Community vs. depression. Who is helping who?

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Robin William’s death really hit a chord with me. While he was one of the greatest entertainers of our generation, it was his love of the Challenged Athletes Foundation that really rang true to me. Each and every year, Robin would come and show his love of cycling and spread his wonder, his laughs and his heart with each and every Challenged Athlete performing in the triathlon. It is no secret that throughout his life, Robin Williams suffered from depression and a long history of drug abuse. After giving it some thought I realized there is a legitimate connection here between those suffering with visible wounds, and those suffering with invisible wounds.

I have been a member of Team Red White and Blue for the past two years now. Team Red White and Blue is a nonprofit that serves veterans returning from war. Our primary mission is to help them reintegrate into society and civilian life through social and physical activity. Our goal is to prevent more tragedies like Robin Williams, from from ever happening again. I believe the horrifying statistic is that a veteran commits suicide every 22 minutes.

After giving it some more serious thought, I realize that Team Red White and Blue and the veterans that we serve have actually done more for me than I have ever, ever done for them. While I have not served in Afghanistan or Iraq, I have endured a great deal of physical and emotional pain over the past seven years while going through my vision loss. 16 surgeries and countless procedures along with chemotherapy really took its toll. I was overweight, depressed, and with no eye on the horizon.

As I began to meet more and more people through Team Red White and Blue I realized that many of the civilian members have gone through invisible tragedies. As I got to know these men and women that became bonded to the  many veterans we were serving, it became very clear that these men and women had gravitated towards these veterans for a reason. I cannot begin to tell you the number of civilian men and women that I have met through this organization who have gone through assault, battery, sexual assault, physical abuse at the hands of a spouse or parent, the loss of a child, or a terrible lifelong illness. Why were all of these people seeking out the veteran community for love and support? Why were they bonded together?

Fast forward to present day and I have now spent a great deal of time with my friends at the Challenged Athletes Foundation, as did our friend Robin Williams. Many athletes for the Challenge Athletes Foundation are veterans suffering from amputations, paralysis, traumatic brain injury and more. And others have undergone painful surgeries, terrible illnesses, born without limbs,and many other manifestations of illness and injury. Their reasons for being there are just as varied as their faces.

So why did I gravitate towards this organization? Why does it help me so much? As a disabled athlete that answer seems to be obvious. But it’s not. I take great comfort and strength by working alongside each and everyone of these incredible athletes. Their stories inspire me and lift me to greater heights than I could ever achieve on my own. I have a community. I have support. With them, I am not disabled. I can achieve. I am not alone.

So to answer my question, why did Robin Williams gravitate towards this great organization? Because he too was suffering. He had invisible wounds. He needed a sense of community. He needed those endorphins that we emit as athletes to feel good. He needed these athletes to lift his spirits and make him feel whole. These athletes and veterans understood him and his struggle and helped him heal a broken self worth.

So I want you to think about this the next time you volunteer with a nonprofit. Who is helping who? Take a closer look at that volunteer shoveling dirt at the new playground you’re building. Get to know them. Find out what their story is. You may find out that the people that you are serving at an organization are not only being helped, but they are helping you too. RIP Robin. And thank you on behalf of CAF.

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2 thoughts on “Community vs. depression. Who is helping who?

  1. Lindsey

    This helps to frame the exact reason why I love working with our community. It gives me a sense of “home” with folks who are helping each other optimize what we’re given. We all have scars–some more visible than others–and if we can all be there to help each other through it, we’re all better off because of it. Thank you for putting your thought into this, Amy, and sharing it!

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