If you're not familiar with the Out of Darkness walk, though if you follow my Facebook page I'm not sure how this is possible, it's a 16-18 mile walk to bring awareness and funds to suicide prevention, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP. The obvious point of holding the event from dusk to dawn is to point out that no matter how dark it may seem, there is hope. (I feel like this explanation might not have been needed, but I also feel that you can never point out too often for those who are experience deep depression and suicidal feelings that there is hope).
|Walkers and their supporters before the opening ceremonies.|
I have done charity walks before, and I know the sense of accomplishment felt at being able to raise the money and complete the mileage, along with the adrenaline that occurs during the actual walking/activity. But this event touched me in ways that I never expected. It started when we got to choose which honor beads we would wear for the night. There were different colors which indicated your reason for participation. They ranged from "support the cause" to having lost different people in your life to suicide - different colors for family/friend, parent, and child - to military or first responder, to personal struggle. As I chose my honor beads, I took careful consideration. Of course I chose blue, for support the cause. I then chose purple, as I've lost a second cousin to suicide. Finally, I picked green for "personal struggle". You see, I write this blog, I post all over facebook and twitter, and I run and support events and organizations, but choosing those green beads was akin to walking around with a t-shirt that says "I struggle with mental health". It's not that I'm ashamed or even worried what people will think. It's simply the first time I've physically worn something out in public that indicates my condition, and for some reason, it felt like a big step to take. I wasn't alone. I'd say at least a quarter of people walking, and that's an eyeball estimate that might be rather low, were wearing them with me. And nobody looked at us funny or edged away or made an ignorant comment. In fact, before the event (I'd gotten there quite early to register) I went with my family to a nearby restaurant, and when others from the event walked in wearing their own beads and walk shirts, we just nodded at each other and smiled. A silent "I get it. You too."
|Me, pre-walk, with my three colors of honor beads|
As I listened to the opening remarks, speakers discussing their loved ones lost to suicide, I watched the faces around me. You could see the acknowledgement in their head nods, the tears forming in their eyes. At one point, one person with each color of honor beads step forward on stage, with the speaker explaining why that specific person was walking. The second to last person stepped forward wearing green beads for "personal struggle". The speaker described how she'd spent most of her life feeling like she just didn't belong in the world and just didn't fit in anywhere, but there, that night, she finally felt like she wasn't alone. I lost it. I let the tears fall freely, feeling absolutely no shame, especially as I looked around and saw others doing the same. If you have read my blog before, you know how I've never been close to cool and always kind of jumped around life, randomly maybe fitting in here or there, but always always feeling like something in life was just off, like I just didn't belong. But finally, finally, I realized that there, I too, fit in. I was not alone. Not even close to alone. The people there that night understood how it felt, a feeling that is impossible to fully describe, that you don't really know until you experience it. Trust me, it's not a "group" that I wish my friends and loved ones to be part of. I'm glad most of them don't know what it feels like. But the knowledge that you're surrounded by people that do was something I've never experienced in person. While I'm terribly saddened that each and everyone one of those people do know what it feels like, I finally felt like I belonged. The nods and tears of my fellow walkers told me that they felt the same.
|Those called to stage to represent the different honor beads|
As we walked, a few of us - most walking by ourselves - formed our own unofficial team. We openly asked each other, and just as openly explained, why we were walking. There was no taboo. There was no "what will they think of me?". Despite the fact that everyone had a slightly different reason, we all had this one, hugely personal, thing in common - depression or suicide had somehow affected us all deeply. I have to say, that's a much deeper connection than I suspect you can get in one book club meeting or one sports practice, and yet we had this as the result of one walk.
You learn a lot doing an event like this. You learn who supports your cause, through monetary donation or moral support. You learn how much physical and emotional strength you have to push through the walk. You learn how much water you can drink without having to use a port-o-potty, and that if you've walked long enough without eating, generic snack products actually become appetizing. You learn you can indeed stay up past your usual bedtime, and easily, if the reason is right... though I do have to say I'm glad and proud to have finished by midnight. But most of all, you learn that no matter how much it hurts at times, no matter how isolated you may have felt, no matter how dark things get, there is hope and you are not alone.
|Luminaries lit for lost loved ones, waiting for us at the end of the walk.|
To learn more about Out of Darkness Walks, including the Overnight Walk, and three to five mile Community and Campus Walks, click here. If you are interested in getting involved with AFSP, check out their opportunities, including finding your local chapter, here.