As a follow up to the blog posts from Erin Herle's travels abroad to train and teach, we transition with Erin to discuss #submitthestigma and her personal journey to enlighten and provide hope to those who struggle with mental illness.
The LLJJ MOMENTS blog will be dedicated to #submitthestigma over the next month to share life experiences of PLAYERS within the Jiu Jitsu community. These stories are deeply personal; we humbly and respectfully bring them to you here.
Erin's story: why.
I never thought I would become the kind of person who is excited to talk about suicide--to talk about its lasting effects and overpowering control. I am passionate about mental health awareness and suicide prevention awareness. These are topics I have unwillingly become knowledgeable about and ironically, have become an avenue for me to help people.
When my dad killed himself July 2015, and I took a plane ride home to Los Angeles from New Jersey, I was hyper aware of everything around me and what people thought. I rationalized that should my behavior turn heads or catch an eye, I had a ready excuse. As I sat in my seat during boarding, I smelled a cloud of awful cologne hovering around the man sitting next to me. I had to move. I asked a flight attendant if she could find another seat for me and I stood in the back while she did some research. The entire time I wanted an excuse to reveal my intolerance of smelly colognes because my dad shot himself and I was on my way home to face it. "I'm normally not this fussy, but I can't handle it right now because my dad is dead and he did it; he's the murderer."
As the weeks went on and I returned to New Jersey, I knew I had to write my thoughts down because they were ever-changing, fluid, and continuous. I was trying to make it make sense. I was trying to come up with explanations to soothe my curious inner child who consistently questions why. This time, I didn't have a "because."
There is no answer for why people end their own lives; at least not one for their loved ones living in their wake. A majority of suicides, however, about 90%, are the result of a mental illness. Mental illnesses are treatable. There is recovery and it is possible. It's completely and utterly possible to come back and survive - with treatment and support.
I started the #submitthestigma because of my own needs, initially. To feel as though I still had control over what happens to me. When I realized how easy it is to help one person by simply talking about my own experiences, #submitthestigma became a movement of vast powerful voices. It is no longer my campaign, my message, my story. It is a common thread of chapters, written by many within our jiu-jitsu community.
After my dad passed, I was face-to-face with the stigma of suicide. A lot of people are ashamed their loved one died this way and many times the cause of death is unrevealed. I decided to go the opposite route and turn despair into hope. I set up a gofundme page directly supporting the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The page allowed me to let people know of my dad's passing, reach out to find those who could relate to what I was going through, reveal more about my own mental illness, educate people about suicide and mental illness, give my introverted mom and sister a chance to raise their own voices, and gather some monetary support for a national grassroots organization. What I wasn't prepared for was the feedback from friends and strangers alike who benefitted from my openness.
So throughout these months of channeling this movement, creating and shipping out patches for the cause, helping with charity events, and engaging the online community, I've been able to understand what it means to cope. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be diagnosed with a mental illness. It's okay to have multiple layers within you.
The purpose of the #submitthestigma campaign is to help those struggling, whether it's their own personal struggle or a loved one. I want the jiu-jitsu mats to be a place people can heal and find support. We should never shy from mental health or suicide prevention.
This weekend is the second #submitthestigma charity seminar on Sunday Oct 2, 2016, 11am at the New York City Police Academy in Queens, New York. It will benefit NAMI (www.nami.org) and feature instruction from Gianni Grippo, Paul Schreiner, Vitor Shaolin, and Paulo Miyao. Please come out and support.
Learn more about #submitthestigma at www.submitthestigma.org.