Foundation Friday : Mental Health

Once upon a time, in a suburban town of Chicago, a little blonde haired girl obsessed with strawberries, Robin Ventura, and hockey met a fiery red-haired little boy with a passion for life, making people laugh, and wanting to save lives.

They were attached at the hip. Almost every waking moment was spent together. Desks were pushed together in class and then separated by teachers. They somehow ended up in every field trip group together even though the teacher made sure to assign them to different groups. Hours were spent at the local arcade playing video games where the little red-haired boy beat the blonde haired girl in Mortal Kombat every single time. No mercy was given. There were sleep overs involving jumping on the bed and telling ghost stories.

The little red haired boy and blonde haired girl caught stealing all of the grapes during the Halloween party.

Underneath the tree in the blonde haired girl’s front yard they would read and discuss their hopes and dreams. They decided they would live on the same street when they grew up, preferably next to one another. Their future spouses would be best friends and they would raise their kids together. He would be a firefighter. She would work in sports. Together they would write and create.

They cried together. They laughed together. Even when they weren’t near each other. The little blonde haired girl and red-haired boy could feel each other’s pain, happiness, and frustration. They had an unbreakable connection.

Then one day the little blonde haired girl moved to Ohio. Unfortunately, the little red-haired boy was out of town and they didn’t get to say goodbye to one another. A few months later the little red-haired boy would move a few towns over from where they grew up. They would lose touch for many years because neither knew where the other one was located. The little blonde haired girl would lament for years over the loss of her best friend.

However, a new kid came on the block to save the day and reconnected the pair. Facebook was his name and connecting people around the world was his game.

The little blonde haired girl searched Facebook endlessly for her little fiery red-head. Unfortunately, he had a very common name making the process even more tedious. Just as she was about to give up a friend request popped up on her screen. It was her fiery red-head. She immediately accepted and they began messaging back and forth for hours. They both had been looking for each other for ten years, neither one giving up.

He grew up to be a firefighter. She was working her way into the sports world and dabbling in the music world while working at a local grocery store. They picked up right where they left off realizing they had never lost their connection. They would talk on the phone and watch you-tube videos together when the red-haired boy couldn’t fall asleep at the firehouse. On days off the blonde haired girl would travel into Chicago to see the red-haired boy. They would drive around and look for neighborhoods suitable for them to live one day with their future spouses and children. Those were their plans, their goals, their dreams.

And they lived happily ever after, right? Wrong. While most fairy tales end with that coveted phrase, I must warn you this is not a fairy tale. This is real life. This is my life, my story, a long chapter in my book. If you can’t deal with real life, I beg you to stop now and read no further.

The blonde girl became so wrapped up in her life that she began missing phone calls from the red-haired boy. She even told him she wasn’t sure moving onto the same street in Chicago would fit into her immediate plan. “One day I’ll move but not today, not this year,” she kept telling him. They continued to talk as much as possible and end every phone call with “I Love You”. However, they were less in tune with one another. They still had the connection but it wasn’t being paid any attention.

The blonde haired girl didn’t realize her fiery red-head had lost his passion for living.

One beautiful June day, the red-haired boy walked into the woods and stuck a gun to his chest. He fired and left this world before anyone could stop him. The blonde haired girl went into an immediate emotional downward spiral. She tried to join him three times during the first week he was gone. Her life meant nothing. All of her dreams and goals were wrapped up in him. The end game was always the blonde haired girl and red-haired boy being friends forever. Her heart was broken and she began to shut the world out. The blonde haired girl became a shell of her former self, a fragment.

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Luckily, the blonde girl’s friends and family refused to allow her to lose passion for life. They pushed her out of the deep, dark hole she was in and carried her until she could walk on her own. If it wasn’t for them, she wouldn’t be alive today.

As I said earlier, this is my story. I am the blonde haired girl and my best friend Bobby is the fiery red-haired boy. June 4th, 2013 will always be the worst day of my life. My worst nightmare had always been losing my best friend and June 4th was the day my nightmare came true. I can’t even begin to explain the darkness I saw in the weeks and months after his death. It is a place I never want to go back to. A place I never thought existed. It is devoid of light and hope.

Bobby’s birthday falls during the Thanksgiving holiday. So, I chose this week’s Foundation Friday to honor him and all of those who are struggling against the darkness. It is a battle far too many think is easy to fight. The conversation needs to keep going and be discussed often regardless of how uncomfortable it makes people feel. Talking about mental health is not showing weakness, it’s showing strength.

I also chose Thanksgiving weekend for the topic of mental health awareness so I could openly thank all of the people who stood by me and pulled me out of my darkness.

  • Matt and Austin : while neither of you know each other you both were there during the first week of my darkness. You sat with me so I wouldn’t be alone. You allowed me to express my feelings and lament over my best friend. I thank you for the hugs and the concern during those first few days. You showed me just how compassion really works.
  • Sherri, Sam, and Niki :  Thank you for having me stay at your places so I wouldn’t be alone when I came in town for the funeral. The three of you were the glue which held me together during my stay in Chicago. Your kindness will never be forgotten.
  • The friends I grew up with in Lyons (Sherri and Niki fall in this category as well) : You guys have been nothing but amazing over the past few years. I appreciate all of the texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages you’ve sent making sure I was ok or just to check in on me. I know this has been just as hard for you guys as well. Thank you.
  • Bobby’s family (Especially his mom, Laura) : Thank you for your unending love and kindness. While the days have been hard without Bobby, knowing I have a second family who loves me no matter what has made it a little easier. After his death you didn’t push me away, you pulled me closer and refuse to let go. I love you all so dearly.
  • My Family: Thank you for listening to me scream and cry for hours on end. Thank you for holding me and never letting go. Thank you for making me laugh over and over again. Thank you for being the best family I could ever ask for.
  • Rick Gethin, Dancing Kevin, and The Jacket Backers : Thank you for pushing me to be a better and stronger person. For allowing me to lean on you when I was weak. Thank you for reminding me about the healing powers of writing about hockey.
  • The Ohio AAA Blue Jackets (especially the 2001s and their parents) : You guys are my saving grace. Thank you for giving me new hopes and dreams to aspire to. You’ve shown me the joy in life and that adversity only makes one stronger. Within the next few weeks there will be an article explaining everything I learned about hockey and life from the two years I spent interning with this program. It’s essentially one big thank you note to the boys and girls who changed my life. I love each and every single one of you.
  • Heinens Fine Foods: When I moved back into the area at the end of May there was still something off. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong. I just knew I was not happy. So, I looked back on my life to see where I was the happiest, where I was the most creative, and where I felt like I made a difference. I realized it was my time at Heinen’s the first time. I applied and my old Store Director, Tom, welcomed me back with open arms. It has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. My parents will even tell me there is a definite change in my attitude. I am happier. I laugh more, crack more jokes, and don’t stay in bed all day. I go out, see people, and explore. I write more and don’t get frustrated as much as I had when Bobby first died. Thank you for being a great company and allowing me to come back.
  • Chapter 5 Foundation, Do it for Daron Foundation, and the Team TooToo Fund : Your foundations showed me I can get through the suffering and the pain. All of you turned your pain into something beautiful. Which is why I started this column to begin with, to showcase the beauty in the sport of hockey. Thank you for turning your pain into beauty. You can learn more about these foundations below.
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Do it for Daron

Daron Richardson was well-known for her smile, bubbly attitude, and her love of the color purple. No one saw her untimely death coming, not even her parents Luke (Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators) and Stephanie. The Blue Jackets and Senators community was rocked upon hearing of Daron’s suicide. They couldn’t fathom how such a happy girl could take her own life.

The Richardsons and Daron’s friends turned their pain into a movement by creating Do it for Daron. They wanted to take away the stigma of mental illness. Suffering in silence was longer going to be an option. Their mission is to keep the conversation going about mental illness so no one else has to experience the pain of losing a child or friend to depression.

Do it for Daron has been making splashes in the area of suicide prevention lately.

Thanks to a donation from DIFD, the Royal was able to create an app called HealthyMinds. This app has a daily mood tracker, problem solving tools, and coping/stress busting activities.

The “Is It Just Me” program funded by DIFD helps keep the mental health awareness conversation going in the classroom. The program sheds light on all forms of mental illness in youth such as depression and anxiety while teaching the kids different ways to handle them through different coping mechanisms.

You can help support the efforts of Do it for Daron by hosting an event, spreading mental health awareness at your local school, purchasing items from the Do it for Daron store, and by donating straight to the organization.

Team TooToo Fund

Jordin TooToo knows all too well the horrors of losing a loved one to suicide.

In 2002, Terrence TooToo was arrested for drunk driving and ended up taking his own life. To cope with the loss Jordin threw himself into playing hockey.

In 2011, TooToo decided to turn his pain into something good and created the Team TooToo Fund.  The fund supports causes like suicide prevention and at risk youths.

The Team TooToo Fund has given grants to four organizations; The Jason Foundation, STARS, The Oasis Center, and The Sports Fund of the Community Foundation of Tennessee.

The Jason Foundation spends their time educating people to be able to tell when a child is in pain so they can get them the proper help they need. They do this through seminars and curriculum units.

STARS, short for “Students Taking a Right Stand”, addresses issues like bullying and substance abuse in youth throughout Nashville. They also have programs which cater to those with hearing losses.

The Oasis Center has been helping Nashville youth who have experienced drug and alcohol problems since 1969. They have taken it upon themselves to help bring youth into a thriving adulthood.

The Sports Fund uses sports as a way to unite the community through all of their differences. They use the program to teach kids the value of camaraderie and teamwork. The coaches involved in the program inspire the children to be better humans and do great things in the community as well as build their self-esteem. Tutoring is also offered through the program.

Chapter 5 Foundation

Defining yourself as a hockey player your whole life and then not being able to play hockey anymore can be a struggle which sends people to a dark spot.

Founded by Dan Carcillo, Chapter 5 Foundation aims to help athletes at the end of their career figure out what is next in their lives. By doing this, Chapter 5 hopes to alleviate the stress that comes with re-purposing one’s life.

Since I want to keep the conversation going about mental health awareness I just barely touched upon the three foundations I mentioned. Over the next few months I will write more in-depth articles about the wonderful things these foundations are doing throughout the community. By having three separate articles devoted to each organization we will be able to continue to keep the conversation alive.

For those struggling with the darkness; I hope you find the light within you, the love around you, and the strength to continue fighting.

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