I decided I wanted to be a social worker after I led a collection of items for homeless families in high school and delivered them to a shelter in Richmond. The woman I met with to drop off the items gave me a tour and told me she was a social worker. I was so impressed by her desire to help families and I felt a calling to do the same. I wanted to help families and children who had few advocates in their corner.
Off I went to Longwood University in fall of 2004 with my educational career mapped out and ready to save the world. I didn’t know what a social worker was before that day and I often wonder what my career path would be if I had chosen another project for that class. But, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and God has a plan.
I would be lying if I said I did not have my own biases and naïveté going into the field of social work. I had no idea growing up that people experienced homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction. My eyes were opened and my reality was shocked when I began to learn that there were families where basic needs were not met and children who longed for a family of their own. I truly learned what being thankful truly meant those first few years of my social work career. But as I drove away from homes of people who did not know where their next meal would come from I always felt guilty driving back into Midlothian where we had a gorgeous home, a dependable car, more material things that I could ever want or need, and people who supported me. I often felt guilty because when I met with people I often drove away feeling so lucky because my life had been so easy growing up. I was embarrassed to admit that I did not really know what it was like to struggle.
Let’s fast forward to the rainy night October 26, 2010 when I got a call that forever changed my world. I lost my mother that night to suicide. For the first time in my entire 24 years of life, I knew what it was like to struggle. My reality would never be and will never be the same. My mom had been really sad for a year or so before that night. She had been distant and quiet. The economy was down, her job had been cut, things weren’t going so easy for our family. She did not want to see a counselor and kept telling me everything was fine. As a social worker, I felt like I had to solve the problem and fix it. I knew the resources and I knew the theories, but it was my family this time and I felt embarrassed and ashamed to admit that my mom was struggling with depression. So I kept quiet. I went to work, I kept helping others, and I prayed she’d go back to being the same mom and person as before.
Truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for how to deal with this so close to home. So when people would ask me about my mom I wouldn’t tell them I lost her to suicide. I felt ashamed that me, a social worker who was supposed to help others, could not even save my own mom.
It will be 6 years next week that I got that call. I miss her every single day. Every. Single. Day. I talk to the boys about Grandma Doris who lives in Heaven and watches over us.
This morning the boys and I headed to a walk today led by NAMI to bring awareness to mental illness and work towards ending the stigma around mental health. Today, I walked for my mom. And all of the other moms, daughters, sons, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and people everywhere.
Today marks a new chapter for me. One where I am not scared to talk about my mom and suicide. I will not allow this stigma to continue. I will fight for the state of mental health in Virginia every single day. In remembrance of my mom.