Improving your life – even saving lives – is as easy as taking a walk

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Even before I became sober (which is the best thing I ever did for myself), my life began to improve when I began walking.

When I sold my clunker to a junkyard when dad entered a memory care facility in 2013, I had no choice but to start walking. Once, I walked all the way home from the grocery store carrying a 25-pound box of cat litter (well over a mile).

It didn’t take long before I got over my hang-ups about using public transportation, but usually I chose walking over riding the bus even then. At one point, about a year after I became sober, I no longer felt safe riding the bus and returned to just walking.

We know that walking is incredibly good for your health. Even before I stopped drinking, weight began to fall off of me when I started walking.

In February I decided to buy a Toyota Prius, so I haven’t been walking as much as I once did. I go to the gym now instead.

But when my therapist suggested a few weeks back that I start participating in charity walks to meet new people, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Why have so many Q-C LGBT people died?

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Overdose Awareness Walk and blogged about that. I’m sure you all also have seen my pleas for sponsorship in the upcoming Out of the Darkness Walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Oct. 29 in Bettendorf) as well as the NAMI Walk benefiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Sept. 24 in Davenport).

I’m proud to say that as I write this column, I have raised $175 so far for the NAMI Walk and $170 for the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have donated.

What’s even more meaningful to me, even beyond the fact that walking has greatly improved my health (my blood pressure is perfect these days!) and the fact that I’m helping raise money for good causes by participating in the charity walks, is that all three of these causes are near and dear to me.

In the Quad-Cities, the number of gay and lesbian people who have died of drug overdoses is staggering. I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years (and was a wild party boy) and only knew two people who OD’d. Here in the Quad-Cities – and we’re talking as far as back as six or seven years ago, even before the nation’s opioid crisis reached full tilt – I can think of several LGBT people who have OD’d.

Of course, overdose, suicide and, I’d surmise, even foul play sometimes are blurred when you don’t have the complete story. And on many of these people, I don’t. Simply put, there are lots of moms and dads who have lost children in this town; and lots of children who have lost moms and dads.

Brandon Ketchum puts a face to “20 per day” stat

And of course we know that 20 service people per day are committing suicide, which is not excusable. Our country needs to do a much better job of taking care of our service men and women, and that includes accommodating their mental health needs. That point finally was driven home locally with the untimely death of Brandon Ketchum, which even has caught the attention of local lawmakers, as reported here by Quad-City Times columnist Barb Ickes.

I know what suicidal thoughts feel like, although thankfully it is not something I have experienced since 2003. Many years ago, after returning to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles, my depression was so bad that simply being awake was painful. I just wanted to sleep.

In June 2015, when I raised my voice after not being taken seriously when reporting an intruder at my dad’s memory care facility, I was thrown in the Rock Island County Jail on no charges at all. The reason they gave? They said I was suicidal.

Please start paying attention, folks!

While many of those who govern and have governed out of the county of Rock Island are famous for their lies and corruption, saying I was suicidal may in fact be the tallest tale they ever told. And everyone who was in the jail knows that whether they have chosen to tell the truth about it or not. Even the local mental health center deemed me “not suicidal” after one of their clinicians evaluated me inside the jail, but now those records are “missing.” The hospital also forgave the portion of my bill that Blue Cross Blue Shield did not pay (and not because of financial need).

What was going on that day was a PTSD-fueled anxiety attack that occurred nearly to the day of the one-year anniversary of an assault that could have killed me.

Sure, after two days in there I was weeping, but mostly for my community, and for the fact I thought they were going to kill me in there and that I would never see my dad or my cat again. Prior to that, I banged on the cell door and screamed for help for hours and hours and hours and hours. It was a horrifying experience I will never forget nor ever stop talking about so long as I can make a difference by sharing my story.

Watch for my book coming out next year. In the meantime, please consider supporting me in the NAMI Walk, or the Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention.

Thanks, and happy Labor Day!

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