I have been advocating for mental health, specifically youth mental health, since 2010. While my son Charles was still alive, not yet diagnosed with depression and I didn’t know he was suffering from thoughts of suicide, the system was so frustrating, I joined the board for Beacon Tree Foundation to see if I could advocate for change. That was the first time I met people who felt just as frustrated as I was.
I tried back then to get speaking engagements but no one wanted to talk about mental illness or drugs and engagements were few and far between. I was getting far more invitations to speak on branding, social media and digital marketing. I was concerned back in 2011 with all the new party drugs coming from China–highly toxic drugs that were killing kids the first time they tried it. My efforts to rally experts to come speak failed multiple times. Schools felt that talking about the subject was “teaching the kids how to use them.” Trouble was, with no one talking about it, they were getting an education from drug dealers. Hardly a credible resource.
I was seeing Charles activity online and I could see that the drug problem and mental illness had epidemic potential. I felt as though I was sounding an alarm and everyone was sleeping through it.
Of course, I may have felt I was the only one but I know I was not. I’m one of many and I’m thankful for that.
Early on, I could not dynamite a door down and donations were difficult to get. Still today, few search for “speaker on suicide.” That word suicide alone is still a turn off. The general public is simply not ready for the word to be in the title of a presentation unless it’s a conference on the subject. Addiction is a little more accepted and searched.
So I’ve often disguised my story with other presentation titles. Sometimes my audience is shocked, not having planned to hear a message as intense as the one I’m delivering. I don’t always know ahead of time if they know or not. However, even audiences not expecting it, have been very gracious and rarely do I see someone cruising the internet when I speak.
At first, I thought, “Is it appropriate to bring up this subject with this audience?” Then I realized that other than a conference on the subject, when would someone think that is an appropriate subject? Never. And the reason I didn’t know my son was thinking of suicide was because no one talked about it. I knew that had to change but I can tell you that it’s definitely a challenging subject.
This cause, addiction, depression and suicide, and even grief is rife with rejection. I just had to get used to that. I’m sure I’ll get another dose when I try to find a publisher for my book.
In that process, I’ve learned not to take it personally and try another way. Giving up is not an option. I’ve learned from these failures and I want others to learn from my experience so they can avoid the same outcome.
I have never considered giving it up. I’ve never hidden my grief out of shame. I just have to remain true to my story, not fear vulnerability because following my passion is what has given my own life more meaning.