A Story of Resilience

Side-by-side: Photo on the left of Brian and his father; photo on the right of Brian and his son.

A Story of Resilience – Written by Brian Killian, a local community member and advocate for mental health

Rocky Balboa once said: “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” And If you’re somebody who has been hit a few times in life, perhaps even knocked down, I’m hopeful that my words might help you find the strength to pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

They say it’s always sunny in Philadelphia. For the first 3½ years of my life which were spent there, I have to admit my forecast did not include many rainy days. My family travelled westward across Pennsylvania, relocating from the City of Brotherly Love to the Steel City, Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh isn’t particularly known for great weather and there certainly were some storms ahead for me there. My parents separated when I was just 8 years old, then a year later, my father committed suicide.

Rocky was right, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.” I can tell you firsthand that this blow didn’t just beat me to my knees, it knocked me flat on my back.

There would be no more Penguins games with my best friend. No more rollercoaster rides at Kennywood. No more late nights staying up watching Cheers. My dad always told me that we were “pals til the end,” and unfortunately, this was the end of our time together on Earth. But luckily for me, I had the love and support needed to help pick me back up off the mat.

Nobody is capable of overcoming an obstacle like this alone, especially not a 9-year-old boy. I had a strong and amazing mother who turned out to be the hero of my story. My mom remarried and my stepfather had some extremely difficult shoes to fill - out of respect for my father, I’ve never called him Dad still to this day. However, I can assure you that he is just that in the purest meaning of that word.

I have three siblings who played a huge role in my recovery as well. And while none of us had an easy upbringing, we all had each other and that’s what helped us get through it.

In my younger years, I found therapy to be helpful, but I wish that I had talked about my father more. I remember it taking quite awhile before I was able to say his name without crying. It was much easier for me to bottle it up inside and I feel like that’s what I did for a number of years.

Relocating to Maryland in the seventh grade presented challenges of its own. Given my past, I wasn’t the most outgoing of the group to begin with and people from Maryland really hate my beloved Penguins! Needless to say, I don’t think they were taking too kindly to my black- and-gold attire.

All joking aside, I would develop some amazing friends in Maryland and they provided me with love, support, laughs, cries, and a lifetime of memories that I’ll never forget. The kind of memories that helped someone like me overcome a serious bout of depression, and I’ll never forget them for that.

It would’ve been just as easy for me to spend many more of my days feeling depressed or sorry for myself. I even could have played the victim card but I made the decision that I wasn’t going to let my past define my future. I owed it to my parents, and really to anybody who had been there to support me to be the best version of me that I could be, and that became my source of inspiration.

In 2008, I graduated from Salisbury (MD) University, becoming the first person on either side of my immediate family to do so. Shortly thereafter, I started working for a private career school where, in my five years, I had the privilege of helping more than 500 students improve their lives and achieve their goals. In 2014, I accepted a position as the Contribution Compliance Manager at The National Electrical Benefit Fund (NEBF), and over the years, I’ve helped transform a struggling department into a thriving team.

Shortly after beginning at NEBF, my best friend introduced me to Dawn, who would later become my wife. We purchased our dream home together in 2018, and now have a 2-year-old daughter, Josie, and a 5-year-old son, Jonathan. To honor my dad, my son was named after him.

In hindsight, I understand that none of this was possible without the support of those who were there for me when I needed it most. I also understand that I didn’t achieve all of these things in life because I laid down on the mat and gave up the fight.

So take it from me, when you encounter the biggest fight of your life, just remember that it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it's about how you can get hit and keep moving forward, because that’s how winning is done!

--Brian Killian