Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walking Together


I signed up for this walk and I guess I have to participate. It is October and raining…hard. It is dark and grey and miserable along the shores of Lake Washington. Across the lake the Seattle skyline is hidden behind dreary, low clouds that threaten continuous rain. My last NAMI-BC2M walk was far across the country on the east coast. On that walk I joined NAMI Walks NYC, beginning at the Seaport in Brooklyn and from there we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a sunny and beautiful day with great conversation and high spirits. The previous NAMI walk in Seattle was also a beautiful spring day and we proudly carried the Bring Change 2 Mind banner.
Miserable is the best word I can think of to describe this particular day. It is not “misting” as it can often do in Seattle; it is pouring. The wind is blowing and the rain is sideways. It is cold. I wonder how many people will actually turn out for this 5K slog along the wet and windy shoreline of the lake and walk to Carillon Point. In good weather this is a beautiful walk. Today it is bitter and soggy.  
My daughter Linea, my husband Curt and I make our way past the multitudes of umbrellas to join our team under the Marina Park Pavilion. We put down our umbrellas and shake off some of the water collecting on our pant legs and stomp off the water filling our shoes. We meet old and new friends on our team and slowly make our way back into the downpour to listen to the short welcome speech and begin the walk. It continues to be wretched weather but soon we are laughing about how miserable it is and if we should go the entire way or quit at the halfway point. My friend Victoria points out that this is kind of an analogy for living with mental illness. She is so right.
If I were walking alone I would have given up a short distance into the 5 kilometers. It was too wet even for a person who has good rain gear. I would have waited for the rain to let up or walk this route another day. But together we are a team that urges each other forward. We listen to stories and understand more about why people are walking on this day, in this rain. I talk with a friend who I hadn’t seen since the last walk and we share new resources that we had each found over the last year. Another walker updates me on the health of a family member who is the inspiration for her walking in this downpour. I meet the family of a new and dear friend who had recently lost her son to his mental illness. The family walked with his smiling face on their personalized photo buttons. The little niece and nephew of this man slog along with us, all 5 kilometers and through puddles much larger than they could jump across, yet they never complain. The youngest is soon carried by his dad and his dad never complains. There is much laughter and soon we are at the finish line. Together we have made it.
People living with mental illness need a team. The family needs a team as well. Living with mental illness is not often a sunny walk in the park. It can be miserable, cold and feel like it is a never-ending slog. There were many, many times during Linea’s initial diagnosis with bipolar disorder that I felt I couldn’t go another step. The difficult search to find treatment while her illness was working to take over her body was exhausting and overwhelming. I was disheartened, terrified, and uncertain. I felt very alone. We slowly found our team and we shared our story. Together we moved forward with the support, strength and good humor of family, friends, care-givers and medical providers. There is hope and there is recovery in this journey with mental illness. There is strength in numbers and friends are made when people face adversity together. Join us on our NAMI-BC2M walk May 18th beginning at Marina Park in Kirkland. Or join a walk near you. It might be a sunny day but no guarantees. If not we will finish our walk together.

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