Last fall, I volunteered at a community walk for suicide prevention. It was located at a park plaza in the center of Downtown Portland, OR. All ages in the community came out for it. I saw elderly couples, young parents pushing around newborns and toddlers, teenagers, middle-aged folk, and lots of dog lovers with their dog companions at their sides. All of these people of different ages, races, sizes, and shapes come together for this walk every fall. They all have one thing in common: they have all lost a loved one to suicide.
In the beginning of the event there was a lot of energy and excitement, people hustling and bustling through the entrance. The friend that I came with and I had the job to stand at the entrance and direct anyone that had a confused look on their face to where they needed to go to register or to pick up their tee shirts. One walker-to-be pulled his car up directly in front of the entrance to drop off a friend before finding parking. His car caught my attention, it was a brand new PT Cruiser with multiple colorful characters and scenes from the 1992 film “A Nightmare Before Christmas” painted all over it.
“Oh my god! I love your car! Did you do this yourself? That is one of my all-time favorite movies!” I stated ecstatically, running up to the owner, absentmindedly leaving my entrance duty. The owner of the car smiled faintly and right away I felt a palpable aura of sadness around him.
“Thank you, we got it done for our daughter, it was her favorite movie. She passed away last spring at fifteen,” the owner of the car stated quietly, looking down and avoiding eye contact with me. I expressed my heartfelt condolences for his loss and went back to my post with a frog in my throat. In my bubbly passion of seeing the design on his car, I had almost forgotten what event I was volunteering at.
The rest of the morning flew by, helping confused faces, smiling at passersby, explaining what the event was to citizens walking by. It really was easy to forget what it was that brought people to that location on that sunny September day in Portland. It had more a feel to it that I was at a giant family reunion, with all of the hugging, laughter and smiles that were going on around me.
About an hour into the event, everything had completely settled into order. People were lined up and waiting for the walking race shotgun to go off. Before we knew it, my friend and I were staring at a completely empty outdoor park plaza. The crowd had vanished and the only remaining were about a dozen of us volunteers. On the other side of the plaza, I noticed posters and pictures lined up along a brick wall. They were all blocked during the hustle and bustle of the crowd earlier.
My friend and I drifted over that way and slowly strolled down the line of pictures. All of the bright colored poster boards and pictures were made by the families of the departed. With each picture, I wondered to myself which dark part of this world got to them? Was it an upbringing of turmoil? Was it not feeling like they were living up to expectations? Was it from the hurt of lost love or being treated poorly in relationships? Was it a traumatic loss or traumatic event that happened in their life that they couldn’t cope with? What was the trigger point that made them feel that all of life needed to be cut off because of certain parts of it? I saw myself in every single one of them.
It was astounding to see the variety of people that took their own lives. I was predicting that I would be seeing a ton of poster boards with teenagers and young adults, but there were many pictures of those in their middle-age and several pictures of elderly people. I was also surprised by the happiness in the pictures, I seemed to have this stereo type in my mind that someone that takes their own life would always look sad and would never have a smile on their face. Many of them were beaming with such light and were standing proudly. Pictures of graduations, family celebrations, vacation photos. I realized that I was looking at just about anyone–my own friends, co-workers, acquaintances, classmates, any passerby on the street.
It brought up in me a wave of emotions, realizing that when I was a teenager, I had just barely escaped the same fate as those in the pictures came to. I thought back to the struggles that I have had with depression and anxiety. The struggle of having a completely open heart and being kind in a world that can be anything but at times. I thought of all the hurts I have endured (how many times I had wanted to cut life off because of just one single person hurting me.) How this world and the society we live in can cause so many strong spirits to break down.
Depression is not a black and white disease, there is a ton of grey area when it comes to depression. I used to laugh and agree with Denis Leary’s quote on happiness, which is: “‘I’m not happy. I’m not happy.’ Nobody’s happy, ok!? Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette, or a chocolate cookie, or a five second orgasm.” When it comes to someone struggling with depression though, you can’t just say that and move on, it’s an ongoing battle that they are going through on a daily basis. Often times the person battling the disease doesn’t even understand it. When someone is depressed and down in it, a cookie or a cigarette is not going to cure the immense darkness they are feeling.
I started writing this blog post last month and planned to post it in late July, but I got busy and was struggling with finishing it. I also was hesitant to post it because it is such a difficult subject and I felt that since I have never lost a loved one to suicide, I really had no right to talk about the subject. But then, with the passing of Robin Williams last week, I noticed the outpour of people opening up about the subject and the timing definitely seemed right to post it. What it really boils down to, is that we are all human and more connected than we would like to think…….each and every one of us is affected by the subject of suicide. We can’t turn our heads away just because it’s an uncomfortable subject, it’s time to talk about it and hopefully help to heal those who have been the most affected by it.