When I awoke first, it was 10:30am and I was pissed. I’d hoped for 1:30pm.
After attempting more sleep for about an hour, I determined that I craved coffee. We had emptied our hotel room’s supply of coffee packets around midday yesterday and so the coffee would need to come from beyond the hotel room door. Suddenly I intensely regretted not having packed flip-flops: the hotel bar would sell me a cup of coffee, but I’d have to get myself there, to get it, and for some reason I’m too embarrassed to just call room service. The only shoes I brought on this trip are 2 pair of lace-ups: the Sauconys that I would like to fill with explosives and destroy, and the Keens that I brought as a recovery shoe, to wear after our charity walk.
Little did I know that putting anything around my feet would sound so horrifying, today.
But then, after my first trip to the bathroom since we got back to the room at 5am, I realized that even standing up is intensely unappealing (difficult). To hell with flip-flops.
We walked easily 18, likely 20 miles last night, with over 2,000 other people who were walking (or supporting the walk by course-marshalling or providing water/food at aid stops) to raise funds & awareness for suicide prevention.
I remembered that I brought some packets of good tea, so settled on that for my cup of hot comfort and stimulant. I discovered that Tazo “Awake” is really quite good in the morning: this will do. Thank the Lord, as I really don’t want to get off this comfy bed for awhile.
The swollen pinkie toes and very tender heels command a fair amount of my attention, but now that I’ve satisfied the hot morning liquid craving, I’m able to pull up some other thoughts about our experience.
I’ve never thought that anything could look conspicuous on the streets of New York, especially at night. We were walking from 7:45pm Saturday until 4am Sunday. Well, around 2,000 people wearing sneakers, comfy pants or shorts, carrying water bottles, and moving in pods of 2-6 or so people who were wearing matching t-shirts, all chatting together constantly: that was a bit of a spectacle, on late night Manhattan. As we approached bar closing time, it garnered a few inquiries from “normal” revelers. Upon receiving an explanation, the reveler’s eyes usually got real wide, than usually the inquisitor’s face would soften and thank the walkers for doing this work for such a worthy cause.
It seems like most people know at least one person who committed suicide or has contemplated it.
On the back of my event t-shirt, where it says, “I’ll be up all night for…” I wrote several names with a Sharpie, starting with Jenny, and continuing with Kenny, Eric, Mark, Damian and Lisa. If I listed names of living people I know who suffer from depression, the list would go on much longer.
By its nature of being a “disease,” depression lives up to its bad reputation. Its capacity to lay waste to lives and to challenge families is the reason we walked.
Specifically, we walked because my husband’s sister committed suicide, nearly five years ago – just a month and a half after she attended our wedding. Steve and his mom have been doing this walk every year since then. Only this year did I decide to join “Jenny’s Team” as a walker and fund raiser. Until last December or so, I just wasn’t ready to talk about the cause.
This was partly because after Jenny’s funeral, it was suddenly clear to me that Jenny was so miserable that wherever she is now, she’s got to be happier. To a degree I still feel that way, but we didn’t walk to help Jenny. We walked for our own healing, and to try to ensure that more people don’t get so sad and lonely that suicide is their only resort. Part of the wickedness of depression is that it feels embarrassing: the afflicted may see it as a shortcoming rather than a disease that has attacked them, and they understandably try to hide it.
I remember back in high school, in one of my required religion classes (I went to a Jesuit school), I had to keep a journal that was shared with the instructor. In one entry, perhaps inspired by a current news event or classroom discussion, I noted something along the lines of, “Well, if I were inclined to consider suicide, the world certainly seems to offer a lot of good reasons.” I was personally far from considering suicide; it was a philosophical statement. The kind young Jesuit who was my teacher read the comment and very quickly reached out to me with loving words of support and inquiry. I assured him that I intended to live through much more of my life.
I felt and feel lucky to have known him, and I hope that he reached out similarly to any of my classmates who needed his help more than I did.
While a fair amount of last night was spent jockeying to find a spot on the sidewalk where we weren’t tripping over slower walkers, much of that time was spent with gazes fixed upon the backs of their t-shirts. Everyone had either personalized their official tee as I had, or made special team shirts, just for this event. Pictures of dead siblings, spouses, children, parents, relatives, and friends were frequent. There were statements like “I’d walk a million miles just to get 1 more minute with Robert”, “I’m walking for my beautiful daughter Lisa,” and “Ronnie’s Angels” stained my inner eyelids, I watched them for so many minutes or hours.
Past participants say that the most rewarding part of this event is meeting other walkers and listening to stories. I’m embarrassed to admit that this didn’t happen for me; my only explanation to offer is that we were very preoccupied with traffic concerns (this included navigating really high curbs) and finding a pace that might bring the finish sooner.
Despite this, however, we were surrounded by stories – in the t-shirt pictures and in the love that was apparent in the vigorous but upbeat conversations going on, throughout the night. I never saw an appropriate opportunity to ask anyone about their story; perhaps that’s just an indication of where I am in my healing process, with regards to mainly Jenny but also my hair stylist Damian, who died 4 years ago, and a former coworker, Eric, who died just last year. There were several times when my mind would wander into thoughts of their sadness, and I’d arrive on the brink of tears. I’d force myself to think of puppies, to dry the tears, so that I could maintain the illusion/appearance of strength that everyone around me was maintaining so well.
I did follow most of the recommended training, but still I was very grateful when at last we returned to the Brooklyn Bridge, which signaled the home stretch of our Bataan. My feet were very sore, various joints had started talking to me in unusual terms, and I’d started to garble my communication with Steve and Mary. I’d long since passed through the fear of an injury (AKA blisters bigger than the ones I got in the 12th grade hike or on an early 1990s rugby select-side try-out) not allowing me to finish upright, and was well into a nearly punch-drunk state of simply enduring the sensation that I’d ground my legs down to stumps. I have indeed walked this far, but never on pavement, nor for a cause other than simply enjoying the great outdoors. I could literally hear the bed in the hotel room calling me, but the real sense of completion had more to do with finishing what I’d set out to do. This included: raising $1,000, spreading the word about the cause, showing Steve and Mary that I care enough to sacrifice running/climbing/gardening/yoga time for them, and also, to endure something uncomfortable long enough to give me insight into the strength challenge that depression poses to so many people.
We arrived at the finish area, collected our victory t-shirts, and devoured the breakfast in very zombie-like fashion, between 4 and 4:30am. The closing ceremony wasn’t for another hour, and we decided that we were were losing body heat fast, and that collapsing onto our beds would provide closure enough for us, so we decided to skip the official ceremony. After lying on the grass in the dark for a bit, elevating our throbbing feet, we cruised the luminaria, so lovingly decorated by walkers, and so beautifully arranged by volunteers, around Cadman Park Plaza in Brooklyn. We found (and oohed and aahed over) 2 of our 3 luminaries, gazed over the sea of fellow walkers, dozing in mylar blankets, then stumbled the last mile or so, back to our most welcoming beds in the host hotel.
I told Steve to wait a few weeks before asking me if I’ll do this next year, when the event will be in San Francisco. I need time for a few things to heal. Regardless of the fact that I have one more night in New York and am unable to walk far enough to capitalize upon it, I am very glad I participated in the Overnight walk.
Note: I hand-wrote this entry mid-afternoon on 6/5/11.