5 years. 1,827 days. 43,848 hours. 2,630,880 minutes. 157,852,800 seconds. That’s how long it’s been since you’ve been gone. Some days, it feels like a lifetime some days. Other days, it feels like it was just yesterday.
I remember the phone call. I remember the way the room smelled and the color of the sheets on the pull-out couch. I remember, oddly, not being surprised when my mother told me you took your life. I remember the agonizing painful cries of my loved ones mourning an unnecessary death.
I remember it all.
There are so many things I wish I could say to change it all, but we can’t change the past. We can only try to make a difference in the present, hope for the best, and pray our hearts aren’t broken again. I have so many words that I wish I could type on this page, but they’re jumbling around too fast and confused. I wish I had words to say to comfort others feeling the same pain I feel, but again, I don’t know what to do.
I wish, I wish, I wish.
So instead, I fight against suicide. I fight against the mental illnesses that take 42,773 American lives each year. I fight for those who are too burdened or too tired to fight themselves. I fight for myself, because sometimes I even ask myself if this world is worth it anymore.
I fight for you because your memory deserves more than a suicide sticker. Your memory deserves to be unburdened of all the unanswered questions. Your memory deserves to continue living through love, not anger. Your memory deserves to fly free and know that we miss you.
We miss you.
I am the walk coordinator for the University of Georgia’s Second Annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, which raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and awareness for suicide prevention. This year I am raising money and awareness in your honor. I miss you immensely, and I hope your story can save a life.
I would do anything to have you back, but thanks to you, I can make a difference. I like to think that you didn’t take your life for yourself but to make me a better person. You have. You’ve taught me to love with no boundaries.
You’ve taught me that life is too short to go to bed angry or to live too safely or with too much fear. You’ve given me a passion so strong that my body shakes when I speak about it. You’ve changed my life, for the better. I would give anything to say goodbye or to change your mind, but thanks to you, I can change the mind of millions of people.
Fly high Jaay Bird. We’ll never forget you.
I didn’t believe my 14 year old self when a physician told me I was to be reliant on a mobility scooter or wheelchair by 25. I laughed and played it off reassuring myself I was different than the rest.
My FSH muscular dystrophy progression wasn’t as noticeable; I could still run and play competitive sports surely my physical state wouldn’t succumb to that. Many nights were spent balling my eyes out scared of being defined by an assistive device. I refused to accept reality blind to what all the research said. Why was I so afraid of wheels as legs? I would become another statistic, another check off the researcher’s list, another burden to the able-bodied. Something about being labeled “disabled” or “handicapped” all of which my core defied pierced my thoughts.
The best decision my 22 year old self made was to face this ugly monster of a mental obstacle and purchase a 3 wheeled, red, shiny scooter. The last 9 months have been the antithesis of everything I expected. I am alive, inspired, and ebullient. My scooter takes me places I would have never considered in a million years.
There are tons of perks with wheels: people holding doors open for you, front row seats, free parking and in general people lending a hand. However, not to say getting wheels has been all kittens and rainbows. Scooters require regular maintenance and parts break or loosen from regular wear and tear. It’s a machine, and machines break. Downtime can be weeks or months depending on the part. Being 100% reliant on electronics for mobility is scary when insurance is not able to supply a backup and this is the reality of the situation.
Now that they see me rollin (not hatin’), I’m even more cognizant of uneven surfaces, curb cuts, ramps, elevators and overall ADA accessibility. My scooter takes a hard beating in the city of Atlanta, so I dedicate my free time to advocate for change. The way I advocate is by wandering around the city, taking pictures/videos of areas that need improvement and submitting claims through the Department of Public Works.
The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design notates that there must be an accessible path of travel. We are at a pivotal point in architectural history were we are required to start designing for wheels first. If we design for wheels first, we are saying yes to inclusion. If we design for wheels first, we believe in equality.
Another way I advocate for disability awareness is by taking on outdoor physical adventures. The last 2 years my family coined the term “Piggybacks for a Cure”. My brother and sister have carried me piggyback through two Reebok Spartan Sprints and raised awareness through NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. Our next piggyback adventure in October is partnered with Vestigo where we will conquer Georgia’s 78 mile section of the Appalachian Trail.
My belief is to show the world that regardless of your physical condition, you don’t just give up on life rather you look for outlets to inspire action and lobby for change.
Read Carden’s first story called Equal Access here!
I can remember as early as age 7 being interested in special needs kids. We had an opportunity in elementary school to volunteer in their classroom. I have very fond memories throughout elementary and intermediate school of these people.
I can still remember all of their names and faces. I do not know what initially drew me to this group of people, maybe it is a God given gift but for me it has always been effortless. I do not think about it I just do it feels natural, it feels right and always has.
In high school I volunteered with Best Buddies, and organization that pairs you with a special needs student and hang out with them outside of school. This was a very rewarding experience because I was able to have my “Best Buddy” hang around not only me but all of my friends.
There were certain people I would do this with, usually the higher functioning ones with the ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. I think this is what most people miss and I missed at first.
Most people forget this, they look at those with disabilities as lesser than. The abortion rates in this country for Down syndrome are 90% and even higher in other parts of the world. If they do receive any attention, it is usually to be mocked. One thing I have always envied about those with intellectual disabilities is their perspective on life. These people have the same emotions that we all have yet I’ve never met even one who I would describe as depressed. The joy that these people express in everyday life, through ordinary activities is genuine and not something to mock, but rather something to strive for.
The ability to take any and all situations with the same mentality is a gift we could all use in life. Certainly some of this has to do with limited brain function in some, but in most I see it as a choice. Society as a whole may see them as different, and treat them as such but they are comfortable in their own skin and have accepted their fate. I have met people who cannot communicate verbally and have a limited mental capacity that still show a joy in life. A laugh, a smile, when life is the same every day with no sign of changing anytime soon, I do not know how anyone can be that positive in that situation. I know I would mope around all day blaming the world for birthing me with a disability that essentially took away any chance at a “normal” life.
Services are lacking, however support is growing. I understand not everyone is called to this kind of work, but treating a human being like a human being shouldn’t be considered work. Say hi when you walk past someone with a disability, start there. Make eye contact, a smile. Anything is better than nothing.
These people are human, they deserve and have the right to be in public places without being looked down upon. You would be surprised how much of a positive impact this can have on others. Everyone has emotions, everyone has thoughts and feelings, everyone wants companionship, and these people are no different. Working with all of these people has made me a better person. My perspective on my own life changes every time I am around them. Their optimism and outlook on life is truly contagious. To be honest I think I need them in my life more than they need me.
Who am I to complain about these small matters when I know people who get up every day and continue to fight a battle that seems to have no end? Their strength gives me strength, and it should give you strength too.