I'll be walking June 4-5 in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. If you don't know what it's about, it's an 18-mile nighttime walk through New York City for depression awareness and suicide prevention, brought about by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
To be completely honest, it's a fundraiser I wish I didn't feel compelled to participate in. But, sadly and horribly, my older brother -- who was a husband, father of two sons, police sergeant, volunteer EMT, Little League coach, Cub Scout leader -- succumbed to undiagnosed, untreated depression almost three years ago.
It left me and my family devastated. To say it was traumatic and shocking is to not really describe it at all. I couldn't breathe right for a few days. I felt sick to my stomach for two weeks. I could barely sleep for months and months, and when I did I had nightmares. I suffered from panic attacks and relentless, powerful headaches.
For a long time, I secretly thought his suicide was a lie -- that someone else came onto his property and forced him put pen to paper to write his final good-byes. I harbored fantasies that he couldn't have left us on purpose, and that someone else used his service revolver to kill him. After about a year-and-a-half, I realized that didn't really happen.
No, after a year-and-a-half, I realized my brother probably suffered from a bipolar depression, where he could be really up, and then be very down. His training in the military and then as a police officer is what probably enabled him to hide the depression. He most likely associated his depressive feelings with a "weakness," which he wouldn't want to divulge because of a stigma attached to mental illness. So, instead of telling someone he needed help, he just... didn't. He probably thought he felt down, and that's just the way he would always feel.
My brother, like me, probably didn't know very much about mental illness or its causes or symptoms. Or how it is VERY TREATABLE.
Of course, hindsight being what it is, we can recognize things now that were off in the months leading up to his death. But my family and I had no knowlege of what mental illness was really about -- and how it's really a medical illness affecting the brain -- like a cancer.
I also didn't know that more than 90% of those who die by suicide have an undiagnosed yet TREATABLE form of depression.
When I walk the 18-miles overnight through New York City, I'll be walking in my brother's honor. But I'll be hoping the funds raised go toward erasing the stigma around mental illness, so that people -- be they teens, mothers, men in uniform or grandparents -- get the help they need. Mental illness is a medical illness -- and when that is more roundly known and understood, people will stop feeling "weak" for needing help -- and just get better.
Please consider sponsoring me on my journey. And please feel free to share this note. It's time to bring depression and suicide Out of the Darkness.