still Stephanie. Even recently, her mom said (Stephanie) said she saw a kid without a jacket and she went home to get one of her own to give to her."

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Siddle with father, Allen, on her wedding day in 2012.</p></p>

SUPPLIED

Siddle with father, Allen, on her wedding day in 2012.

Poggemiller said she and the others didn’t know how to help their friend when they were younger.

"She changed and she just kind of went to a completely different world from the rest of us. You grow up in a good area and go to a good school — none of us had any exposure with anything like Stephanie got into. We now know it wasn’t just us; it was her mental health and what she was battling."

After high school, Siddle headed to the University of Manitoba, where she graduated with a psychology degree and made the dean’s honour list.

"I never would have predicted that when she was a baby," Corinne said. "At university, she always said, ‘I’m going to be the best psychologist, because I’ve lived it.’"

But Siddle’s downward slide actually began a few years before she attended university.

"She went out in her car and we got a phone call from her girlfriends — they said she went to Wendy’s (restaurant) and she was out of it," Corinne said.

"That was the first time we knew she used alcohol. With two or three drinks, she turned into a different person. She would lose all sense of where she was and who she was. And she was angry."

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Stephanie Siddle packed her life full of good experiences before she died of a suspected drug overdose in June at the age of 33.</p>

SUPPLIED

Stephanie Siddle packed her life full of good experiences before she died of a suspected drug overdose in June at the age of 33.

Siddle got married in 2012, but her addictions cost her that, too. By 2016, they had divorced. "She said she left him ‘because I love him enough to let him go,’" Corinne said.

Siddle fought her addictions in private for a long time, but in recent years, both she and her mother went public and were open about her problems and the lack of mental-health supports in the province. That’s when she admitted she had been discharged at least 10 times from different hospitals, sometimes within hours of having tried to commit suicide.

Corinne Siddle said she will continue her daughter’s fight to change the mental-health system for the better.

"When we cleaned out her stuff from her house, (we found) she had done binders, maybe 50 of them, to self-help herself," Corinne said.

"She said, ‘Mom, I know what I was doing — don’t blame anyone.’ But I know there is still so much that can help if (the system) is changed.

"She was the greatest person in the world to me."

Besides her parents, Siddle is survived by her five siblings and several nieces and nephews.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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