This year I was presented with the opportunity to become a member of the walk committee for our community Out of the Darkness Walk, and it was the best decision I have ever made. The Out of Darkness Walks, developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are community walks to raise awareness and funds for suicide and suicide prevention. Although being the youngest member on the board made some tasks harder to fulfill, everyone was accepting and wanted me to find my place throughout the event.
At 8:30AM on Sunday, October 9th, the walk had arrived. We began setting up tables, and this was when I first experienced how eager all of the other members were to help and support one another along the way. I knew this day would be filled with ups and downs, but I was grateful to have so many amazing people there with me. I had started a team at my school, so I knew certain students would be there along with my sister, former teachers and counselors, but it was nice to be surrounded by so many others, too.
The amount of people who showed up to walk in honor of loved ones, their own personal struggles and simply to volunteer their time was amazing. No one was afraid to show their real self. One detail I noticed throughout the walk was that when you asked someone how they were doing, you didn’t receive the normal “good” or “fine” response; instead they answered honestly and with love. I began to realize through that simple act that it is okay to express how you are truly feeling and that people do care and want to help you.
I realized that day that I am not alone on this journey. While it is saddening to know such a large number of people have faced this terrible loss, it is also comforting to know others have also experienced this pain. The loss of a loved one or friend to suicide changes you and it unites those who have faced the pain together, regardless of who you are or where you’re from. During the walk, not just as a staff member but as a walker, I got out of my comfort zone, I hugged total strangers and connected with people who I wouldn’t have ever met otherwise.
Being in such a connected and close environment opens up the pain you’ve felt, whether or not you have tried to hide it. I let myself cry some when the walk began and I told myself that it is okay to feel, that is why you are here.
The beading ceremony was one of the hardest parts, but standing in front of my community honoring my mother’s life was a blessing. As they read her name aloud, I was engulfed in sadness. Rarely do I hear her full name said aloud in any setting, but that one made it even harder. At that point I knew I had to keep myself from crying as I was up there but I still allowed myself to feel those emotions and accept the pain. It is a good thing to feel.
I wore blue beads in support of suicide prevention and I wore gold beads in honor of my mother. I wore purple beads because I have lost a friend/family member. I wore red beads because I’ve had loved ones attempt. I wore teal beads because my loved ones have struggled. And finally, I wore green beads for my own personal struggle, that I continue to battle everyday. Since being diagnosed with PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder, I have been able to recognize triggers and emotions and figure out my pain but still, there are days when I do not see a reason for taking another breath and continuing on. I struggle on and off.
That’s why I’m so thankful for these walks. Even though the day was filled with ups and downs as my sister, Danielle, and I walked in honor of our guardian angel, our mom, it was worth it. These past three years haven’t been easy but through helping others and honoring her life, I’ve been able to find purpose. I am beyond grateful for everyone who came that day and I don’t know what I would do without these amazing people in my life. The day of the walk brought those who have struggled with the loss of a loved one to suicide together, to remind them that they are not alone in this journey. It was also a time to reflect on our own individual experiences as well as provide resources and hope to those who are currently struggling. Those who walked and volunteered their time are helping to put an end to the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness.
I am beyond grateful for these wonderful people in my life and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them always by my side.