I Walk for Neal

March 29, 2017 |

The following is part of a series of “I Walk Because…” posts. To find out about joining one of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walks, click here.

I walk because I have lost. I walk because I struggle. I walk because I want to bring hope to others.

March 29, 2017 – In November of 2014, I lost my close friend Neal to suicide. Neal was someone who seemed to have his life together. At just under 30 years old, he had a college degree, served the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was almost finished earning his master’s degree, and had a few job offers at prestigious accounting firms. But Neal had a battle with demons that none of his friends or family were aware of.

After his death, I shut down emotionally and became a shell of the person I once was.  This was not just grief, but depression. I had struggled before with depression, but this time it was deeper and darker.  I started meeting with a new therapist and started anti-depressants. I found a new appreciation for the act of reaching out for help, and being ok with not being ok. I was able to refocus on what was truly important in my life.

As a high school physics teacher, I became less focused on students learning content to perfection, and refocused on them having fun while learning that content. I worked to incorporate stress management and emotional coping skills alongside what they were learning. As important as physics is, being able to find balance in a stressful school year (and in life) is a bigger deal.  Amazingly, if you help students learn to reduce stress, their understanding and retention improve as well.

As part of my healing process, I signed up to do the AFSP Overnight 2015 in Boston.  Along with my cousin, I found a family among strangers. By the end of that night, as we trudged through the rain and wind, a family of seven was formed. We shared our stories, our pain, and our encouragement with each other through the night. That support continued even after the walk as our newfound support group stayed in touch. We vowed to walk together at the 2016 Overnight in NYC.

As I am preparing for the Overnight Walk this year in D.C.  on June 17, I am hopeful that our group will reunite and grow. That first year, even though I was excited to be traveling and preparing for something, I was also scared of the pain and emotion I expected to feel. After sharing that raw pain with strangers who shared similar stories, I was able to attain a peace and comfort I had struggled to find up to that point. There are still emotions that come to the surface when I participate in the walks, but I know the Overnight community is there to help. Coming home from both walks, each time I found myself reignited to share my story of loss in order to help others.

I share the message that it is okay to not be okay, and to look for help. I share the message that time does heal. I share the message that there is hope.

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