The Jay Walkers – 2021

September is Suicide Prevention Month – the month when mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. Each year my team, the Jay Walkers, get together to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and put a spotlight on this cause, and we’re doing it again this year. But our ultimate success relies on the generosity of people like you who believe mental health is as important as physical health. People who want to remove the stigma that is oftentimes associated with admitting to a mental illness and that can become an obstacle to getting necessary treatment.

Normally, I’d write a pitch about why this cause is important to me, but instead mixing it up this year.

Let’s Talk Incentives

When you donate to the Jay Walkers for this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk (link below)… https://supporting.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=2422339

…you get to choose from one of these many fine incentives:

  • $5 – A “thank you” shoutout on my social media accounts letting everyone know how awesome you are, because you are!
  • $10 – Your choice of:
    • A watercolor portrait of you or your pet. DISCLAIMER: I don’t know how to paint. Seriously, think of it as a disaster-piece, but hey it’s from the heart.
    • An original haiku. DISCLAIMER: I’m also rubbish at poetry, but again… from the heart!
  • $15 – Your choice of:
    • An AFSP Out of the Darkness Wristband (yellow band with blue lettering)
    • An AFSP You Are Not Alone button
  • $25 – A bad recap of your favorite movie/book on TikTok featuring my friend Anna and me! There may be props! There may be costumes!!! Who knows? The only thing I can guarantee is that it will be terrible! Think Siskel and Ebert, but like if they were really bad at their jobs – then imagine something 10x worse.
  • $50 – One entry to win a gift bundle – each additional $50 up to $250 will give you additional entries. Must be in the Greater Austin area or able to come to Austin to get this incentive. Here’s what’s included:
    • Gift certificate for Georgetown Pie Co. – donated in memory of Erika DeBrabander (1996-2021)
    • A Hand Crafted Candle by Bug Makes Candles – wine inspired scents donated by Bug, a crafty 17 year old
    • A Batch of Cookies – donated by my lovely and talented cousin, Kimberly – one of the best bakers I know
    • Gift Certificate for Lark & Owl Booksellers – a really cool independent book store and bistro founded by women in Georgetown
    • Gift Certificate for a Massage at Round Rock Health & Wellness
  • $75 – A batch of cookies – cookies made by Kimberly – (must be in the Greater Austin area for delivery/pick-up – trust me)
  • $150 – Hangout w/ Beth: Nerd Style Options!
    • Ever wanted to try D&D? Now’s your chance! Guest Star in a D&D Campaign – Homemade BBQ by Jim (Friends/Family Only)
    • D&D not your thing but board games are? Come play board games with a pack of board game lovin’ nerds? Now’s your chance! You, me, and a bunch of my friends will go to Emerald Tavern, play games, and I’ll buy you a pint. I’m really terrible. You’ll likely win. Who doesn’t like winning?
  • $200 – The “Let’s Get Serious” Options:
    • Axe Throwing at High Five – you, me and some axes
    • VR Sandbox – You pick the adventure and let’s go play a VR game!
    • Archery at Central Texas Archery – Grab your bow or borrow theirs, and let’s go shoot arrows (you must have completed the First Time class at CTA)

All donations come with the warm fuzzies of knowing you did something awesome. Whether you donated $1 or $200, you’ve made a statement that mental health is important and making an important impact on your community.

Do it for Erika and Austin (my close friend’s partner), who we lost in 2021.

Do it for those who struggle.

Do it for those who impacted by those deaths.

Do it for Jay.

Do it for me.

Choose to make a difference.

Support

The death of Jay by suicide is the most devastating event I have yet to experience. To lose someone so suddenly, so definitively, and so needlessly ripped out a big piece of my heart. I spend a lot of time talking about the aftermath of surviving Jay’s death, about my struggles, about the struggles of other survivors in regard to blame, to shame and the stigma of suicide. I talk about the importance of putting a spotlight on mental health issues, which are critical – about supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. What I don’t spend time telling you enough about is the love and support I received (and continue to receive).

The day Jay died, I broke – I broke in ways that I will never get back – I broke in predictable ways – ways that a lot of survivors break. I have anxiety attacks. When those attacks aren’t managed, I can have panic attacks. These can be brought on by a stressful event, or a simple office meeting, or just watching a TV show about something as adorable/stress-free as kittens. I can be calm in one moment, and in the next, my body has just dumped a lot of chemicals and hormones into my system signaling me that we’re now in fight or flight mode. To cope, I’m now a reigning queens of breathing techniques and now have a keen ability to describe objects in painstaking detail. I do this until my brain relents and says, “Yeah ok, we’re cool – false alarm. So, how about those kittens. Huh? They’re pretty cute.”

I was angry at Jay in the immediate aftermath of his death, and like many survivors, I struggled with suicidal ideation. Why didn’t he take me, too? I felt a keen sense of abandonment and that hurt me even more. We were supposed to be together. Now, to be perfectly clear, this was the manifestation of my own mental health issues that were a result of his death. I’m glad to be here. I’ll vainly put out there that I know the world is a better place with me in it. Lucky you guys!

So, let’s talk about the many things that helped me survive, and that’s all of the people who immediately surrounded me – my phalanx of friends and family who refused to leave me behind or let me fall. They began showing up at my house within a half hour of the news, and they stayed – they stayed through tears, long silences, through moments where I couldn’t focus well enough to tell them what I needed – from food to how to hold a memorial service. They sat quietly while I screamed irrationally in my kitchen, and again while I sobbed on my front porch, They forgave me when I was a little too impatient – a little too short – a little too blunt or brutal with my responses. They forgave me when I greeted their “How was your vacation?” with a low growl and the harsh toned announcement of, “I wasn’t on vacation – Jay is dead.” They forgave me when I was cruel, and there were moments where I was absolutely cruel.

One of the things I know I’ve lost is that patience – that softer edge. It’s something I work on – something I sometimes have to feign, because I want to be kind. I want to be caring again.

With my loss, I found new and amazing friends (or rather they found me) – people I knew of, but did not know. These people took me under their wing – included me in their events – introduced me to new people who were equally amazing – these incredibly good, kind, witty people with huge hearts and clubs I got to be inducted into.

My one regret, if I have one, is that I didn’t know them before and that there’s this chunk of years where I wasn’t talking to them, hanging out with them, and enjoying even more shared adventures and stories. Their generosity of spirit is awe inspiring and I cannot properly express how much I appreciate them for including me.

The bond with many of my current friends became even stronger.

The simple truth is, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support I received from my family, from my friends, and from my co-workers. I am surrounded by a great deal of love – a ton of patience and a lot of caring – people who want me to thrive – people who go out of their way to make sure that happens every single day. They’re the ones who reach out and ask, “Hey, are you ok?” when I seem a bit off or drop a silly card in the mail or agree to drive across state lines just to hang out in the mountains (and generously offer up a soft (free) landing spot in those same mountains.

When I’ve talked about suicide and how I struggled, and how other suicide survivors struggle, I did not tell you about this other side. I didn’t tell you how fortunate I felt (and still feel) – how loved I felt (and feel). But recognize that it too is part of my healing process – I could experience and recognize that love, but I couldn’t express it, yet.

So this is a thank you to all the people who are in my life – who support me. I see you. I appreciate you, and I love you.

This is also a reminder that not everyone receives the same support that I was fortunate enough to receive. And a lot of it has to do with the very real stigma associated with suicide and with people struggling with mental health issues. You can change that. You can do something to help reshape that narrative.

Today Congress passed a bill establishing 9-8-8 as the Suicide Prevention line; it’s now awaiting the President’s signature. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, and still more needs to be done. We must act now.

You can do that by helping support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention again. AFSP provides those who have lost someone to suicide the opportunity to talk with their volunteers – volunteers who are themselves survivors of suicide loss. AFSP helps survivors find support groups. It’s one of the many important services this non-profit provides, and it’s so crucial to the well-being – to the mental health – of other survivors.

And I get it, I know, you’re getting tired of these posts – tired of these conversations, but it’s important. We have to keep fighting for better access to mental healthcare. We have to keep fighting to reduce the number of suicides by 20% by 2025 (a goal AFSP has set and believes is achievable).

Please consider making a small ($10) donation to my fundraiser for AFSP.

Fundraising promise: If I personally raise $3,000 for my team, I’ll share the story about a blind date surprising me by taking me to his missed AA meeting. Good times!

On a more serious note

If you are you in a crisis: Please call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

Stay well. Stay healthy. I love you all to the moon and back.