Chris and I walked onto one of the enormous aircraft on Dover Air Force Base. The size of the plane was daunting, but even more intimidating were the myriad buttons, knobs, switches, levers, wires, and lights that adorned the cavernous inside of the craft. We were experiencing “A Day in the Life of an Airman” and this was such an apt setting for a discussion regarding the mental health challenges our military personnel face. The job itself is immense.
In its scope.
In its responsibility.
In its demanding schedule.
In its life and death nature.
I cannot manage a check engine light in my Honda –let alone seemingly hundreds of them at the age of 19. The hours on base are long so camaraderie is essential to manage the demand. We asked a few engineers how they felt about all of this responsibility at such a young age. There was an admirable dedication to one another, duty, and country that belied an exhaustion. The training and supervision of the team equipped them to fulfill their mission, but there is a human connection that seemingly gets lost to the responsibility and the uniform.
Chris remarked in his talk to a packed room of airmen later that day, ‘the gifts and challenges of a military uniform and athletic uniform share a similar mental health lens’. There is a dedication to something larger, but you can become a number. The name on the front is more important than the name on the back. The uniform has blood, sweat, and tears as well as triumphs and losses. It can be difficult to take it off. Our minds and heart might not make the transition out of the uniform or the job that easily—especially when we pour so much of ourselves into it.
So what is difficult about mental health in the life of an airman? From my view, we talked to so many that bravely and authentically voiced their struggles. The demands of the mission and the time in the uniform can make human connection difficult. The constant refrain is that airmen go to play video games or watch a series in the valuable hours off-shift. It seems as though those authentic and brave conversations where someone can take-off the proverbial “uniform” for a moment can be few and far between. It is really rewarding to work with The USAF to establish more places and strategies to foster these moments of connection.
Like any time you walk a day in someone else’s shoes, you come back to your own environment with a new perspective. We may not have the large aircraft or the dire mission at hand, but we still need that connection. We can put our own wires, bells, whistles, to distract us (or also just our phones/Netflix), but that connection is something we aren’t always looking for, but certainly need.
I cannot speak from personal experience with depression; however, I can speak from an observer’s perspective. Many people in my life, whether friends or family, have struggled with depression. I feel like the term “depression” is often used loosely amongst friends when discussing a minor issue. “I failed my exam, I’m depressed”, “My parents won’t let me go on Spring Break, I want to die”. Why is this term used so loosely when it can be such a debilitating disease?
I have been at fault for saying these same statements. However, once the topic became more personal, I quickly realized the severity of the issue. The reality is that you do not know what is going on in someone else’s life. You only know what they show you. Many people with depression feel the stigma that is often attached to mental illness, so they keep it to themselves. In a recent study by SP Wamala, it was found that two-thirds of depression cases go undiagnosed. It is very difficult to seek help when you feel like no one will understand. That is why I believe that educating yourself about mental health, depression, and resources accessible to you, can be one of the best things you can do for yourself and for others suffering around you.
Depression is a chemical imbalance in one’s head. It is a condition that requires medical attention to address. It is serious and affects people’s moods, thoughts, and feelings. Depression can be triggered by a multitude of different scenarios; stressful events, family history, loneliness, illness, drugs, etc. Depression does not have one standard solution. Unfortunately, it can take many trial and errors to find the right solution for yourself. From being on the outside of many peoples battles with depression, I have learned that it is an uphill battle. There are good days, and bad days. Medicines can help for some, but others might not find it to be a solution. You not only need to be motivated, but more than anything you need to surround yourself with a team of people that will help you along the way.
Although there are several known tips to help with feelings of depression, that does not necessarily mean they will help everyone. These tips are merely suggestions to try out. One way to help is to feel stronger physically. Get enough sleep, eat the right amounts of food, and try working out. That doesn’t mean you have to jump into a gym and start lifting weights, but try to get outside, go on a walk, go swimming. Other ideas are to surround yourself with friends, family and seek professional help. Push yourself to make plans and have events to look forward to with your loved ones. It can be hard to make these first steps when you are feeling down, but even the littlest of changes can have a positive impact on your life. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals. They are there to help you. There are many organizations that will help you navigate the different options available.
Depression is a multi-faceted illness. Everyone has different experiences and struggles in their life. There is no one solution to make depression go away. You just must find what makes you happy and push yourself to continue doing those things. Listen to your instinct and trust yourself. The most important thing to remember is that you never have to face it alone. Your family, friends and there are professionals that can help you. You never need to be or feel alone, reach out, don’t be afraid. Depression is a complicated disease to battle. There will be highs and lows. You must keep fighting, not just for yourself but also for all the people that love you.
Laura Yardeni is a senior at the University of Delaware and is the Communications & PR Intern for SL24: UnLocke the Light and Sean’s House.
On November 20, 2021, friends, family, and running fanatics joined the SL24 Foundation for the second time in support of educating and ending the stigma of depression by running 13.1 miles in the Philadelphia Half Marathon. The SL24 team was seen running, cheering, and sharing our story throughout the day during the race and following the race at the team fundraiser at Ladder 15. With the support of our community and dedication of our hard working participants, the foundation is encouraging all to join in another unforgettable day of running the race for a third time to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
Along with our dear friend Sean, basketball has always been my favorite sport and passion since I was young. Running long distances, or running in general, has never been a strong suit of mine, and a lot like Sean, we were never the quickest on the court. In 2019, Michael Igo came to the SL24 foundation with the idea of running the Philadelphia Half Marathon to help raise money for mental health education. Once Michael proposed the idea to our friends and family, my legs started to ache just thinking about the race. After a lot of thought and some competitive banter with our friends, I set out to overcome my dread of running and set a goal to simply finish the race. The support of the SL24 members, friends, and family cheering us on at every corner of Philadelphia during the race made running easier than I thought.
Since the first race in 2019, running is now a large part of my life. Running is not only a great way to stay in shape, but is also a time to decompress and clear my head from the everyday stressors in my life. Everyone deals with stress in their own specific ways, but since participating in this race, I have been able to handle stressful situations better, as well as understand and help others with their own discomforts. Preparing for this race and being a part of such a fun and exciting day has helped me become a better version of myself.
The SL24 Foundation continues to spread the word and educate everyone on the signs of depression and angles to handle, help with, and understand mental health. Since the start of SL24 and the opening of Sean’s House in September 2020, the SL24 Foundation has educated over 33,000 high school and college students and has helped serve over 12,000 individuals in aiding with their own discomforts. Over the last two Philadelphia Half Marathons, the SL24 Foundation has raised nearly 30,000 dollars to help the foundation continue to educate others on the importance of understanding and dealing with mental health.
On November 19, 2022, the SL24 team will continue the tradition of running the Philadelphia Half Marathon for the third consecutive time. Come out this year and help us continue the tradition of running for a greater cause. Whether participating in the race, buying a team Locke jersey, coming to cheer on the runners, or donating at the fundraiser following the race, we encourage all to attend and help support the SL24 Foundation in raising awareness for mental health.
Please see below for more information on how to join or support the team on race day.
Purchase a Locke Jersey / donate: The SL24 Running Team will sport 76ers colored Locke jerseys for the 2022 race. We want all runners & fans sporting the jerseys. You can purchase the Jersey directly on the Unlocke the Light website. The jersey will be mailed directly to the address provided at checkout.
Fundraiser: The team will meet at Ladder-15 for a post run fundraiser. The Fundraiser will take place from 12- 4pm. It will be $25 per person for a Philadelphia themed buffet. There will be a raffle and a silent auction where 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Unlocke the Light foundation. If you know of any companies willing to donate to our silent auction, please contact me directly.
Ladder-15 address:1528 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Joining the team: To join the SL24 Running team sign up under the link below. If you are already signed up and did not sign up under the link below, that is OK! By purchasing a Locke jersey, you solidify your spot on the team.
Written By Laura Yardeni, SL24/Sean’s House Communications and PR Intern
With September wrapped up, so is Suicide Prevention Awareness month. But our mission and education will never stop. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, with one person taking their life every 40 seconds according to WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
During the month of September, Sean’s House was busier than ever. People of all ages came for help and to show support all throughout the month. In September, we hosted 26 different events with over 750 guests attending. The events allowed us to share our message, resources we provide and have real conversations.
We hosted high school athletes, the UDance executive board, AEPhi, ADPi, new students, college athletes, Goldey Beacom Softball, Honors varsity student athletes, and different members of the community for weekly dinners and other house events.
Members of the UnLocke the Light family spoke about mental health education to over 3,000 youths and adults in three different states. During those speeches our staff shared their vulnerability with personal stories. The speeches brought awareness to all the options available for people who are struggling mentally. We believe the speeches made an impact on many of the attendees.
At Sean’s House we also ran three mindfulness workshops, where we helped individuals to hone in their mental focus and to be in the present moment. Michael, our peer lead, runs the mindfulness sessions every Sunday at 4 pm. Our purpose for these events is to help those who are struggling to appreciate the present moment calm their minds in a group setting. We want all thoughts, good or bad, to be let go during this time. Come reset and find an inner calmness with us next Sunday!
We were also visited 21 days out of the month by PAWS. For those of you who don’t know, we bring in furry faces to Sean’s House to provide comfort for those struggling. PAWS has gained a lot of attraction to the house and has helped many decrease their anxiety.
Our goal for this month was to help those who were struggling to seek help and to bring awareness to the services we provide. With the two year anniversary of Sean’s house being open coming up, we are happy to announce our progress within the last year!
Our daily house visits are up 356% from last year and our peer support sessions are up 439%. To date, in the two years that Sean’s House has been opened, we had over 13,000 visits, over 3,500 peer support sessions and 76 individuals saved from suicidal situations.
We have many more exciting events lined up for the month of October and we welcome you to take a look at our house calendar which can be found on our website and social media pages.
In the past month, we’ve lost three college student-athletes to suicide. 30 days. 3 student-athlete lives.
I spent 15 years working in college athletics. Seven of former student-athletes I worked with took their own life.
I’ve seen posts. I’ve seen the hashtags. I’ve seen the stories.
Every time I see a story, every time I hear another name, it breaks me.
The question, why the hell is this happening continues to be asked?
I’ve been a collegiate student-athlete. I worked in college athletics. I’ve spoken 1-on-1 with many current collegiate and high school student athletes. I’ve coached youth sports. I’ve coached travel sports. I’ve seen pretty much every angle of this over the past 25 years.
I’ll start by saying that there isn’t a magic pill. There isn’t a direct answer that will solve everything. That’s just not how life works and not how this trend will improve, but talking about it, being real about it, that’s the only way we can try to help each other stop this.
This past weekend, I watched a 9 year old throw up prior to a game because he was nervous. This past weekend, a 10 year old told me, “you always say that it’s just a game, but if we make a mistake, everyone always yells or gets upset.”
I watched a 9-year old play 5 hours of baseball on Saturday morning and then followed him on the way out as his dad told him to get a Gatorade because he was headed to four hours of lacrosse.
In the past month, I’ve had two collegiate athletes tell me that they feel like they have to be perfect in every practice or else they’ll lose playing time. I’ve had three collegiate students athletes tell me that they’ve wanted to stop playing, but they can’t disappoint their parents.
30-plus years ago, the only real ‘business’ around sports was at the professional level. We now live in a society where literally every level of sport is a business, and we wonder why our athletes have unrealistic expectations of themselves?
We have national rankings for 6-year old athletes.
We have 10-year olds making social media pages to be recruited.
These kids, at every level, have to have time to be kids. We are losing their identities in the jerseys they are wearing and not remembering that underneath the uniform, behind the helmets, through the sweat and blood, they are people.
I’ve been guilty of it too, but how often do we start a conversation with an athlete asking them, “how’s soccer going?” or “how was practice” or “did your team win?”, we rarely ask them about other interests, or how they’re doing or what they’re looking forward to.
There are professional athletes that make millions and millions of dollars that make errors or drop passes or miss shots, but when the 8-year old misses a tackle or the 12-year old strikes out, you would think the end of the world is occurring…. And we wonder why the anxiety and pressure is becoming crippling?
Like I mentioned earlier, I know there isn’t one answer and I know that the business of sports is way too big for a major overhaul, but as a coach, father, former athlete and friend/confidant of many current athletes, I’m urging my fellow parents, coaches, and adults to really think about how we speak to our athletes.
I’m not saying to baby them. I’m not saying that everything is sunshine and rainbows. That’s not reality and that’s not life, believe me I know. There’s an incredibly fine line and difficult balance between pushing them and helping them learn to how to deal with adversity and failure, but also finding a way for them to not feel anxious or have unrealistic expectations.
Parenting is difficult. Coaching is difficult. But I urge us all to take a good hard look at what’s going on around us. What’s happening to these athletes as they grow into collegiate athletes.
The ball will eventually stop dribbling. The cleats will eventually be hung. What happens to those athletes when all they’ve done for the last 15+ years is gone. Will people care about them after the jersey is off their back?
Of course, right? But those athletes don’t feel that. Those athletes don’t think that. You think I’m wrong? Ask them.
Maybe, just maybe, there are people behind those uniforms, who struggle each and every day to find their identity. Who don’t know what to do with a free hour or two (other than nap) if they aren’t at practice or weight room.
Maybe, just maybe, we as adults need to step up and learn how to let our kids be kids once in a while.
So the next time you see a kid strikeout or get upset about a bad pass or bad call, maybe just maybe, we can put our arms around them, show them some empathy and lift them up, after all, they are human, or maybe they are just robots in uniforms that have been trained for years and years?
On November 20, 2019, Sean Locke looked down at 75 of his closest friends running 13.1 miles through the city of Philadelphia and laughed. Sean was never a fan of running, but he did love the spotlight, whether it was on the free throw line against Michigan State in the NCAA March Madness Tournament or on the Jukebox at Grotto’s Pizza. Like a spotlight, Sean’s legacy illuminated the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon weekend. What started as a simple idea to grab a couple friends and run the Philadelphia Half Marathon sporting “Locke 24 ” on our backs to honor him, grew into a much greater initiative. With the help of the Unlocke the Light foundation, we grew this idea into the largest team running on marathon weekend. The team sported customized Eagles’ green Locke jerseys which created a buzz around the city. I can guarantee that if you were in Philadelphia on marathon weekend, you ran into someone wearing an Unlocke the Light shirt.
After the event, Mr. Locke invited me to join the Board of Directors for the Unlocke the Light foundation. I was honored and eager to do my part to help others who suffer from mental illness and depression. The foundation has three goals; Educate high school and college students on the signs of depression, assist high school and college athletes with the transition from a life of sports to a life without sports free from depression or with the tools to manage depression, and create a safe haven where high school and college students can receive professional help and speak to peers about their struggles with depression.
Depression will always exist, The Wall Street Journal reported that over 28 million people in the United States suffer from depression. But through education and suicide prevention programs like the Unlocke the Light foundation, we can help those around us manage their depression. In the past few years, I witnessed the Unlocke the Light foundation make great strides in achieving their three core goals. Since the start of the foundation, August of 2018, Mr. Locke and Unlocke the Light representatives spoke to and educated 115,000 students about the signs of depression. In September of 2020, the foundation opened a safe haven in Newark, Delaware called “Sean’s House”. The house promotes its guests’ mental wellness by providing access to trained peer support specialists and assistance connecting with community mental health resources. In the past year, 3,107 students walked through the doors at Sean’s House to seek help and 32 of those youths who came to Sean’s House in crisis situations, with suicidal thoughts, were saved.
On November 20, 2021 the SL24 Half Marathon team is RUNNING IT BACK! We will run our second half marathon to honor Sean Locke and bring awareness to mental health and the Unlocke the Light foundation. Please support our efforts by making a donation, attending our fundraiser, purchasing a Locke Jersey, or joining the running team! We hope that by wearing our Unlocke the Light shirts, someone will ask “What team are you on?” and you can share Sean’s story, and educate them about the mission of the Unlocke the Light foundation & Sean’s House.
Below I have included all details on how to join or support the team on race day.
Donate: If you wish to donate, please do so on the Unlocke the Light website or through Venmo at @SL_24.
Fundraiser: The team will meet at Ladder-15 for a post run fundraiser. The Fundraiser will take place from 12- 2pm. It will be $20 per person for a Philadelphia themed buffet. There will be a raffle and a silent auction where 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Unlocke the Light foundation. If you know of any companies willing to donate to our silent auction, please contact me directly.
Ladder-15 address: 1528 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Purchase a Locke Jersey: The SL24 Running Team will sport Phillies red Locke jerseys for the 2021 race. We want all runners & fans sporting the jerseys. You can purchase the Jersey directly on the Unlocke the Light website. The jersey will be mailed directly to the address provided at checkout.
As I have spent my entire college career immersed in the vast world of psychology and mental illness I struggle trying to fathom how one could possibly see the struggles of another as ‘scary’. However, growing up as I have there more often than not wasn’t an adult telling me how to care for myself mentally.
I knew if I fell, get a band aid. If I had serious chills, check my temperature. Cough into my elbow. Wash my hands, it’s nasty if I don’t. We learned all these things. But when a middle school aged child was bullied so badly to the point they felt they could not live any longer it was labeled a tragedy, a heartbreak.
It is all those things.
But they were not surrounded by people who knew how to be an active listener, how to be empathetic, how to be kind to others. The people around this child were not informed of the warning signs, they were not taught how to intervene healthily, they were waiting for a flashing ‘help’sign to warn them. There was one, but they didn’t know where to look to find it.
I began my journey into self help by realizing my own strengths. I knew I had a lot of love and care to give to others, and I knew I was a strong listener and decent with advice. I don’t know how or where that skill came from, but when some of my closest friends laid their unbearable problems onto my shoulders, I knew I’d be able to help carry the weight for them.
I took this skill further when I turned 18 and decided to become a volunteer crisis counselor for the Crisis Text line. This is a place where empathy and strong listening skills radiate from every crisis counselor and supervisor on the platform. This is the kind of process that oozes kindness from every corner. Because of the three-plus years I have spent with them, I am fully able to write this blog today.
I cannot speak for every person in the world, everyone is different in their own unique and wonderful way. But I can help shed some light on how to be a friend when somebody needs one. A lot of times when people are hurting, they already know how to solve the solution. If they have a rough relationship, they know it’d be best for them to get out of it. You know it, they know it, we know it. Instead of judging this individual as many do, (pause and think if you do this, or remember a time where somebody around you has done this) start by putting yourself directly in their shoes. Sit in front of the mirror, point at yourself, and say “hey, imagine if I was them, wow… yeah, that is tough, how can I best help them in a way I’d want them to do for me?”. By being an active listener you start by validating their feelings, “I’m sorry you’re going through that, I can imagine that is really tough for you and is painful.” Validating the feelings of others is a magical thing, they are struggling to swim and you are throwing a buoy. By validating their feelings you are giving reassurance that they can trust you to allow them to be honest and open, this is a key way to make them feel heard.
The next, and debatably most important step, is to fight the immense urge to say “something similar happened to me when…”. This is okay in certain situations when advice and input is sought out, in a peer specialist type setting for example. This is where one seeks out the support of others with previous experience in this situation specifically. But oftentimes with a friend, family member, acquaintance, you are then taking the focus away from their issues and turning it towards you. By doing this you are removing the buoy from their grasp and they are left struggling to tread water while you bring the attention to yourself; you already have three floaties… give one back.
The last key piece of advice I will drop into this blog post is to remember body language really resonates with others. It’s super awkward when you’re expressingly pouring your heart and soul into a conversation and you glance up to realize the person you’re talking to is reading a text, watching the TV, looking away, doing anything but listening. If you want to be the one to throw them to buoy, then you have to be looking at them.. or else you’ll completely miss the throw.
Seeing mental illness from a far is only scary because it is something we do not fully understand. The individual who is struggling, they’re scared. They want to be heard, they want to be accepted, and they want to be helped. By being an active and empathetic listener you are already helping knock out ⅔ of those things. By being an active listener, you’re completing the first step of saving a life.
Written by Chloe Pilkerton, UD Class of 2021, Former Sean’s House Peer
When you hear the phrase “back to school”, what thoughts and feelings arise? For me, I hold my breath a bit and start to have an uneasy feeling in my stomach; a place where my anxiety often manifests. I think about the previous experiences I’ve had at school and I quickly become caught up in the negatives.
Although it can be an exciting time, it is one that brings many challenges for students. From grades to social pressures, school can be detrimental to one’s mental health. However, it can also be a place of immense personal growth.
Eighth grade was a rough time for me. At that point in our lives, we’re still figuring out who we are and it’s a difficult process when our looks are constantly changing and the levels of expectations for us are rising. We are easily influenced by peers and most of us want to fit in so that we have a sense of belonging. And right as we get settled into middle school life, high school is around the corner to bring additional challenges and opportunities for us to experience.
In middle school, I chose to allow my parents, peers, and teachers to define who I was. Subscribing to this ideology provided me with comfort and even joy as I was praised for being a “high achiever”, “responsible”, and “mature for my age”, although I never really made many of my own decisions. I did things that would result in praise, which I couldn’t get enough of. My self-esteem was directly correlated with how many compliments I received.
I worried about my ability to make new friends and fit in socially. Not to mention the AP/IB level classes and new environment I would have to adjust to. I feared letting down my teachers and parents by not getting all A’s or not being a top performer in my extracurricular activities. I wanted to homeschool because I thought that meant that I could hide from these potential problems.
My mental health in 8th grade declined rapidly as all of these fears loomed over my head. This pressure stemmed from the expectation that high school classes were going to be more difficult than the classes I had previously taken. High school is the last step before college and/or a career and I wasn’t handling this fact very well.
To me, if I received below an A in any of my middle school classes, that predicted that I wasn’t cut out for the difficulty of high school classes. Furthermore, if I did poorly in high school, then I wouldn’t get into college or achieve my ambitious career goals.
I lived my life in the future, and thinking ahead to adulthood was too much for me to handle. This transition from middle school to high school was very much about my fear of failure. I felt as though I had something to prove because my plan was to go to veterinary school after college and I doubted myself. Instead of proving to myself that I was smart and driven enough to achieve my goals, I decided to try and prove this to others. Of course, this left me feeling unfulfilled because I was living out my dream for someone else.
Transitioning from middle school to high school was no easy feat. I was trying to maintain the status quo while growing out of friends, habits, and routines that no longer contributed positively to my mental and physical health. I struggled with people-pleasing tendencies and I realized how this affected my life. I wanted to change, but these decisions meant that I was becoming a new person that I, myself, needed time to get to know.
The year before high school was when I started to go to therapy. Before this, I kept my emotions hidden and tried not to ask for help so that I wouldn’t be perceived as weak or incapable. I expected to be invalidated after sharing my thoughts and emotions. As a result, I belittled my own emotions by telling myself that I was overreacting.
During therapy sessions, I felt safe enough to open up and allow my emotions to pour out. I learned how to feel and express my emotions in a healthy way and stopped assuming that feelings are facts. What helped me the most was learning my thought patterns and triggers for my anxiety. I started to be able to realize when I was becoming anxious and anticipate situations that could trigger my anxiety. Understanding my behaviors, thoughts, and feelings was the main thing that I focused on with my therapist.
After a long year of self-discovery, I could now observe my emotions, feel them, and let them go. I knew that leading up to a social event, my stomach would hurt and that it was better for me to practice deep breathing and attend that event rather than avoiding social situations all together. I didn’t take as much personally and could stop myself when I realized that I was replacing my own reality with someone else’s.
My advice to anyone who struggles with transitions is this: connect with yourself. Identify what about this transition creates anxiety for you and write it down. What are you scared of and how might you overcome these challenges? Who will you reach out to in these times of need? Become aware of your thoughts and keep in mind that these thoughts might be lying to you. Does Samantha really think that your question was stupid or are you just insecure about your abilities in that class?
Find an outlet and turn to that when you feel overwhelmed, uninspired, self-conscious, or down. I make sure that I walk at least 30 minutes a day to clear my head. I frequently listen to music because it gives me a break from reality when it’s too much to handle. Additionally, I’ve found that art is meditative for me and so I draw, paint, or color when I need to relax or calm down. I take deep breaths before stressful events and sometimes during them as well.
All of this self-regulation has allowed me to become happier with my reality now that I understand it better. I have added these outlets to my routine and I even included them in my Google calendar. Embracing change is not easy, but I feel increasingly confident in my ability to adapt now that I’m more connected with myself.
Today would have been Sean’s 27th birthday. I have grappled with his birthday for the past three years. Is this day still his birthday?
His birthday is the triad of three days over a 50-day span which are always difficult for me each year.
I call these 50 days, the gauntlet of grief. It starts in mid-June with Father’s Day followed about 30 days later, it is the day we lost Sean (July 18th) and it ends 20 days later with his birthday, today, August 6th. There is a great sense of loss and anguish felt during these 50 days.
It was not always like this. Before July 18, 2018, the summer was the most festive time for our family. When Sean was younger, the 50 days between mid-June and early August was filled with Little League All-Stars, District Championships, and State Championships and with all of us going on family vacation, usually the week of Sean’s birthday. They were beautiful days filled with warmth, sun and excitement.
As Sean became older the 50 days between mid-June and early August were filled with basketball camps, college visits, and always trips to the beach. Sean’s hair would always turn its blondest and he always had a great tan. He and his siblings spent many summer nights laughing and playing family games, all ganging up on dear old dad. On his birthday, we would always feast on Alaskan King Crabs. They were his favorite. It was a highlight of summer.
As Sean became a man, he looked forward to spending every weekend in Dewey with his closest friends. He relished those long summer nights. The last time most people saw Sean was at Dewey Beach the weekend before the insidious disease of depression took his life and he lost his battle with it.
Sean loved life. He lived life to the fullest. That is why his loss is so hard to comprehend.
Some of his friends are down in Dewey this weekend playing a round of golf just as Sean would have done. Others are having a volleyball tournament in Dewey on Monday, August 9th. It is the first tournament of its type which we hope will become an annual summer tradition. We call it Bump, Set, Light. The event will have 12 very high caliber beach volleyball teams competing. The games start at 5 pm, we hope some of you will stop by.
As for all of you, I think Sean would want us to remember each other the way he treated all of us. Be loving and kind to each other. Smile the way he would smile to each of us. Take a moment to call or visit the people that are most important in your life.
As for me, today is tough. It is filled with great memories but also great sorrow for what could have been. I miss my little boy that I remember in his Hawaiian shirt blowing out his birthday candles. However, I will remember his birthday by eating his favorite meal, playing his favorite music and imagining having a baseball catch like we did so many times in his life.
Friends of ours, Chuck and Mary Hughes are in Iowa this week. They sent us a picture from the Field of Dreams.
The Field of Dreams is one of my favorite movies. The ending is the ultimate Father/Son moment. I have seen it a hundred times and I cry every time I see it. The son says to the father, “Hey Dad? Do you want to have a catch?” The father’s response is a very simple reply, “I would like that.”
Maybe we remember Sean today by simply having a catch with someone you love and care for.
As to the question, Happy Birthday Sean?
I think Sean would simply say, “I would like that”.
Bi is the root for two, as in the two phases that a person with bipolar disorder tends to experience– depression and mania. This is also the reason why it is sometimes called “manic depression.”
Actor Charlie Sheen is bipolar, or as he likes to call it, “by winning.” When I was growing up, the media’s portrayal of him negatively shaped my view of what it meant to have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder was something that celebrities were diagnosed with because they were, of course, “crazy.”
Frank Sinatra and Demi Lovato have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I like to think that now people are more accepting of mental illness, but I know that there will probably always be a stigma.
During my freshman year of college at the University of Delaware, I found myself diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the psychiatrist’s office of a crisis center. Of course, I handled hearing the diagnosis very well. I cried.
It made sense though, I had high energy and was unable to sleep as of late. It was partially due to sleeping in a new environment, but mostly was mania creeping in. I would find myself leaving the dorm at 4 or 5 in the morning and walking around; then, I’d continue my day without falling back asleep. I also talked to people in my dorm a lot and very quickly. I wanted so badly for people to like me and to make friends. I hoped that others admired my confidence, even when it led me to say borderline inappropriate things.
When I have a manic episode, it is like drinking a shot of espresso and staying up all night. It made me feel jittery. I talked and moved quickly, so much so that people didn’t understand what I was saying. I was excited about everything and had lots of energy. I felt hyper-productive and like I could take on anything that got in my way. There were a million projects that I had in my mind, and I simply had to complete them all at once.
I was so energetic that I wouldn’t be able to sleep or could only fall asleep for a couple of hours only to wake up feeling like I got a full 8 hours. I felt like my body was ready for sleep, but my mind was wide awake.
On other days, I would sink into a deep depression. It would be hard for me to get up every morning. I had intrusive thoughts that even sleep couldn’t push away, and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt that I wasn’t perfect and that I was messing things up in my life. I also felt lonely even though there were people all around me. These reasons drove my suicidal thoughts. I was watching everyone live their lives being happy and social while mine remained stagnant.
I fell into a particular case of depression on a Sunday. It was a severe case of the Sunday scaries. I called my mother and aunt, and they urgently took me out to lunch, knowing something was wrong. We ate pizza, and I talked about my stress in living in the dorms. I was anxious and sad. Being at the same school that my deceased brother had been at shortly before me was a trigger, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Seeing his friends at school helped but also exacerbated my grief.
I felt a little better after lunch, and my mom dropped me off at my dorm. While outside the dorm, I said hello to one of my floor neighbors. He didn’t say anything. I noticed a police car outside and walked up the stairs to get to my room. A police officer approached me, and I immediately asked if everything was ok. He asked me if I was Catherine Hogan and said they were looking for me. I was extremely confused and knew right away that my RA had called the police on me for manic behavior and possible suicidal ideation.
I had confided in some people in the dorms, and at the time, felt that they had outed me. I felt betrayed, but also said that I was glad that my floormates cared about me, even though I knew they didn’t and had responded to my manic behavior by alienating me. I felt that I didn’t belong and that I had no one.
I walked onto my floor with the officer and into my room. The hallway was cleared out. Everyone was gone. He opened the door to my room, and I sat down on my bed. He brashly asked me if I had ever considered killing myself, and I said yes. He asked me how and I responded, reflecting on my suicide attempts from my sophomore year of high school.
My mother was brought into the dorm and was confused. I’d never seen her so scared and upset for me. I surrendered my room key to the police.
I was taken into a police car to the RI crisis center in Newark. The windows were boarded up almost like a taxi, but worse. I was silent the whole ride.
My mom took a separate car to the center. We met and sat in an office with a man and woman. They asked my mother for my story. She was distraught, and in my calmest voice, I explained my situation, surprised at my own sober demeanor. I explained that my father died from ALS, and my family watched him suffer and that my brother died shortly after when he killed himself.
They looked at me with sympathetic eyes. They knew I didn’t want to be here, but that at the same time, I needed to heal.
I was then asked to take off my clothes so that the woman could inspect my body for self-harm scars. Scared and anxious, I asked if I could keep my underwear on, and the woman looked at me with pity and said yes, providing me with an iota of dignity.
I stayed at the center from Sunday to Wednesday. Oddly enough, I made friends and even felt a sense of comfort there even though I was confined to a large fluorescent room. There were people with so many different stories. Every time someone new would come into the center, they would ask what my story was. In a weird way, it felt like a prison.
From my understanding at the time after my diagnosis, I felt that bipolar disorder was a weakness. It meant that something else was wrong with me; it was more than my typical bouts of anxiety and depression. My capacity to feel was so strong that it needed to be controlled. I would bounce back and forth between feeling extremely happy to overwhelmingly sad. It was a constant pendulum.
Once I got out of the center, I felt free but also scared to re-enter the world. I was sheltered in the crisis center, and as much as I hated having eyes on me the entire time, even when I was sleeping, I felt a sense of safety there.
Now, as a rising junior at the university, I am doing much better. Shortly after my initial diagnosis, I was able to receive proper treatment and have the support of a great psychiatrist and therapist. Just the right doses of medicine and taking time to talk out my feelings with my therapist worked on healing me. I was no longer broken.
I’ve learned a lot about balance since receiving treatment. There can’t be too much of one emotion. If you’re too happy, you can’t sleep, and if you’re too sad, you sleep too much. The hardest part of having mania is that at the moment, I didn’t realize how bad it was. I thought that I was doing just fine, even better than fine. I felt like I was my best self and that I could conquer the world. There was nothing that could stop me.
I also felt a rush of euphoria, I was literally high off of life. I think back to those episodes now and realize just how exhausting they were, which is why I would fall off the edge and slip into a depression shortly after.
I haven’t had a manic or depressive episode in a long time, and while it’s always possible, I am more conscientious about the warning signs. I know that an episode is coming on when I have trouble sleeping and have extreme bouts of energy. My family and friends are especially helpful in letting me know when my behavior seems off. I don’t know what I would do without their support.
Though I don’t see bipolar disorder as a weakness anymore, I don’t see it as a strength either. It still is a hurdle for me, and I am reminded that I am afflicted with it every morning when I have to take my medication. Yet, my journey has been a learning experience. There are ups and downs in life, mine are just more extreme than others’ may be. I know that my life is far from perfect, and that I will always live in the fear of falling into a manic or depressive episode again. This anxiety makes life difficult, but I’m learning to take things one day at a time. I have a better understanding of what it means to have bipolar disorder, and overall, what it means to be human.
For those who know someone with bipolar disorder, it’s important to remain calm when their loved one is experiencing a manic episode. The initial reaction is often confusion, because when someone is talking quickly it can be overwhelming but having a calm demeanor can be helpful.
Showing a lot of confusion can make the person frustrated and cause them to act even more manic. Mania feels like a racing track of thoughts, but the person doesn’t realize it, so it’s best to tell them to stop and take a breath, even if they try to convince you that they are fine.
As for depressive episodes, one can help by asking what the person needs and making sure that they have food and water, even though they may refuse. Depression can feel like a weight on one’s chest, so it may be hard for them to move. Understand that as much as you try to motivate them, they won’t be able to get up, but if you can get them moving try to do some light walking.