Last night my son got to meet the man behind Buddy Check for Jesse. To say it was an emotional night would be an understatement. At least it was for me.
If you’re unfamiliar with Buddy Check for Jesse, it is an organization that brings mental health awareness to sport. Buddy Check is most known for the “Green Tape” initiative where kids tape their sticks with green (the color for mental illness) tape during the last week of October. It’s an incredible way to raise awareness and start conversations about mental illness – what it can look like, how to support, how to check on your friends, etc.
Most importantly was the message our coach talked about in the dressing room. The message of checking on your friends, of reaching out if you see someone struggling…of reaching out if you ARE struggling. It’s this message that created the environment in which my child could vocalize what he goes through and feel supported by his coach and his teammates. The green tape was a tool for the conversations. Now, every time Owen sees green tape, he feels supported thanks to the words of his coach.
Buddy Check for Jesse came into our lives last fall and it changed both my son’s and my life. It may seem like a fairly simple thing to do…tape a stick…but it was the conversations, the openness, the support received during this initiative that brought strength to both my son and me to speak out about what my son goes through (recently diagnosed with several types of anxiety and depression).
My son has always been open about talking about his mental illness – he does not know that this is uncommon – but Buddy Check seemed to really hit his heart and soul and light it on fire. He became braver, more vocal, more proud of overcoming his anxiety and – seemingly, more accepted.
Since the Green Tape initiative in October, Owen has talked openly about his mental illness as he battled hard all season. It was a very difficult season for us, but I believe he felt supported, accepted and honoured by his teammates and coaches. His openness to speak about what he goes through still humbles me and the messages he speaks constantly patch my heart back together and make me so very proud.
His main message: You’re not alone. You’re supported.
I mean…seriously. He’s 10.
During Owen’s 50 for 50 campaign to raise awareness for mental illness, we knew a large portion of the funds raised would go to Buddy Check for Jesse. Last night we were able to meet Stu and his wife and Owen donated $2500 to Stu and the work being done at Buddy Check for Jesse.
Last night I watched my son, shy at first, hand over his hard-earned money to a cause he truly believes in. As the evening progressed, I saw my son open up, be silly, and engage with Stu and Niki and I was just so proud. He even read an entire article OUT LOUD to them about how his dog helps him cope with his mental illness.
At one point Stu turned to me and said: “You’d never think he has a mental illness, would you?”. And we both just smiled at one another and shrugged our shoulders…because we know. We know mental illness looks like the kid or adult next door. The silly one, the quiet one, the loud one, the extrovert, the introvert, the sporty, the shy…mental illness does not “look” like anyone in particular.
In our case, it looks like a ridiculously kind, sweet, smart, funny, sometimes loud (aren’t they all?) 10-year old. For Stu, mental illness looked like a smart, sporty, loving son. You simply cannot look at someone and know the battles they must wage to live the life they live.
Owen was given the gift of acceptance, grace and education through Buddy Check for Jesse and honestly, it was this initiative that helped me through an extremely difficult season. Knowing that there are many other parents out there advocating for their kids, knowing I wasn’t being judged, knowing that this is a big enough issue for someone out there to be fighting for awareness…I held that in my heart daily as we battled.
Owen was given gifts from Stu and Niki last night that took my breath away. I will keep those private, but I know Owen will cherish his gifts forever.
As we drove home from meeting Stu, on Jesse’s birthday, we had a bigger conversation about depression – a topic we haven’t discussed much. He had a lot of questions and I could see him grappling with the loss Stu and his family feel. Once again, we keep learning and growing because we talk about it. We talk and talk. I am honest and open with my son – hiding facts won’t help. So, he asked the questions I think he may have been nervous to ask before. I answered and I cried. When we got home, he was the one to come to me in our driveway and give me a hug.
My son is incredible. He battles 3-hour panic attacks, he makes it through “sad days” and he advocates for others to reach out and find support. He raised over $5000 to raise awareness for mental illness and he isn’t done. He wants to do more. So we will. Apparently forever.
The fact that my son, at 10, is using his own mental illness to let others know they aren’t alone, to raise money for organizations that help bring awareness and to not even think twice about sharing what he does – it humbles me and makes me want to be a better person for him.
Stu – Thank you. Out of tragedy and heartbreak, please know you’re helping so much. I am sorry for your loss, with my entire heart and soul – but we promise to continue to talk. We promise to educate and support and help as much as we can so others can find the light again. We will be here fighting our own battles all while drawing a sword to stand strong for others.
Owen, my son – you are the strongest person I know. I hope you know the strength and power you have inside you – but when you don’t – I’m here – arms wide, heart open and fighting for you.