Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. It is 2:30 am and there is about 2 miles left to walk. Every part of my body is aching, but all I can think of is putting one foot in front of the other. I walk with three others. Our uncontrollable laughter has turned to silence. We each feel each others drive to finish and we each are trying to just make it. I didn’t choose this…. It chose me. As I walk across the finish line, completing 16.8 miles, I see hundreds of luminaries with pictures and names of those lost. I don’t allow myself to fully experience the moment because I don’t have the energy to process the vast loss the luminaries represent. I am physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.
It doesn’t matter that this is my fourth time to do the AFSP Overnight Walk, the impact of the walk is just the same. As I reflect on the experience this time, I am even more emotional. I keep walking because the rate of suicide is not decreasing. I keep walking because there is still a stigma around mental health. I keep walking because I honestly don’t know what else to do.
When my mom died almost 20 years ago to suicide, I didn’t imagine becoming an advocate for the cause… honestly I was just trying to survive. A little over three years ago my sister and I signed up for my first Overnight and my life has changed since that moment. I realized I could take all of my grief, my shame, my anger, my sadness, and my guilt and try to do something about it to help others.
Many think I continue to walk because of my mom. My mom is the reason I walked the first walk, but she is not the reason I walk today. I could walk 500 million miles and she will still be dead. Her life is gone. I walk for those who have not been lost. I walk because I think it is unacceptable that twice as many people die by suicide as homicide, yet we don’t put the same amount of effort into suicide as homicide. I walk because I refuse to let suicide be the second cause of death for teenagers. I walk because our society has not woken up to the epidemic of suicide.
As we put one foot in front of each other struggling to walk just a few more miles, we realize our struggle to finish does not compare to the fight so many encounter each day to fight to live. Our struggle doesn’t compare to those who have recently experienced a loss to suicide and fighting to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense to them. Our struggle is very temporary while so many struggle for years.
I didn’t set out to be an advocate, a voice, for suicide prevention and awareness, but that is what happened. I often think of not walking anymore, but I realize I can’t until there is change. I honestly have no clue if my walking miles upon miles through the night makes a difference, but I do know sitting at home and doing nothing won’t help…. So I will continue to put one foot in front of another.