“Most days I try my best to put on a brave face. But inside my bones are cold and my heart breaks. But all the while something is keeping me safe and alive. But so many people are looking to me to be strong and to fight but I’m just surviving. I may be weak but I’m never defeated. And I’ll keep believing in clouds with that sweet silver lining.” -Kate Voegele, Sweet Silver Lining
I spent this past weekend at Active Minds’ 7th Annual National Mental Health on Campus conference. Active Minds, a national non-profit and BC2M partner, brings together hundreds upon hundreds of students and gives them the inspiration and tools to decrease mental health stigma and increase awareness on their college campuses. At last year’s conference, I was still working as a full-time Active Minds staff person and didn’t have the opportunity to step back and truly bear witness to some of the incredible things taking place. I knew that the organization covered everything from stress relief tips to model for preventing suicide. It’s one thing to understand in your mind the change that is taking place, it’s another thing entirely to feel it in your soul.
I’ve never lost anyone to suicide and I pray I never will. However, I’ve met family member after family member and friend after friend, mourning the loss of loved ones to a senseless act of violence by their own hand. I had never really understood how my former boss, Alison Malmon, could so completely dedicate her life to a cause so grounded in her own personal pain of losing her brother. This weekend, I finally saw that she draws incredible strength from the passion of the students with whom she works. I finally saw not only the tears in her eyes when talking about how much she loves and misses Brian, but the joy in her heart as she looks out over a room full of people so invested in this movement.
From three people at her first club meeting many years ago, to a ballroom full of student activists is a remarkable journey. While I know that there is nothing Alison can do that will allow her to completely let go of the pain that she lives with every single day, I find great inspiration in how she has worked tireless to have Brian’s memory not only associated with a tragic loss, but with a living memorial that reaches students all over the country. From a place of pain, she’s developed for others a place of belonging and a joy for life.
Inspiration for my BC2M blog posts comes from someone or something different every week. This one started not with Alison, but with a BC2M Facebook friend and real-life stranger. She spent Friday at the conference to visit the Send Silence Packing display that features ownerless backpacks representing the 1,100 college students lost to suicide each and every year. After she saw my Facebook status update about the conference, she messaged me to tell her how much having her son’s story featured on one of the Send Silence Packing backpacks at this year’s conference meant to her and her family.
Her message led me to reflect on my own history with suicidal ideation and being suicidal. One of the things that always keeps me here is knowing how much losing me would hurt my friends and family. Even at my lowest moments, I never want to bring pain to others. I never gave much thought to how I developed that line of thinking, but this weekend I suddenly knew.
Seeing the hurt in Alison’s eyes (and seeing that same hurt in the eyes of all of the countless mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and friends that I’ve met who had lost someone to suicide) helped save my life. While I grieve with them for the loss of someone special in their lives, I am forever grateful that they have had the courage to share their experience in a way that saves the lives of so many other children and friends. I know that not even the shiniest of silver linings could dim the pain they feel, but I want all of you to know how much your strength means. You may never know how many people you’ve reached. So when you find yourself wondering if it’s worth the agony of revisiting such haunting memories, please know that you reached me.
Thanks for reading,