In 2012 and then again this year I participated in something called the out of the darkness overnight walk. It's a 16-18 mile walk put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that begins shortly before sunset and ends with a closing ceremony as the sun rises. Each time it has been an empowering and healing experience for me. All that I'm doing now; starting the page on facebook, starting this blog, coming out in the open about my depression, would not be happening if I had not done each of these walks.
We walk to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. The money goes to research and programs aimed at raising awareness and opportunities to seek help. Most of the people who walk do so because they have lost someone they love to suicide. Some, like me, walk because they have suffered from mental illness and we want to raise awareness and be a part of the healing that happens there. It's a place where talking about mental illness and suicide is completely acceptable. Despite all the sadness and pain that is very present, the event is filled with a sense of hope and love that is beyond what I can put into words.
When you arrive at the walk you get to choose different colors of bead necklaces to wear based on why you walk. When I see people wearing a white bead necklace, I knew that they had lost a child to suicide. When people saw me wearing my green bead necklace, they knew that I have struggled personally with mental illness. There are 8 different colors of beads that represent different reasons for walking. It's a brilliant idea and so empowering for me to be able to wear those beads. It's very comforting to be in that space surrounded by people who understand..
So now I've done that walk twice, and what I'm trying to do is bring that same sense of acceptance and love that I feel there into my daily life. How amazing would it be if people could speak freely, without shame, about their emotional struggles? How many lives would be saved if people were educated about the warning signs and were able to seek treatment? That is my hope, and I will work to live my life in this way. I read a statistic today that only 1 in 5 people with mental health issues are currently receiving treatment for it. That makes me so sad, but I understand some of the reasons why. Many people don't even realize they have a problem that could be treated and many don't have access to help. But I think a lot of it has to do with the stigma.
I have been working on myself through therapy and support groups since around 1990, and I've made a great deal of progress. There has definitely been a major shift in my work over the last three years since my last major episode of depression.. Most of this recent work has been about dealing with my own stigma of my depression. I was ashamed of it, I'm not feeling that as much anymore. For years I felt it was a weakness, and I felt that it was my fault that I couldn't just overcome it. I know better now. I work now to embrace and accept my illness. Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments where the darkness takes over and the negative thoughts and feelings dominate me. These times are very difficult and hard to endure. Thankfully there haven't been many of them lately. However, even in those moments now I have the sense that they will pass and I have a lot more tools for riding it out and getting back to a better space.
I have been reading a number of other blogs about people's experience with mental illness and I found a quote I really liked on one. His motto was, "enjoy the good and ride out the bad". It definitely has meaning for my experiences with depression. To me that means when things aren't good I don't need to try and force my way out of it or fight it. I just need to accept it and ride it out, It will pass, it always does... As for now, I'm in one of those good phases and I'm going to enjoy it. Well, both my sons are up now so I think I'll talk to them and figure out what we will do with our day....