How to Float

How to Float

Shannon Gibbons

 

I never met Sean, but every day I’m entrusted with handling photos of him, sharing in his stories, and walking through his house. Every day I get another piece of this larger-than-life person. I may not have ever met Sean, but I feel like I carry a part of him. I’m overwhelmed with emotion and compassion when I think about him because it feels like I’m looking in the mirror at myself.  

Last fall, to the outsider looking in, I was a girl who had everything she had ever worked for, a girl who had it all “together.”

Division 1 walk-on athlete. Straight A nursing student. Undergrad researcher. Presidential Scholarship recipient. Leader, tutor, friend… The list goes on.

Little did anyone around me know that if it wasn’t for that 5 AM alarm telling me to go to practice, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed for the day. The emails to my professors saying that I had a “migraine” were cover-ups for days I spent in bed having a panic attack. Constant anxiety meant that my routine for leaving my dorm each day was ID, backpack, keys, and Xanax. Behind the straight A’s were tears in the bathroom at the Hockessin Starbucks and check-ins from my friend Maddie every twenty minutes. She knew I couldn’t focus. My brain was so heavy with fog. And Fridays? I spent them drowning in anxiety, terrified that I would have a panic attack at a race, that I wouldn’t be able to show up for my team. I couldn’t keep that perfect face on any longer. Trembling, I finally told my coaches that I needed a break. 

As the seasons change and fall comes back around again, I think back to that girl with tears in my eyes. She was working so hard to keep functioning, to keep up the act.

Behind the personal accolades and well-crafted resume, I struggled and still struggle every day with anxiety and depression. 

My accolades can’t protect me, but mental health care–both clinical and personal–has at least given me the tools I need to survive it.

I think of it in relation to the water.

I have been teaching swim lessons on and off for over three years, and when you teach a kid how to float, you teach them the basics in shallow water. You slowly practice with them in deeper and deeper water, with them barely noticing the change, but as the instructor you know that you are preparing them. You are teaching them to float in any depth of water life throws at them. Eventually, you let go.

This past June, I was working with a very timid kindergartener. She knew how to float in shallow water, but every time I’d try to let go of her in the deeper water she’d panic. After many failed attempts, I let her in on a little secret: The more you fight, the harder it’ll be. The first rule when you feel like you’re drowning is to relax. Don’t clench your muscles and panic, remember that you know how to float no matter how deep the water gets.

When the water is deep, when my anxiety and depression open the floor up beneath me and I feel like I’m drowning, the worst thing I can do is fight it. The more I fight it, the more energy I expend, and the faster I lose control. When the water gets deep, I have to remember that I know what to do. I won’t fight it; I will lean in knowing full well that I will float. It won’t overtake me. I’ll unclench my muscles and do what I know how to do until the help and relief arrives.

I have lists. I’m prepared. And when I start to feel like I’m drowning, when I’m edgy, can’t sleep, when the doubts start to get louder than the truth, and when it feels easier to just withdraw…

I’ll call Maddie and be honest. I won’t hide.

I’ll tell my designated people that I’m struggling, and I won’t fight them when they advocate and care for me, even if it doesn’t feel pleasant in the moment.

I’ll look over the note in my phone that says “things to do if things get dark.” I’ll cut my caffeine intake in half. Caffeine is not my friend at these times.

I’ll schedule counseling every week and sometimes even twice a week.

I’ll communicate what I need rather than assume people just know.

I’ll take my meds every day with no exceptions, even if it doesn’t feel like they’re working.

I’ll make sure I’m eating meals and snacks regularly.

I’ll write what I know is true, even if it doesn’t feel true. I’ll speak my truth into the dark.

I’ll look at my calendar and decide what I can take off my plate.

I’ll be self aware of my capacity by being protective of my “yes’”

I’ll set reminders to eat and try not to just consume a diet of Ben & Jerry’s “All Nighter.”

I’ll schedule an appointment with my psychiatrist. 

I’ll practice the coping skills I’ve learned even if they feel elementary.

I’ll talk to my sports psych, athletic trainers, and coaches without fear.

These are the things I know how to do. They aren’t easy, but they are doable. And I have to hold onto that.

They don’t ensure that things will get better in 24 hours, but they help me work through the deep stretches knowing the shallows are within reach and that I will survive. These things don’t come naturally to me, but I am learning them. I am choosing them in little ways, the best I can manage each day, and the positive effect on my mental health is adding up.

I wish I could give you a story of massive triumph. The reality is that I struggle, some days more than others. But I have tools, people, an emergency plan, and perspective. I am proud of the work I’ve put in when I set a clear boundary with my time, when I don’t ignore the rest day on my training calendar, when I intentionally schedule counseling into my calendar, and when I let a friend into my struggle. I may not have it all “together,” but I definitely know how to swim.

Friends, unclench your muscles. Remember my little secret. I know it is so, so hard, and I am so sorry for that. But know that you are seen and known even in the deepest, darkest of places. Even when the water would swallow you up. This won’t overtake you and it won’t define you. 

You are not alone.


  

 

Shannon Gibbons

Shannon Gibbons

Shannon is a nursing student with a concentration in entrepreneurship in health at the University of Delaware. She is a member of D1 Women's Rowing team. She serves as the Operations Assistant for SL24: UnLocke The Light. You can find Shannon at the local coffee shop drinking an extra hot flat white.

‘Ode to 136 Pt 5

1000 Nights in 136.

            Spending three years with Sean in 136 is the most cherished times that I will ever have, and that I will never forget.  The people, friendships, camaraderie, hangouts, and trials and tribulations made 136 the place that everyone knows it is.  It was the best place to live at the University of Delaware.  It was the place that everyone wanted to be any day of the week.  It was the place where friendship, bonding, joy, happiness, and comfort reached its peak.  But what truly took 136 to the mountain top over those 1000 nights is that it was the home for the best person that I have ever met, Sean Locke.

Everything Sean did––his conversations, jokes, mannerisms, dance moves, ideas, and just his presence––took good times at 136 and made them unforgettable great times.  He is the reason why 136 was the place to be any day of the week, the reason why people called 136 the best, and the reason why people will forever call 136 home.  Those who visited 136 one time, ten times, or a hundred times will tell you that they had a great time, they laughed, they danced, they met new people, and that they simply felt at home.

Sean’s light was the backbone to all it then, and it will continue on forever in Sean’s house.  He will continue to bring happiness, friendship, joy, laughter, and comfort to anyone who walks into Sean’s house for their first time or their 1001st time.

With love,

Kyle Lynch

‘Ode of 136 Pt 4

Dear 136,

The thought of trying to put into words how important, influential, and amazing my time was at 136 is not only daunting but seems nearly impossible. It feels as if there is no perfect way to capture all of the memories, time spent with friends, little conversations between classes, etc. that would do it justice. There are too many good times to recount. So, let me try and summarize it short and sweet up here, before I go into some more detail below:

136 – 1 house, 3 years, 6 new brothers.

The three years I spent in that house will undoubtedly be some of the greatest, most memorable times of my life, and the six roommates I had throughout that time will be my best friends for life – my brothers.

As Sean once wrote on the stairs of our house, “136 will always be home.” And while, yes, I felt an unbelievably close bond to the 6 others who lived in the house, it was by no means home to just us. Our doors were always open to any and all friends. It was rare to ever find the house occupied by only the 7 actual residents, and I know that many others hold 136 within a special place in their heart, as it was home to them too. Everyone knew you could stop by whenever, invited or unannounced, and stay for however long you wanted or needed. Behind this welcoming persona and the backbone of the house was, of course, Sean. As we know, people were drawn to hanging out with him. He was charismatic, caring, and, simply put, a fun person to be around. Sean would always be the one who would organize or invite our friends over and would always put others first. Sean took it upon himself to make sure that everyone that we were with was having a good time, and he’d do anything he possibly could to make sure that that was the case. No matter how bad a day you’d had or how stressed you may be about that upcoming exam, project, presentation, interview, or whatever else may be worrying you, Sean would always find time, no matter what he had going on in his life, to talk with you, joke with you, and simply help you forget about the stress. He had an uncanny ability to help you realize that nothing was ever really as big or important as it seemed in the moment, and he brought you back to reality and what was really, in the end, important: the fact that we were currently experiencing the best 4 years of our life, in the best house on campus, surrounded by our brothers and our best friends.

There are far too many great memories at 136 to go through them all. Some of the best nights that I can remember, though, were the more relaxed Summer nights, when the campus was empty and no other UD students were around. We’d spend these nights on the front or back porch with a close group of friends just reminiscing on old times, joking around, and creating new memories together. Or the nights that Sean would gather us all in the family room, make us wait up until midnight for the newest album from Drake to be released, and then subsequently have us listen to the album on repeat all night until 2AM. He would then repeatedly play that album throughout the upcoming weeks, non-stop, until we were almost tired of hearing it (the same could probably be said for Bieber albums as well). Or the countless games of Ping-Pong we’d play in the living room or Spikeball in the backyard. All of which, of course, got extremely competitive and probably resulted in a class or two getting skipped, or study time being forgone for “just one more game.” Of course, that one additional game would inevitably turn into a best of 7 series, and undoubtedly would end with some yelling and protests from the losers. But, looking back, I wouldn’t trade that time spent and those memories made for anything in the world. As a matter of fact, I wholeheartedly wish that I could have lost to Sean one more time in ping pong or Spikeball, or listened to “Views,” “Take Care” or “Love Yourself” just one more time while telling him he needed to find some new songs to play, or have shared just one more beer with him on the front porch of 136 – one more night, one more laugh, one more memory.

As I said above, Sean coined the term “136 will always be home.” But it is no longer just our home. It is incredible that we are opening it up to all of the students at the University of Delaware and is exactly in line with what Sean would want us to do. Although the doors were always open before, the ability and reach of “Sean’s House” is going to be so impactful on campus. I truly look forward to hearing more about all of the good it will do throughout our campus and the plethora of students that it will help. I could not think of a better way to carry on Sean’s light and spirit of inclusiveness and positivity. Sean used to take on the burden of shouldering all of our problems, always putting our feelings first, and helping all of us feel better all by himself. Now, “Sean’s House” will have an entire staff to take on this important challenge for our whole campus. I’m looking forward to the opening and for everyone to get to experience and understand why 136 truly is home!

-Hydie, 136 Family Member

‘Ode to 136 Pt 3

One Thirty Six.

The first word that comes to mind when I hear that number is “Home” Whether I see it on a lock, during a sports game or in a movie– my mind immediately goes to the last place I ever called home.  My sophomore year of college I was lucky enough to receive a phone call from my soon-to-be best friend Sean asking if I wanted to move there.  It was the best decision of my life.

The memories I had in that house will live with me forever.  It was the place where I truly felt happy, like nothing else mattered when I was there.  Not to mention the friendship and bonds I built that will last a lifetime.   I used to get jealous when my friends called it “Sean’s House” 5 years ago, but it was Sean’s house then and now it will be officially called that forever.  He was our captain, our glue, our fearless leader.  He was my hero.  My role model.  The only person I ever strived to be exactly like.  We brushed our teeth together every night, woke each other up for 8am’s (only to go back to sleep), and stayed up as late as possible in the family room because we didn’t want to lose another day in the house.

Sean opened up to me about what he was going through.  I haven’t told many people that.  This was hard for me to type without breaking down.  It was very hard for me to know how to react.  If Sean’s House existed then and professional help was easily accessible maybe he would still be here and I wouldn’t be writing this and my heart wouldn’t be permanently broken.   I never want another family or friend group to go through what the Locke’s or my friends had to encounter. Ever.  No one deserves that.  I wouldn’t wish the pain we endure on a daily basis on anyone.  I hope and know that Sean’s House will save lives and save the sufferings of countless family members and friends in the University of Delaware community.

And that’s why my heart is full of pride and joy to call 136 West Main St. – Home.

‘Ode to 136 Pt 2

 

 

 

Warning, the following is rated PG.

Let me take us on a quick trip down memory lane.

Some of my favorite memories include hanging out with the boys in the living room, Sean making us listen to the new Justin Bieber/Matt Hill, and road trips in 2014 to watch Sean and UD basketball. I didn’t enjoy when Sean would send out a group text to the house chat stating “We have a meeting tonight in the living room. My dad is serious this time…..”. This then led to 136’s most dreaded day, “Landscaping Day”.

After our lecture on the couches, it was required that we cut the grass, and basically landscape the entire house. Luckily, my dad was willing to help and offered to come down on a Friday morning at 8 am. I was the first one awake as usual, and headed out back to get to work. My dad starts to fire up the chainsaw and cut down weeds that now have grown into 8 foot trees. Let’s just say it was a late night for the boys, and here comes everyone out back to get to work. It was a day that we definitely did not want to be a part of, but looking back I may have left out a few details of Landscaping Day, but that stays with the 136 crew. 

It is actually pretty ironic that Landscaping Day was one of my favorite memories considering here we are 5 years later doing the same thing. With the help of all the volunteers,  SL24: UnLocke The Light, and the light that Sean cast on others, his legacy will be able to help others and make sure that 136 is a place that makes them feel safe as it made me feel when I lived there.

-Eric, 136 Family Member

Ode to 136 Pt 1

April 4, 2014- Your average Thursday night where Sean once again insisted we over-dress

Ode to 136

Greg Cella

An Ode to 136.

136 West Main St. The first place on earth I truly called my home.  The first and only place on earth I have encountered where brotherly love, friendship, and genuine joy rushed through your body as soon as you entered the door. 136 was my first happy place where I could go after I  bombed an exam or had a terrible day and have a brother to talk to or simply goof off with to forget my problems.

December 23, 2015- The 136 Ugly Sweater Christmas Party

To its core, 136 was not only the best house house to live in on the University of Delaware’s campus, but it WAS Sean’s house. It was then, is now, and always will be. Sean was the glue that kept us all together.  Sean was the one who everyone wanted to be around when they came over.

Sean was the one who made the phone call to Mr. Locke to explain that the place was looking spotless regardless of all the people that were in the house the evening before.

As I’ve had the chance to think about it more, Sean’s House is the perfect name for 136. Sean’s warm, accepting persona perfectly exemplified what 136 was all about.  It was a place you would come home to & just feel better about yourself because you know your buddies would be there waiting to put a smile on your face.  It was a place where anyone, regardless of friend group, sports team, fraternity, social background, or physical appearance could come and simply enjoy themselves. It was a place where love and happiness were constantly present, regardless of the pressures & anxieties that all college students inevitably encounter.

October 14, 2016- Vintage Sean Locke- White Vans, adjusting his styled hair, the classic “Slocke Face”. 

The groundwork for what Sean’s House would evolve into has always been present, and that groundwork was laid by Sean Michael Locke- the greatest friend & person I have ever known. 

As I look back on all the great times I had with Sean & all my aces in this house, it makes me incredibly proud to know 136 will continue to make a positive impact on anyone who chooses to step foot inside.  I know I will personally stop by the house regularly to feel that warm, joyous feeling again and again.  Most importantly, I truly hope all the staff, volunteers, friends, and students that choose to stop by are able to share that same feeling every time they step foot into The Mecca. 

-Greg Cella, 136 Family Member

Greg Cella

Greg Cella

Greg Cella is the 136 Family Member that always kept his room the cleanest. After graduating from the University of Delaware, he started his Financial Planning practice with Diamond State Financial Group. If he isn’t on the golf course, he’s probably at the beach with his family & friends or waiting on the 76ers to finally complete the Process. He still listens to old Drake albums regularly, just like his buddy Sean would want him to.

The Full Picture

The Full Picture

Barnett Harris

I was reminded recently of the first time I told one of my teammates that I was thinking about pursuing law school after college. It was during my sophomore season, and I had a lot of basketball left to give. I had long aspired to pursue the law, and at that time in my life, I thought about it more and more. So I wanted to see what others thought of the vision. I went to my right-hand man, Sean, and told him, “I am thinking about law school after UD. What do you think?”

“I love it, bull,” he responded in his classic charismatic way.

“The way you go on and on about this stuff, I expected you to do this. I just hope after you crush the law and become President, you just don’t forget about me,” he continued as if I could ever forget the unforgettable. The conversation lasted no more than thirty seconds, but it took no more than that to realize the dreams I was hoping to manifest were evident to others.

A few weeks later, after I had conversations with some of my other teammates, Curtis, Cazom, and Devonne (TP), I had another conversation with Sean. This time he brought it up to me. He asked me if I wanted him to connect me with his dad about pursuing law school, and how to go about it more concretely. We had been in a rough stretch of the season, and the focus and pressure were on trying to get a winning streak going heading into the conference tourney. I was so appreciative that, at that very moment, he was concerned about the vision I had expressed to him.

University of Delaware Men’s Basketball players Sean Locke, Barnett Harris, and Devonne Pinkard share a smile during a first-half run against Northeastern.

Sean recognized that his friends, and especially his teammates, always had a lot more going on than met the eye. While the traditional image painted of a student-athlete is one of strength, relentlessness, and the ability to persevere, an entire side of the image is almost completely neglected – that of the vulnerability, compassion, and desire to help others. It is not hard to miss this side of the student-athlete when the side most people see is the former. However, I have spent my entire life around athletes, including four wonderful years around student-athletes at the college level, and those individuals possess that other half of the image as well. All of them also had their struggles, yet it is easy for people to believe that all is well when they only see the public image. The largest part of the iceberg is the part many do not see, and the vulnerable side of the student-athlete is the side many neglect.

That is something Sean knew, and that is why Sean’s House is so important. Sean’s House will provide the home away from home that allows student-athletes and students in general, to show and express the other half of the image many do not realize they possess – a place to be vulnerable.

For as long as I could remember, I had received the same two questions every day. Standing six-feet nine inches, the first question was, “How tall are you?” The follow-up almost routinely would then be, “Do you play basketball?”

My time at the University of Delaware was like a dream. I played in front of thousands of people on a nightly basis, I traveled the country playing the game I loved, and I made life-long friends on the court and in the classroom. I played in March Madness and experienced the excitement of playing on the most significant stage for college basketball. As my daily experiences would suggest, that is what most people saw in me. But are student-athletes not more than the sport they play? For every student-athlete, there is also another half of the picture, and in my case, that half is a law student at Georgetown.

Georgetown Law student Barnett Harris converses with Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine after Georgetown Law’s State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) panel on addressing hate crimes and online extremist recruitment.

Until I went to college, I rarely left Pittsburgh. I grew up around the same community, seeing many of the same individuals almost every day. When I got to Delaware, all of that changed. I rarely could come home (if at all), and I was in search of a home away from home. I wanted to find a place I could go to be around the “family” that cared about more than just my stats on a given night.

I was lucky. I did not have one set home away from home. I had a bunch of them. With Sean, my home away from home was the restaurant Taverna. It was a remarkable place to eat, a friendly setting to talk to someone about life with, and, somehow, every time we ate there, Sean knew someone. It was here where Sean and I discussed my law school ambitions in detail. It was here where I met with Sean’s dad (the famous, Chris Locke) and the wonderful Kevin Healy to discuss approaching law school more strategically – putting a plan to the dream. And it was here which led to my current environment, a student at Georgetown Law.

Another home away from home was Sean’s actual house. Being a college basketball player can be challenging in many ways beyond the physical demands, and that includes missing many holidays with loved ones. Sean’s home was my home for Thanksgiving and Easter on more than one occasion. It was a place where I felt as if I was back in Pittsburgh with my own family.

Another home for me was spent at the house of my teammates and roommates, Dylan Miller being one in particular. Dylan became a confidant early on in my time at Delaware. Having grown up in Delaware, he did not have far to travel. It did not take very long for him to extend his home to me – and even shorter for me to accept this offer. In my four years at the University of Delaware, a good year and a half were probably spent at the Miller’s – and it was in these settings in which I was able to manifest in ways that had nothing to do with the sport I played.

Sean, Barnett, Dylan Miller, and the University of Delaware Men’s Basketball players celebrate after making a twenty-point comeback against College of Charleston. The Blue Hens would go on to win the game.

These examples just scrape the surface. I was extremely fortunate that Delaware provided me many different versions of “Sean’s House” in my time. One of my vulnerabilities is loneliness – I dread being alone. I am my best self when I am with those around me, a reason I loved playing basketball so much. I had the great fortune of having teammates and friends who provided me the ability to be the best version of myself in a variety of settings. Sean’s House can be this home for so many who desire it.

Sean showed me more than anything that people have a lot more going on than what you think. I understand that my classmates are more than just law students. Yet, we are not immune to being perceived as machines that do not go through the stresses of life many people deal with. This is an idealized image that does not portray us accurately.

Second-year Georgetown Law student Barnett Harris shares a laugh with Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt as they welcome new students to campus and the Georgetown community during New Student Orientation Week 2019.

So I try to be there for my classmates and provide a home away from home for them in many of the ways Sean was there for me. I try to go to different restaurants around D.C. to try anything other than cafeteria food on campus as often as I can — and to learn about what led them to law school. I try to go to Georgetown and Washington Wizards basketball games with classmates as often as possible to enjoy the greatest sport on the face of the earth and get a refresher from the demands of legal education. I also make an effort to simply stop around campus and have a conversation about anything other than the latest Supreme Court ruling — to see how the person is doing, not just the law student. And, of course, I never turn down an opportunity to dress up and enjoy an event with the many remarkable individuals I am fortunate to learn alongside of.

I spent many hours at Taverna with Sean, in Dylan’s room at his home, at Curtis’ apartment on campus, at the Suki Hana at the Christiana Mall with Cazmon, in TP’s hotel room on away trips expressing my vision about going to law school, and hearing nothing but love and support for this ambition. Sean’s House will provide that haven for many students, especially students of color who may be far away from home. It will also be a place student-athletes can express their feelings, dreams, desires, and fears without worrying about having to put on an image that just is not the complete version of themselves.

I cannot understate how important it is to have an environment where you can become the best version of yourself. This requires the ability to be vulnerable and express all the aspects of your life to others.

I want to recognize that this is not a new issue. I played my entire career under the image that only told half of my story. So did many of my teammates. So did countless others that have come before me. And so do so many athletes today. We all have grown up in a world where we must fit this idolized image that does not accurately portray any student-athlete, or student in general for that matter. Things have gotten better, but we are far from done. I genuinely hope we can accomplish something momentous with Sean’s House, but I know we need your help. Sean’s House can provide the space where students who are battling all of the stresses of life can go to and become a better version of themselves – by simply being THEMSELVES.

Happy Birthday, Sean – you will always be my inspiration.

Twenty-Four

SUPPORT. SL24 plans to create a safe haven where high school and college students can receive professional help. Students will be able to speak with peers about their struggles with depression and the threat of suicide.

Twenty-Four

Chris Locke

SUPPORT. SL24 plans to create a safe haven where high school and college students can receive professional help. Students will be able to speak with peers about their struggles with depression and the threat of suicide.

Any Athlete will tell you the number he or she chooses has a deep meaning. The number they wear is part of who they are. It is part of their identity.

If you think about your favorite sports personality, the number is almost the identity of the person. If you see a New York Yankee shirt with #2- Derek Jeter. A Patriots jersey with #12- Tom Brady. An Orioles shirt with #5- Brooks Robinson. The name does not even need to appear on the shirt, but we instantly know who it is.

Growing up as a kid, we were all excited to get our first official uniform. When the Coach would ask us what number do you want, it is such a tough question to answer. The pressure to pick the right number can be overwhelming to a kid. Then we think, “I’ll pick the same number as my favorite player”. For me, it was #7, the favorite player of my Dad and mine, Mickey Mantle.

As we get older, most of our athletic careers end freshman year of high school. For the exceptional athlete, they may play another four years in high school. For elite athletes, they play for another four years in college. A very select few will play professionally. These athletes that play high school, college, or professionally, the number they wear is part of who they are, and it is part of all of us when we root for their success.

The number 24 has loomed large in our home for many years. The number 24 was Sean’s basketball number (except his freshman year at UD because the number 24 belonged to a senior). I wish I could tell you why Sean picked the number 24. I have my theories, but I really don’t know. Unfortunately, no one in the family knows why he chose the number 24. A big part of this is because the picking of a number for your jersey can be so personal. His coach at St. Marks said that so long as he is Coach, no other person will ever wear #24. He said firmly, “#24 is Sean’s number”. It is that personal to so many who knew Sean and played basketball with him.

I chose to write this blog at this time because today, July 18th, is the 24th month since our beloved Sean lost his battle with depression. He was buried on July 24th, two weeks shy of his 24th birthday. 

It has been 24 months since we last heard his voice, felt his hugs, saw him smile. Each 24-hour day has been tougher without him in it. The silence of his voice is deafening. His absence looms larger than his presence ever did.

His old basketball jerseys with the number 24 are now valuable family heirlooms to be passed down to his siblings someday when I have the courage to part with them. Every once in a while, I wear one of his jerseys just to feel close to him.

The number 24 still looms large in our family life. When my daughter, Kathryn, gave birth to our grandson, Maclin, it was on Sean’s favorite holiday, the 24th of December. When our son, Aedan, returned to his football team in the late summer of 2018, the coach and the entire team gave him #24 to wear. The following spring, his lacrosse coach and the team did the same. When our daughter, Patty, made the basketball team at Padua, the coach gave her #24 to wear for the next four years. It brought tears to all of us. 

When our family decided to create a foundation in honor of Sean, the number 24 was always going to be part of the foundation name. The number 24 is part of Sean’s identity and is now part of all of us.

The SL24 Foundation is rooted in supporting other people like Sean who need help with their mental health. Though the family created the name of the Foundation, it has been all of you; our board members, our sponsors, and all of our and Sean’s friends that have made SL24 what it is today. It is all of you that have worn Sean’s #24 all over the country, and even parts of the world, having conversations removing the stigma of mental illness. So many have told me that when you wear your SL24 shirt, it begins a serious conversation about mental health. When we give the warm-up jerseys to each player at the basketball tournament, they wear them with pride and have meaningful conversations with their parents and friends about mental health long after the tournament is over.

Today, we see Sean’s #24 in a different light. It represents that Sean’s legacy and his number 24 will educate high school and college students about mental health, assist those with mental illness, and support those who need help.

On September 24th, we will open Sean’s House in Newark, Delaware. It will be open 24 hours a day, free of charge, to help young adults 14 to 24 years of age. Sean’s House will support and provide resources through our Peer 24 Program. This Peer 24 Program was designed in conjunction with the amazing people of the University of Delaware faculty at the College of Health Science, School of Nursing, and the Psychology Department. The Peer 24 Program will consist of people trained by the Mental Health Association in Delaware to be peer support specialists with real lived experience to help those with mental health issues. Doctorate students from the Psychology Department, with the supervision of staff, will be available to provide additional support to those young adults thinking of self-harm.

Sean’s House would not be possible without all of you. It would not be possible without all the love and dedication so many have given to the mission of SL24 Foundation. Your love for Sean and the love for those you have lost in your own life to mental illness will help so many. We hope that Sean’s House will be the first step to remove the stigma of mental illness and to help those we love to get the help they need.

We will never know why Sean picked the number 24, but we do know that his number will represent so much more than something that was on the back of his jersey.

 Last month, I watched a Ben Affleck movie called “The Way Back”. In the film, Affleck plays a former basketball superstar who is struggling with life. It is a story of sorrow but also a story of redemption. At the end of the movie, he is walking in his former high school gym, and you see his banner acknowledging his greatness with his retired number. The number is 24. I literally gasped when I saw this scene.

Sean’s story is a story of sorrow, but it is also a story of love for all those he will help in his name and number. Sean was all about loving and caring for others, and through Sean’s House, his story will continue.

Feelings from the Frontlines.

Feelings from the Frontline

Emma Grey

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Emma Grey eight hours into a twelve hour shift on a COVID positive unit.

At 7:30, whether it’s a.m. or p.m., I physically clock out from work. But, I wish it was that simple for my mind, that is still “clocked in” until 10 p.m., if not later. There are nights that I wake up at 3 a.m. before the next shift and find my heart pounding out of my chest, with a heart rate over 100, and a million thoughts swarming through my head. When I catch my breath and open my eyes, I realize I’m dreaming about work, my patients, messing something up, and putting a person’s life in jeopardy. 

But the truth is, this isn’t just some bad dream. This has been a typical work night for me since the beginning of March. I currently am a Registered Nurse in Philadelphia, where my unit was converted to one of the hospital’s first COVID positive units. When I tell my co-workers about my sleepless night, they nod their heads, replying, “Yup, me too. Hasn’t stopped since this all started.” 

This is what it’s like to be on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s something that none of us ever expected or agreed to do, but here we are, doing it willingly and coming back each day time and time again. And while being a “healthcare hero” is an honor, we need to address that it’s taking a more significant toll on our mental health than we could have ever imagined. Or maybe more than we even currently imagine.

Grey shortly after her floor was converted to a COVID-19 positive floor.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to work to take care of patients suffering from COVID-19. And when I say, to work, I mean to try. There are moments where you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle from the second you get a report on your patients at 7 a.m. You’re busting your ass all day, sweating, always on your feet, donning and doffing your PPE, and going nonstop for 12 hours. And when you wash your hands for the millionth time after your 12 hour shift, you leave work always wondering if you did your best. 

It’s become one of those types of tiredness that simply can only be fixed by a massive hug from your Mom or a cold beer with your best friend. All you want to do is be with your family or friends or go somewhere you love. But, the reality is you can’t. And the icing on this pandemic cake is that everyone who you love and wants to see you, also really doesn’t want to see you. They miss you, but they don’t want to risk being around you. So you’re left out. There is a specific kind of FOMO seeing your friends seeing their other friends, their families, practicing social distancing, but in a more relaxed version of yours. 

What they don’t tell you about being a “hero” is that you’re even more socially isolated than before. In these moments of an uphill battle or loneliness, I’ve found myself faced with moments of rare, raw humanity. These moments aren’t the feel-good ones that you see on John Krasinski’s “Some Good News.” These moments don’t make it to Tik-Tok, but they are just as important. Moments where you are holding up an iPad while a family looks at their parents, crying, knowing they are saying their last “I love yous”, trying to get as many as possible in before the call is over. The feeling that you get when an elderly man, with a sick son across the hall, both COVID positive, looks at you in the eyes and says, “I am going to die, aren’t I?” is gut-wrenching. 

When you get home and leave your shoes outside your apartment and throw your scrubs in the wash, it’s still with you. There isn’t a metaphorical Gatorade or Michael Jordan’s “secret stuff” to help you replenish for the trauma of losing a patient. I catch myself crying at the simplest things. I know there’s no good Hallmark card for this, but it still hurts hearing those you love to say that “they don’t think they should be around you right now”. Are they right? A hundred percent. Does it hurt? A hundred percent. But I keep going, and since I keep showing up, I have had to find ways to cope with everything that is happening around me. 

Grey and co-worker getting ready for “just another day at the office”.

Since March, the word “PPE” has become a Google favorite. The commonly used medical term for personal protective equipment has now become the talk of the town. Our country is scrambling to find more physical PPE, like masks, gowns, respirators, and gloves. And they’re not wrong; we need it. But there’s a genuine part of me that wishes there was the same amount of urgency around “emotional PPE”. 

How, as a community, can “emotional PPE” be provided to not only frontline workers but everyday people living through this? For me, I have found this type of “equipment” in my co-workers, my hospital’s resources, my family, and myself. My hospital has been able to provide free peer counseling during the pandemic. We are now able to debrief with a trained mental health professional for free after something really shakes you up at work.

I’ve said earlier that COVID had brought moments of raw, rare humanity, and I still see that with my co-workers. They can be described by every positive word known to humankind. They are the only in-person contact I see besides patients, and they are going through the same experiences as me. It feels good to share these experiences, knowing that I am not alone. In these “unprecedented times”, I also find myself turning to my very precedent family and friends. Whether it’s a funny Snapchat from  my best friends, “The Chicklets,” or a group Facetime with the Grey Fam, I feel so lucky to have people in my life who listen and validate my feelings. People like that are more valuable than all the hand-sanitizer and toilet paper in the world. 

And, sometimes, the most “heroic” thing you can do is be your own emotional PPE at times. I am on my own on my days off now, and I have tried every de-stress tactic you can find on a Buzzfeed article. I have found solace in doing yoga and focusing on my breathing. It’s incredible how many times I’ve heard someone say that, but it’s even more amazing what taking a couple deep, cleansing breaths can do for your mind. I run and walk outside as much as possible on my days off. I listen to Whitney, Stevie, Dave, the JoBros, and more and dance in my apartment. At night, I use a weighted blanket, turn on some white noise, and try to create a healthy sleep environment; the list goes on. 

Grey and co-workers during Nurses week celebrating the Philadelphia community.

Without this “emotional PPE”, I don’t think we as nurses or other frontline workers would be able to continue to do our jobs and take care of ourselves. And when it seems like there is a shortage of “emotional PPE”, there are always people who want to help. It’s incredible the support we’ve seen from others outside the hospital, and I completely encourage it. It helps keep us going. But I hope you don’t forget about supporting yourself as well. Don’t forget your mask, of course, but try to remember your emotional personal protective equipment too. It feels nice to be considered “essential”, but really, we are all essential when it comes to taking care of ourselves.

We’re on the front lines. We are the first line. But the “front line” only works if there is the backup. If there’s a second line, a third line, to support and bolster the front line. And that’s not just for this pandemic. Dealing with anxiety and mental health, you are the “front line”. You can’t do it alone; you need the backup. For me, the second line is my family, friends, anyone who is reaching out a hand and saying, “I see you. I hear you. What can I do for you?” The third line is what I believe to be a sense of community. A sense of belonging to something that matters, whether that be a group of nurses, a team, a club, a family, a group of friends. I hope we take the time during this pandemic to realize that we are all essential and necessary. We cannot show up physically without showing up mentally. As businesses and restaurants start to open and life regains some normalcy, I hope that everyone will remember that the frontline workers will still be treating COVID-19 patients. And we will need your second and third line backup to get through the tough days. If we all show up for ourselves first and foremost, armed with our emotional PPE, we can show up for others. 

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A Little Sister’s Lighthouse

A Little Sister's Lighthouse

Patty Locke

Walking into my first day of high school at Padua Academy was nerve-racking. I was worried about the transition from my small middle school to a big high school, whether or not I would fit in, and what life would be like as a freshman. While I knew the anxiety I felt was pretty relatable for most freshmen, I was still excited about meeting new girls and meeting all of my teachers.  After finishing my first week of school, I knew that I was definitely part of the Padua sisterhood. You couldn’t walk down the halls without feeling the love of the other girls and the support from teachers. I felt like I was a part of a family at Padua and I learned quickly why Padua is often called “The Big Box of Love”.

My Padua family extended once I decided to join the basketball team. I couldn’t wait for the first practice! As a freshman, I knew it would be tough to balance life as a student-athlete. I felt stressed about managing my grades, but as the season continued, I felt myself becoming more and more comfortable with managing my stress and time as an athlete. Being able to take a break from school and do something I enjoy, like basketball, has been a great way for me to manage my stress. But managing life as a student-athlete isn’t always as easy as a lay-up.

The Locke family celebrating Aedan’s graduation from Mount Aviat Academy.

I always looked up to my brother Sean. Not just because he was 6’4 and ten years older than me, but because he was the type of student, athlete, and person I admired. I loved watching him on the court with all his teammates. He would sprint up and down, making everything seem so easy.  He made life as a student-athlete look easy. Everything he did on and off the court was perfect in my eyes. 

The thing I loved most about my big brother was our “little talks”. Conversations with Sean could be about anything from our love of basketball to him giving me dating advice. Sean would always say to me, “Patty, you aren’t allowed to date before you’re married,” and of course, my response was “Well, I’m already married to Tom Holland”.  You could find us singing church songs together, with Sean pretending to play guitar as I sang into a karaoke microphone. If Sean had a costume party to go to, I would pretend to be his personal stylist. When thinking about Sean, I just replay our funny and goofy conversations.

Patty and Sean playing “music” in the kitchen.

But… we never talked about mental health. Looking back, I thought Sean was perfectly fine because he would laugh with me. He didn’t seem like he was battling depression, he didn’t seem “sad”.  However, like so many of us, Sean was trying to manage his mental health through a mask. Behind that disguise was my big brother, my best friend, suffering from depression. His depression didn’t make him less of an amazing big brother. Maybe he didn’t talk to me about it because he felt like he wasn’t supposed to feel that way, maybe he thought I was too young, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if he talked to someone about his mental health. 

Sean was always there when I needed him. If I wanted to laugh, cry, or rant, he was there. He would always protect me and give me the best advice. He was my go-to-guy.

The Locke family during a Sunday dinner.

I know that talking about mental health can be tough and difficult, but seizing the awkwardness can help student-athletes- and teenagers in general- manage their mental health without a mask. Suicide is a sticky conversation sometimes, but it’s not something that should be avoided. Everyone has mental health and the way we manage it can either help or hurt. I truly believe that if our community can help remove the stigma around mental health, we can help students take off their masks and feel comfortable in their own skin.

When Sean passed away, my family had so many people helping and supporting us. But the people that really stood out to me are my teachers. At Mount Aviat, my STEM teacher, Mrs. Dymowski would talk to me like I wasn’t just her student but a friend whose feelings she cared about. She would help me whenever I needed to talk or just take a break. At Padua, there are so many teachers who support you and validate your feelings. Mrs. G, my Health and Wellness teacher, shares her own stories and creates joy every day in the classroom. You know when you step into the gym that Mrs. G is on your team and loves you.  She wants you to be your authentic self, without the mask. Padua is known as the Big Box of Love and I’m almost positive 50% of that love comes from Mrs. G. My basketball coach, John McMenamin, helps me feel very safe and welcomed me to the team when he opened up to me about losing someone in his family. This short talk helped me know I was always able to go to him if I needed some help.  

Patty with her “Big Sister”, Ireland, and her teacher, Mrs. Shaw-Giaquinto.

. Teachers and coaches have a big impact on mental health because they are with their students and players all the time. Teachers and coaches should continue to be supportive and shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health with their students.  As a Delaware community, we need to not just watch out for our friends and family, but to be proactive in our conversations around mental health. We need teachers and coaches, like Mrs. Dymowski, Coach John, and Mrs. G, to continue to be lighthouses for their students during dark periods. 

My family will never be the same without my brother Sean, but the hope is to help others so they don’t have to suffer. I want to make sure that I make Sean proud by doing something that came so naturally to him, making others feel accepted and full of joy.

If you’re interested in ending the stigma surrounding mental health, please join my family and me on February 8th for our memorial basketball tournament at the 76ers Fieldhouse in memory of my brother Sean.

SL24 Memorial Classic

Join us at the 76ers Fieldhouse.
February 8, 2020

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