August 12th 2014. Mother turned to me, “Did you hear the news about Robin Williams?” she said, “he has died…”. Robin had been a constant in my life, known as the happy and cheerful guy because of how he appeared in his movies and on TV; he was my mad professor to my Peter Pan, my middle aged Scottish nanny to my ‘O Captain! My Captain’. For this man to be gone was inconceivable to me.
That same morning I was lone working at a supported accommodation service, I had the radio on listening for more information surrounding his death, when a client came in, he told me he had heard about what happened with Robin Williams, his face told me this had affected him; “He seemed such a happy man” he said, “he had it all, and yet it was just not enough, that’s what I can’t get my head around… that’s what I can’t understand”. My client had hit the nail on the head, that is to say, although there are many out there who we can visually see are going through a difficult time with their mental health or otherwise, Robin Williams in my opinion was not one of those people, he was one of those people who put on a smile regardless of what was going on in his unheard mind. But then are we not all guilty of doing this at some point in our lives?
A few days later, social media led me to a series of events that took place across the USA called ‘Walking out of Darkness’, where people would voluntarily walk through the night a lengthy distance, with lights and lanterns, to show support for those suffering with a mental health condition, to remember those who had chosen to take their life, and in solidarity to those who had lost loved ones of their own. I found this heart warming, and thought this was a brilliant idea, the symbolism of walking out of darkness into the sun rise, the sense of unity, and the message it conveyed was reassuring. I wanted to know if there was such an event within the UK.
To my surprise there was just one event, and even more surprising it was the first of its kind for the UK. I searched the train times, coach times etc. and decided to book on the fundraiser, despite that it was only two weeks away which left me little time to prepare and fundraise. With less than two weeks to go until the event, I instantly set up my fundraising page, and began planning how I was going to get some funds together in such a short time. I had set a goal for £250.
At the time I had a good relationship with social media when it came to gaining support, but I knew I could rely on my organisation, Home Group, also. I put my photoshop and media and marketing skills to use, sent out strategic and heart felt posts, each having a picture that would reach out to someone somewhere, some had facts, some statistics, others a quote or a heartfelt message, even a pic from the odd cheesy movie, it all helped. I went pleaded on all social networks, and even went back to my old Tumblr to post a line or two, but I felt it was not enough to get the message out there. I decided I would reach out to my colleagues, stretching from Cornwall to Newcastle and beyond, and managed to raise a lot of funds from this, from the responses I received my colleagues seemed to really understand what it was I was doing, and its purpose; when thinking on this, I often believe this may fundamentally be because of our various client groups, we all see clients go through times where they will battle with their own mind no matter their core presenting issue, I also believe that it takes a person with a caring nature to work within an organisation like ours, but there were responses that also suggested that my colleagues had a close friend of family member of their own who had suffered with mental illness too. LinkedIn members also were very generous, accounting for over half the funds raised.
I later decided to create my own money boxes, eight in total, and handed them around my local community. One manager had never taken any charity boxes in before, however my mother, who was very supportive of the cause throughout, spoke to him personally, and he admitted that this cause was something very close to home for him also, that he had lost his brother to suicide,and he became tearful. He very kindly accepted my little charity box. Each of these shops demonstrated something to me that although some were not willing to even talk or hear me out, others were very kind to simply listen, it evidenced how suicide could infect each persons life, even with the death of someone like Robin Williams.
With this final boost I was able to reach my target, and was ready to travel to London.
So after a long day of preparation, I boarded a coach from Newquay to London at 22:15, which would later get me there for 06:15am. I put my music on, and casually dosed all the way up, I was excited and anxious, as I had never been to London before, so did not know what entirely to expect. Upon arrival I felt quite tired, I walked through the city, and it was so quiet, the lights lit up the buildings, there was a nice cold breeze running through the streets, it all looked so beautiful. I even managed to stumble upon Buckingham Palace completely unintentionally, and for me to be the only one outside felt strange.
After a few coffees and phone charges later I arrived at the OXO building. There were only five or so of us there at the start, but the number began to grow, and while signing in I met a lovely girl called Stephanie. She had seen for herself how harmful bad mental health can be, and the impact it has on those around the person suffering. We agreed to buddy up and stick together throughout the event, which I was really glad to be. When the event started, we had a person singing songs which were full of meaning, and we had a few speakers telling their story of how they came to be involved with CLASP and their own personal story, one of which was the founder, Kenny Johnston, who had been through a lot in his life, including a heart attack a day before the original date for the walk. He, like myself, was shocked that America had so many walking out of darkness events, and yet the UK had none, which was why he decided to run one himself.
There were a lot of fundraisers walking with a photo of someone they had lost to suicide and mental health, on these photos there were so many young faces, young men and women, as well as adults, all who had taken their own life, it certainly made it all more real. What I will say though, is that despite this, it reaffirmed we had done the right thing, and I can honestly say the atmosphere was truly unique; everyone supported each other, we had all been touched one way or another by suicide, and yes there were tears true, but the sense of togetherness was astounding, and I will keep that with me forever.
We set off, a very confident to start I must say! The sights we had seen were breath taking, you see them on TV: Big Ben, The London Eye, The London Bridge, but in person it is so much more magical. Stephanie and I put the world to rights with our hours long conversation, we had a lot in common that was true, it felt like it was meant to be us meeting. Half way my feet began to hurt, walking on hard concrete consistently without pause took its toll, and the photos I had been uploading for those virtually following me across social media and via Online Events began to cease, but we fought through.
By the end I was in a lot of pain, but thankfully we did it, the whole ten mile walk completed, the end had a different feel to the start, I think we all felt we had actually achieved something, because in a sense, when you lose someone, I am sure we can all agree that there is a sense of helplessness, unable to do anything, and when it is suicide, I can’t imagine how that must feel. But this walk allowed people to really do something, allowing people to still remember, yet also partially move forward in a positive direction.
After I was in agony, no matter where I put my feet there was a constant throbbing, and I got back to Newquay at 1am the next day.
I don’t really know who will read this, could be no one, and that’s fine. But what I will say is this: the little journey of mine proved something, it proved that people do care. There were many who did not have to come along and volunteer their time, to fund raise, to share their story, but they did, because they wanted to help, to make a difference, they were out there on that day, and they were there for you and me. You will be pleased to know I raised £289.48 in total, that’s 15% over my original target. I do encourage you to have a look on the page, which remains active, to see some of the messages from people who donated. After, I sent some Christmas cards out, thanking those shops that aided me, with a screenshot of the page and figure they contributed towards.
As said by Robin in 'Dead Poets Society': “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race and the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”.
Then original donation page:
A video from the day: