The 2016 Out of the Darkness Overnight Walks will be in San Francisco on May 21 and New York City on June 4.
About this time last year, I signed up for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Dallas. Until now, I’ve never really thought about why I decided to do it. I had never really been involved with any kind of foundation, or participated in a charity event, unless someone invited me to go with them. But when I heard about AFSP’s Overnight Walk on the radio, I immediately thought “I need this,” and looked it up on my phone. Within minutes, I was registered to walk.
The walk came at the perfect time for me. I was recovering from a serious depressive episode and suicide attempt, and was struggling to keep my head straight and move forward.
For me, one of the most difficult parts of having attempted suicide is wondering, “What will people think? What will they say? Will they think I’m crazy? Will they understand?” At that moment in my life, I needed to be around people who I knew would understand what I was going through, and wouldn’t try to immediately change the subject. Ultimately, I needed to be around people who I knew wouldn’t look at me any differently after learning I attempted suicide. That’s exactly what I found at the Overnight Walk.
I’ve lived in the Dallas Fort Worth area my entire life, and have never seen anything like the huge group of people walking the streets of Dallas together that night. Even when sporting events let out at American Airlines Center (GO STARS!), it doesn’t compare to seeing nearly 1,400 people walking down the street at one time. Joining the crowd, I kept looking behind me, wondering how far back the group went. It seemed like it just kept going on forever.
I walked with one group of people for a while, and it amazed me that in just the short time I was with them, I was able to learn so much about them and share my story, too. Then I stopped to tie my shoe, and started over with another cluster of people. In this way, I made so many friends by the end of the night. Crossing the finish line was a bittersweet moment. My feet had thrown in the towel a few miles before, and my legs were about to refuse to continue moving. But I had such an awesome time meeting everyone, and sharing stories, that I didn’t want it to end.
Crossing the finish line wasn’t the end of the experience for me, though, as I was the closing ceremony speaker. If you ask any of my friends, they’ll tell you that I’m not one to open up and tell you what’s going on inside my head. I’ve never been comfortable sharing my struggles, especially on stage in front of a crowd. Even with my ex-wife: when we were married, I was afraid to even tell her what I was feeling, because I felt it would make me look weak. For me, to get up on stage and tell over a thousand people things that I had never admitted to anyone, was absolutely terrifying.
I’ll never forget being just a few sentences into my speech, and feeling so nervous that I could barely keep my voice together. I looked out at the crowd at that moment, and saw a group of girls sitting in the very front. All of them had their knees pulled up to their chests, and were leaning forward just like you would picture kids listening to an old war story. Seeing them sitting there like that — like they were really listening — calmed me instantly, and helped me get through my speech. They also made me realize that everyone should share their story when they’re ready. Sharing our stories is the easiest way for us to spread awareness. Tell your story often, and tell it proudly. You never know when someone who is struggling in silence might really be listening to what you have to say. It could end up making a huge difference to them.
Everyone impacted by suicide should do the Overnight Walk. It’s amazing to hear the inspiring stories of your fellow walkers, and share your own, while raising money for an important cause. It really is a life changing experience.
Watch Jake’s speech at the Dallas Overnight Walk on our Youtube Channel