The event is always an emotional one, as one would expect. As I've said before, it's different from any other fundraising walks I've done, in that suicide has no survivors. And while there are a few people there who are walking just to support the cause, perhaps those who work with the mental health community such as social workers or therapists, for the most part almost everyone participating has lost someone to suicide or has struggled themselves. The stories told at the opening ceremony are not stories of beating the odds, as they may be with walks for cancer or other illness. They are stories of loss, of those who lost their battle, and of those who are here grieving them. I can virtually guarantee that every single person that attends the opening ceremony of an Overnight Walk ends up in tears at some point. It is incredibly sad and incredibly moving.
|Honor beads: each stand for a reason I'm walking|
|Names of those I'm walking for|
For me, the emotion is multi-fold. Several years back, I lost a cousin (technically, a second-cousin) to suicide. I didn't know him well, to be honest, as he was a generation older and the families had somewhat gotten out of contact in recent years. However, he'd been quite close to many other family members, as they'd grown up together. And despite the distance, I feel his loss. He is, after all, family. Knowing now how he must have felt, what he must have been going through, I wish I had known him better. I wish I could have talked to him, listened, shared my story and my struggles, told him that he wasn't alone. Because I can say first hand that the loneliness and isolation one feels with mental health conditions, even those who have plenty of support, can be terrifying, and can destroy hope.
I walked for those I know who live with mental health conditions, who have struggled with depression and mood cycling disorders. Some have dealt with suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide. Others could be at risk, and the more care and support we have for mental health, the more we able to prevent them from reaching that point.
I walked for myself. I have been there. I have had moments, days, even weeks in which I went through the motion of life without caring what was actually happening. I've had times where I've cried until I felt out of tears, begging something, someone, anything to end the pain somehow, despite often not being able to identify what the pain actually was. I am lucky, I suppose, that I am rapid cycling. These depressive episodes rarely last for more than a week, two tops, and often it's just a day or less. I cannot imagine the pain of months, even years, of depression that others who do not cycle as rapidly, or who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, go through. To them I say, "You are incredibly brave and strong individuals. Please, please keep fighting. You are not alone, I promise."
This past weekend, the conditions for a 17 mile overnight walk were not ideal. The temperature dropped to a low in the 50s, which is not horrible, but is about 30 degrees cooler than most of us have experienced lately. The forecast showed rain - lots, and lots of rain - and heavy winds with possible thunderstorms. In fact, the forecast was so rough that they actually shortened the course by about two miles for our safety. To my knowledge, this hasn't been done before, at least not recently. And as luck would have it, this was the one time that the weather forecasters were actually spot on. We got about an hour and a half under our belts before rain started. It wasn't too bad at first. The type that looks worse when you examine it in the street lights than it actually feels. Annoying, but not awful. Then around mile 12, it started to pick up substantially. By mile 13, it was pouring, blowing sideways, with the heavy winds that were predicted. I finished at approximately 12:20 AM. The course was open until 4 AM. There were walkers who, when I finished, probably had another 2.5 to 3 hours to go. They, I'm sure, got the brunt of the storm.
Despite the weather, many people I spoke with were disappointed that they'd shortened the route. They'd pledged to do 16-18 miles in support of suicide prevention, and they wanted to do the entire route (we were told it was 14.2 miles or so after the adjustment, but GPS trackers told us about 15.3). People spoke of walking back from the end site to the hotel just to get in the extra mile or so that they'd planned to do. It wasn't for fitness sake. It was because they wanted to walk at least 16 miles to support suicide prevention as they'd pledged they would, weather be damned. I saw a woman pushing another person in a wheel chair the entire way. I walked part of the time with a military veteran who wore his full uniform, backpack (I know that's not the technical term) and boots included. When we asked him he said, "it's not too bad, though the boots are a little rough." But he trucked along without complaint. I walked with one woman who, every time we were asked why we were walking, she said in a loud, proud voice, "suicide prevention!". There was no reservation. There was no fear of stigma or judgement. We walked and talked and waved to the people standing on the route to cheer us. People made jokes about the weather and how ridiculous we looked and felt walking in it. And we kept going.
Now, I won't lie - I saw a few people take a "short cut" when we passed by our hotel for the second or third time. I can't blame them. This isn't an athlete's walk. People aren't walking for the workout, they're walking for the cause, and some weren't physically able to do it, no matter how good their intentions. And there were a few grumpy walkers to whom I wanted to say, "think about why you're walking this; think about the pain your loved one faced. This is nothing compared to that." I held my tongue, for once. Maybe I was too cold and wet and tired to be sassy at the moment. But these grumpy ones were far in the minority, I'm proud to say.
I have already signed up for next year's New York walk on June 4, 2016 (the west coast walk is in San Francisco, for those to whom that's more convenient). I am hoping to get together a team of walkers, crew members, and general event supporters. And if you're able to do none of the above but are really great at organizing fundraising and/or getting people to donate, well, that is certainly a big help too! If you're interested in somehow being involved in the walk, please feel free to reach out to me by whatever method you know/choose. I realize that $1000 sounds like a large sum of money to raise in order to walk. But if you start soon, you have almost a year to do so. With a team, there are more ways to get creative with raising funds cooperatively. And if you think about the cause, your reason for wanting to participate, the person or people you'd be walking in honor or in memory of, it is so, so much bigger than $1000.
|Luminaria, which is lit at the end to shine a light of hope.|