“I didn’t want to die on my suicide prevention walk. It kind of defeats the purpose.”
So there he was, Darick Reed, about 100 miles into an epic walk for suicide awareness and stuck in the biggest heat wave of the year. In remote Montana, too. He ended up in the emergency room being pumped full of fluids, and we recently spoke before he set out again.
If you’re driving through the West and come upon a young man walking along the road and pushing a double baby stroller, that would be him. He’ll explain the stroller below. Meanwhile, by now he should have something like 1,000 miles to go.
Please introduce yourself.
I’m 36 years old now. I just relocated to Missoula, Montana, to train for the walk. I lived in Las Vegas for several years and was homeless for four months. And then … My background essentially is, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety and have been diagnosed with bipolar. What I put on my site is, in May of last year I had a suicide attempt which was the turning point in my life.
I was born and raised in upstate New York, raised by a single dad, and we moved around a lot growing up, where I think I got my itch to travel. I kind of got the adventurous side.
I started working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and they have these walks, these Out of the Darkness walks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they gave me the inspiration, after the second year I volunteered with them, to do a grand-scale walk to raise funds for them. The second walk I did with them was pretty … It really hit me emotionally, the people, what it was all about. I got inspired in 2012, planning this walk. I’ve been slowly putting it together. In May, I kind of made it official, put it out there, gave it a name. Here we are, I guess.
Talk a little about your project.
I will be walking across four states, from Missoula, Montana, all the way to … Originally it was Santa Barbara, but since the word spread, I think I’ll end up in Los Angeles as the finale. But yeah, along the way I’ll be stopping in communities, talking with media. I have a few speaking engagements in larger towns like Sacramento, Twin Falls, Idaho, where there are chapters for AFSP. So I have signs, a card with the website name, AFSP. It brings a lot of attention wherever I choose to stop, a gas station or somewhere to eat. Typically a conversation is involved. In Montana, especially, the suicide rate has been at the top of the nation for over 30 years. It’s good to let them know I’m walking for my state. I take it as it comes. I do my best to talk to as many people as possible. I walk and talk.
And you’re doing this alone?
Yeah, for the most part, I’m walking alone until I get into populated areas. I’m starting to build a little more of a following, with more people spreading the word. They want to walk a mile with me. Yeah, as the word spreads, they’re becoming more involved. Essentially, it’s just me. I can’t find someone else crazy enough to walk 1,200 miles and live out of a backpack.
Have you taken other epic walks before?
Not epic walks. Once I committed to this idea, I ditched the vehicle and walked everywhere, with weight, and with the inclination to get conditioned. Like today, I walked around the community and did errands and ended up with 15 miles. Yeah, just walking. We do it every single day, and it’s not really that hard. It’s just what I do.
How did you come to be talking to me?
I was probably in my early 20s when I noticed the symptoms and kind of sought help. I struggled with it well over 10 years. I divorced in 2002, and that was the start of the downward spiral for me. For a point, I lost everything from the divorce, went off the radar, so to speak. Hid. I stole my father’s truck and a bunch of money and went to Las Vegas for some crazy reason and chose to be homeless and hide from my family, and I was on the missing person list for a long time. It all came to a head last year, where my suicide attempt came into play, Although I had made attempts to be back with family, we had been in touch, a lot of emotions had built up, and last year is where I ended up. I attempted suicide. There’s a long story in between. But that’s pretty much the gist.
Were you back with your family at the time?
Yeah. it was 2010, New Year’s Eve, when I came back to Missoula to stay with family. There was just a lot of, due to the fact I had been gone for so long, there was a lot that bubbled up with my family and my dad. It kind of put me back into a dark place, so to speak. So the last two years was a big struggle for me to reconnect with my family and deal with issues.
How did your family react to your attempt? And how was your recovery?
I didn’t really make it well-known. My father knew. He was there for me throughout this battle. And I slowly kind of made it known to the rest of the family over the last year, and they’ve been great. Obviously, I was dealing with some issues. But they are on board with what I’m doing. My relationship with my family is now better than it has ever been. It gives me a lot of confidence in what I’m doing.
What helped you come back from your attempt?
I have a 10-year-old sister. There’s a huge age separation, but we’ve grown close. For a long time I went without love, but she’s like having a kid. It’s changed my life. Someone who loves you unconditionally. Between her and just my own will.
You know, with an unsuccessful suicide attempt, coming out of that, I got the feeling I was meant to be here. I wanted to use my experience to make a difference. I’ve written about it. After a week in the hospital, physically battling to stay alive, I made a commitment, and I really haven’t turned back since then.
How have you learned to manage things, if certain feelings come back?
Anxiety has probably been the biggest battle for me. I’ve tried to educate myself. Anywhere from yoga to just talking to people sometimes. When I’m in the worst of it, I reach out to friends and family. Sometimes when you’re in your own head for too long, you make things out to be terrible when they’re really not.
I dealt with it a long, long time, and I don’t know, post-attempt, that whole process for me was physically a struggle, and it was almost like something in me flipped, like a switch. I’d gotten mad that I did what I did. It motivated me to not go back there. And it’s kind of like taking on the walk. The bigger the challenge for me, it keeps me going on the right path. Extreme things to keep me happy and motivated, I guess. I gotta embrace the adventurous side of myself, and it’s made all the difference in the world.
My Facebook page is called Me Against Fear. It was for my family initially, but it kind of grew on its own. I kept with it, turned it into pretty much my life, to communicate with people who’ve been through what I went through. It made all the difference.
What have been the more striking responses?
Once I announced I was doing a walk for this cause and came out with the attempt and made it known, people anywhere from within AFSP or who do individual pages in memory of a lost family member … You know, I’ve heard so many stories and cried with people, talked with people … Once I came out with the attempt _ initially, I didn’t say a word about it, it was fear issues _ but once I came out, the page really grew, the blog grew, everything. Just an outpouring of people reaching out. I started reaching out to different Facebook page administrators. It became a cause I’m extremely passionate about.
Have you done any public speaking?
My background has been anything from promotional work to sales to … I haven’t stood up with a microphone in front of a seated audience, so that’s something that’s gonna be new for me. It doesn’t frighten me. I want to tell my story, reach people. So yeah, you’ve gotta start somewhere.
How do people treat the topic of a suicide attempt?
I think altogether. some people, especially my family, is pretty … I haven’t had any really deep, meaningful conversations about what happened with my family. But with strangers, I’ve had deep discussions. So it’s all across the board. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, and sometimes deeply emotional. We share, we get inspired to battle this thing. You know, with my dad, he’s fully behind me, but we’ve never spoken about the scary stuff, the dark stuff. It’s “I love you” and “I’m glad you’re still here,” but no why or what. It’s hard to talk with people, sometimes, for me, depending with whom you’re talking to.
You really can’t accomplish anything with silence.
Do you have any advice for friends and family of people who’ve made an attempt? There’s a growing number of resources, but not really in that area.
It’s so hard to either admit or to reach out, to get over the pride or the fear of asking for help. Like you said, resources are starting to be more and more, but take for instance Montana, where the suicide rate is so high. A lot of areas have no resources other than a 800 number. But if that’s the step you have to take, reach out. I have people who say, “I haven’t told my family, but I’ll tell you what I’ve gone though.”
It’s enough to know you’re not alone. That’s part of what I push. You have me. Who cares if it’s the Internet, you know? Reach out to somebody. It’s difficult to do, to admit, but there are people out there who do care. There is help.
When I found out about AFSP, the programs they push, the walks, the resources in my community, I felt a part of something. There are people who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. We all want to belong to something, and I latched on to these people. More so than my family, unfortunately. But it helps to know there are people who have made it through. It gives you a lot of hope to know you’re really not all by yourself.
That’s for people who’ve had the experience. And your advice for loved ones?
Education is completely critical. I’ve had people tell me they lost their son and had no clue that … “I had no idea he was in this state, that it was gonna happen.” I think people need to educate themselves.
You know, like my dad, I wish he would have figured out it was this bad: “What can we do? I’ll do research, find a place where I can figure out how to deal with it.” For alcoholics, there are programs to figure out how to live with people, figure out how to be there for them. I feel like I’m speaking gibberish here, but education is vital. That’s the thing I try to push. I talk to so many family members, especially, now, and they’re curious to know what they can do. I just aim them to AFSP, to Facebook. There are a million pages out there that deal with it.
So, a completely different question, just because I like to hike: What are you carrying with you on your trip?
It’s a long list, but funny enough, it all fits into that tiny cart. The key is to travel light. A small tent, a sleeping bag, a little bit of clothing, It’s minimal, I’ll have to say that. I have water filtration equipment. The wilderness you’re walking through has water sources, and you kind of have to reply on that. Three pairs of shoes. Yeah. Food, tent, sleeping pad and bag, the clothes. When walking on a highway, you have to take the opportunity to replenish in every town. You carry food for three or four days, nothing more. Weight’s a big issue.
I don’t know if you read about it, but I actually walked through one state and had one setback. I experienced heatstroke, went to the hospital, doubled back to Missoula to regroup. It’s where I am now. I took three weeks to regroup, formulate a different plan. I left at the hottest point in Montana in three years. Bad timing. I made about 100 miles and had heatstroke. I didn’t want to die on my suicide prevention walk. It kind of defeats the purpose.
I told everybody about it, that I wasn’t gonna quit. It turned out to be a good story, but it was pretty scary. It took me a good week to feel alive again. That’s why I’m leaving again from Idaho, where I had left off. With completely new equipment. I was pulling a specialized cart behind me. I switched to, actually, a twin baby stroller, which a lot of cross-country hikers use. So this is round two, and I’m a lot more prepared.
So this image of a guy along a highway pushing a double baby stroller …
That’s why you put signs on it, so people don’t think you’re a crazy guy pushing kids in 100-degree heat! There’s a guy, we connected, who doing something similar, with his own cause. He got pulled over in 100-degree heat, and the cops thought he was pushing a kid in the middle of the desert. I have signage to make it look functional.
Have you had any response from law enforcement so far?
Yeah. The key is to contact them ahead of time. One for safety, two to keep them from thinking there’s trouble. But this type of thing is becoming more popular, on bicycle or on foot, taking it to the highways. There’s safety factors involved by contacting law enforcement. They kind of become your friends. They would stop give me water. They’re curious, like anybody.
Are there any stops on your journey that you really look forward to making?
With AFSP, they have an event in Sacramento. I’ve been there before, but I’m looking forward to the stops where there are people. I’m well-traveled, so the exciting part is seeing people. When you walk for four days by yourself, when you see people, you get pretty excited. You talk to gas station attendants like they’re your best friend. Maybe I’ll see some sights, but the purpose of this whole thing is the people, not so much the land.
With so much time by yourself, what will you be thinking about?
Good question. You know, anywhere from the next speaking engagement … I read a lot, meditate. It is pretty weird. I walked 100 miles and would find myself almost in a weird trance, and the next thing I know I’m five miles down the road. It’s like a road trance. Walking becomes redundant when every single day you’re walking 20 miles a day. I try to think of family, write in my journal. When I have cell service, I try to reach out, update the page, text family, friends. I think they get annoyed because I do it incessantly.
What are you saying to them?
I think of weird questions to ask people. Because it does … I went through a stretch of four days in Montana where there really was nobody, and it gets pretty lonely. So you know, you pray for cell service at the worst points. If not, you write or read.
What will you do after this is all over?
Great question. I don’t know. I’m hoping something will manifest itself along the way. I’ll stick around in LA a while, maybe spend the winter there, look for work, continue to talk to people somehow. I’d like to turn this all into a book, self-published, Amazon, or … I think anybody who completed a long-distance walk has probably written a book, but I look forward to that.
I want to get into some formal training through AFSP. They have what’s called gatekeeper training, where you talk to people. I want to become as educated as I can, from mental health to suicide, Maybe I’ll get into counseling. I don’t know. I’m just a year removed from being at the worst point in my life.
I didn’t give you the fraction of my story, but I pulled myself through a lot of stuff. And I just hope to inspire people and encourage them to maybe do the same and realize there is hope. I try to keep it somewhere simple. I’m not a complex dude. Every day it grows, and I get different ideas, want to do more. I think over four months, I’m gonna end up in a completely different, great place.
I often ask this question: How to make this topic more comfortable for people?
Great question. I don’t know if you can force-feed it. It’s tough. If you advocate, you can go too far. For people who have been touched by it … I’m just learning. I don’t know. I came out with it and just tried to tell my story, and people kind of gravitate towards it. I haven’t gotten good at just saying, “Hey, you need to hear these issues. I know you’re trying to go to work or Starbucks or whatever.” I don’t take it to that level, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I want to be there for people who are searching and want to be inspired. That’s enough for me. I’m not a crazy ninja advocate at this point. Who knows? Like I said, it’s four months. Let’s say somebody tells a story that really touches you, wants you to push harder. I’m pretty new at being in the public spotlight. I just want to tell my story. I keep looking for ways to be able to grow.
You’re right, you didn’t tell much about your background, and I had a couple of questions. Were you all right in Las Vegas?
Initially, I didn’t have a choice but be homeless. The way the divorce transpired, I gave up everything. Plus, emotionally I lost it. I was hiding. I was in a lot of pain. From a failure standpoint, I just felt like I completely failed. I hid from stuff for a long time. But in Vegas, I was successful, I worked for the Venetian hotel. It was just another place to live. I got caught up in drugs, alcohol issues, but it was my home too. I could have lived in Rhode Island and had the same lifestyle. There’s more to Las Vegas than the strip and partying. It’s not a bad place for me. I lived a crappy point in my life there, but at the same time, I like the community. You glorify it: “I’m gonna run off to Las Vegas.” I did, and I ended up living there on and off for a long time. In a weird way, it’s my other home.
How did you decide to come home?
Through the magic of Facebook. I can’t remember what year it was, I think 2008. I finally got a Facebook page, and my family was like, “Hey, Darick is alive!” We slowly started getting into contact.
I was doing fairly well, I let them know, and we started talking more. And my dad, the reason why I came back, my dad had a heart attack, he was having health issues, and it really scared me. My little sister, I knew I had to come back for her and for him. And so that’s why I ended up saying, “Hey, you need to get your crap together and be there for your family.” You can’t go 10 years without family and not want to see them. Half I hid, half I longed to be back with them. I love them. Me, the black sheep of the family.
Are you still the black sheep?
Yeah, yeah. I have a huge family from upstate New York. We all have boats and blah, blah, blah. People would call my family the Kennedys sometimes. And then there’s me, adventurous, doing my own thing. But it’s becoming more accepted now. For a long time. I ran away from stuff. I walked away from lot of things, now I’m walking toward them. It’s taken 36 years to get my life figured out.
Who else are you?
Family is extremely important to me. Like I said, my little sister is extremely important to me. And now that I feel like I have a purpose with this cause, getting involved in mental health and suicide prevention and, you know, that’s kind of become my life. Those things are important to me. It used to be being selfish, doing my own thing. Now that’s what drives me, is people, one way or another. Whether it’s family or people I met though my blog. In the community. That’s me. It’s weird for me, but it’s becoming more and more familiar, to be about something. And people know that now.
Since that’s still pretty close to your experience, what else would you mention?
God, for the last year it’s all I’ve done. I love to travel, experience new things. I’m a lake person, a river person, and Missoula fits that. I like the outdoors, being on the water. I have always been into some sport one way or another. So yeah, I just like to live an active lifestyle. Hence the walk. It just kind of fit. It just fit what I’m about. I wouldn’t have taken it on if I weren’t confident about it. This is the fun part.