Brown-Wolf: A walk to raise awareness (column)
September 4, 2016
Almost a year-and-half ago, I wrote a column for the Summit Daily, entitled 'Bringing Suicide to the Dinner Table.' When I wrote it, I had no plans to write a regular column, no objective to become a public speaker and no intention to talk about suicide, ever.
However, here I am, doing all of those things.
As I began to write what eventually became my initial column, a flood of emotion poured out of me. I wrote for myself. I wrote because I had to. I wrote, realizing that suicide and mental health needed more public voices, so I shaped the writing into the column it became. I revised. I rewrote. And, at the expense of sounding like a writing teacher (which I am), I revised again. But, I wavered about publishing it. I was nervous.
What if no one cared? What if no one read it? What if everyone read it?
I had a glass of wine. I paced. I cried. And finally, I hit "send." Twenty-four hours later, the column went public. I heard from my first reader. And then it went viral.
A few years ago, I read a different article that hit home. It was a piece in the Rolling Stones magazine about a gay teenager who killed himself in Minnesota, followed by six copycat suicides in protest of his being bullied. It shook me. It shook me because it was crazy. Seven kids took their lives. But it also shook me for very personal reasons. My brother had been gay and died of AIDS. The article shook me because I have three teenagers of my own. It shook me because I understood.
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I continued to read and research issues surrounding mental health. Sadly, I read too many articles about shootings: at schools, at churches and at movies. I read about the increase of suicide across the country. I read about brilliant individuals like Virginia Wolfe and Robin Williams who'd killed themselves because they could no longer take the pain and the darkness that enveloped them.
In the early 1960s, a year before I was born, my aunt died. Her death was classified as a heart attack. Except. Except that her death was muddled by the fact that she'd been going through a divorce, was severely depressed and had been hospitalized. So let me ask you: Did she die of a heart attack or suicide? The shame that surrounded her death clouded the answer. After I wrote my first column about suicide and mentioned my aunt's death, my cousin called to thank me — it was the first time anyone had spoken what he believed to be true. It took 50 years to talk about it.
Suicide is a powerful, tragic act. In our society, we are plagued by shame and embarrassment by issues of mental health. There is much to be done to bring the topic to the table, but, as we begin to better understand and eliminate the shame, real progress can be made to stop suicide.
We can make a difference. Suicide is a universal issue, and mental health affects us all. On Sept. 11, the second annual Walk Out of Darkness is coming to Summit County, where suicide rates remain high. The event begins at 11:00 a.m. at the Silverthorne Outlets (309 Rainbow Drive). Unfortunately, I will be out of town this year, but I have raised money and am spreading the word. It's a good space to find support as well as to support others. In addition to raising money, the walk raises consciousness about suicide. It's a venue to come together while talking and walking. Come!
Carrie Brown-Wolf lives in Silverthorne.
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