This morning Sarah (Giving Voice to Depression’s social media goddess and watch guard) and I spent several hours at a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (My partner/sister/BFF Bridget joined us in spirit from many miles away.) We talked about our podcast, handed out inspirational messages (things we’ve posted on our FB page) and casually started discussions about depression and mental illness and suicide. We talked about it like it was normal. Because we’re trying to create understanding that with the right people, at the right time, it can (dare I use the word “should?”) be. And it was amazing. And typical. All you have to do is open the door the tiniest crack and people come pushing through it. People need to talk about their struggles, their pain, their loss. And those who aren’t ready to talk convey their story in non-verbal ways. Like the beautiful, smiling young woman who asked me to put her temporary semicolon tattoo “right here,” as she pointed to the long,vertical scar down her wrist. I applied the tattoo, gently touched her scar, and when she teared up, asked if she’d like a hug. She did. As we embraced I whispered “You take care of your wonderful self.” She thanked me (in a tearful, genuine way) and walked off. She was one of nearly 200 people on whom we applied tattoos. We chose that strategy to stimulate discussions/awareness, to keep people at our table for a minute longer so we could engage, and to offer the opportunity for physical touch as we applied them. We heard stories of sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, friends and parents lost to suicide. Occasionally the person shared in a near whisper. Others sported big photo-buttons of their loved ones, and shared at our table so that others gathered their would hear their story. It is an honor to be trusted with people’s stories. It is also really hard because each one lands like a punch. Empathy leaves you vulnerable. But I wouldn’t want to to be any other way.
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