This is a post I’m not sure I will be able to write as well as I would like to . . . reflecting on my trip and participation in The Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk I will attempt to sum up the experience and what it has meant to me.
The weeks prior to The Overnight I was in great physical pain and battled quite a few emotional/psychological challenges as well. The pain was from Fibromyalgia and a “flare” of pain like I don’t recall ever experiencing before. The other emotional/psychological obstacles ranged from fear to panic to doubt to despair at times, not feeling certain of anything, much less my ability to raise the money I had committed to raising, traveling to Chicago, and walking in the event itself. The reality of what took place, the fundraising experience, and participating in the event is now a beautiful picture that I can gaze at in my memory, in awe, like standing in front of a Monet, taking it all in.
I reached my goal and surpassed it in fundraising. Fundraising is obviously not something I can take sole credit for…the goal was achieved by many acts of selflessness by donors who believed in me and what I was doing. Each donation a beautiful gift wrapped in love and hope.
Obtaining the funds to book the flight to Chicago, pay for the expenses of going on the trip (hotel, taxis, airport shuttles), and the superfluous odds and ends that add up when traveling, was no small feat either. I have to say, that in a very quiet way, my spouse has supported me greatly by making it possible for me to do these things. I believe that God was greatly at work in my life too, somehow the “extra” money came in at just the right time. Lord knows that there are many things at home that money could be well spent on, but with the help of my spouse I was free to make the trip and use the money for this purpose. If only I could impress upon you how amazing this truly is, all of these pieces working together, it truly is miraculous!
The friends, and also people I would call family, although mostly not blood relatives, who rallied around me and provided encouragement and support are far too numerous to mention. This is something I have never before experienced in my life. For the first time, I truly came to know that others believe in me and the efforts I am making. Often times the people providing this encouragement were not people I would have expected it to come from and it was truly magnificent to witness the outpouring of kindness (particularly on twitter) that I received.
Upon arrival in Chicago I was greeted with my new and dear friend Nora and we made our way to the hotel with great anticipation and excitement. We had the opportunity to attend a special preview of the movie “Boy Interrupted” a documentary that will be airing on HBO August 3, 2009 and covers the very difficult topic of losing a loved one to suicide as well as one family’s struggle with a son who developed Bipolar Disorder at a very young age. The mother, who also produced the fim, was at the event and we had the opportunity of not only seeing the film, but taking part in a question and answer session with her. It was a truly great experience for me.
The day of the walk was hectic and filled with anticipation. I was not sure what to expect of myself or of the event itself. I knew that the 18 miles of walk that was before me felt daunting to say the least, and I truly only expected to be able to participate in a couple of miles, due to the recent pain I had been experiencing. As a delegated “tweeter” for the event we were to arrive quite early for a meeting and to register and prepare for the walk. We managed to run late and I found myself there at the event without having eaten lunch and with no hope of getting a dinner meal either. But soon after the opening ceremonies began, the hunger ceased, and my attention was focused fully on the issues at hand and why I was there.
I have never been more moved by a speech, perhaps it was because of the passion I feel for this cause, but the tears were streaming down my cheeks as I stood alone in a crowd of near 2,000 people who were standing strong for the same cause. I could not stop the tears myself as they kept coming. . . but slowly they subsided and the time to begin walking arrived. A sea of blue (most were wearing the blue t-shirts provided for the walk) headed towards the great Lake Michigan and our designated path. The group of four of us (me, Nora, Dani and Scott) had good conversation as we found our “groove” and set off on our journey. The sun was setting and Lake Michigan was a calm, soothing presence for the first 2 miles. I was quite excited when I made the two mile stretch without feeling as if I must stop. I was already experiencing discomfort in my back, legs and feet, but knew that I had more in me.
As we crossed a bridge I happened to strike up conversation with a lovely lady named Roberta. Roberta and her brother, his wife, and a dear friend of hers were walking to honor her father’s memory, as he died by suicide just a few months prior. They had very little warning, if any at all, that their father was contemplating suicide, and the death was a huge shock to them. One of her siblings had chosen not to walk, as he was still very much in a place of anger. Their mother had stayed home to watch the grandchildren, as her adult children walked for her spouse.
Every so often I would spot a color co-ordinated group of people walking together to honor the memory of a loved one. They would quite often have their team names spelled out on their t-shirts and perhaps a picture of their loved one, putting a face to the name of this person who they were all missing. It was emotionally moving to see a bundle of people gathered together, working together to honor their friend, spouse, family member or child, and also working to help prevent this from happening again. Each person walking represented a person whose life was somehow touched by suicide. A massive wake-up call for anyone who could have thought this didn’t affect people in huge numbers.
After our first rest-stop, we fueled up (finally some food for me!) and set out feeling quite energized for more of our journey. Then the rain began, softly falling upon us, and we were greeted again by Lake Michigan, now as a darker, looming presence in a way, as the group of walkers had dispersed more and Dani and I found ourselves walking together with few other walkers around us. I found myself quite comfortable walking with Dani, as we both had similar reasons for walking, and both had physical challenges that we faced.
Walking as a person who was not actively grieving a loss was a bit of an isolating feeling. Although I have experienced great pain around this issue, the large majority of walkers were there to honor someone who had died by suicide. The difference was that I had lived. On at least two separate occasions I have tried to take my own life, most recently in August of 2006 by overdosing on a prescription medication. Hard to believe it was almost 3 years ago, as the memories are still quite vivid of that time and I feel I am very much in a process of making my “comeback”. I spent little time while walking thinking of that time actually… I spent most of my time thinking about how much further I had to go until the next stopping point, and how much further could I go?
I could feel the bones in my feet with each step as if they were smacking down on the pavement itself, exposed. But I wanted to keep going. I wanted so much to be a part of the closing ceremonies and to see my luminary bag lit from within, as if from the new light I have found in my life. But that was not possible. After great conversation and plenty of time taking in much of Chicago’s energy and architecture, I felt as if I was going to be able to hold my body up vertically no longer.
After walking 10 miles, and after wobbling for the last few, I had to call it a night. Dani and I hugged and she affirmed me that I had done far more than anyone could have expected from me. I felt proud and a small sense of defeat at the same time. But holding my head high, I made my way to a crosswalk and hailed a cab easily. It was around 1:00 am and my walk Out of the Darkness was ending in the dark. But when I awoke the next day, surrounded by light, I knew I had done a good thing.
I sit here now, feeling accomplished and yet excited at the prospect of what is to come. I want to complete the walk in the future, and I feel confident that possibility is a reality. I see that in me now is a strength that I did not know before. I may still battle depression, but I have a new source of light within that comes from achieving goals, being embraced and loved by others, and standing strong for an important cause.
With a very grateful heart I say “thank you” to everyone who donated, prayed for me, spoke out on my behalf, cheered me on, congratulated me and the like. I feel strongly that my participation was a collective effort and that if not for the help of these very special people I would not have been able to succeed. I would love to list each and every name, but I fear I would accidentally leave out someone. Please know that no act of kindness towards me has gone unnoticed. I cherish the friendship and support like a very rare and exquisite treasure.