November 04, 2018.
A day I will always remember.
A day that I totally had to have in my life.
My first Out Of The Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.
A day that opened my eyes to the reality and the magnitude of this problem.
I found out about this day from my nurse at work. I signed up after my good friend Mari told me she had signed up. I signed up not knowing exactly what it was going to be like, but trusting that the day was going to be…in the very least, fine. I signed our team up and placed the info on my website, partially expecting and also not expecting much response to the call for donations. While no donations came indirectly, I managed to gather a team of about 15 walkers through the help of my good friend Mari, totaling about 375usd!.
The day started like any other. We arrived early. The first emotion that struck me was that of amazement, at the number of cars already in the parking lot, even though the walk was to start about 2hrs later.
There was a sea of colors of tee-shirts, most in groups, a few scattered around, all there for one thing, in remembrance of a loved one. There were purple tees, white tees, green tees, red tees, blue tees, and multicolored ones. There were people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, teens and young adults, toddlers and even a couple of babies. But one thing struck me hard; they were mostly Hispanics. About 99% strong! Where are the Caucasians?? Most studies I have read indicate that White males are the leading sex in Suicide, so where are they? And what about the African Americans? Do we not suffer from depression, do we not commit suicide? Are the recent studies about African American children aged 5-12yr being more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts incorrect? Wait! I know what this is. This is the grand state of denial that is so rampant in our community. As a Nigerian, I dare to say this problem started from the Mother-land where mythic quotes like the following run rampant. “We don’t get depressed”, “such things don’t happen to our people”, “we can pray it away”, “it’s a sign of weakness, and of laziness”, “depression is not even real”, “those medications do not help, they actually make you worse”, “therapy? please, that is for Hollywood, we are black folk, we do not do therapy… Or my favorite, “don’t tell anyone you are depressed, we don’t want them to start looking at you/our family funny”.
I walk around distributing my business cards to different teams, introducing myself and explaining what I do, sharing my story about my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and my own son’s depression,(which I totally did not recognize while it was happening) I notice folks sporting different color beads signifying the kind of loved one that has been lost: White for children, orange for siblings, blue for support, red for spouses, etc. I pick up some beads for my team, my wife lost her brother to suicide. On my way back to my team, I hug as many as will accept my hugs as we wait for the ceremony to begin. Some of them have lost multiple family members to suicide.
After the opening ceremony, the names of the victims are read out, I again am amazed that my assumptions are right. A huge percentage of the names called out today are Hispanic.
The organizers are happy to announce that over 64,000usd were raised so far, over 273 teams registered (many more are not in organized teams), at least 300 names are called ( I don’t have the actual count, but the name calling went on for at least 30 minutes or more. They inform us it’s a 5K walk, kicked off by the release of white balloons by the family members in honor of the lives lost. Again, I am amazed, excited at the opportunity to be a part of this, yet saddened by it all.
Along the trail, I speak to dozens of parents and family members affected by suicide. It’s easy to find the parents, they are wearing white beads, they are not as animated as everyone else, and you know that look when you see their eyes. I interview a few of them, I hug ALL of them, I am touched deeply by their stories.
One young man who took his life just last month was only 25yr old. His parents still obviously devastated. His mom says she “sleeps with his picture every night, and talks to it every day”. She has lots and lots of unanswered questions. His grandmother found him in the backyard in Austin, sadly, they were not able to make it on time to the hospital.
Another mother was carrying the picture of her son-in-law. He had first served in the Army, then joined the police force, but his PTSD got the better of him.
When asked who he was walking for, one little boy simply pointed to the picture on his tee-shirt and said, “my uncle”. He had never met him.
I met yet another mom, this time, of a young 10yr old boy, who would have been 13yr this year, she is still crying for her baby lost. He had been bullied. A lot. I hugged and hugged and hugged her, and held on a little while longer. She found him hanging from his bunk bed, his belt around his neck.
Yet another beautiful lady, Ms. Alyssa’s younger sister, Marisa, spoke to me. Alyssa had battled with depression for a long time and finally lost. The words inscribed on the back of Marisa’s tee-shirt read “I have run the race, I have fought the fight, now I lay me down to rest”. Her own prescription antidepressants, her path to said rest. The sisters’ resemblance is so uncanny that Marisa’s own daughter (who never met her aunt) always calls her ‘mommy’ each time she sees her photograph. It has been six years.
The heartbreaking story of a handsome 17yr old was shared with me by his maternal aunt. She told me he had attempted suicide three times in the past. He had gotten help, he was on medication, and getting counseling, but (in her words) “the demons got to him before we could”, this happened on September 18, 2018. So fresh is it, that his mother could not bear to come for the walk.
Then, I talked at length with one mother whose team carried the flag of the Cycle Around The Globe for Suicide Prevention and Awareness. Her son, a former Special Ops US Marine, spent only 9yrs active duty, but deployed 8 times in that short time! When he eventually got out in 2012, he battled nightmares, sleepless nights, and severe PTSD. He could only sleep when heavily medicated. He eventually tired of “the voices in his head” and one single bullet did it for him, only 3yrs after he got out, a few days after his 30th birthday. “He will forever be 30” she added at the end of her story. Again, all I can do is hug her, and hold on a little longer.
On the homeward trail, I walked up to a nurse and her co-worker, both walking for someone else. She shared that her friend and ex-boyfriend had taken his own life soon after his 60th birthday. His story is unique because she states in retrospect she now realized that, after they reunited 40yr later, he had one day suddenly started “acting out” his desire to end his life, he was making specific requests like going to visit a cemetery to “say goodbye”, returning to the place they had their first date, giving away his belongings and generally no longer caring about the world. She remembers he stopped wanting to hang out with her, and only wanted to talk about death.
The last two stories are etched in my mind. The first is from my good friend Mari, who shared that a long time ago, her friend and classmate in nursing school had gotten dressed for work one morning, arranged all her nursing books against the walls of the garage, got in the car, turned on the ignition, closed the garage door, and went to eternal sleep. Her husband found her when he returned from work. She had 2 children.
The second is from the only non-Hispanic family that I met during the walk today. There were at least 15-20 of them in their team, walking for the family Patriarch. I recognized the non-Hispanic name right away and wanted to speak with them. I spoke to his wife, his son and his daughter, as well as the rest of their family friends and relatives. He was Indian. It’s been one year.
I, myself have felt the pain of depression. I have felt the need to end it all. I didn’t, my wifener wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was a failure, a disappointment. My first marriage was over, my private practice sold for zero dollars profit. The military was stressful, and I had to file bankruptcy following bad business choices in my private practice, stemming from a poorly qualified practice manager in the person of my ex-husband. Somewhere along the line, I felt I had failed myself more than anything. I wanted out. All my pairs of shoes, my fancy designer handbags, and even my beloved children did not save me. I simply felt that ending it all was just what the world needed. I was a failure. My marriage had failed, my practice had failed, and I had failed, and nothing you could have told me would have made a difference. Luckily, my wife would not hear of it and went all the way out there, in the darkness to find me and bring me back. I owe my life to her.
In the end, I can only say that I am thankful for the Out Of The Darkness Suicide Awareness walk, thankful for the experience, thankful for the stories shared, for the hugs given and received, and praying that the families can find closure, somehow. Thankful for my family that came out to support me, my wifener who walked for her brother; mi Madre, my biggest cheerleader; and my little man-child for trouping along. Mari and her family and friends who walked with team Teen Alive, for the sparkle they added to a cloudy day. And to all those who walk for their loved ones, in the words of a Kenyan proverb, “may the grass you stand and walk on, sprout again”, and may you never have any cause to weep for your loved ones again, Amen.
“gone, but never forgotten…”
#enddepression, #endsuicide, #endthesilence, #talksaveslives, #itsoktonotbeok, #Icare