Oct. 2, Munroe Falls Metro Park, Munroe Falls, Ohio

By Chad Lutz

It was cold and dreary when we arrived. The clouds, threatening rain, sat back in the sky and waited for the perfect opportunity to douse us all. But the opportunity never came, much to the delight of the 300 or so people in attendance. Try as it did, the weather couldn’t dampen the ground or the spirits of those who made it out for the annual NAMI Walks 3-mile loop Munroe Falls Metro Park to kick off Mental Illness Awareness Week Oct. 3-9.
I was walking with my girlfriend for my mother’s team. Her team alone had raised over $530 for the event and I could only imagine after last year’s event raked in almost $55,000 where the tally’s final total would fall by the end of this one ($54,000 as of 10/15/2010). People were out and anxious to get going even in the early hours of the morning. By the time we got there there were already about 150 people or so bustling around, shouting greetings and exchanging smiles. I even found a few familiar faces from the Akron Marathon the week before. Even the zombies that morning wore bright faces and were ready to get out and do some good old Samaritan can-do for fellow Ohioans in need.
Idle chatter and people poking their heads in and out of booths to see what the next big green and white stripped canopy held went on for the next hour and a half until the walk was officially set to begin. Mike Pruitt of Mike Pruitt Honda, Akron was there to cut the ceremonial ribbon. And with his burly momentous snip, the NAMI’s were off and walking.
As a person living with bi-polar disorder, it always moving, to say the least, to see so many people come out and help support a cause as stigmatized and as stereotypically canonized as mental illness. Right now, as you read these very lines of prose, there are 418,000 adult Ohioans living with serious mental illness and another 124,000 children in the same condition. According to the national average, we lose one of these beautiful and brilliant people to suicide every 15.8 minutes.
I’m not sure if I can speak for everyone living with mental illness on this, but there have been times, especially in recent years, where I’ve felt like I’ve been all alone in this. Mental illness is one of those things you barely even realize you have. It’s such a part of who you are and your daily hardwiring that you hardly even realize you’re acting any different than everyone else. Sometimes you don’t even see it all. That’s probably the hardest part.
Throughout my life I’ve known a couple people who have taken their lives due to mental illness and the thought, “that could be me,” and how it might affect my friends and family is almost too much to even write about. But I firmly believe there should be nothing in this world at which you cannot laugh. Especially to laugh at one’s self. I sometimes try to imagine what Life would be like if we were unable to laugh at our own faults. Thankfully this is not the reality I wake to every morning, and I will probably always talk with my mouth full.
When I walk out my door most days, it’s with hope, not reserve, that I take to the pavement to run. The same sort of hope I saw in everyone’s eyes this morning. People were genuinely excited to be there and take part in one of the largest grassroots organizations in the country. We may not have solved 418,000 problems by walking those three miles. But with the money collected in donations, we’re that much closer to making living with a mental illness a fully attainable reality in a country where, far too often, understanding of these types of conditions only goes so far. Maybe one day be able to walk around confidently knowing I’m not on the receiving end of, “psycho,” or, “crazy.” As much as they’re probably right, it’s nice to know that for at least one week a year someone out there is thinking about us and with events like the Oct. 2 walk in Munroe Falls, no matter how much it might feel like it, we can feel a little comfort in knowing we’re not alone.