I participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks because, after years of struggle, I know that my life is worth living.
My lived experience of suicidal thoughts led me to participate in AFSP’s Community Walk in New Orleans. People from all walks of life gather at these events to honor the memory of those who’ve died by suicide, foster connection and to raise funds for suicide prevention. The Walks are also a way of supporting people like me, who have experienced suicidal thoughts or who have made attempts.
As a teenager, I dealt with anorexia, addiction and severe depression. Eventually, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. Through trial and error and working closely with my doctor, I was able to find a treatment plan, including medication, that worked for me. I’ve learned that some good things may take time to happen, but those things are always worth the wait.
Before I found my treatment plan, each day had begun to seem harder than the previous one. I remember feeling empty, exhausted and defeated. I first attempted suicide at age sixteen. After my attempt, I sought help in a residential treatment program. I received a call from my family during my first week there in which my parents told me a friend from school died by suicide and was no longer with us. Until that phone call, I believed that my attempt solely affected me. I thought no one would care that I was gone but being on the other side of that experience and feeling how much I missed my friend showed me that the opposite was true. People would care if I was gone. I’m grateful that I survived my attempt because who I was then would have never guessed I could build the kind of life worth living that I have now.
Through the Walks, I’ve built a community of people who have the same passion for suicide prevention that I do. At my first Walk, I remember receiving different colored honor beads to symbolize the reasons I was participating. I wear green to represent a personal struggle or attempt, purple to represent losing a relative or friend and blue because I support the cause. I looked around and many people were wearing the same colors as me. At that moment, I realized that I belonged.
I was surrounded by people who understand the challenges of coping with an attempt or suicide loss, and conversely know how beautiful life can be while healing. Today, my mental health care plan includes weekly sessions with my therapist, monthly sessions with my psychiatrist and taking time to journal and work on DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) skills every day. Another important aspect of my healthcare plan is taking time to recharge, whether that be through taking a long bath, meditation or participating in online support groups where I can connect with like-minded people. The Community Walks have helped me find a sense of purpose and have changed my life completely. Now, my goal in life is to have my story be of service to someone when they need it the most.
The Community Walks also led to my finding out about AFSP’s annual Overnight Walk, an event in which participants from all over the country walk 16+ miles from dusk to dawn. It has the same mission and purpose as Community Walks but at a larger scale. This year, 2022, The Overnight is in New York City on June 4.
I was eager to participate, but there was one aspect of The Overnight I was hesitant about. To walk, each participant is required to raise $1,000 or $700 for students and military Walkers. I was terrified at the thought of fundraising and lacked confidence in my ability. However, it ended up being so much easier than I’d thought! Each Walker in The Overnight gets one-on-one mentorship from a Walker Coach, who is there to help with each step of the process. My Walker Coach helped answer my questions and concerns and provided fundraising ideas.
Through Facebook, I raised the entire amount in six weeks. I shared statistics from AFSP’s website along with my story and an explanation of why I walk. I learned that on average, it takes someone about six reminders before they donate. Along with donations, I received multiple testimonials and an overwhelming amount of support from friends, family and coworkers throughout the process. At first, I was afraid of doing this, afraid that I would never meet my goal, afraid that sharing something so personal would be too much for me, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. I met my goal and learned that my family and friends were incredibly supportive and were brave enough to share that they had gone through many of the same hardships. I feel closer to my family and friends than ever before. They inspired me to share with others more of my own story.
I walk because I have attempted to take my own life twice, as a teenager and an adult. I walk because I have been hospitalized while fighting for my life because I knew I wanted to live even when I felt like there was nothing to live for. I walk because I know the severity of pain that depression can cause, and I have felt completely alone during those times. I walk because I have called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when I have felt hopeless. I walk because I have experienced the full circle of emotions and events that come with both wanting to take your life and fighting to live a better life, one that you can enjoy daily.
I also walk because I have lost someone to suicide, and I wish she had a chance to be with us today so she could see that life can get better. I walk to support those who have lost someone to suicide or have personally struggled with suicidal ideation.
I walk because suicide prevention matters to me and isn’t spoken about enough. No one should suffer alone or in silence. I walk because my passion in life is to share my experiences in hopes that they can help someone else. I walk because life does get better, and pain is temporary. I walk because I used to hate myself, but I have learned over the years that I am a person deserving of self-love.
I walk because I know that my life is worth living, and so is yours.