“Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for.
Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore.
and my voice becomes the driving force,
I won’t let this pull me overboard.
12 hiking partners
40,000 ft. total elevation
The month of September was a love crusade for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Because of your gratitude, encouragement and outpouring of love, I was armed with the strength of millions to be the voice of hope. So bear with me, as I attempt to find the words and articulate what mental illness means to me and just how much “this” has transformed my soul.
No one knows what it’s like to be trapped inside your own mind…unless you’ve lived it. Even if only for a short time.
Mental Illness. It’s an evil, shame -filled disease. Yes, I use the word “disease.” Not challenge or condition. Disease. Like a disease, it eats at their mind from the inside out. For many, they sit in that silent pain. Silenced. This disease robs their voice and feeds their brains with lies of hopelessness, fear, panic and darkness.
Mental illness is a disease of the mind. Many who suffer appear to be functioning normally in their everyday life. Because if they confide in another, they fear of sounding “crazy.” It’s an illness that does not discriminate. It doesn’t choose favorites. It doesn’t “go easy” on certain groups of people and tougher on others. The statistics are staggering. Every age group, race, sex, religion, occupation, socio-economic status. Its infectious tendrils breed many different types of the illness, from anxiety to suicide. It’s a debilitating pain that cannot just.get.out.of.our.heads.
Mountains. Mountains provide strength and solace for so many. If you’ve been following along with me for the past couple of years, you know I often say, “The mountains saved me. From my own worst enemy. Myself.” Throughout my mountain journeys, I’ve met countless others whom the mountains empowered as well. You are not alone.
46 Climbs is a campaign that promotes positive mental attitude through hiking mountains. This year alone, they’ve had climbers registered all over the country and raise nearly $60, 000 for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Astonishing. As I’ve said before, the time is now, to be diligent in our actions in raising awareness and being the voice for those who’ve lost theirs. It is time to honor those we’ve lost by continuing to fight with love, hope and strength.
For anyone out there that finds strength in the mountains, you know that climbing parallels battling a mental illness. You begin. At the start of the hike, you might be tired, worn. Your legs possibly feel like lead balloons. Steps forward, during that first mile or two, your mind invades your efforts, urging you to stop, give up. It’s too much. Too hard. You’re not strong enough, it chides. Lies. The disease is full of lies. But you climb. Step for step for step. Like my friend, Jay says, make every step count. Every step. And with each step, inner strength grows. The more you climb, the disease is met with the protagonist Hope. And she whispers to you words of light, love and light. Just keep going. So you do. Climb on and on and on.
A vigorous heartbeat takes over, as the evil fights harder to keep the lies in your mind. But Hope gains momentum and gently pushes you along. The steep ascent arrives. The relentless hike up washed out, worn out trails. You slip. You slide. Maybe even fall flat on your face. And there you lay, mud-covered, the illness laughing at you. And this, right here, is the most important moment of the climb. Give up or press on? Drown or fight? You get up and continue. You.get.up.and.continue. The lies antagonize you to quit, attacking your self-worth, your strength, your heart. BUT, you’ve come this far:
Your voice becomes the driving force, you will not be thrown overboard. The whisperings of love grow louder and flood your soul with fire deep inside. Just hang on a little longer, victory is waiting for you. You’re physically done, your body is spent, your heart is tired. This is the defining moment, when you make the conscious decision to fight. It’s time to get the hell out of your head. Get the hell out! The last little bit of grit is resurrected from the pit of your soul, as you pour every last ounce of blood, sweat and tears into every step forward now. Victory is waiting to wrap its enormous arms around you.
…and then, the summit!!! You freaking made it! Exasperated and elated. Fall to your knees. Tears follow, “woooohoooos” or a quiet barely-whisper, “Holy shit, I made it.” The light, the victory. HOPE, STRENGTH, SELF-WORTH, TRUTH. They’ve been waiting for you and envelop you with love.
My perspective. How my mind relates to it. Just one viewpoint on mental health, not the only perspective by any means. The same is true if your victory is a finish line in a race, a painting you create, a song you compose, or simply getting out of bed that day. That, too, is your summit, your finish line, your victory.
46 Climbs. I first learned about it last year, but missed the registration timeline. So this year, I signed up as a solo hiker. This cause. This campaign hits home for me. My friend Kara says you’d be hard-pressed to find a family that has not been affected by mental illness or suicide in some way. I couldn’t agree with her more. Family, friends, co-workers, students, neighbors, strangers I just met….my life has been affected by mental illness since I was a child. Anxiety, panic, fear. As a child, I struggled emotionally, often possessing emotions that were too big for a little person. I either kept it hidden or exploded with excessive energy, talking and “center of attention” antics to cover up the fear. The primary reason I became an elementary school teacher was to empower the emotional well-being of my little ones. To be their life champion.
46 Climbs became the platform for the surprising turn of events that came next….the overwhelming, unexpected outpouring of love and support. Having only raised $50 for any previous fundraiser, 46 Climbs took on a life of its own. It transformed from a simple fundraiser to a cause that bound so many together through 1 single common thread: Humanity.
Love wins, every single time. We are stronger together. My campaign became your campaign, growing in a strength of humanity. You opened your hearts and stood behind a disease that has reached a breaking point. My brother Matthew says that awareness is the first step. He’s right. Awareness removes the shame and fear that surrounds mental illness and suicide. Stop the stigma. Joining forces and showing their world that we hear you, we love you, we are fighting for you.
Mountains deliver hope, inner strength, love and self-worth to thousands every day. Every single day.
Suicide and mental illness infect thousands every day. Every single second of every single day.
The time is now, to be diligent in being the voice for a disease that has been shamed for too long. 46 Climbs was the platform. Unsure of what fundraising goal to set, I started at $300. However, my daughter Nina encouraged me to set the bar higher. As a student leader for Sources of Strength in her high school, she reminded me of the imperative need for funding. So I changed the goal to $800…thinking that if I raised $100 that would be amazing. Once the donations started to grow, my mind was blown. Mind blown.
Donations from every part of my life, past, present and future. Family members, friends from high school, friends from college, sorority sisters, hiking friends, co-workers, Instagram friends, current friends…the list goes on and on. The future part was that I received donations from hiking friends that I never actually met in person, but wound up hiking with later on in the month!
46 Climbs was the platform. I set a hiking goal; A 3-day adventure of high peaks, hopefully 50 miles. Each of these hikes will have an own blog written about them, in appreciation and honor of each of my friends who ventured out with me. For now, here is the breakdown:
Day 1: The Santanoni Range with Adam and Mallory
Day 2: Mount Marcy with Mark & Stacie for their 46er finish
Tom, Sarah and Lauren joined in as well.
Day 3: Whiteface via the Lake Placid Slide with Sean and Sam
Then the miracles continued…the donations continued far after my 3 days of hiking concluded. My heart was blown away. Often with a loss for words. So I made the decision to keep going, to raise awareness for the entire month of September. I set a new goal for myself. 100 miles for the month and only 2 more weekends to get it done. Because, you know, I still needed to be a mom…oh and the new school year began as well! So time was tight. The planning began.
Day 4: Wakely Firetower solo
Day 5: Sunrise hike on Allen with Jay & Jackson.
Day 6: Lake Placid 9er Ultra with Pete, Kyle and Jay
The month resulted in 109 total miles hiked, with just about 40,000 ft. of total elevation, and $1636 total amount raised the AFSP and mental health awareness! Holy crap! My heart is bursting. Bursting! I am forever grateful for each one of you. You are the reason, the voice, the everyday crusaders that fuel the fire to continue the fight.
This experience has both empowered and humbled me. I’m filled with an enormous amount of fortitude. Conversely, and more importantly, however, it has quieted me down as a hiker. Humbling for sure.
Even now, as I write this blog, it seems like a bunch of words strung together, in a feeble attempt to convey my deepest genuine emotions and utmost gratitude for each one of you and this life-changing experience. I fear my words have fallen short again. You guys are LOVE, in the purest sense of the word. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
$1636, 29 donors, 109 miles, 6 hikes, 12 hiking partners, 40,000 ft. total elevation…
YOU made this happen.
The real message here is tell your story. Your story matters. Your voice that becomes the driving force matters. You matter. Stay in the fight. Love wins, every time. EVERY time.
We are, and always will be, #strongertogether.
Still we rise.
To learn more about 46 Climbs and the AFSP, click the links below: