Content Warning: This essay contains strong language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.
My name is Angela Lee Pucci. I am 27 years old.
I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter.
A world champion. A fighter.
And I know that might sound like the start of any standard interview that I’ve given over the years, but that’s not what this is.…
It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, but I’ve now reached a point where I am comfortable and confident enough to speak the full truth.
Six years ago, I tried to end my life.
My car crash in November 2017 was not an accident. It was a suicide attempt.
For the longest time, I blocked that reality out of my mind in order to “protect myself.” I put up barriers as a defense mechanism, to try and protect my mind and my heart from what had actually happened. And even all these years later, after a lot of healing, it’s still difficult to think about, let alone talk about.
Writing out everything you’re about to read, and opening up like this, has been challenging. But I know that my momentary feeling of discomfort will be worth it if I can help save just one life.
So let’s go back to 2017.
I’m 20 years old. Living the dream. I had become the first female world champion in the history of ONE Championship the previous year. Then came back-to-back successful title defenses in 2017. I bought a brand-new car. I met my husband. I got engaged. I was excited to plan a wedding. It was the happiest I’d ever been. Life was good.
But then November rolled around, and as I was getting ready for my last title defense of the year, things started to snowball for me. Pressure, stress, and expectations all began to build up. I had tunnel vision and thought that this upcoming fight was the most important thing in my life.
Looking back now, I had everything I could have wanted at the time, but I didn’t realize it. Didn’t fully appreciate it. Because I had gotten to a place where making weight for that fight was the biggest thing in the world to me.
I told myself: If you don’t get this done, you’ll lose everything.
And, as an athlete, in all honesty, that mentality can be useful and motivating. But it’s also a double-edged sword. And, with me, I got to a point where I had pushed my mind and body too far.
It’s difficult to say and may be difficult to hear, but I need to share the full picture.- Angela Lee
I couldn’t stop thinking about the shame that would result if I wasn’t able to make the fight. As someone who had never missed any competition in her entire life, that terrified me. It became all-encompassing. And, ultimately, I got to a point where I would rather take myself out of the equation than deal with what might come.
That’s where my head was at. It was all or nothing.
In the weeks leading up to the crash, I was convinced that I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling, about all the thoughts I was having. I didn’t want to let my family down. So I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that wouldn’t happen. That’s what I told myself.
Everything came crashing down on November 6, the longest night of my life.
That evening, I was trying to drop a few more pounds. I took a hot bath. I was wrapping myself up in towels. That whole thing.
I was having a really hard time. I was trying to stay in the fight, mentally. Trying to stay strong, but I felt myself slipping. I was terrified and exhausted and at my limit, and all of these negative, dark thoughts started flooding in.
I went to my room, and I broke down crying. I remember pacing through my room and walking over to the scale. I get on, and look down, and it says that I still have 12 pounds to lose.
With ONE Championship’s hydration testing, you have to lower your weight gradually through dieting. But I started this fight camp the heaviest I’d ever been, and the weight wasn’t dropping anymore. My body was fighting against me, and I had run out of time. There were only two weeks left before I was supposed to fly out for my fight. That crushed me. I knew right then and there: I can't do it. I won't make it. My mind and my body can't handle this.
I broke. I didn’t care anymore. I kept going back and forth with thoughts in my head. Talking myself in and out of possibilities. I wanted to escape. I told myself: I have to take myself out of this fight.
And that’s when things got really bad.
This part is hard to talk about, but I want to be honest here. It's difficult to say and may be difficult to hear, but I need to share the full picture.
At one point, when everyone else in my house was asleep, I went to the bathroom and literally tried to break my own arm. Then I tried to give myself a concussion.
I was trying anything I could think of to escape from the situation I was in and get out of the fight.
When those things didn’t work, I decided to get in my car and leave it up to fate to see what happens next. (I remember it was around 4 a.m. when I headed out, because I looked at the clock and knew that I had a training session coming up in two hours, at 6 in the morning.)
I thought: This is it. I don’t care what happens next.
I wanted to end whatever it was that I was feeling. Because I felt like that was my only option. I couldn’t see past that moment. I was too scared to speak up and tell people I was struggling. I was too afraid of what my family would think of me, of what the world would think.
I didn't want to be a disappointment to anyone.
After I started the car, I took off down this road near the house where I was living at the time on O’ahu. It’s a highway I’d take to get to the gym, and at one stretch of the road there’s this bend in it. On one side there’s a mountain, and on the other side there’s a gulch. It basically just drops off from there.
That’s where I decided I was going to do it.
And so I’m speeding down that road and I get to the spot and … I couldn’t do it. The first time, I ended up driving past the spot.
I actually had to circle back around and go at it a second time.
That second try, I built up more courage, or whatever you want to call it, and I just pressed my foot all the way down on the gas pedal. As far down as it would go. I don’t know how fast I was going. But it was as fast as my car could move. I wanted to hit the guardrail as hard as I could, and I just remember turning the steering wheel and swerving and then hitting something, and then it was just … rolling.
Rolling and rolling and rolling.
When I opened my eyes, I was upside down.- Angela Lee
I didn’t know where I was rolling — whether I’d gone over the cliff, or up in the air, or what. I just closed my eyes and let it happen. Everything was moving in slow motion for me at the time.
When I opened my eyes, I was upside down. There was shattered glass everywhere.
I remember waiting around in that car for a good bit of time, hanging upside down, just basically trying to process everything. Like….
Am I still here? Am I alive?
After a while, some people came out of their cars and were trying to help me. I was still in shock, but I do remember they were so kind. So comforting. Then, as soon as they got me out of the car, I sat down on the road and started crying.
Just absolutely bawling my eyes out. Shaking uncontrollably.
I wasn’t upset that I was still here but I was just feeling … I don’t know. I can’t even put it into words. There was a lot going through my head all at the same time. And I couldn’t process it all.
I don’t really remember much after that. The ambulance, the hospital … it was all kind of a blur.
Looking back on it now, the moment I felt my car hit the guardrail and roll ... in that split second, I remember actually experiencing a feeling of relief. Not regret, not fear ... relief. And, I’m not sure, but I imagine that is what many people feel when they decide to take such a drastic step. We're seeking relief, or an escape from whatever is consuming us.
At the time, I was so focused on trying to get rid of the thoughts and feelings I was dealing with that I didn’t even think about how my next few actions might lead to something permanent, to something I could not come back from.
To tell you the truth, I didn't care if I lived or died at that moment. So surviving, trying to live, after all that had happened was extremely difficult.
What made it even harder was ... no one knew what had really happened.
Even though I kept everything a secret from the world, I did end up telling one person — my husband, Bruno.
At the time of the crash, he was working overseas in Singapore. He flew to me as soon as he could, and at one point we were sitting in the car and he just turned to me and was like: Angela, what happened? You fell asleep? I don’t understand. What was going on?
I remember feeling like he kind of knew that something was up, and right at that moment I broke down and I started to cry.
“No. I didn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t a car accident….
“I did it on purpose.”
Bruno was shocked, of course. But he was glad that I told him the truth. Beyond that, he was just very confused because he didn’t know about everything I was dealing with.
After I told him, he just held me in his arms. And I felt so relieved. I really needed that. I’m so grateful that he asked me what happened. Because I needed to tell someone. I wanted more than anything to tell somebody. And after I said what I said to him, he made me feel safe and loved.
I still felt very alone, though, in trying to deal with and process what happened. As much as Bruno loved me and wanted to help me, he just did not understand what I was going through. And that’s not his fault. It’s extremely difficult to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes who is mentally unwell if you’ve never experienced it yourself.
I felt fragile, shattered. I was broken, and I needed to heal and put back the pieces all by myself.
So many things became triggering for me. I tried my best to push what had happened out of my mind, but a lot of times I had no choice but to face things. I still had to drive on that same highway where my car crashed and rolled over.
And a few weeks after the crash, I still attended the event that I was supposed to fight on in Singapore. I still met with fans and had to talk about what had happened in interviews.
Of course … I was only telling a portion of the truth. I honestly just didn’t have the courage or the strength at that point to open up about what truly happened.
It took me a very long time to heal from this.
For the longest time, day after day, I felt like I was living a lie. I felt like an imposter. I couldn't feel my emotions but at the same time I'd get overwhelmed and flooded with feelings. I felt numb for a very long time. I was emotionally unstable. For the first time in my life, I began to suffer from anxiety and the smallest things would overwhelm me. At times it became difficult to breathe.
And, through it all, I had to put on a mask that would make it seem to my family and the world that life was good. That I was doing O.K. Even though I wasn’t.
But eventually, slowly but surely, I started putting myself back together piece by piece. I started with the smallest things, like focusing on my breathing when I felt a panic attack creep up. Breathing in for four seconds, holding it in for seven seconds, and then slowly releasing it for eight seconds. I’d do that, over and over, until I could breathe normally again.
Another thing that really helped me, and that I still do to this day, is writing.
I’d write a letter to myself, detailing the struggles that I was going through and the things I was feeling. Then I’d also make a list of 10 things to be grateful for at that moment. At first, soon after the crash, I sometimes couldn’t get all the way to 10. So I’d start with one thing, then eventually work my way up to three things, five things and then, finally, 10. Doing that helped me put things into perspective.
If I was having a bad day, and felt my thoughts and emotions were getting out of control, I would try to do things that I could control. I’d go outside and feel the sun. I’d take a walk and be in nature. Another thing that I think is underrated is spending time with animals. I’ve always been a dog lover, and I truly feel that when you can’t verbally talk about what you’re feeling, sometimes just letting your furry friend out and seeing their love, affection and admiration for you can be really comforting and uplifting.
Around the house, I’d turn some little things in life into instant “pick me ups” — things like making myself a good cup of coffee or tea. I started small and took it day by day. Beyond that, I let time do most of the work. And, you know what … as the days passed, things slowly got better. And I feel like the more I talk with people about what I’ve been through, the more healing occurs. Everything about this healing process has been a challenge, of course. It has been far from easy. But with each time that I share my story with another person … I still cry. Tears still fall. My voice still trembles. But, each time, it gets a little bit better.
At this point, I’m just trying my best each day, and every day that looks different. But I’m O.K. with that. I realize now that I’m only human, we all are. We aren’t meant to live a perfect, spotless life.
I’ve come to learn that this life, it’s life. It’s about growing and learning to accept yourself.
Some days are good, some are tough, but each day I choose to keep fighting.
There are still many tough days. But how I navigate through those days is a lot better now. A lot healthier. I have tools to use and people I can count on to let them know how I’m feeling.
I absolutely love being a mom. I love being outdoors and spending time at the ocean. Feeling the sun hit you, the fresh air. I find it all to be incredibly healing. Recently, I’ve also found something new that really helps me. I love going to the grocery store with a new recipe to cook up, and finding all the ingredients, and then trying it out. I’m not the best cook, but there’s something so calming for me about that whole process. It really helps to take my mind off things and just focus on the present moment.
I think it feels great to create something good out of a bunch of random things that you bring together.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why I survived. Why my car didn’t fly over that rail. Why it stopped rolling before it got to the edge of the drop-off.
And, the more I think about it, the more I believe that I am still here today so that I can share my story with you. There may be someone out there right now who is struggling the same way I was struggling. Maybe by hearing this they can see that this does not have to be the end. That there is hope.
No battle needs to be walked alone.- Angela Lee
I very much believe in the power of sharing our personal stories and connecting through our lived experiences. It’s one of the reasons why I created Fightstory, a nonprofit organization, this past March.
Fightstory is dedicated to speaking one’s truth, inspiring hope, and building a community for those struggling with mental health. It was created to bring healing, awareness, acceptance, and support for those battling through their darkest times, and for their loved ones as well.
No battle needs to be walked alone.
At Fightstory, we believe stories can save lives. These narratives, our stories, need to be shared, and people need to hear them. We are focused on creating a community where voices can be heard, and stories celebrated.
We are starting the conversation.
By sharing real stories from real people who are working to overcome their adversity (depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, PTSD, loss of a loved one, and the list goes on….) we shine a light on a topic that is all too often kept in the dark. Our mission is to change how society views mental health and to emphasize the process of healing … because it is a process, and it is possible.
We believe that mental and physical health are vital for every individual and the preservation of their well-being. We want to use our voices to inspire hope and to let others know that they’re not alone.
I’m sure there are people out there asking: Why are you choosing to share this now? Why did you create Fightstory?
On December 26, 2022, my younger sister, Victoria, took her own life.
Fightstory was inspired by Victoria and the remarkable life that she lived at just 18 years old. Fightstory is just as much hers as it is mine. It’s something we created together, to save lives and to try and make the world a better place. We want people to know that although you may feel lonely in your fight with mental health, you are not alone.
If you are struggling right now, if you are in a dark place, if you are contemplating ending your life, let us be the ones to say, we understand. We know how you feel.
It’s not about being strong all the time. You don’t need to fake it or pretend that everything is O.K. There is so much strength in honesty and in asking for help.
And we all can be there for each other.
At that time in 2017 when my husband was the only other person in the world who knew the truth about what happened to me, his support and love were critically important. It’s true that I had to go on a journey of self-healing and recovery, but I had Bruno to hold my hand through it all. He could not understand why I did what I did at that time, and yet he chose to be there for me. His love unwavering.
Sometimes that is all we need. One person. One hand to hold. One shoulder to cry on.
Love is the most powerful thing on Earth. More powerful than anger, sadness or fear. When we have love even the most impossible challenges become possible.
If you are struggling right now, please know that there are people who love and care about you. If you are going through a dark time, I know how incredibly difficult it may be to see right now, but life has so much more in store for you than the current struggles you’re dealing with.
Speaking up and asking for help is the first step to truly living life. We all need to talk more about mental health, not less. It’s only by talking about it that we are able to destigmatize the conversation surrounding mental health.
Suicide is a fatal result of a restricted perspective, a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And a single, permanent decision taken by you doesn’t only affect you. It affects everyone around you. It’s similar to when you throw a stone into the water. The stone hits the surface and sinks, but it creates a ripple effect influencing everything that surrounds it. You may just be trying to put an end to your pain, and I get that. I understand. But I’m here to let you know that you have no idea how much devastation you will leave in your path for everyone you know and love.
Hope is the truth. Your life does matter. The world is a better place with you here. Better days can come. They are right around the corner. The light will find you, if you look for it. Hold on to hope and the possibility of tomorrow. Sooner or later things will get better, and when that day happens, you will be grateful that you chose to stay. There are so many surprises that your future holds. Life still has so much in store for you.
You are not alone. Hope is real, and you can get through this.