Mountains



18 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

An early picture of Autumn, Randy's Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

An early picture of Autumn, Randy’s Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

Autumn’s joyous exuberance was evident as she bounded into me on our first meeting on March 16, 2014. Her affectionate, loving approach won my heart immediately but she had some legendary paws to fill in the working world.

I was determined to keep an open mind and remove expectations to let our working relationship develop based upon the skills and qualities each of us brought to the team under the supervision of Guiding Eyes Trainer Chrissie Vetrano. I had some success in this approach as I had transitioned from Ostend to Quinn and understood the benefits of being open minded to the strengths and challenges which each of us bring to any partnership.

I was not without a little baggage of my own I needed to address for the journey. It wasn’t entirely seamless out in the working world and that’s why we have trainers and the guide school support system to help us manage the many possible challenges and ensure we have the skills and tools to work through the difficult days in a steadily improving fashion. Autumn wanted to please me and I wanted my special little girl to succeed with me as well.

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Three years later I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I’ve learned to understand her body language to tell when her exuberance is driving her more than her thinking and she’s learned to realize when I’m allowing myself to be a little distracted and need a little correction to her warnings for me. Yes, we both still make some mistakes on our journey but we’ve built an understanding of when we are smooth together, when we are challenged and how to address it so we can do the necessary work even amidst challenge.

Better still, the challenging days are the rarity and the smooth days are so very common. I step out of my home with confidence each day and harness her expecting and receiving the freedom and independence which is such a part of a dog guide team. She gives me hours back each day in the efficiency with which we can do our tasks. Using my cane I find walking to the bus stop is 15 minutes normally, 30 minutes on trash day and “just stay home” on trash and recycle day.

Autumn looking bashful

“Stop, dad, you’re embarrassing me!”

Working with Autumn it is a five minute relaxed and mentally free stroll. She strides eagerly ahead of me and slightly to my left watching for the obstacles and trying to determine which destination is next for us. I try to keep her guessing a little and reflect that it is not just the hours she gives me back each day but the quality of the hours improved by spending my time with her.

So as I celebrate my third year with my wonderful Black and Tan Labrador Retriever, I realize we are in the sweet spot. Our bond is complete and deep, our skills have come to a great understanding, and our eagerness to adventure together is buoyed by our mutual (ahem) youthful approach to the world. I love her work, I love the impact of her work on my life, I love her impact upon my life and so it is not surprisingly how completely and proudly I love my Autumn. Thank you for three wonderful years and I look forward hopefully and eagerly to many more ahead!

Autumn lies on top of Randy, pinning him to the floor.

Autumn’s love and exuberance bowls us over!

Share





31 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

My “vision” for 2017 as it pertains to both the 2020 Vision Quest and myself is admittedly fraught with a little more doubt than usual. I’m generally a confident planner with a fair bit of will and determination, yet that was not enough for me to deliver 2016 in quite all of the ways I hoped.

I still count it as a successful year despite the many setbacks and it is for those setbacks I have a little trepidation in setting my sights on the peaks ahead for this year. I still would rather reach for the highest summits and learn to celebrate the higher altitudes even when I’m not reaching every peak with perfection. I think if I reached every goal set forth at the start of the year, perhaps I wouldn’t have challenged myself quite enough.

So with this in mind, some of these goals are reaches but most are reasonable stretches given the supportive team striving for these goals together.

Student posing with Randy and Autumn at schoolSchool Outreach

As the heart of our mission, I’d like to see us elevate from the 54,000 students we’ve reached in schools at this point to more than 60,000 by this time next year! We continue to receive tremendously positive testimonials from students, teachers and administrators as well as parents, so perhaps you might want to volunteer or refer a school to our “For Educators” page that they may schedule a visit from Autumn and and me.

The Book

Delayed by my health challenges, the book writing project halted near the halfway point and that is a setback I consider unacceptable. Its return is a high priority and several other pursuits are getting relegated behind the priority this writing deserves. The plan is to have it finished by the arrival of my birthday in June!

Running Old and New

First up in the running goals is our return to the Boston Marathon with the ability to train properly and appreciate a fully healthy run. We’ll announce the guiding details in the near future but the training program is already underway and going well.

It will be my first of three marathons this year, as I intend to run the Nashua “Gate City Marathon” in May. A special feature of that marathon is the relay option in which five-mile loops will enable many to be part of the celebration as partial participants or spectators from the downtown central location of my hometown!

Lastly, it is my plan to return to the California International Marathon in December and once again attempt to compete for the B1 National Marathon Championship which I was fortunate to win back in 2014.

One other novelty run mixed into the many enjoyable local runs in which I’m often eager to participate is a 7.6-mile run highly touted for having only a single hill. It’s a hill I know rather well since the race occurs along the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Getting into this race is a little tricky but I’ll be doing my best to gain entrance so that in June I can find yet another way to the top of the rock pile infamous for the worst weather in the world.

2020 Vision Quest team on the top of KilimanjaroWorld Traveling

Our Kilimanjaro team has not finalized the late summer plans but it looks very much like a trip to Peru and the Inca trail may be in order. We may visit the ancient city of Machu Picchu or the incredible Rainbow Mountain or even some other as yet undetermined treasure of the Andes. We simply miss the team and experience and so are seeking yet another opportunity.

Certainly there are many more goals great and small which are in my thoughts and which may develop. I want to help the Peak Potential team improve on what many felt was our best ever Peak Potential event last November. I want to always ensure I’m learning, growing and helping others around me do similarly. I hope you’ll help hold me to some of these goals and perhaps join me in the achievements and celebrations!

Share





10 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

Hiking Mt. Isolation in 2013Mt. Isolation via Rocky Branch was looming as a daunting challenge for our team as we closed in on the completion of our non-winter 48 summit goal. As its name implies, it has some significant separation from many other trails
and routes more commonly hiked in the White Mountains and our team was a little short of the ideal numbers for the added risk my blindness brings to remote hiking. I had interacted with Mike Cherim  a few times on the internet and was glad for his willingness to join our team. We had a considerable amount of experience already on the trip and we were generally well prepared so he joined to meet, learn a little about the guiding process we use for my total blindness, and to share the enjoyment of hiking.

On the early ascent my Dog Guide Quinn did the work and those new to our team got to appreciate the subtle ways we worked the trails together. As we reached the general flats across the valley with the mud, water crossings and narrowed trails, I switched to a human guide for speed and efficiency under those situations. An experienced friend took that role (thanks, Sherpa John!) and Mike watched occasionally asking a few questions about the process. Mostly though, we were a comfortable group of friends sharing the wilderness. Mike’s excellent eye for photography proved to be an excellent eye for sharing some of the descriptions I might otherwise have missed. The easy-going comfort with which we all fell into conversations as well as times of quiet appreciation highlighted an awareness for allowing our group dynamics to develop naturally to allow us all to appreciate the hike in ways we wanted and needed.

Guiding can be mentally taxing, and as John was a little tired Mike offered to give it a bit of work. He was a natural and showed quickly that he translates his personal comfort and grace on the trails to his ease in guiding my steps through it as well. By the time we rose out of the valley to the ridge line and up to the remote summit, we were all friends sharing the marvels of the wilderness and learning to understand each other and the treasures of experience and knowledge each had brought along with them.

This is not a story about that hike. However, that journey can be found here.

Winter guiding with Randy's groupThis is a story in which I want to talk about guiding. Mike guided me much of the way out of that trip, somehow amazingly taking me through the muddiest of trails while keeping his boots shiny and clean. Better still I was safe and smiling, albeit a little weary. Mike is in tremendous shape which is part of why he is able to be so effective in both guiding and his work with Search and Rescue. His mental toughness to keep high focus through a long day many find grueling was truly impressive, particularly for someone undertaking this for their first time.

It was no fluke either as he would join me and guide more for our Carter Dome trek and once again highlight the knowledge, skills, fun, and friendliness with which he shares his passions for the trails and wilderness experiences. I’ve had many human guides on my mountain treks and a couple tremendous dog guides. I make no secret that my life bond with my dogs has much to do with my preference for our work together even as I understand there are times when the right choice is to use a human guide for a stretch of trail or occasionally longer when speed or types of risk suggest it. The more time I spend with guides the better our effectiveness and rapport develop and the more effective a team we become.

Redline GuidingIn two epic trips with Mike Cherim, it was clear to me how talented and capable we were as a team and he is as a guide in general for me as a totally blind hiker. As such I am not surprised by and absolutely support his  choice to make his passion a career choice with many options to enhance the experience of those who choose from the many fun packages–weddings anyone?!

In fact, I applaud your choice if you decide to use his services with Redline Guiding but more importantly I suspect and the review agrees that you will applaud his services should you make such a choice. In this appreciative blog for his services and all my present and past guides, I have only one simple bias which is that I experienced and appreciated the time we shared on the path and so too, I suspect, will you.

Share





22 Oct 16

By Greg Neault

Just over a year ago I was scurrying about making last minute preparations for what promised to be the adventure of a lifetime: a trip across the world to Africa with a group of people I respect and admire to scale the flanks of Kilimanjaro, to watch the sun rise from Stella Point, to stand at the continent’s highest vantage point and look out onto the cradle of civilization, and then to explore that region’s amazing natural splendor, a wildlife show like no other on earth.

The team hiking Kilimanjaro in September 2015.I remember very distinctly the eve of our departure. A torturous night spent memorizing the subtle nuances of ceiling tiles. My body calling for sleep, but my mind a flurry with myriad questions about the journey to come. A new continent, country, and culture.

What would the climb be like? Would I make it to the top? Did I forget to pack some critical item? Would Cathy Merrifield be eaten trying to pet a lion? Excited anticipation goes a great deal further than caffeinated beverages in terms of fending off the sandman.

Earlier this month, life found me once again being robbed of sleep by anticipation of a major event: a trip to the hospital with the girl I love to welcome our baby into the world. Fortunately, I had a whole new ceiling to explore as I pored over the questions of things to come.

Kilimanjaro is a giant, for sure, but I’m not unfamiliar with the ways of mountains. My experience and knowledge, acquired over a life of traveling through mountains, canyons, deserts and forests would serve me well in this endeavor. I’m quite accustomed to packing and traveling with the necessities of daily life outside the comforts of home, to living within nylon walls and staying warm on cold nights under starry skies.  Kilimanjaro was a new, exciting, and unique experience, but was still representative of a new chapter in a story that has been unfolding for decades.

As I lay waiting for the alarm to sound on the morning of October the 6th, my mind was a whirlwind of rumination. I have about as much experience with babies as I have with firearms: people have let me handle theirs, but I don’t think they’d be foolish enough to let me wander off with one unattended. We went to the birthing class, we had a baby shower, and I was confident that we possessed all of the equipment necessary for a baby to survive in our care, but once we leave that hospital, we’re it. We are now solely responsible for the survival, well being and healthy physical, mental and emotional development of a brand new human being.

We didn’t even know what sex the baby was and had no clue what we were going to name it! How would we fare in the transition from unfettered adventurers, traveling about the region, country, and world to find new places to run, jump, and climb on a whim, to being responsible for a tiny person in need of care for every necessity around the clock? Do I have what it takes to be a good father? What kind of person will our child grow into? What is up with common core math?

Any anxieties I had in relation to my imminent parenthood were put to rest the minute the nurse put that sweet little baby in my arms for the first time. She was tiny and cute and weighed not even eight pounds. At that moment I knew that I didn’t have to know all the answers to all of the questions swirling around in my mind.

Too few days have passed to declare our success in clearing the hurdle that is the transition from carefree youth to steadfast parental figures. Obviously only time will tell what kind of person she’ll grow to be. I still have no idea what common core is all about.

What I do know is that I’ve mastered the changing of the diaper. I know that, for the time being, if she’s crying, there are only three reasons why and the process of elimination is a short route to a happy baby. I know that a car ride is an even shorter route to a happy baby. I know that my chest is a very comfortable place to take a nap. I know that there are more problems with more complexity than poop in the pants coming our way, but I know that we only need to solve one problem at a time. I know that with the right amount of forethought and a little help from my people, that we can make it happen.

The Kilimanjaro expedition was billed as the adventure of a lifetime, and it did not disappoint. A trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu could be in our future, and that may bear the “adventure of a lifetime” moniker as well.

But raising our daughter, that will be an adventure that LASTS a lifetime. She wasn’t even two full weeks old when she went on her first hike. I’m pretty sure she slept through most of it, cuddled up in a bundle on my chest (like I said, she loves to nap there), but she seems to enjoy the fresh air. As her eyes develop, I bet she’ll grow to appreciate the scenery as well. I hope that one day Stella and I will stand on lofty peaks together, sharing in the types of adventure that I hold dear. But right now, only weeks old, she has a very long journey ahead of her and it’s my job to put her on the path.

Greg and baby Stella on the top of a mountain with a beautiful fall valley view in the background.

Share





25 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and the expedition hiking group on the summit of Kilimanjaro. “’There and Back again’ by Bilbo Baggins” was the alleged epic title of the fictional hero’s epic recording of his own journey from Lord of the Rings. I struggle a bit with the notion because every experience changes us so much that even while it may seem like yesterday, we are so vastly different there is no real return. As if autumn nostalgia wasn’t already powerful enough in my life, the shadow of Kilimanjaro also looms over as I make the return trip in my reflection for the one year anniversary.

For me, it is so often the people which take primary focus and even upon a pillar of the earth that was once again true. The team which stood together on the slopes of that mighty mountain were passionately dedicated to supporting each other and yet we never know until it happens whether we ever will stand together on any similar quest. The commitment to each other, the determination to achieve, the raw emotional sharing, the joy of celebrations and the feeling of absolute certainty we would reunite were powerful and real. Many of us will connect for various adventures and in fact have already throughout the year, but capturing that exact group is a difficult and unlikely reality for most expeditions. Even should we manage it, we all will have changed and so too will our experience together. That seems sad initially but for me we’ve achieved those glorious moments and have them captured in our memories as well as how they have shaped our lives. So I’ll be glad for the reflections even as I plan many future adventures and experiences, hopefully including many or all of the team who touched my life so well in Africa

This day, I will remember September 2015 and the energy and nervous anticipation we shared in Arusha. I’ll smile at our challenges ordering pepperoni pizza, I’ll feel the awe of the real exclamation from those in my van as the first view of the mass of Kilimanjaro came into view. I’ll recall the shift from playful monkey thievery to worry that my friends shared as they noted the monkey making Darwin-like realizations about my blindness and ability to protect my juice boxes! The hopeful eagerness as the rainforest wide and smooth trail of the Machame gate allowed us to hike a little too quickly before “Polley-Polley” eased us to the “Slowly – slowly” we would need. The ever ascending views above the clouds day after day in a world so foreign in both plant and animal life, the cold winds at Shira camp, the ever cheerful and polite porters, “Harris Tweed!”, the impossibly distant summit cone illuminated each night by the splendor of a nearly full moon, and a foreign night sky my companions would share with voices filled with marvel and delight. All these and more were common occurrences as was a rotational sharing of guide duties for my ability to trek the trails.

There were struggles and some of us took ill. There was difficult terrain at times and none of us will likely forget how well our team came together for the Baranku Wall! That was our team together in the most health and celebration during the higher climbing I think, but you climb a mountain ultimately for moments near the top. While we did not all reach the summit together, a large contingent did and in weary, oxygen starved, sleep deprived, cold and hungry reality; we touched a point atop the second-largest continent in the world. With the glaciers beside us, the crater of Kibo peak and a horizon more distant than any of us had known from the ground, we experienced something together.

Each of us had different dreams and visions which brought us to that point and likely were touched a little differently by the experience. I do not envision ever standing at that point in the world ever again and yet I know the strength, determination, sacrifice, pain and amazement which are part of that moment and stand within me since then. It is as fresh as yesterday in some ways and as fleeting a memory as something from another life at times. Such is the difficulty I have with trying to hold time in my mind, yet I know if I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can let my mind slowly wander to that time and place and steadily things become more clear and vivid to me. I can travel there and back again just well enough to keep it all so very real for me and to remind me of the fortune I have in the companions I keep here and there.

Share





2 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

It was July 4, 2010 and we were sitting on boulders outside Lake of the Clouds on Mt. Washington. This was our first official climb of the 2020 Vision Quest and I was certainly feeling a little independence celebration. Our weary crew was discussing the days trials and tribulations when the first bursts of color set my imagination soaring. Perched atop this pillar of New England those of us with sight could see all of New Hampshire, much of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and even places beyond. As the various townships began launching their fireworks into the night sky below us, the notion was astounding within my mind. What a glorious way to celebrate in full festive fashion as fireworks feel to me, the exuberance of our accomplishment on this day and in a much grander way our country’s pursuit of freedom.

Kat Alix-Gaudreau created two film shorts for the experience which are well worth revisiting for the anniversary of our inaugural hike. While I’ll always treasure the team of Quinn, Tracy, Kara, Carrie, Jenifer, Ben, Cliff, Kat, and Jessie as well as our voluminous learning experiences upon that journey. I think the messages stand powerfully still today in both versions of her film productions:

Blind Ambition – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (4-min. preview)

Blind to Failure – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (17 mins.)

One finally amusing reality to close out this patriotic reflection. I shared the story of the fireworks in much more vivid and vibrant description at several presentations. In my mind’s eye, we were witnessing the Esplanade Finale happening all over New England again and again from our lofty perch. It was a few weeks before my wife shared the truth of it with me.

Because our distance from those towns was often so great, they were occasionally just little dots of color in the distance and not nearly the spectacle my imagination had created. Tracy was initially concerned I would be disappointed by this revelation. Ultimately I think it is ironic but telling that sometimes the blind man has the better “sight” of a situation thanks to the power of imagination.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I’m proud to celebrate the independence I feel in my life personally and in my country where I consider myself so very fortunate to live.

Share





28 May 16

By Randy Pierce

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

Randy and friends fly an American flag atop Mt. Moosilauke in honor of those who died in service, both civil and military.

In honor of Memorial Day, our thoughts appropriately turn to the many men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. This week, in respectful appreciation, I will simply thank  them for the service they gave and the freedom I experience.

My only aside from this is to appreciate particularly a trio who are no longer with us and have served so very well. My father, Theodore “Bud” Pierce, served in Korea and has been gone from me nearly four years. My two prior dog guides, the Mighty Quinn and Ostend, each spent their lives in loving service to me directly and I’ll choose to reflect on them this memorial Day as well.

Thank you to all who have served and no longer share the living world with us.

Quinn on Mt. Flume. We love you, boy!

Quinn on Mt. Flume.

Share





16 Nov 15

By Michelle Russell

What an amazing Event!

Last night I attended my fourth Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction (the sixth one they’ve held). As I reflect on the night one word comes to mind:

GIVE….

G ~ Guiding Eyes for the Blind

A golden lab puppy named Honey meets Autumn

Future Guide Dog Honey meets Autumn!

The event was attended by 24 puppy raisers from NH, ME and MA and 6 puppies in training  (3 black Labs and 3 yellow Labs).

The hit of the party was 8-week-old yellow Lab “Honey” that was carried around and loved by all.  This event is a special night for the puppy raisers. It is a chance to socialize with each other while supporting a cause that is at the core of each of us. This is to provide the gift of love and raise a puppy for approximately 14 months and then give it back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. This priceless gift – a Guide Dog will provide a person with vision loss, not only independence and mobility but also companionship.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check from 2020 Vision Quest

The dinner works as a wonderful training venue for our pups.  It allows the puppies to practice greeting people, settling at the tables with other dogs and practicing good house manners while food is being served. We each appreciate the chance to be welcomed with our pups by all of those attending the event.

Pat Weber, the Regional Manager for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Bill LeBlanc, the NH Region Coordinator, accepted a check from 2020 Vision Quest of $20,200 for the non-profit Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

A second check for $20,200 was given to the NH Association of the Blind.

I ~ Inspiration

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

The culmination of the dinner is getting the chance to hear Randy Pierce speak.  The slideshow that accompanied Randy’s talk reviewed some of his amazing accomplishments as a blind athlete this past year: running the Boston Marathon and the National Championship, being the first blind athlete to compete in the Tough Mudder in LA, watching the amazing video and then Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Throughout the slideshow Randy mentioned his beloved Guide Dog Quinn who passed away from cancer a year and a half ago. His dedication and devotion to Quinn is evident as you hear Randy’s voice quiver at the mention of his unforgettable pup. All of the puppy raisers also learn by watching Randy’s Guide Dog Autumn working the event with Randy.  She is a beautiful black and tan Labrador retriever that Randy received from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

The array of silent auction items.

The array of silent auction items to raise money for our worthy causes.

V ~ Vision

My take away “nugget” from Randy last night was this: “You do not need to have sight to have Vision.”

Randy has vision. He is a goal setter. We found out that in the next year, Randy plans on writing a book. It was fun watching Randy act as an auctioneer – one of the special auction items was to be emailed pages of the book he will be writing each month. The silent auctions were fabulous. It was fun to take my pup “Gary” and walk by all of the incredible silent auction items. What a great way to raise money for the 2020 Vision Quest charity.

E ~ Education  

Lively participation in our live auction.

Lively participation in our live auction.

One of the key missions of 2020 Vision Quest is to lead and inspire students and professionals to reach beyond adversity and achieve their “peak potential.” It is mind boggling to think that Randy and 2020 Vision Quest have spoken to 45,000 students. He recounted letters he has received from some of the schools. Just recently,  a student that attended one of Randy’s presentations was going to drop out of school — but decided not to because of the inspiration and impacting message that he received from Randy. He does this all while integrating life lessons into little stories that teach about overcoming obstacles by managing adversity.

By attending the Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction, I am able to support the organization that is so important to me – Guiding Eyes for the Blind – but I gain so much from Randy.  He inspires me to do more…. To push myself…..  To set Goals…. To have vision…  in both my personal life and in my career.

“To Believe and Achieve Through Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Perseverance!”

Thank you, Randy… you GIVE .

Bio:

Barnaby and MichelleMichelle Russell, MBA, is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and a NH Region Volunteer.  She has raised 3 pups, currently one of the pups she raised – Black Labrador Retriever “Randy” is in NYC working as a bomb detection dog keeping us safe. The puppy that she is currently raising (pup #4) is 5-month-old black Lab “Gary” who attended the dinner. She is also a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Nashua, NH. Please visit her website.

If anyone is interested in becoming a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind or buying/selling a home in NH they can contact Michelle@NHselecthomes.com for more information.

Share





24 Oct 15

By Jose Acevedo

Jose and Randy hiking.

Jose and Randy hiking.

On October 21st, 1991, I walked out of Malden hospital just outside of Boston with a new lease on life. Just 3 days earlier, I had attempted to end my life. It wasn’t a cry for attention–I was deeply depressed and honestly wanted to die. I recognized at the time that life had its ups and downs and thinking it through logically, as well as accounting for where I was emotionally, I felt that living simply wasn’t worth it. I honestly don’t know if everyone feels like this at some point, or if it is only a subset. Is it 1, 50, or 99% of us that faces deep depression at some point? Despite varied research findings, I don’t know and frankly, it’s irrelevant to my message. A good friend encouraged me to write down this story when I shared portions of it recently, and I realize that even if it only touches one person, it will have been worth it. As you read, please consider the possibility that you or someone you care about may need help and pushing through any awkwardness towards open dialogue could make all the difference.

Without jumping into all of the details, I’ll summarize the various aspects of my life that influenced my state of being at the time. My home life was terrible with a lot of bad history and I had very little relationship with my parents. I had made bad choices and alienated my closest friends. High school was over and I wasn’t on my way to college, so I felt adrift. The tipping point was reached when a close friend died in a tragic accident, leaving me to face questions of mortality for the first time, seemingly alone.

Alone. What a tricky little concept. When we’re there, in the roughest of times wrestling with our demons, some of us can’t see anything or anyone that we imagine could truly help. Or, we don’t want help for various reasons, including feeling unworthy like I did. In these moments, we feel utterly alone. Yet the reality is that we are surrounded by so many people and resources that can help. For perhaps the first time in human history, it’s nearly impossible to not trip over some well-meaning person or organization that can assist with just about any problem we might have – at least here in the states. In our darkest personal moments, there are almost always a number of people who care about us, either personally, or at least as fellow people.

Self portrait during dark times.

Self portrait during dark times.

When I was at my lowest point in October of 1991, it didn’t matter that my future had plenty of possibilities to be bright. I didn’t care that people loved me – I didn’t love myself. To be more precise, I think I probably hated myself. It’s tough to say exactly through the haze of time and change, but that’s likely true on some levels. Ironically, I had volunteered as a peer counselor in high school and had formal training on this kind of thing. I knew the symptoms of depression and resources available better than most but when it came down to it, I couldn’t see through the fog of my own depression and didn’t value my own life enough to cherish it. I vividly recall considering my options on the afternoon of Thursday, October 17th, when I hit rock bottom. I remember eyeing a local police officer and wondering if I could wrestle his gun away for personal use, sifting through toxic chemicals available in the basement to drink in volume, and watching trains roll by on nearby tracks. What if I failed to get the gun or the officer was hurt? What if the chemicals ruined my internal organs but left me alive, or the train crippled but didn’t kill me? No thank you. I share these details to make it clear that contrary to any sensationalized image of an obviously emotional time bomb ticking away its final moments, I was the picture of rationale thought that day, logically weighing exclusively bad options. In the end, it was 64 over the counter sleeping pills for me. I even went to 4 different stores to purchase them without unwanted attention.

Luckily, the human body doesn’t easily tolerate vast amounts of weird chemicals so you’re more likely to get really sick and vomit than anything else with this kind of attempt. One doctor would later tell me that the manufacturers of such pills put a little something nauseous in every pill, but I’ve heard and read conflicting reports since. Regardless, I wrote my suicide notes that Thursday night, overdosed, and went to sleep – hoping it would be forever. I can’t tell you exactly how sick I got that night or how close to serious harm. I only know that I was found in rough shape the next morning and rushed to the hospital.

My sketchy memories start that morning with trying to make the bed, while it and I were covered in vomit, trying fruitlessly to pretend to the caring person who found me that nothing was wrong. My next memories are in the hospital as my family arrived, then being transferred to another hospital by ambulance, meeting with various nurses, and trying to pee in a cup for them so they could determine what exactly was inside me. I even remember that I was such a mess, I tipped over a full cup of urine in my completely disoriented state, much to the dismay of the medical staff. I probably have about 60 seconds of recall scattered across 12 hours that day, before I started to come down from my really bad trip in Malden Hospital’s psychiatric ward. I do remember that as I tried to eat dinner that night, my arms were shaking quite a bit – a lingering side effect of the drugs still in my system. I was in a frightening place, surrounded by strangers, trying to play it cool, and I couldn’t even get food to my mouth. It’s still hard for me to think about to this day, without feeling minor emotional aftershocks.

I spent that weekend getting clean in the hospital, but only because I couldn’t sign myself out as an adult until Monday. I sat in group and individual therapy sessions, spoke superficially about my problems, and faked a desire to get better. That Saturday, a friend I barely knew at the time came and brought me clean underwear. It may seem like a small gesture, but it meant a whole lot to me and we grew much closer that coming year. Only years afterwards, when we had drifted apart like people do, was I able to express my gratitude for his act of kindness. It had sparked a desperately needed bit of gratitude in me and on some level, revealed a glimpse of the fact that people really did care. On Monday morning I signed the appropriate paperwork and wandered out into the next phase of my life, not much better equipped to face my depression than when I had walked in.

24 years later, this is a cry for attention. I know suicide prevention day/week/month is in the rear view mirror, but this is a topic that simply doesn’t ever get enough attention, so yes, I’m crying out. I’m crying for people to open their eyes and hearts to a massive hole in our society that last year reported the highest suicide rate in the US since 1987. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 10-24 year olds, accounting for more deaths each year than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED. I’m crying for each of us in a position to help, that we would act with compassion, ask the uncomfortable questions, make ourselves available, and refuse to let the stigmas around mental illness and self-harm continue to be perpetuated. I’m crying for those struggling with depression to take one more chance at life and seek help.

Jose poses at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Reaching new heights on Kilimanjaro.

I was reminded on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro of a decision I came to years ago, after breaking free of my own depression. If I want my life to have any one specific impact, it is to share my experiences in ways that would help others live. That those in need would feel just a little less alone and seek help, and that those nearby would be more quick to offer it. Scaling Kili was one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken. I keep telling people, it was only about 30% physical and 70% mental. At that altitude, unless you are an elite athlete or you have trained a whole lot, your body simply starts to fail. You can breathe, but you aren’t getting enough oxygen per breath. By summit day, every single member of our team was dealing with multiple symptoms of altitude sickness – shortness of breath, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, light headedness, disorientation… you name it. You don’t make it to the top of Uhuru peak at 19,341 feet because you feel great – you make it because you choose to put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. You reach the top of the world because you persevere, even when you don’t want to anymore and feel like you can’t. Eventually, when you get back to normal altitude and you get more oxygen, you can truly appreciate what you’ve accomplished and be thankful. Before getting oxygen and rest however, I described the summit experience in the moment as the most defeated I have ever felt after a victory.

I sure am glad I went up that mountain, and that I came back down. It is not lost on me that mountain climbing is a great metaphor for dealing with adversity and just as we made our last push for the summit of Kilimanjaro during the deepest hours of night from midnight ‘til dawn, so were the worst years of my depression utterly dark. Just like I stumbled up through switchbacks for hours on end a month ago, wanting to quit and doubting I would ever reach the top, the years after my suicide attempt are somewhat of a blur. If you’ve ever been depressed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, think of all the dreams you quickly forget each morning when you wake up. Try to remember them even 5 minutes after brushing your teeth, let alone years later, and you can’t even be certain the memories are of your own making vs something you may have seen on TV.

After leaving the hospital 24 years ago today, I politely refused medication and therapy. In my mind, if I couldn’t figure out how to survive without help, I shouldn’t live. What a stubborn idiot I was. I’m eternally grateful it all worked out in the end, but it was touch and go for years. If you knew me between 1991 and probably around … 1996, you knew a dead man walking. I was so depressed during that period that I barely recall the early 90s. Months and months of my past are simply lost based on how little I cared at the time. If you did know me back then, you may have caught a glimpse or a steaming heap of that particular symptom – how little I cared, for myself and others. There was a façade that I was trying super hard to make true, so congratulations if that’s what you saw. The truth is I was extremely selfish and made a further high volume of bad decisions during that phase of my life. What I did do however, that worked out in the end, was to choose one thing I hated about myself at a time and work to change it. It didn’t happen overnight and I still make mistakes today, but eventually the scales tipped the other way.

In the beginning, I thought about killing myself multiple times daily. That faded to once daily, then every few days, then weekly, and eventually monthly. It didn’t matter that good things were going on in my life or that I had great people who cared about me. I was secretly struggling with these emotions and at any moment, I could have ended it. One day, years later, I realized months had gone by and I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. I actually recall the occasion. I was on my way to work one morning and saw a small child passed out in the back seat of his mother’s car. Mom was navigating her station wagon around a rotary and this little boy was only loosely strapped into his car seat, such that he was leaned forward unconscious on the back of his mom’s seat. For whatever reason, this blissfully exhausted child mashed up against the driver’s seat at an awkward angle struck me as beautifully funny and I laughed out loud to myself. I realized in that moment that I had fallen back in love with life again. Perhaps not even again, but for the first time in my adult life.

Where am I even going with all of this? I suppose it comes back to a few key concepts:

  1. So many of us struggle with depression and specifically, thoughts of hurting ourselves or even taking our own lives. Even if only through the power of shared experience, you are never, ever alone.
  2. To borrow from other campaigns, it gets better. Or, I should say that it can. Ultimately, it comes down to choice. Depression may be a phase or a life long struggle, but there are choices you can make and steps you can take to make things better.
  3. Don’t ever be ashamed or afraid to ask for, accept, or offer help. Whichever one of those invisible boundaries you break through, it may just be the connection that makes all other things possible.

This whole experience is something I am completely available to talk about. If you feel alone and ever consider harming yourself, I hurt for you. Whether you are facing your own demons or thinking of a friend, please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can help in any way. I own no capes and can’t solve your problems, but I can find time to listen really well and offer my own perspective if you think that may help. Whether it’s me, someone else you know, or specifically someone you don’t, seek help. No one should have to face this by themselves. I’m not a professional in this space and contrary to my own journey, I strongly recommend seeking professional help, but we can talk about that and other options you have. That’s the key: you always have options, no matter what it feels like. Speaking of help, if someone makes the offer, they’ve made a choice – they’ve put themselves out there. They care on some level and have broken through at least some levels of discomfort to be there for you. Try not to dismiss these offers off hand, as is so easy to do for various reasons from embarrassment to attempted selflessness. Respect their choice and effort – see where it may lead. I didn’t accept as many offers as I should have and my road was much harder as a result, needlessly, for me and probably others.

Jose and his wife Kristen.

Jose and his wife Kristen.

I’m lucky enough that after facing this head on for over half a decade in my late teens and early twenties, I was able to pick up the pieces and move on, depression-free since. I’m still a passionate and oft-times fickle person, and I still make plenty of mistakes – just ask my closest friends and family. But for years, I have experienced a love of life and found joy in the little things. I’ve been able to navigate a successful career, build a beautiful relationship with a woman I love very much, enjoy the present deeply, and look forward to so much more in the future. That’s not necessarily possible for everyone who battles depression, but various strategies for balance and opportunities for happiness exist if you choose life.

If you need emergency help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline @ 1-800-273-8255. If you aren’t in immediate danger and think trading perspectives with me would be of any assistance on your journey, please email me by clicking here.

I know this was a long read and may have been tough in portions. Thank you for taking the time to get all the way through. Thanks as well to my dear friend Randy Pierce, who has been an incredible source of strength and support to me through the years – including the invite for this guest blog post.

Be well,
jose

Share





17 Oct 15

By Randy Pierce

Autumn sings with Billy Joel!

Autumn sings with Billy Joel!

While there’s still so much more to tell about our own African adventures, Autumn wasn’t just left home to sing the blues, despite what our playfully adjusted image to the right might suggest!  She is due a little attention because her part of the experience was very important to us as well as rather worthy. On the lighter side, I suggested to our social media manager, Greg Neault, that perhaps he could Photoshop some fun pictures of Autumn’s virtual world tour to post intermittently while we were away. He took the challenge and created a fun series of adventures which our Facebook  and Twitter followers were able to enjoy while we were away. We include all those images in this blog for your enjoyment.

Meanwhile Autumn actually was staying with our friend and Guiding Eyes trainer Chrissie Vetrano. Chrissie originally trained the Mighty Quinn and also brought Autumn to me to work us into the team we are today. Of her own kindness she was taking our precious girl into her home with the promise of plenty of love and attention from the humans of the house and Chrissie’s lovable lab Malcolm. Her accommodations were more like Club Med for dogs than our own home and pictures and video clips of Autumn crossed the Atlantic regularly to keep us posted on her being well loved and tended.

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

During the days, Autumn would travel with Chrissie to Guiding Eyes to enjoy their accommodations and a little bit of extra work along with her vacation. The poignant part of this process is the ongoing care and attention which Guiding Eyes brings to all their teams and dogs. Their work doesn’t end with the training of their incredible Dog Guides but continues throughout the lives and work of the teams. While I’ll never forget the over-the-top care and support they provided to Quinn and me during his battle with cancer, I’m similarly appreciative of the demonstrated way in which they provide this to all handlers and dogs. They were all too glad to accommodate, ensuring our girl would have the best of care in all ways while we were away. She even returned freshly bathed and pampered and so very eager to see and snuggle with us again.

Autumn with Pats players

Autumn snaps some photos with the Pats!

The real key to any organization is always the people (and pups!) who make it great. In this I end as I began, and endured our time away from Autumn with the incredible appreciation I had knowing Autumn was in Chrissie’s so very capable and attentive care. I’m not sure I can ever be thankful enough for the gifts of Guiding Eyes in the dogs and people they’ve brought into my life. I will say with full conviction that I am very, very grateful and hope that every day the open way in which Autumn and I share our teamwork with the world helps to showcase the power of a great organization and the people behind them. Meanwhile, as the photos show – we have a little fun along the way!

Autumn at the Taj Mahal

Next stop: Taj Mahal!

Autumn sits on a ledge at Notre Dame

Autumn saunters over to Notre Dame and hangs with the gargoyles.

Autumn poses beside a large canyon

And finally, Autumn ends an exhausting week taking in some excellent views at Zion National Park!

Share



Bad Behavior has blocked 127 access attempts in the last 7 days.