If someone had asked me back in the summer of 2006 whether I ever thought I’d become a mental health advocate, I probably would have responded with tears instead of words. Because crying is what I did the most of that year. It was as if I were trying to cry out my severe depression. Cry all the tears until there were no more left to cry. Smiles, laughter, and happiness hid deep inside of me, dying to emerge, but too suppressed by the pain.
Back then, I couldn’t see hope. I couldn’t see my future because I was blinded by the tears of my sadness over losing my old self to my mental illness. I had a very difficult time accepting the fact that I was sick and needed help and medicine to get me back to well again. Each and every day of that year felt like a lifetime. I flew back to my parent’s house in Florida and spent several weeks with them while they helped me get treatment. The constant anxiety over my future, feeling like things would never get better, the intense darkness inside my heart made 2006 the longest and most challenging year of my life thus far.
The Overnight walk this past weekend was a night I will remember forever. I was honored to be among such an incredible group of nearly 2,000 walkers who each had been impacted by the loss of someone they loved to suicide and/or their own personal struggles with mental illness. The mood was solemn yet so full of inspiration. I met new friends and learned their stories of loss but also heard their dedication to spreading the message of hope and encouragement to those struggling. Hugs flowed freely everywhere you looked.
We talked as we walked, about the friends we had lost, about our own struggles, and about our hopes for the future: that we can help to break down the stigma that surrounds mental illness so that people won’t be afraid of reaching out for help when they need it most. Tons of photos we took during the night, posted to social media for the world to see, tell the story of our journey. I will treasure these images because they remind me how important it is that I’m sharing my story.
I walked with my friends Cristi @MotherUnadorned, Kiran @kferrandino, Jenni @zrecsmom, and Angel @mediamatson from dusk to dawn. We passed many of the gorgeous monuments and they lit the way for us as we made our way through our nation’s capital, passing the White House before making it to the dinner stop at 1:20am. At Farragut Square, we sat and ate for twenty minutes before heading out to finish the trek. We crossed the finish line at 4:15am and entered the finishing area where over 2,000 luminaries lined the walkway, each glowing with a loved one’s image and words of love and hope. It brought us back to the reason we were all there. To pay tribute to those we had lost and to strengthen our commitment to the cause of preventing suicide.
Without the help and support of my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my brother and sisters-in-law, and countless other family members and friends, I may not be where I am today. Because when things became so hopeless for me, when I wanted to give up my fight to get well, they kept fighting for me. They stood by me, and fought hard. I’m so grateful that they did.
They gave me hope to keep going. To keep fighting. To keep trying to fly again.
I’m proud to say that today I am flying. And the only reason I’m looking back is to help others. To show them there is hope. That they can get well with help and hard work.
This luminary caught my eye on the steps of the stage waiting for the closing ceremony. It sums up perfectly what the Overnight is all about:
Don't ever give up hope. Help is available if you need it. If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
PS. Thank you to all those who supported me on this walk. Collectively, the walk raised $2.6 million dollars - which is SO AWESOME! Donations are still being accepted though, for all the important work they do at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you'd like to donate, my walker page is available here.