Tuesday, October 6, 2015

AM~Erica Spoke for the First Time

So anyway...

Between some health issues within our family, as well as kiddo schedules AND other things I'm involved in, the past few weeks have been really crazy!!

One of the things I've been able to be a part of has been the Out of the Darkness walk in Kansas City.

If you remember, I did the walk last year (reminder HERE), and my advocacy has kind of skyrocketed in the meantime!

Within that year,  I became a field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I kept sharing my story & struggle, I was invited to be a part of the board for the AFSP chapter of Greater Kansas (including the KC metro areas), and meaning I would be helping with this upcoming walk.

(part of my journey to being on the board, HERE)

Once again, I was raising funds for the cause, setting a lower goal, and met it - thanks to a small handful of you. THANK YOU!!

Because it all led up to this past Saturday: the Out of the Darkness walk in Kansas City.

Last year was so overwhelming for me.
I was moved to be able to raise funds & come walk for something so important, but I felt out of place.
As someone with lived experience, there was this guilty feeling that washed over me as I stood there amongst all of these people who actually lost someone to suicide. Would they be judgmental & angry with me because I survived my attempt? Would they wonder why I'm still here & their loved one is not? The feeling was almost too much to bear.
However, I was greeted with so much love & understanding; I was told by these people they were so glad I was there...that I made it! Then that was almost too much to bear.

When I first came on the AFSP KS board, I shared my guilt. I asked them why I was even there. I let them know I felt so guilty sitting in their presence since they lost someone, and here I am. This is where beautiful grace kicks in: I was told they needed me there; I was told I could give them perspective of what may have been going through the minds of their loved ones before losing them. I was there to help bring understanding. Then I almost felt like there might be more resting upon my shoulders in this position, but felt better about being there.

With that said, a couple of days before the walk, a few of us were trying to help with last minute preparations. The day before the walk, I was getting calls about more prep I could help with: I was on to pick up a a prize from the Missouri Mavericks hockey team for a raffle prize, plus I got a call that stunned me:
Barb, our wonderful & amazing leader, called to see if I could give a talk the next morning about my struggle.
*GULP* wha-WHA??
But, as it happens, out of my mouth came something to the effect of, "Sure! Whatever you need me to do. I've blogged on it, so I have go-to material. How long do you need it to be?"

What was I saying? I was in the midst of running errands with my hubby, like we do on Fridays, and here I am agreeing to give a speech less than 24 hours from that point. Holy Cannoli! And, not only should it be about my struggle, but make it uplifting to everyone there grieving. Great. Got it.

So that afternoon & evening, I was poring over my previous blog posts to see what I should cover. So, I was cutting & pasting what I thought might be helpful (thank you, God, for showing me the way to blogging), then filling in transitions while trying to edit a bit. But, after a while, I had something.

Then, the day came: the Out of the Darkness walk was upon us!!

I got up very early to get ready. So did Teen Girl. See, she was one of the official photographers for the event. We got around, I had to get coffee, and we were off to Berkeley Riverfront Park in Kansas City.

Being a part of the board, it was important we got there early to help with set up. I was, apparently, in charge of directing the staging of the event setup with the unloading of the truck.
Ummm...I have to confess: I had no clue what I was doing. People would walk up to me with bins of material needed to make the walk successful, and I just kept pointing down the main sidewalk, saying, "Take it that way!" But I did know where registration was, so anything having to do with that, I knew to send them another direction. I'm sure I did great! (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.)

When that was done, I was trying to help set up a table or two, then I was sent to help with registration.
I had no clue what I was going to do! But I went to the walk-up side of registration, got a crash course in how to approach it, then, again, approached it as if I knew what I was doing.

While a small handful of people came to register before the official walk-up registration opening, a familiar face was standing in front of my table while filling out a form, but using a clipboard instead of the table. Though I realized who it was, I wasn't going to let on, at first. He was our event MC for the morning. I just told him he could use the table, but I was informed he had a clipboard. OK, so I let it go. But when he informed me, with shock & fear in his eyes, that he had to take the form with him since he always makes a donation & he had to run to his car, I just simply said, "That's OK, Nick. I'll be right here when you get back, I'm Erica." This is when he nodded & commented on my tutu.

I figured out who Nick was. He looks exactly like he does on TV! Nick Vasos, a local news anchor for the 9:00 AM & NOON newscasts for Fox 4 KC, plus the early morning traffic guy (and sometimes fills in for a brief weather update).
Everyone, say hi to Nick!

Apparently Nick has been the event MC before. He was supposed to do it last year, but had to back out last year. He was back for this year, and I was so glad he was! I knew he was probably there with the loss of a beloved weatherman, Don Harmon (I brought him up in this post, HERE). Come to find out, he'd also lost his brother.
Nick was a wonderful MC! So glad he could join us on the amazing, and beautiful day.

As so many people looked like they were gathering to check in & get registered, things were coming together. The Sean McNown Band was playing while keeping things lively & moving while Nick made announcements throughout.

Then the ceremonies were about to begin, so registration closed, and I made my way over to the side of the stage area.
First up was the bead ceremony - the presenting of each color honor bead by a participant who is connected to that color, plus their story.

I was part of that ceremony last year. I represented blue. Blue is for one who supports the cause.

You know, last year I felt so guilty being there as part of that bead ceremony...among so many who lost someone...while I survived my lived experience...

I watched this year's ceremony, I was semi-listening to the stories. I was going over my talk I was about to give. and had that guilty feeling coming over me again. I was about to take the mic on the stage...to talk about my struggle...to all of these survivors of those they lost. Around 900 people, as a matter of fact.

Trust me, I have no problem taking the stage. I don't mind taking the mic to talk or make announcements. I've done it before to upwards of about 500 people. But usually that was playing a part, or just a quick little announcement. I mean, I've given talks & mini speeches about myself before, but not to a crowd this big...and not about this subject.

My nerves started to pick up. My guilt was setting in. What was I doing? Was this long-winded drivel of mine going to reach anyone? Was I just going to be wasting time?

I don't know if the look of panic was coming across my face, but while Barb had taken the mic, Nick walked over to me asked if I was nervous, then let me know it will be fine & just asked what I'd be talking about about. He explained he'd be introducing me. All I could muster up was, "My experience." He confirmed, then pretty much headed right for Barb to take the mic.

There I was, standing there in my tutu, my EVENT STAFF shirt, and my papers containing a lot of words. And I was introduced, Nick looked my way, and handed me the mic...

...I was on...
*breathe in; breathe out*

I looked around at the 900 or so people & looked down at my papers, and began to speak...

That's me, in the tutu, talking to the masses - picture captured by my friend, April

So I just opened my mouth and began to read the words of who I am, how my struggle came about, how dark it can get, and hopefully offering some hope from it. Even to those grieving the ones they lost.

I was pretty emotional. I didn't know how things were going to go, I just laid my heart out there about my struggle.

Me talking next to the bead ceremony display -
interestingly, next to the 3 colors of honor beads I wear:
green, blue & teal.
Photo taken by Teen Girl.

I was ready to give up the mic. I didn't want to look at anyone, really. And I didn't care who the first person was to reach me, I was giving them the microphone...
...Nick walked over. I gave him the mic...and then he hugged me, then a little harder, and a little harder...
Wow...I think I needed that. Just the reassurance. And, not gonna lie...I had to take a couple of tissue breaks during my talk. So one of my thoughts going through my head in that moment was, "Don't snot on Nick...please don't snot on Nick."

I was then greeted by Caroline, one of our walk organizers & a force in the chapter. She hugged me so big! Then by Barb, too.

Barb Nelson, Nick Vasos & Caroline Allen
Photo by Boden Photography

At that moment, a huge weight was lifted from me...and I was almost completely emotionally drained. Just talking about it took a lot out of me.

Then it was about time to begin the walk...
...yet in the meantime, several were coming up to me asking if I was in their heads. Apparently God laid upon my heart what needed to be heard by even just one person. But I was caught by several.

My daughter b-lined toward me. I'll be honest, I'm not always the most forthright with my family about the depth of my struggle. I'm not sure my kids are fully aware that the thoughts still go through my head. So Teen Girl got a few pictures, but said she had to stop because she was sobbing. I think it was a bit of a wakeup call.

I made my way over to the walking course. I couldn't find my team anywhere, so I just began to walk with the crowds. What was wonderful about it was the fact that I actually got stopped by different people to talk about what I said, then even about their struggles, their loved ones, their grief, and why we were there walking. One lady was even on the phone as she walked & stopped me for a hug anyway...while on the phone!

Eventually, I did see my team at a distance, but I couldn't really catch up to them, so I hoped to meet up with some of them later.

Banner for Team SOLOS
photo taken by Teen Girl

On the walk, one lady said she found a flower on the walking path & had been carrying it as it was a perfectly formed flower, but it seemed hopeful since it was part of God's creation. She looked at it & decided I should have it. She was moved by what I'd said.
Many of you know I usually wear a flower in my hair, but I didn't on this day since I didn't know how the breeze would match up with it. So, I placed it behind my ear.

Some other folks I got to speak with talked about the tutus. Especially some with kiddos who love tutus.

When I came upon completion of my final lap, I was greeted by my daughter, and we made our way over to the side of the staging area. Soon, closing ceremonies would be taking place.

As we made our way over, a woman came up to me in tears! She wanted a picture with me, then began to explain she was a survivor of her own attempts. As I looked at her button that begins "I Walk For...," she wrote in the word, "MYSELF!" She did open up about how guilty she felt being there walking with all of these other people who lost someone to suicide when she survived her attempts (sound familiar?). I told her we would get our picture & then I wanted to talk to her...

It was then I began to tell her that it seemed to be a common feeling for those of us in that place. I even told her I still felt guilty being there, and then shared the explanation I got for being on the board. I reminded her she has purpose & that I know she doesn't always feel awesome or beautiful, but needed to give her that reassurance.
Then she did something quite unexpected...
She pulled a ring off of her finger & put it on one of mine. The simple silver band simply reads, "HOPE." She was adamant that I have it. i didn't know what to say, but just hoped that I really helped her in her feelings of being there & to keep going.

Then came the reading of the names: the names of those that were lost to suicide to be remembered. Their names are read allowed to be remembered - their names will continue to be spoken.
After the list is read solemnly, there is the balloon release.

The balloon release contains helium-filled balloons with messages of grief & hope of those lost to suicide. These messages are written throughout the morning & even during the walk & placed with other messages on balloons under a net. When the time comes, these brightly-colored balloons are released together as the messages float to the heavens for our loved ones.
It's beautiful, it's heartbreaking...it's bittersweet.

As things wound down, I went over to help put things away, and I was caught by some more folks. One gal said she remembered my tutu from last year, and that their grief was 4-months fresh. Then, she wanted me to talk to a beautiful young woman next to her. As I spoke to her, I found out she had homecoming that night, and...she almost didn't get to see homecoming. She was just 2-weeks freshly out of her latest attempt. WOW...that was hard! I was so glad she could see homecoming! And I told her I was glad she was there to talk about it, to see this next event in her life, and to keep looking for the next tomorrow. Her mother came into the conversation, too.

Right after that, I was approached by another young woman who had a lot to talk about. Her attempt(s) happen to be right on the forefront of her mind, as well as her ongoing struggle & how it affected her family.

By the time I was done with those conversations, my table was already cleared!, so I took down the signage, the tablecloth & the table. And then to help out where I could.

But...not before trying to get just a few pics in! I didn't get a lot. I was pretty busy this day. But glad I grabbed these couple!

Here I am with my adorable, sweet friend & fellow board member, April

Here I am with Jenn, the amazing leader & founder of SOLOS.
Love this gal, and still credit her for launching my advocacy.
God definitely put us in each other's paths years ago for a reason.

Took a moment to pause as things were winding way down to get a pic
by the river at Berkley Riverfront Park

Plus, I did finally catch up with my team:

Here's a large portion of Team SOLOS
I borrowed this pic from my friend, Jenn - not sure who took the photo

With all of this, I got a few of my take-aways from the day:

Here are my beads: Green, Blue & Teal
plus the flower & the ring I was handed by fellow walkers

T-shirt I received for raising at least $150
(front - above; back - below)

Even though I was so much more involved this year, I still felt so insignificant in this grander scheme.
There's still SO much work that has to be done, folks!! We are still losing people to suicide; we are losing people in their thoughts.

You can still donate through the end of the year! At the time of this posting, you can look at the top left of this blog page & see where you can click to donate.

As part of what we do, $10 helps distribute an educational DVD about mental health & suicide. Education leads to breaking of stigma & making strides in suicide prevention!

In some added confirmation that maybe my struggles hit home with someone, a friend of mine shared a post from one of her friends at the walk. In the post, he said he heard a speech that let him know it's OK to talk about it, so he opened up about his attempts & continued struggles, and that it was time he started talking about it. WOW! This is what we need, people!

Let's start talking. Let's break the stigma. Let's start moving toward a suicide-free world.

(you can read through my journey of struggle HERE)

In the meantime, I need rest. I'm drained. I'm worn down. And it's time for some self care. I need to begin feeling better so I can continue the fight & advocacy. Amm-i-rite?

I will continue to Be The Voice to help #StopSuicide

Also, I may publish my speech soon. A couple of people asked if I would. But I have at least one more speaking engagement coming soon, so I will flag everyone down if I get it published. Sound like a deal?

Stay tuned...

God Bless, AM~Erica

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