Tuesday, June 7, 2016

We Walked, It Poured, We Concquered

This past weekend I participated in the Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. It's the third year I've done this walk. If you're picturing one of the numerous 5K walks  for charity, where people casually stroll along drinking their coffee and chatting, this is not it. It's a 16 to 18 mile walk (this year's was 17 miles), that starts at sun down and runs until you finish, or 4AMish, whichever comes first.

The event is held in two different locations each year. This year's was San Francisco and New York, and as I'm located in Philadelphia (for those who don't know) I chose NY. I had to raise a minimum of $1000 to participate, as every walker does. I managed $1500, which is the most I've raised in three years of doing this event. Woo hoo! Thank you everyone!

The event is unlike any other I've participated in. The most obvious reason being, there are no survivors of suicide. There are those who have attempted and survived. There are family and friends who survive someone that has died by suicide. But by the nature of what suicide is, there is nobody who has fully experienced it and lived. Unlike walks for various types of cancer, heart disease, and other illness, there are literally no survivors walking. Not a small number, not one. Zero. And because of this, the event has a feel different than any other (and I've done numerous types of walks and events for a wide variety of charity). At once, there's both a feeling of hope, in the the strides that we're making in suicide prevention, in spreading awareness and fighting the stigma, in those who continue to beat their own battle every day that they are still alive, and a feeling of incredible sadness and loss for those who have lost the battle. There is an undeniable level of respect for each and every person walking, volunteering, and supporting the event. Each of these people have stood up, acknowledged the importance of the cause, and fraught against the stigma of mental health and suicide. Walkers wear different colored beads to symbolize their specific reason for walking. Based on the color of their beads, they are openly saying, I lost my sibling. I lost my friend. I have friends who struggle. I struggle myself.  There was a man wearing two sets of gold beads. He had lost both parents to suicide, a year apart, and the walk was taking place on the anniversary of his father's death. It is especially heart-wrenching for me to see those who wear white beads. These people have lost a child. We wear shirts with the cause written prominently across the front. On the back, people write the names of loved ones who struggle and and who have been lost. Many people have attached pictures of those that they walk for. There is no hiding. There is no shame. There is no fear. There is no stigma. As it should be. Everywhere. Always. But we are not in a society that allows this, at least not at this time. And yet here, we can walk openly, talking about mental health and suicide, acknowledging each others' losses and struggles, but also with the power to spread the message.

Five minutes after leaving the opening ceremonies, probably three tenths of a mile into a 17 mile walk, the skies opened up. I mean poured. Practically monsooned. Last year in Boston, it poured for probably the last 5 miles near the end of the walk. This year, we barely made it out of the starting gates. Our socks were soaked. Shoes were soaked. Everything and everyone was soaked. It was that kind of blinding rain where you just put one foot in front of the other and hope both don't land in a puddle up to your shin. There was absolutely no escaping it. And yet we kept on walking. In fact, we probably walked faster, as if trying to out-smart the rain (no running allowed in the Overnight). Luckily, it did not last five miles. It may have lasted a mile. And then, the weather was perfect. Barely hazy, cooled down enough to be less muggy, but comfortable. For the next 16 miles.

Opening Ceremonies at the Intrepid
I met up with three others walking on their own. One had an 8x10 (guestimate size) picture of his wife on his back. We formed an unspoken agreement to walk as a team and spent the rest of the event together. We respected the cause, while managing to talk and even laugh. You have to, sometimes, to get through this type of thing. We took "team pictures". We crossed the finish line together just shy of 1 AM, among the first to make it through the 17 miles. The man with the picture of his wife gave us each hearts made out of pipe cleaners - his wife used to make them and give them out to people around the city.  We hugged each other, said good night, and went our separate ways.

My impromptu walk team, just past mile 8 in Brooklyn

My truly incredible boyfriend stayed up for the cause as well, coming to each cheering station that he could (MTA was a pain in the butt and detours prevented him to making it to the first couple). He met me at the end point. Sometimes he was the only person at the cheering station when we went by. When you're walking 17 miles through the middle of the night with wet socks and shoes, and your feet feel like bricks and you hurt in places you didn't know could hurt (walking these distances is no joke guys), having someone standing there cheering for you and urging you forward is incredible. Seeing the familiar face of someone you love cheering for you is priceless.

My boyfriend and I at Opening C

Today, people ask me how it went. It's a difficult question to answer. It monsooned. You're hurting everywhere, You're still ringing out your clothes. And yet you did this enormous thing. You met these amazing people, who you may see at another walk, or bump into in NY somewhere (less likely), or see on social media, or may never encounter again. But you now share this bond that's virtually impossible to explain to those who haven't experienced it. You will always remember these people. They will always, in a completely unique way, be special to you, even if you don't even know their last names, and eventually may forget their first.  And somehow, through the sore ankles and blistered feet and tight hamstrings and lack of sleep, you already can't wait to do it again next year.

17 miles later
All finished! 


  1. This is a wonderful account of the walk, well-written as usual. I'll pass it along to others.