Hiking for Hope

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July 21, 2017 – “I made a mistake.” “I don’t feel very good right now.” “I need your help.” How do we get loved ones to make any of the preceding statements? Since we lost my step-brother to suicide in 2005, I have grappled with how to address vulnerability. It often feels as though we live in a society that makes it hard to admit we made a mistake or to ask for help without feeling shame.

My involvement with AFSP is aimed at removing the shame so often associated with mental health issues. I want people to feel comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. If we can instill in our loved ones the ability to express their feelings, then I believe we will create a safe and caring environment that will foster constructive conversation and alleviate fear and anxiety. I try to instill in my young daughters that it’s okay to be scared or anxious, and that if we talk about it, they might feel better.

I try to practice this in my own life to set an example for them. Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest part. I’ve found that when you share your feelings with someone, they often reciprocate, and you end up realizing that others felt the same way but didn’t want to say anything. Sometimes we just have to put ourselves out there for others. Take that first step. Be the one to say it first.

I have found exercise to be an invaluable benefit to my mental health and overall well-being. It’s well known that regular exercise helps to reduce anxiety and depression. I enjoy taking long bike rides to help organize my thoughts, think about my loved ones, and challenge myself physically along the way. “How fast can I climb this hill today?” “Pedal as fast as you can for two minutes.”  These little challenges I pose to myself help me set bigger goals and get used to trying something out of my comfort zone.  Over time, I have noticed that my goals have gotten bigger. I’ve become quite used to being uncomfortable through these workouts.

On May 6, 2017, I participated in the AFSP Hike for Hope in Yorktown Heights. We gathered to honor and remember loved ones we have lost. We  also used our common bond to create awareness and educate others to help save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

Combining exercise and furthering the mission of AFSP are two of my favorite things.  I urge you to contact your local AFSP chapter to find out what events are in your area. If you don’t see an event that you’d like offered in your area – hiking or otherwise – get involved and start one!

So go for a walk. Take a ride. Go for a swim.  Or…have a conversation with someone and exercise your vulnerability. You might be surprised what you can accomplish. Put yourself out there for others.  You just might save a life.