Yesterday, I participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) 11th Annual “Out of the Darkness’ Community Walk in Washington, DC. The event took place in front of the Lincoln memorial this year, a place with a lot of history, where many important and historic marches and movements have transpired.
It was my third time participating in the DC community walk. This walk is always the final Out of the Darkness event of the year, and they draw some of the largest crowds in the Capital area, ending the year with a bang. And yet again it was a powerful event and a massive success. I am so grateful and blessed to be a part of something so beautiful and significant each year. It was another year of empowerment and peace, by drawing strength from “community. ” This is precisely what a Walk like this symbolizes. How “community” will help us defeat this tragic epidemic. So many people came together tonight and it was incredible to be a part of this particular community of people.
It was also a beautiful day for a walk in DC, as we walked all the way around the beautiful tidal basin area, through the Jefferson memorial, passed the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and all the way back to the Lincoln memorial. It brought back a lot of memories I had over the past 8 years and beyond in DC, and reminded me once again, why I love this city so much. The crowd and line of walkers who came out to support suicide prevention and mental health awareness, was really heartwarming and wonderful to witness. From the three years that I have been going to these walks, it was definitely the most attended, and it seems that the event grows in numbers each year.
They also had PURPLE t-shirts this year. Ofcourse, if you know me, I was elated when I saw that. 😉 You can read this very brief earlier post to understand why and this page as well. It may just be a silly obsession with symbolism. The shirt turned out to be my favorite shade of purple as well. If you read some of my posts before you may recall it is the color for the Warrior Queen. And it felt as if I wore my “purple armor” yesterday, and I was strong and ready for battle.
Normally before the program starts, they have a variety of tables with resources, and this year, they had even more. I only had a few minutes before they began the program, so I ran to the table I went to in previous years to write a quick letter to a suicide prevention survivor, similar to what I did last year. They post these letters on their website here: http://aletterforyou.org/ . You can also write your letter there online.
The program this year began with the National Anthem sung by an army veteran. She had a superb powerful voice, and it set the tone for the event. I am glad they had this as part of the program this year. Ending suicide and raising awareness for mental health is an important national cause, especially with suicide being the 10th leading cause of the death in the United States. And with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as a leader for this cause, and the largest private funder for suicide prevention, it was rightfully done and perfect.
I always learn something new about the cause each year. I learn from my own reading and promulgation prior to the event and during the event as well. The new Executive Director at AFSP suggested that we “need to create a culture smart about mental health,” as a community. She also provided some harrowing and tragic facts about suicide in the national capital area. Sadly, “suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in DC for ages 18 to 24; 2nd leading cause of death in VA for ages 15 to 34; and the 1st leading cause of death in Maryland for ages 10 to 18.” This makes AFSP’s work just as important locally, as its work around the country. These are truly heartbreaking numbers and tell an important story as to how pervasive suicide is, as a cause of death and why it is so important to normalize the language of “mental health” in our vocabularies.
The speakers encouraged the audience to “be the voice of our communities,” for suicide prevention and mental health awareness, to spread information and reduce the stigma in our own communities. It is important to spread the word and get more people talking, and get more people feeling comfortable to share their stories. It has to begin among our local networks. Everyone who cares about suicide prevention should incorporate that in their vocabulary and daily lives. This cause, and mental health and well-being, goes to the very core of our existence. I know on my part, no matter the lack of interest or response I get from my own world, I must not remain silent. Knowing this epidemic, knowing the pain and suffering, I have a responsibility. Because as a survivor myself, I use this “cause” as a way to help me remain empowered and help me gain the strength to keep fighting as well. This is another reason why this cause is crucial.
This year they also had a moment in the opening ceremony to share and recognize the stories of the survivors of loss and survivors of attempt… it was a very moving and emotional moment that brought a lot of tears to the people they recognized on stage as well as among the large audience.
And after the walk, the event closed with everyone placing their candles they were given by the organizers on the steps commemorating our dear brothers and sisters that we lost to suicide. Suicide is a tragic way to go. We must not let it take any more lives.
I hear this phrase a lot: “You are not alone.” And I heard it a lot during the event speeches. But I have had mixed feelings about it. I try not to use it when I talk to people who struggle with mental illness and suicidal ideations. I do love the work that AFSP does, but there are some things I have questioned along the way, unfortunately some things that suggest that “stigma” remains present even within the mental health care system and resources. Simple things like being real about the struggle is important. Suggesting “you are not alone” is important as a “concept,” but in my honest opinion and experience as a survivor, it is simply a good talking point, and it doesn’t go any further that that, and ultimately it means nothing if it is not followed by compassion, consistency, and sincerity.
The truth is we are alone. The truth is that no matter how many hundreds of people were out there today, I was alone. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I just felt in isolation. I was hoping to involve more people from my circles this year, but I may not have that level of influence and I may never get it. And I understand why. But I will keep spreading the word regardless. Because if we can touch just one person through our advocacy, if we can save one life, even if that life is your own, that is what matters. There is a verse of the Quran that applies in so many other areas, and remains my favorite verse, which I connected to at a very young age, as a human rights activist: “If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire mankind.”… It is very beautiful, powerful and very relevant here as well.
You sometimes wish the people you love and the people in your life could understand how and why a day like this is so important to you…. I’ll remain steadfast…even when I am invisible … I may walk alone…but I’ll keep walking… because someday I’ll turn around…and I’ll find you behind me …some day I’ll glance to my side and see you next to me…grabbing my hand, and letting me know… YOU are there.
Indeed, yesterday was an important day for me, personally. But as much as I tried, as much as I smiled, as much as I took in every single moment and stayed in the present, I couldn’t help but feel so utterly alone. But I understand. We have to understand and we have to have mercy and patience.
It was overall a beautiful day, but as I mentioned earlier, an important aspect of the experience is “community.” I am someone who enjoys being independent, free, treading along exploring, absorbing, reflecting, all that is around me…. just getting lost in the crowd…..
And though there were hundreds of people around, as usual, I was certainly just a face in the crowd, but strangely for some reason, inside I felt more alone than I have ever felt before, ironically. It triggered a little bit of an opposite effect.
I can’t help but think that I have not been able to succeed to even get the people I love to see how important this day was to me. Forgive me for my honesty. As much as it was a beautiful, empowering, positive celebration, commemoration, and promulgation of a cause bigger than me, being that this cause is so connected to me at a personal level, and dear to my heart, and from my own personal experience, it is okay to recognize every dimension of the personal impact a day like this could have on a survivor.
I write so I do not feel so alone. Hoping that someone would read/hear my voice and understand it or relate to it. I express myself openly and consider myself a mental health advocate for my own fight and for others, because it is this fight that helps me stay empowered to keep going in life and keep breathing. Hence, I rely on these walks to enrich my soul and revive my spirit. And for any cause really, a personal connection, a passion, is just part and parcel to why we continue to support it in any way we can.
When the event was over, I took a walk around DC. It was a glorious evening, and the moon was out. A big part of me wished that I could have shared that moment with people I love. Nevertheless, it was nice to take in the beautiful fresh, cool, crisp fall air and have the moment to reflect on the day and just reflect on things in general.
Then I sat in my favorite coffee shop/restaurant, to begin writing this blog post with my favorite dessert. 🙂 Ofcourse….
It was a blissful day, nearing perfection perhaps. But still my OCD wouldn’t allow me to take it in without feeling that something remained missing. And no, it wasn’t a lover or a companion, as the natural response would be from my relatives or aunties. 🙂
I should have felt “connected”, and to the most part I did with the general community. And that is what matters ultimately. But among my own networks, perhaps I remain “disconnected,” in this area… That was certainly among many reflections I had that night.
It is okay, I understand. I just know I have a lot of work to do both internally (within me) and externally (among the community) to help change “something,” somehow. It is a challenge, and it’s painful, but I won’t stop “walking,” and I hope you’ll join me next year.
Peace, warmth, and Blessings,
Elsa, Warrior KQueen