Blue, Teal, Purple and Green.
Those were the colors of beads I wore at today’s Out of the Darkness (suicide prevention and awareness) Walk. Each color means something, and symbolizes a part of your own story.
If you were in or near the Parkersburg City Park on Saturday, you may have seen hundreds of people walking around the pond. Some people were holding signs sharing words of hope, and honoring the names of loved ones lost to suicide. Others wore t-shirts with the Out of the Darkness logo, or the names of those who have been lost. Still others held hands – and each other – while they walked and supported one another. All of this was in the name of suicide awareness and prevention.
I first heard about the Out of the Darkness Walk a year or so ago, when I found out my friend Heather McCarter was our Parkersburg, WV walk’s coordinator. She, along with WV co-founder and spokesperson Michelle Toman, ran this year’s walk, together. Heather personally became a coordinator in 2012.
Heather said the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention chose her, when she was looking for a way to help find support for her own late sister’s then 6 year old daughter. She wanted to show her sister’s daughter that she was not alone. When the previous walk coordinator (and creator, Dr. Libby Powers) stepped down, she chose McCarter to fill her shoes. Though Heather didn’t expect such an honor, she’s never looked back, and feels grateful and “invigorated by the hope that the AFSP offers”.
I remember thinking this walk was a good cause that didn’t get enough attention, and I filed it away, that it would be a nice thing to “check out and participate in”, at some point. I’d known so many people affected by depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts and losses, and if there was a foundation and event that could help bring awareness to research and support, it also had my support. What I wasn’t quite expecting was how deeply this experience would move me, when I finally brought myself to participate. Once I’d taken the opportunity to see the walk in person, I knew I’d never be able to push it aside in my mind, again.
I was greeted so kindly by everyone at the Walk. Registration was friendly and easy, and there were several tables set up to offer resources for mental health/counseling, veterans, PTSD, as well as a loved ones’ memorial table. As part of the check in process, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) asks what color beads you’d like to wear. “We all get blue (beads), because we’re here to support one another”, said one of the friendly volunteers. And the tone was set. We’re all in this together. You are not alone. By wearing the blue, you’re taking a stand and supporting those who struggle and hurt, and doing so in a public way, without needing to say a word.
I couldn’t help but feel nervous as I looked over the bead color chart. How was I personally affected? What was I about to share with a park full of strangers? And then I saw the many facets that had affected me, as the list went on. Yes, of course, I’ll take a blue one. Teal meant I knew someone who was struggling or had possibly attempted suicide. Yes, unfortunately, more than a handful. Different levels of struggle, but so many. The purple represented the loss of a friend or relative-which I almost felt foolish about, because they weren’t my best friends. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I may have been their only voice. And for that, I chose purple. But the most challenging color for me to select was the green (a personal struggle or attempt). Wearing green, to me, admitted to the world that I was struggling. I was so scared to pick up this green necklace, I did it when the table was un-manned so no one could “watch” me. It was as if this acknowledgement to myself would show the world I couldn’t do it on my own. And within minutes, I realized how liberating that decision was. I sometimes needed help and support, I struggled, and I was admitting it. Now I was no longer getting lost in my own swirl of thoughts. Wearing the green necklace showed the world (or at least this safe slice of it) that for me, I had tried to tap out at one point or another in my life, but I’m still here. It was in that moment that I fully realized the power of this walk.
As I listened to several people’s personal stories about how their lives had been affected by suicide, I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion. It was a combination of hearing their pain and their struggles, and looking around to see everyone watching and listening, and putting their arms around one another that solidified the message behind those words: You are not alone.
Throughout the walk, people hugged me for no reason. Each hug brought a new wave of tears, a shoulder to lean on, a smile, a moment of connection where we both knew (as much as we could) where the other had been, and that it was gonna be okay-without saying a word, in many cases. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but notice all of the people who were there-all of them to encourage one another, to bring awareness to suicide prevention, to honor the people they love, to wish they had one more day with someone they’d lost, and it brought it all into pure focus. This, in a nutshell, was a strong, visual reminder of how suicide affects the ones you love. What a gift this walk – and the AFSP – is. What a stunning example for those who are struggling with depression and mental illness/challenges, and are confused about their futures. This walk represents the people who can help, the people who are hurting, the people who are healing.
While the Parkersburg, WV walk took place on Saturday, September 26th and takes place around this time, every year, other walks are planned nationally and annually, through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). And while this year marked the 8th annual walk for the Parkersburg/MOV area, 2015 is additionally special in that it is the first year our local walk/event has become a registered chapter-in-formation through the organization – which means our local group can now bring even more education and support to the Mid-Ohio Valley through more funding and backing.
Though you need not raise funds to participate in the walk, nearly 80% of the funds that are raised do go to relevant and applicable research and support (a very impressive number for fundraising, and far above the industry standard).
To learn more about a walk near you, go to their website.
If you’d like to participate in another upcoming WV walk, there are still 3 upcoming dates listed on the WV AFSP page:
- Charleston (October 10th, 11am-3pm)
- Shepherdstown (October 24th, 5-8pm)
- Fairmont (October 31st, 10am-12pm)
To keep up to date on the next Parkersburg walk (in 2016, and other WV walks), check out their Facebook page.
Though I wasn’t able to find a Southern Ohio Facebook page, there’s also an AFSP page for central Ohio:
In addition to the national walks, you can also find information on campus walks and an overnight walking event.
And for an additional event supported by the AFSP, please keep the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day in mind. Nationally hosted on November 21st, Mid-Ohio Valley locations will include: Bluefield, Charleston and Parkersburg (at WVU-P), while nearby Ohio locations include Columbus and Marietta. More information can be found here. Next year’s Out of the Darkness Walk in Parkersburg will be held on the morning of September 24th.
The goal of the AFSP is to bring more support and education to the nation, reducing the suicide rate by 20% by the year 2025, through awareness and support. Their website states: “Together we can change the conversation about mental health and put a stop to this tragic loss of life.”
To bring more awareness to Suicide Prevention (and the AFSP) through social media, please use the tag #20by2025 and #StopSuicide on your event photos and posts.