T-Mommy from T4Treasure and CW from Truly Loved both completed the 2018 Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Walk in September. It was both of their first time participating in the Walk and they sat down to discuss. This post is a collaborative post co-written by them and appears on both blogs.

Signing Up/Why I Signed Up

Truly Loved: I signed up for the walk because I no longer want to remain silent about my personal struggle with depression and suicide. It also felt like a tangible way to share the message of God’s love, mercy, and hope with the world. I want to allow God to use my past to help fight the lies that this world teaches us about our worthiness and purpose. To show that through our weaknesses and imperfections God makes us strong. To proclaim that even if you have never felt loved, appreciated, or worthy you are more precious, important and loved by God than you could ever understand. 

T-Mommy: I first found out about the Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Walk in 2015 when I was looking for anxiety and depression caused and organizations to give back to. I had recently been clinically diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Mild/Moderate Depression. My diagnosis both freed and scared me and I felt emboldened to be an advocate for others like me. 

In my research, I came across the Out of the Darkness walks. I was excited to register. So I thought. Turns out the Walk conflicted with my wedding and TD1’s bday. Maybe next year with better planning.

Maybe next year. It’s what I said in 2016 and 2017 too. Then 2018 came. Maybe this year. I marked the event as Interested on Facebook and Truly Loved commented she’d walk with me. Yay!!! I don’t have to walk alone! But I didn’t sign up. I wanted to wait to be sure there’d be no conflicts. Then one day, the walk pulled back up on my newsfeed. The Walk was approaching. I knew it was now or never. 

Being an advocate for those that are hurting, helping to provide a safe place for those feeling despair that they don’t know what to do with, it’s something I care about. But I wasn’t as ready to be their voice as I though I was. In my rush to not chicken out, I totally forgot to let TL know I was in fact doing the walk. After she found out and reminded me she’d walk with me, T-Daddy agreed to walk too. I decided to make it a family affair and signed the remaining three T’s up.

Prepping for the Walk

T-Mommy: I didn’t prep much for the Walk. I didn’t fundraise. I told my family I was walking but I didn’t talk much about it. I went to a kickoff event, recorded a video to promote the walk, but I never posted it. Was I ready to have this convo in public? How deep was I willing to allow people to dig into my own life in order to have this much needed convo?

I wanted to both scream from the mountaintops that I was doing something that I cared about and let other people know about it, but something inside me kept quieting my voice. Was it shame? Fear? Unworthiness? I busied myself with my already busy life and kept any thoughts about the Walk on a low simmer on the very back backburner of my mind. Before I knew it, Walk weekend was here. Maybe I can just sit it out and walk next year. I didn’t tell anyone I was walking. Is there still a point if no one knows? That same voice that had talked me out of walking the prior years was back. I already committed to this, so I have to see it through. I will see it through. I need to see it through.

Writing on The “Why I Walk” Wall

Truly Loved: As I stood there facing the “Why I Walk Wall.” I knew I wanted to write something but there was too much to say. So, I simply wrote “Because I’m a survivor, and through God there is always hope.” It felt wrong. It still feels wrong. My reason for walking – for breathing, for hoping, for loving, for caring, for existing– is so much more than that. I walk because I was once a prisoner to hopelessness, hate, and anger, but I no longer wear those shackles. I walk because I once lived every moment of my life in fear of man, but I now know God is bigger. I walk because my heart was once closed to those around me but it now remains open so that I can love and be loved. I walk because I now know what hope feels like. I walk because of God’s unlimited goodness and grace. I walk because He saved me and since then He has changed every aspect of my life. I walk because I want to share God and His goodness with the world. He is the only true opponent to despair.

T-Mommy: Writing on the wall wasn’t super emotional, at the moment. I wasn’t sure I was going to write on it until I was waiting to write on it. I hadn’t thought about what I was going to write until I was writing it. I wrote three names. A group – family and friends. A statement – Because God’s grace gives me hope. Even writing the names, I was so hesitant. Did I have the right to put their names up there for others to see? Would I be asked to tell stories that weren’t mine to tell?

One of the names that I wrote on the wall was my godbrother’s. He’s a big reason why this Walk first stood out to me in the first place. But, I have struggled a lot with his suicide. To this day, I find it extremely hard to look at a picture of him. It’s been almost nine years. I vividly remember getting the phone call from his sister. I remember trying to make sense of it all. Not really knowing how or what to feel. I remember feeling like I didn’t have a right to grieve or be sad. At that point, I wasn’t extremely close to him anymore. Going around the family, seeing his sister and mom, the mother of his child, his girlfriend – all these people that were a big part of his everyday life, hurting so inconsolably made me feel selfish for my own pain. I was in the process of moving 20 minutes from where he lived and I was super excited to rekindle my relationship with him, my godmom and my godsister, to get to know his little girl, when everything happened. So now here I was sad because it was never going to happen. I was mourning a dream and they were mourning a huge part of their already life. Did I, do I, have a right to walk in his honor when I didn’t know one thing about what was going on in his life at the time?

The other two names carry similar tales – one was a friend of my granny’s who used to babysit me as a kid. When she found out my granny died, she couldn’t take the news. The other was a family member, whose death wasn’t ruled a suicide but an accidental overdose. I don’t know if she committed suicide, but I do know that she was really sad about the passing of her husband and her death caused a forever split in my family that still hasn’t been repaired…almost 15 years later. So I walked for them, the pain they felt while alive and the pain that still permeates long after the news of their deaths traveled and the funerals were held.

But the biggest thing about the wall were the things I didn’t write. The names of people I know who have attempted. The times suicide threats have been used as a manipulation tool on me. My own struggles. Writing on the wall was far more complicated than what I bargained for.

Memorial Wall

Truly Loved: As I stood there staring at the memorial wall it suddenly became difficult to breathe. All those beautiful faces, all those precious lives coming to such a devastating end. As I glanced over the collage of pictures, I focused on a few of the faces. They were smiling as if they didn’t know what was waiting in their future. I tried to imagine what their lives had been like. What demons had eventually forced them into a darkness so deep that they stopped seeking the warmth of light.  That’s what despair does, it takes away all possibility of light and joy and leaves nothing but never-ending darkness. I reflected on my own struggle with despair. Those years where I suffered silently, smiling for cameras, making my sadness bearable to those around me while internally battling overwhelming feelings of self-hatred and shame. All those smiles. Were they really happy in those photos or were they already chest deep in despair? It’s so hard to tell. 

And then came the realization: My face should be up there. I too had lost the battle to despair…yet, I’m here. Feet firmly planted. Alive. Breathing. HAPPY. In so many ways it seems unfair.  

I thought about my husband and daughter. What would my husband’s life be like if he had never met me? My daughter- those precious fingers and toes, those big dreams of hers, they never would have made it into this world. 

I could have missed so much. 

I tried to understand how I made it from that place of pure, devastating, life-ending despair to a place of hope, joy, and love. It’s still hard to comprehend. There really is no worldly explanation. I am here and have all of those things because God saved me and He enriched my life with those gifts. 

In those moments, I also considered who would have cared enough about my suicide to walk for me if I had died that day. But I stopped myself before I got too far down that path because in my heart I already knew the answer. I had never experienced real love in my life until I met God. God. And then I realized that if I had died that day I never would have passed from this world unloved and forgotten like I had always assumed. There would have been mourning for my soul. Maybe not from the people that mattered to me at the time, but I would have been mourned more than I can possibly comprehend because I am loved more than I can possibly comprehend.

God and the angels in heaven would have intensely mourned the loss of my life, as they have mourned the loss of each person posted on that wall, and the lives of all others lost to earth’s despair.

Because each one of us important.

We are unique.

We are here for a purpose.

We are God’s children.

And we are loved and cherished more than our hearts and minds can possibly imagine.

T-Mommy: I didn’t look at or go near the Memorial Wall. Earlier, I talked about the internal struggle I had with writing the names on the “Why I Walk” Wall. That struggle, particularly my godbrother, is why I didn’t look at the Memorial Wall. I have not been able to look at his picture since I did his obituary for his funeral. That was almost 9 years ago. I’ve tried a few times since then, but it always seems to haunt my spirit. I’ve been to many funerals in my life, looked at tons of obituaries and even written/designed my fair share of them. None of them have had the same kind of impact on me as his. Not even my granny’s, and that was a hard one to write. Maybe it’s what his death represents – a life gone too soon (I’ve officially lived longer than he did); a battle with internal demons that I too share; an outcome that I don’t want to fully admit is a real possible one; unanswered questions that I partly am not ready to ask, scared of the answers if they exist, or not ready to accept that I’ll never truly know the answers. I don’t know. But I know that the fear of conjuring up his face in my mind is what kept me from going near the Memorial Wall. Maybe next year will be different.

Walking The Walk

T-Mommy: Once we arrived at the walk, it was exhilarating. I immediately recognized the magnitude of what I had signed up for and was happy to be a part of it. I was happy to have included my family and friend. I wished I had included more people. Had made more people aware of it. While my heart is deeply saddened by the number of people that suicide has touched – much more than the 7,000 people that showed up on that day – I am so grateful and elated that so many people rallied behind this cause to let those impacted know that they care, we care. 

I nervously posted on social media some photos of us at the Pre-Walk and the most memorable and touching comment was the one that said how happy she was that we were doing this as a family and laying the foundation for our girls to have emotional intelligence. I questioned my decision to bring the girls. How could I get them to do this without shattering their innocence? As they questioned me about what the different color Honor Beads meant and I struggled to explain to them why I had so many colors on, I wondered if this was too much too fast for them. And I know just because one person said they were happy I took the TDs, doesn’t automatically mean that T-Daddy and I made the right decision. But, it did reaffirm why we made the decision in the first place – because we want to raise emotionally intelligent children that are empathetic and compassionate to those around them. We want them to know that if they are blessed enough to live a life of comfort, security and minimal pain and sadness, that they should care about those less fortunate around them. That some of those people will be their friends, cousins, teachers, adults. I felt super uneasy trying to navigate TD2’s curiosity as she enthusiastically asked questions in sometimes inappropriate tones. 

Doing this walk alone or with just adults would have given me the opportunity to really sit in my feelings – whatever they may have been – without having to put on a face or “adult” for the girls. But having them there gave me so much hope for the future. I walked away feeling like I can make a difference. We can make a difference. 

We have a team name, a motto, logo, and a Scripture to stand behind. I’m excited to get back out there next year and walk again. Hopefully, I won’t let my fears stop me from inviting others to join us.

Truly Loved: This walk made me realize that I want to do more. I want to speak out more about my experiences, to push for resources and education regarding mental health justice. I need to put a face to this epidemic for those still in denial and for those who are silently suffering.  I am excited to do the walk again, and I am relieved that we are going in more prepared with our logo and scripture, but my hope is that between now and the next walk I will have also done something to bring education and acceptance to my community.