Six months ago I stood in this same place at the End the Stigma Workshop and shared my story for the very first time. It was the first time I ever spoke the words; I lost my dad to suicide out loud. Sitting down and preparing to speak today allowed me the opportunity to really sit back and reflect on my journey the last six months.
My journey really began when Lydia announced Bring Change 2 Mind as this year’s charity over a year ago. I volunteered to be on the charity committee because I was struggling with the loss of my dad. I was hoping that volunteering would provide me with answers to my many questions, and peace for my broken heart.
I’m going to reread my words from the workshop in April.
My dad was always my biggest fan. He supported me in each and every aspect of my life. Some of my best memories, however, are being on the soccer field with my dad on the sideline. He actually paced the sidelines cheering, “Let’s go Skate!” My dad traveled hours for games that I played in for five minutes. He woke up very early, after working all night, to be at the first whistle of every game. Vacations were scheduled around soccer tournaments. In college, I had to convince him it was crazy to drive two and a half hours to watch me play an intramural soccer game. He was always encouraging and supportive. No matter what the outcome of the game, or how I played that day, he always welcomed me with a smile and a hug.
August 20, 2010 I lost my dad to suicide.
Five years prior to his death, my dad suffered a major stroke that took my family on a five-year rollercoaster of ups and downs. He suffered from debilitating depression and anxiety at times. Knowing that he needed serious help he checked himself into a crisis center. My dad tried countless counselors, psychiatrists, neurologists, and medication over the years. He fought hard. As his daughter, it was awful to see him hurt so bad, and not be able to help him. The last time I saw my dad I knew in my heart there was something seriously wrong. When I looked at him, looking at me, there was emptiness in his eyes where there usually was unconditional love. I could see a heavy blanket of despair wrapped around him. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. That is something I regret. I was uncomfortable talking to my dad about depression, anxiety, and his thoughts of suicide. My advice to people in a similar situation is, speak up! Speak up about your feelings, even if it is just to say you are scared. Speak up to medical professionals by asking questions. Then ask more questions. Continue asking questions until you get a clear answer. There are so many people who devote their lives to helping others cope with mental illness. Did you know that the National Suicide Prevention hotline is not just for people in crisis? If you are concerned about a loved one they encourage you to call so that you can find out what resources are available in your area. Your call is routed to the Lifeline center closest to your area. I believe silence helps perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. People do not want to talk about these topics because they are uncomfortable, but we need to. We need to so that we can learn, discover, heal, cope, and survive.
When Lydia announced the charity for the year I knew it was an opportunity for me to step up and speak out. I am still uncomfortable and uneasy talking about suicide, depression, and anxiety but I promised myself I would not allow this feeling silence me this time. Feelings of regret have haunted me and caused me a lot of pain over the last couple years. I have come to a place where I know I need to channel these feelings of regret to do something beneficial for others and myself. I came across this quote recently and I pray that it is true: When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. I hope my words today have given someone in a similar situation the courage to speak up.
I have heard many people say that they notice I smile during triathlons. There is a simple reason for this; it is because I know my dad is with me. I know my dad is with me because he would not miss an opportunity to cheer me on. My dad is still my biggest fan.
Over the past month I have reread this speech many times. Each time I reread it one word kept grabbing my attention. That word was regret. Standing here tonight I can say my prayer has been answered. While I still miss my dad terribly, I no longer have those feelings of regret. At that time I was unsure of how sharing my story would affect me. However, I have realized that talking about my dad and volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind has released those feelings of regret and set me on my path to healing. A quote from Maya Angelou’s resonates with me tonight, do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
I wanted to end on a similar note as in April. Colleen posted a picture of me crossing the finish line at Queen of the Hill. I noticed in that picture that I am definitely not smiling. It is evident that I was in pain, and there is another triathlete, Katie, right on my heels. This picture shows me that not only is my dad my biggest fan, he also taught me how to be a true fighter.
If you are struggling with a mental illness or have a loved one who is, keep fighting and remember together we can Bring Change 2 Mind.