Last week, I had the opportunity to do a Slipped Away book talk/signing at the Book Revue, a local independent book store. The irony of my speaking at this location is not lost on me. Years ago, Steve and I had come to this store numerous times to search for his published books on swimming. When we did find one of his books on the shelves, we were so proud and ecstatic. Now, my memoir about Steve is on the Book Revue shelves. This is bittersweet as I am happy my story about Steve has been published and is now available for purchase online and in a brick and mortar store. On the other hand, I am so sad it is a story I have had to tell. However, there is comfort knowing that for every book sold, it may help raise someone’s mental health awareness and the proceeds will also help fund programs for veterans struggling with depression and PTSD.
Needless to say I was very anxious publicly speaking about such an emotional topic for me. In the days leading up to this event, my mind was plagued with so many “What if’s” :
What if nobody shows up?
What if I breakdown in tears?
What if I forget what I was going to say?
My endless fretting was very similar to what I had experienced when I promoted Slipped Away at the 2015 Maui XTERRA World Triathlon Championships expo. I don’t know of anyone who likes public speaking and I am no exception. During my career at IBM and AT&T, there were times I was required to give presentations, and yes, I did stress myself out in anticipation of those speaking engagements. However, it was different; I had props like flip charts (if you are old enough to remember) or Powerpoint presentations to refer to throughout the talk to keep me on track. Also, these technical oriented presentations were from my brain and not like the emotional words that would come from my heart and soul at my book talk.
So, ten minutes after my scheduled start time, my first fear was realized. There were so many empty chairs. I don’t know what I was expecting. Steve has been gone for almost two years; people have moved on with their lives. The subject matter (mental illness, suicide) of my talk makes many people uncomfortable. It was a weeknight just after rush hour in a town where parking is a problem. But, I took comfort in knowing there were many with me in spirit who gave me great encouragement and good wishes, but could not attend as they were separated by distance or had previous commitments.
My second fear was realized as I melted down into sobs at the end of my talk. I recovered quickly and we all had a good chuckle about that when I asked if anyone had any questions. Since I have almost two years of daily meltdowns, I have a lot of practice in recovering quickly. Little did the attendees know, the tears I squelched that night came back as a flood the next day, but it was a great release of emotions for me that had to come out.
My third fear was never realized, or so the audience members told me. I know they all wanted me to succeed and were very kind and supportive. I could have sworn I lost my train of thought several times during the presentation, but I think everyone was too nice to tell me that. LOL
The following day, I put my talk into perspective and I tried to view the experience as a glass half full vs. a glass half empty scenario. As I had realized at the Triathlon expo in Maui, it is quality, not quantity that counts. I visualized looking out at the audience and I focused on who WAS there, and not on the empty chairs. There were long time friends, loyal members of Steve’s triathlon team and new friends I have made since Steve has passed. There were even a few people that just came out of interest and/or curiosity, people that are now aware of Steve’s story. There was a lot of love in that audience for Steve and myself that night and I will always remember that. Even as I write this blog, my eyes are tearing up thinking about it.
Promoting mental health awareness and telling Steve’s story is not a path I would have chosen. I have given up my privacy, and I still stress and put tremendous pressure on myself when I feel the need to publicly speak about a topic no one wants to hear.
Like it or not, I believe this is my purpose and I will continue this journey.