It’s been a challenge finding the right things to say on this page… should I write about ending the stigma surrounding mental health? Or all the work that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does to help at risk individuals and their families? Or should I tell you about losing a friend and why this cause not only incredibly important, but deeply personal for me?
I remember the last time that I saw him: it was outside the late night restaurant where he worked. It was just before I left for law school. I remember blasting music, laughing, and dancing with friends. I remember giving him a long hug and telling him how I couldn’t wait to be back home for winter break. “We’ll hang out soon,” I said. I still have the dress I wore that night, I haven’t worn it since, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to part with it.
On August 19, 2014, I lost my friend to suicide. It’s taken me a long time to say those words, “I lost a friend to suicide.” He died “unexpectedly” or “he was sick for a long time, but nobody realized how bad it was,” I’d say instead. There was something difficult about saying the word suicide, especially around people that had never met Derek. I didn't want them to judge, I didn't want him to have that stigma.
Did you hear about so-and-so? ....They died ....Oh, what happened? ....I don’t know, but they think they killed themselves ....Wow, I never would have guessed .....Yeah, I feel bad for their family. It’s so selfish.
Behind the hushed tones and the gossip is ignorance. And while I’d never wish my firsthand knowledge upon anyone, we need to have the difficult conversations, we need to raise awareness, and we need to end the stigma around mental health issues. To say someone killed himself is to only look at the tip of the iceberg and ignore everything beneath the surface. The chemical imbalances that lead to depression, bipolar disorders, and anxiety are no different than cancer or heart attack - and you would never judge someone for cancer. Mental health issues are health issues.
“It’s so selfish.” That’s the one that really bothers me. You don’t know what someone was going through; you don’t know someone else’s struggles. If I know one thing, it’s that my friend was not selfish. He was the first to celebrate your successes. He was there to give advice or cheer you up after a bad break-up.He was there to do lame things like help with packing and moving. He knew exactly what to say, and he gave the best hugs.His smile could light up a room, and he could get along with anyone. He was so amazingly wonderful, and everything he did, he did for others. When I look back and think of him, these are the things I think of.
There are still times where I wish I could shake him, yell at him, and ask him why. I wish I could fight his demons for him. I wish I could have stopped things from ending the way they did.I wish I could hear his voice one more time. If there was something I could have said or done differently, I would have done it a thousand times over.
All the tears and wishes in the world won’t bring my friend back, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. Through running with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I can make a difference in someone else’s life.
This summer, I will train for the Chicago Marathon and run its 26.2 miles for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I will raise awareness for their mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. The money I raise will help AFSP fund scientific research, educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention, promote policies and legislation that impact suicide, and support survivors of suicide loss and people at risk.
Please help me reach my fundraising goal. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP and all donations are 100% tax deductible and will be be FULLY MATCHED. Donating online is safe and easy. To make an online donation please click the "Donate Now" button at the top of this page. If you can't donate, please share. The more awareness we raise, the stronger our impact.