Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.
As we rolled into our busy third week of Send Silence Packing, our first stop was at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. Just outside of Louisville, this area has a sweet, southern charm, while still holding on to its Midwest feel. No one encompassed this mixture more than Biology teacher, Beth, who dreamed of bringing this display to her campus for years. Her dream was finally realized with the help of the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, and she was thrilled to put down her lab coat for the day. Her quiet, discrete demeanor may fool you, but her passion for changing the conversation of mental health ignited campus faster than a Bunsen burner on this blazing Monday.
As the day went on, we learned being a Hoosier isn’t always easy. Many conversations among students and staff revolved around the societal pressures of living on a deemed timeline. What if I don’t finish my degree in four years? Should I go to grad school? What if I can’t find a job? Will I ever get married? Am I behind in life? There are so many questions that linger during a young adult’s life, and many feel the need to solve them. Personally, I find more beauty in the path less traveled, or furthermore, creating a path that’s never seen footprints at all. It’s important to have goals to reach, and things you would like to accomplish, but having a map towards the treasure doesn’t sound like very much fun to me. I would encourage anyone to enjoy the unknown, ride the twists and turns, and relish in the feeling of living your own journey, regardless of what other’s think. As long as you’re trying your best, and making strides towards your own personal happiness, that’s all that really matters. The rest will fall into place as it may, so try your best to let the eagerness to force things subside. Take that leap of faith, swing for the fences, but most importantly, always follow your heart. It’s the only road map you’ll ever truly need.
Our second stop of the week came in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame, with a huge thanks to Oaklawn for sponsoring the event. This breathtaking campus had us in an Irish State of Mind, as chapter members Delaney and David were fighting for mental health awareness on their South Quad. With each surrounding building chiseled like auction artwork, it was going to take a strong team effort to knock down the stigmas of mental illness. Luckily, we had Active Minds founder, Alison Malmon, on our side, as her words raced around campus quicker than Rudy. Her humility as a leader was shown once again, even offering to hand out flyers during her brief moments behind the table before speaking. She was incredibly happy to step beside her first Send Silence Packing display in a few years, and was once again left with goosebumps as it captured the hearts and thoughts of those walking by.
As we worked tirelessly throughout the day to change the conversation among college students at Notre Dame, it was an older gentleman who may have been left with the most profound impact. While riding his bike through campus, he slowly approached the SSP display. A bit puzzled, he began to realize the meaning behind the backpacks lined across the quad, and halted his mid-day excursion to talk with us. He opened up about how mental illness has affected those around him. He said, “These were things never talked about back then,” referring to grade school friends that were lost decades ago. Soon after, he bravely shared a story about a husband who died by suicide, leaving three young children behind with their mother. Overflowing with emotion, he uttered, “I don’t have an answer to depression,” while sadly shaking his head as he began to ride away on his bicycle. If only his bike was a tandem, as I would have loved to hop on and chat with him further. This man’s pain was easily felt through his words, and it can sometimes be difficult knowing how to respond, or offer help, to someone who has been impacted this heavily, or struggling with their own rigors of mental illness. We have tons of information on how to be there for a friend, or family member, during these challenging times, and also provide ways to ensure your own mental health with great self-care techniques.
The final stop of the week came at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, about an hour outside of the windy city of Chicago. Our Huskie volunteers started howling at the crack of dawn, and never let up until each passerby felt warm and welcome walking through the display. Cassandra, the NIU chapter leader, led the pack with her relentless energy and spunk, making sure all students received a “snazzy” bracelet courtesy of their chapter. The duo of Jack and Steph also created massive amounts of student interaction with their joyous, infectious personalities.
While so many of NIU’s chapter members helped nudge the door open for those struggling to talk about their mental health, there was one member who opened her door completely, and let me inside. A former swimmer named Hayley splashed around her struggles with depression, anxiety, and finding purpose in life. About a year ago, she finally decided to dive straight into these issues with the help of the ultimate lifeguard, her mother. After years of constant backstrokes through school, she realized switching her major was the right decision moving forward, and is doing much better in her personal and professional life. While Hayley still has her tough days, she now understands that friend buoys at NIU are all around campus to help keep her afloat, even through the strongest of waves.