Tag: Outreach



17 Apr 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn walk on the sidewalk.As Patriots Day arrives with my making a slightly different attempt to savor the 120th running of the Boston Marathon, I took a little break from our usual blog. Instead, I invite you to visit the New Hampshire Association for the Blind who have recently launched their own blog and include an interview with me for their “Walk In My Shoes” opportunity at the June 4 Walk for Sight.

From the NHAB:

#WalkInMyShoes is a special feature on a portion of our annual Walk for Sight route that allows adult walkers the opportunity to take their fundraising involvement a step further and look at vision loss differently. For the first time ever, twenty participants can sign up for the #WalkInMyShoes awareness component. This feature will let them experience what it’s like to be on Main Street as a visually impaired pedestrian, by using blindfolds and simulation glasses, with the help of trained sighted guides.”

We encourage you to read their interview with me and perhaps take the challenge yourself. We certainly welcome you to join our team or sponsor someone on our team.

Read my full interview with NHAB here.

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2 Apr 16

Peak Potential 2016

By Randy Pierce

Our 7th Annual Peak Potential Charity Dinner and Auction is the pivotal event for our entire year. We have moved to the Courtyard Marriott in Nashua, our largest and finest venue ever, and with this move we invite you to join us as attendees, sponsors, donors–and especially, we invite you to help share this announcement as far and wide as possible.

When: November 12, 2016, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Where: Courtyard by Marriott in Nashua NH

The Peak Potential website is live and contains everything you need to know for the event! Buy your tickets and help us work towards another sell-out which always helps us support our sponsorship and donation efforts. To help promote the earlier sales, we offer our best value with a table of 8 for $500 for a limited time. So please gather your friends and arrange to be part of an excellent evening essential to our mission. As always, tickets for couples and singles are available. 

“Why” is perhaps the most powerful question and I hope most of our community already well appreciates the reasons based on years of sell-outs and tremendous support. Our core mission has only grown more powerful as our school presentations continue to positively change the lives of the students, teachers and administrators. Our outreach is beyond 50,000 students just within schools and thousands more in outside programs. Our inspirational outreach has spread throughout New England and across the country, and there is so much more possible with your support.

A golden lab puppy named Honey meets Autumn

Future Guide Dog Honey meets Autumn at Peak Potential 2015.

Our all-volunteer staff continues to help us achieve incredible peaks of success which all begins with the support you give to this event. The essential financial donations we make to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind assure that services which transformed my life continue to be available for many others like me. Last year we gave each organization a check for $20,000 right there at the 6th Annual Peak Potential and we hope to continue such success. So please consider joining us immediately!

Attend the event! This venue has more space and tables than we’ve ever had and yet I still have a hope we might not only sell-out again but do so sooner than ever before. Each advanced ticket sale helps show to our sponsors, donors, team, and community how significant a response they will get from this great event.

Sponsorships are also available. You can be a primary contributor to the event! When I think of all the many organizations we’ve helped, I’m always reminded of the primary partners from our Platinum sponsors through our Friends of 2020 Vision Quest who support this event so well. Suggest us to your company or work with us and we’ll reach out to them.

The array of silent auction items.

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

Auction item donations are a vital component for our silent auction and the five marquee live auction items we typically provide. We have begun to learn what items best resonate with our guests and hope you might consider what contribution might boost our event to even higher success.

Sharing the vision. We outreach as well as we are able, but full success comes from our community choosing to share the invitation and possible ways of contributing with their friends, family and beyond. Please do consider every reasonable means of outreach you can help us achieve or reach out to us and we’ll help you. Making this the most successful event ever will help us continue to make the incredible positive impact, which is at the core of our mission.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you get involved! I believe in what we do so much that I put my heart and soul into this effort. I’ve had a tough year amidst the tremendous success and so many are helping us continue to thrive and strive forward. I personally implore you to take a look at all we are accomplishing and I think that will motivate you to be involved. This is what I need and what our Peak Potential event needs starting right now!

Thank you for your time, past support and for joining me on the path to the 7th Annual Peak Potential Charity Dinner and Auction! 

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27 Mar 16

By Randy Pierce

“You get out what you put in!” – Oberto Beef Jerky slogan

Caught in the frustration and setback of my health challenges is hard. Even knowing this is the one-year anniversary of the Tough Mudder Los Angeles made famous by the Oberto Heroes of Summer video, it’s still easy for me to struggle amidst the present obstacles.

This past week was particularly challenging as more of the “deep brain seizures” took place along with some other neurological deteriorations which may in part be due to a significant cold which returned in force and became bronchitis and pneumonia. I’m particularly susceptible to these due to a neurological problem with my throat which impacts my ability to keep my airway clear. The week was spent largely being sick and attending medical tests, treatments, or appointments. There was one exception and it’s the heart of this post.

On Thursday, March 23, I attended the South Derry Elementary school and spoke to roughly 250 students from grades K-5. My invitation was initially a braille letter from a blind 5th grader. Our message is designed for everyone of all abilities and all ages. I adjust the approach and some of the concepts for desired points of emphasis to the target audience though the core resonates for most who share the presentation with us. Despite this I feel a slightly deeper connection when sight impairment is involved.

This single visit was the sum total of my week’s work and due to schedule adjustments it fell just short of a number goal I was hoping to share with all of you. With this visit we have presented to roughly 49,950 students just in schools. I had hoped to celebrate the announcement of 50,000 students and while we are short of that goal for the present moment, I cannot help being simply proud of how many young lives we have impacted so positively.

In that pride and appreciation is also the reminder of how much it helped my own spirits to feel I was contributing to the world in a meaningful way. Certainly I do know this but knowing isn’t always enough. In our most challenging moments, what we feel is more powerful than what we know. I needed the rest and recovery time tremendously this week and yet for me the best recovery derives from the feelings that visit gave to me.

I look forward to our future announcement of reaching more students and significant benchmarks. Most of all I look forward to working forward through the obstacles, surging past the setbacks, and getting my medical challenges sufficiently under control that my vision for where we are going remains as positive and clear of focus as the 2020 Vision Quest deserves. In the meanwhile a special thank-you to the team of volunteers who have kept things going and allowing me to step back for the short term goal. I hope to share some of their accomplishments on that end with next week’s blog but if you visit our homepage you’ll see some of the signs of that work!

Group shot at the LA Tough Mudder

On the one-year anniversary of this Tough Mudder, Randy still gets by with a little help from his friends.

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27 Feb 16

By Rick Stevenson

This seems a fitting time for us to re-issue a 2020 guest blog post originally published two years ago on the topic of “access”–in the sense of having a level playing field so that all people, whatever their challenges or disabilities might be, are able to participate in activities they love.

Massachusetts-based non-profit Waypoint Adventure shares 2020 Vision Quest’s commitment to helping people overcome and/or work around disabilities. They are holding their annual spring fundraising party this Friday evening, March 4th in Cambridge, and Randy is the keynote speaker!

Why not come out and enjoy a chance to hear one of Randy’s keynote presentations while meeting many great people and learning about a worthy organization? Learn more and register here.

Read below a post from March 2014 about how Waypoint works in communities to create and improve access for youth and adults with disabilities.

By Rick Stevenson

Access: (n.) - the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. (www.dictionary.com)

For our friends all around us with various disabilities, it’s all about access. It can be about other factors too, of course, but access is often a huge issue. Access to some things can be relatively simple: a home or office… a database… a person’s attention… property. But how about a mountain trail… a pristine forest near your home… a wall at a climbing gym… a glassy-calm river in summer? Are these easy for all to gain access? Unfortunately, no, not yet. That’s not as simple as adding a new wheelchair ramp or railings, but people and organizations are out there making progress.

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the   Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two events offered by Waypoint Adventure, an eastern Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides life-transforming outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities. One event was a weekend in February at Pinkham Notch, NH (at the base of Mount Washington) when eight of us ascended the Tuckerman Ravine trail toward the floor of the huge bowl. Two of the group had cerebral palsy and rode up in “sit-skis”—modified lightweight chairs mounted on pairs of cross-country skis, with ropes and bars for pulling and restraining. With an afternoon temperature of around 15 degrees F and the wind from the west howling down the trail at us, the trip up and down the famous trail was adrenaline-pumping, hard work, exhilarating and full of joy for all eight participants. Trust was critical, especially on the descent—when anything less than excellent execution would have meant too much risk—and teamwork and communication were superb.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

The second event was a Volunteer Appreciation Night held at the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Watertown MA, at which Randy Pierce was guest speaker. About 50 current and/or future Waypoint volunteers packed a room at the gym for a great meal, brief presentations about Waypoint, and expressions of appreciation, as well as Randy’s keynote about ability awareness, goals, and how important an engaged, enthusiastic community is to a volunteer-based organization. Afterward, attendees had a chance to try out the walls of the gym and/or take a certification class in belaying.

Waypoint’s mission is to “…help youth and adults with disabilities discover their purpose, talents, and strengths through the transforming power of adventure.” They believe that all people, regardless of ability, should “…have opportunities for adventure and through them realize their personal value, strengths and abilities. These experiences will help people become stronger individuals and community members.”

Access is, almost literally, about leveling a playing field. It’s also, thankfully, about pushing the envelope of what was previously thought to be impossible, so that people of all ages with disabilities can keep having new, exciting, stimulating experiences. Problem-solving. Creative thinking. Often that’s all that stands between a person with a physical disability and a challenging, thrilling, life-changing adventure, and here’s where some of the similarities between Waypoint Adventure and 2020 Vision Quest become most obvious.

Randy Pierce, as an adventurer who happens to be blind, has a need and a strong desire for access. Access to mountain trails, road races, ski slopes, a martial arts gym, a tandem bike. He’s solving challenges every day of his life, either in teamwork with his guide dog or human guide or on his own; whether training for a road race, hiking a trail, getting around his house or around Nashua, or running 2020 Vision Quest. And in turn, one of 2020 Vision Quest’s many value-adds is helping other vision-impaired people gain access–to whatever is most special in their lives.

Then there’s Waypoint Adventure, the creator of the two events mentioned above and pictured here. Run by co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich and program coordinator Julia Spruance, (one of whom, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, but I won’t reveal which one), they not only create adventure programs but also invent and fine-tune unique “access methods” that allow individuals with disabilities to enjoy many of the same adventures as others. Methods and tools like the “sit-ski” (photo above left), an off-road wheelchair, an adaptive kayak, or an adaptive rock-climbing harness. You could say they’re in the access-creation field.

A final story that helps define and illustrate access: at a 2013 indoor climbing gym event run by Waypoint for teenagers from the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the boys, after some training and a few exhilarating trips up and down the wall, asked a Waypoint volunteer if she worked at the gym.  Hearing that no, she was with Waypoint and this was a gym open to the public, he asked, “So is this a gym for blind people?” The volunteer explained that no, there were sighted people there too. Final question: “Then am I climbing on a special wall?” Upon hearing her final answer, that “…no, you’ve been climbing on the same walls as everyone else,” he lit up with a wide grin. His biggest thrill of the day—perhaps the week or month—was realizing that he had been climbing on the very same walls as everyone else.  There’s that access again. Behold and marvel at the difference it can make!

Learn more about Waypoint Adventure.

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13 Feb 16

Randy shouting from the mountaintop

The countdown is finally done and we’re shouting our news from the mountaintops!

By Randy Pierce

“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Reverend Edward Hale

I wanted a short and powerful blog this week. I wanted to record a one minute video from atop Sugarloaf Mountain where I was attending the New England Visually Impaired Ski Festival. I was unable to achieve my goal, and yet the news is something powerful and wonderful that I do indeed want to shout from the mountain tops:

We have been granted our *independent* 501(c)(3) status!!

We have been an approved and official 501(c)(3) organization since our inception due to NHAB choosing to fiscally sponsor our charitable efforts. Thanks to an incredible amount of hard work by many volunteers and you, our incredible community, we achieved the enough success that we were required to apply for our independent status. This was granted as a sign of confidence and achievement for which I am incredibly proud.

This changes nothing about our mission or our approach and we hope similarly nothing about the support which has allowed us to reach so many goals. As such I’m also using this announcement as a Call to Action: What choice, great or small, can you make to help our cause?

As we close in on providing presentations to our 50,000 students just within schools and a quarter of a million dollars to the two beloved organizations to whom we pledge our support, and as we continue to provide inspiration, encouragement, and support for an ever growing number of people–will you make a choice to help?

Will you make a donation? 

Will you book a keynote or suggest us to  a company or conference?

Will you refer us to a school teacher or administrator?

Will you connect to us on Social Media or share our links with your contacts?

Would you suggest to us ways you think we might enhance our efforts and achievements? Email me!

I hope you will answer this call to action and I hope we continue to be worthy of the confidence and support we have shared over our first five years. I may not be literally shouting it from a mountain top but I think this news and your choice are both significant and necessary. Thank you!

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13 Dec 15

By Randy Pierce

This year included two significant changes for the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. As both we at 2020 Vision Quest and I personally provide significant support to this organization, I thought it appropriate to share the news officially on our blog as well.

In April, CEO at the time George Theriault announced formally that he would be retiring. With nearly thirty years of incredible support for the organization, many of those as CEO, George wanted to ensure a smooth transition for the organization. I’m incredibly appreciative of the incredible work and success George enabled the organization to achieve and wish him well in his retirement.

This created a challenge and an opportunity and I was fortunate enough to work with the succession committee to help determine the ideal candidate to help take NHAB forward. We have indeed found who we believe is an ideal candidate: David S. Morgan. I’ve already begun to enjoy the benefits of building our working relationship as he undertakes the responsibility and privilege of guiding this great organization into the future.

Here is the official press release as shared on NHAB’s website and around the country.

David Morgan also sat down with Concord TV’s Doris Ballard to share his experiences and his goals for the future of NH residents living with low vision or blindness:

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5 Dec 15

By Randy Pierce

I’m thrilled to share my second TEDx talk with all of you! My first talk was centered on the notion of how all of us can and should reach for our peak potential. This second talk was asked to fit to the theme of a “Brand New Day” and put focus upon a valuable perspective on Transition Trauma and Social Risk Management.

You may recall that back in October I shared how I develop a presentation as I prepared to give the talk and now you can directly see the results below. I also include that blog link here so you can perhaps gain insight into the process and compare the two different talks.

If you, as I do, believe there is value in these talks, please consider sharing them with all those who might similarly benefit. Thank you again for the tremendous support which helps inspire me to be reaching for new heights!

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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.

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7 Nov 15

By Randy Pierce

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I recently returned from a week-long travel for presentations at the University of New Hampshire and four days in the Camden, Maine region. I returned recharged and invigorated by the rewards I received during this process. While our presentations to students are at the core of our mission, too few of the people who support and encourage our efforts have the opportunity to fully appreciate the positive impact routinely shared with me during and after these presentations. I left for this trip a little weary and feeling overwhelmed and returned eager to begin working to enhance our ability to continue this mission as strongly as ever. Why? Administrators, teachers, and students once again went out of their way to ensure I understood the incredible gift they felt our program provided to all of their lives. I gained a new perspective on having a vision, building teams and communities to enhance our lives and methods for achieving goals and dreams which resonate simply and powerfully with the inspiration of our overall delivery. I thought more about framing and understanding our failings and frustrations as possible pathways to more gifts, as the sample video below illustrates during one of this week’s presentations.

When we find ways to be a positive part of helping others, we ultimately enrich our own lives in ways which are a tremendous gift to others. When caught up in the administration and behind the scenes work of our project, there are times I lose sight of the rewards. Thanks to many people who strive to help us expand our outreach in schools and beyond, I have the opportunity to be reminded and recharged by these results.

So as we enter the month which often puts a focus upon being thankful, I am sharing the gift we give and the reward it provides to me. For all of you who help ensure we continue to be shared and supported in our 2020 Vision Quest, I hope you too may feel a part of that gift so warmly given to me. A very special thanks to John and Hellen Kuhl of the Camden Lions for bringing us to Maine and for Brent Bell in bringing us to UNH so very often as well!

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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

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