Throughout the course of my life, I have had a strong connection to our natural world. My late grandfather taught me that many of the stressors we often face on a day-to-day basis can be eliminated with a bit of fresh air. When life becomes difficult, a long walk has always had the power to clear my mind and relax my body. In the winter of 2012, I had originally planned to do a cross country walk for mental health awareness in the spring of 2013; however, as I began a full time job and worked toward my bachelor degree in nursing, I decided to postpone the journey for a future date. I recall asking my brother if he would ever like to join me on the walk when the time came, knowing that my cause applied to him. On occasion he would smile and say that it would probably do him some good, but he would always exclaim that there was too much going on in his life to join me. Behind his words of willingness and desire, I felt that Ryan, as much as he may have wanted to join me, never could. Before his death, I thought that maybe he was simply overwhelmed with his job and the new transition from high school to college; however, it was not until after he passed that I realized it was not the school, job, or even social life that had consumed him. What overwhelmed his life did not originate from external factors, but rather, it stemmed outward from the internal reaches of his mind manifesting itself through his actions and expressed emotions.
We cannot see the disease process of mental illness the way we can see, for instance, the brain tumor that inevitably takes the life of a dying cancer patient. This makes things exceptionally difficult. When we are able to act upon what we can see, touch, and pinpoint, it provides us with understanding and knowledge. This sense of knowing provides many, myself included, with a sense of comfort and control; but when dealing with mental illness, we have little (if any) tangibility to provide us with this comfort. In Ryan’s case, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated because I could not tell him what was wrong when he would ask. During times where I would become extremely frustrated, I would tell him things such as, “Relax, you have to stop sitting around and dwelling on these problems,” or “Stop, it’s all in your head.” Although it was true that Ryan’s complications were within his psyche, I would often forget that his problems were a part of a disease. I would never think to tell a cancer patient to stop having cancer or an AIDS patient to stop carrying the HIV virus, so why would I tell someone with a mental illness to stop being hard on themselves, depressed, or angry? With this being said, I walk in hopes of making our country aware of this question so that we may take the battle against mental illness just as serious as we do any other debilitating ailment.
As long as preparations are complete, I will be leaving from the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach on March 1st of 2014. I have estimated for roughly 6 months of walking time through 10 states (Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California) and I am expecting to reach San Francisco and the Pacific coast by mid September of the same year at the latest. I can only imagine the challenges and experiences that are awaiting to test my physical and mental endurance. I ask myself, is my body ready for this? Unsure of the answer, I ask myself an even more frightening question: Is my mind ready for this? In Ryan’s final days I can picture him asking himself the same question. Consumed by uncontrolled thoughts and feelings, Ryan had become lost in a world that is far greater than the physical one I am about to depart into.