Volunteering for Pieta House has been an excellent experience for me through a tough six month period in which I battled to overcome the MRSA 'superbug' after undergoing routine surgery at Univesity Hospital Galway back in early November.
When I left the Connacht Tribune at the end of September, I had not envisaged months of hanging around my home city waiting for my shoulder to heal.
Voluntary redundancy was supposed to open up a whole new set of opportunities, not three operations in as many months and at least 100 visits to the (superb) public health nurses.
The experience has taught me to live more in the present, and not to spend so much time planning an uncertain future.
Running the event's Facebook page, which passed the 8,000 followers mark last week, has been a welcome distraction as have the regular meetings with the core group of eight volunteers who have put so much effort into the running of the Darkness Into Light (DIL) event next Saturday.
The six month build up has allowed me to use my journalism and social media skills, while planning an event which is expected to bring 4,000 people to Salthill in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The power of social media was brought home to me recently when a friend's wonderful photograph of the Salthill promenade was viewed by over 11,500 people.
As I contemplate on whether to volunteer overseas or seek a new job in Ireland, volunteering for DIL has helped me to get through some dark nights of the soul.
The growth in popularity of DIL, the annual fundraising event in aid of the suicide prevention charity, has been nothing short of phenomenal. People really 'get' the twin themes of hope and rememberance.
It has only been five years since the first one took place at the Phoenix Park in Dublin and four since 80 hardy souls braved the elements for a dawn walk in Salthill to bring the event to Galway for the first time.
Last year there were two in Co Galway, Tuam and Salthill, and those of us who spent six months planning the city event were amazed when over 4,000 people turned up at Leisureland just before 4am.
There are 80 walks taking place across the world this year as DIL has gone international for the first time, a huge increase on the 39 which took place in Ireland in 2014.
There is something hugely symbolic about an event in which people put on bright yellow t-shirts before taking off for a 5km walk which begins in complete darkness but ends with the arrival of the dawn.
It symbolises the hope provided by Pieta House to people in distress and the importance of the walk to the region was underlined when Pieta opened their first West of Ireland facility, providing free counselling, in Tuam early last year.
In Galway, we are blessed to have the Salthill Promenade, which means that our walk is one of the most scenic in the country – we will have rivals in that department from the three Aran Islands, who have all come on board for the first time this year.
So it makes sense to start and end the event at Leisureland, taking in the seafront and South Park, where a team of volunteers added to the magical atmosphere by putting down a trail of night lights last year.
As far back as January, a group of eight of us sat down in a Galway city centre office to begin the planning for the event which takes place at 4.15am next Saturday (May 9).
Half of our committee were on board last year, when the Galway City walk alone raised €80,000 for Pieta House, and it was good for us ‘veterans’ to see some newcomers come on board.
A lot of planning goes into it. We needed to secure venues, get Garda clearance to close off the streets in the middle of the night, and secure thousands of t-shirts and hundreds of posters from Pieta House in Dublin. My own role involves updating the Facebook page, which has become a bit hectic over the past two weeks.
We have opened up a ‘pop up’ shop at the Eyre Square Centre over recent weekends and the commitment to the cause of our committee members, who put in many hours without being paid a cent, has to be seen to be believed.
It was our task to organise the launch of all nine Co Galway walks last month and the goodwill there is towards the event was evident in the huge turnout at the Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill.
Galway hurling captain David Collins, who lost a team-mate to suicide, made an astounding speech which almost brought everyone in the room to tears; while Connacht Rugby manager Pat Lam and Galway United boss Tommy Dunne also gave phenomenal support to DIL.
The Connacht management team will do an early morning run in yellow DIL t-shirts on Saturday, even though they are away from home, while the Galway United players did their warm-up in support of the event a few weeks ago.
Their speeches at the launch underlined the importance of talking about suicide and mental health, how it really helps to show people that they are not suffering alone. Pieta House also run a ‘Mind our Men’ campaign as us men definitely find it harder than women to talk about mental health problems.
|At the launch of DIL at the Galway Bay Hotel|
Richard Donovan, who organises marathons all over the world, has given us a gantry which will allow us to separate runners from walkers ahead of the pre-dawn start. Believe it or not, some people really enjoy a 5km run at 4.15 in the morning!
This year’s theme is connectivity and everyone taking part is urged to reach out and begin a conversation with the person walking alongside them.
There is bound to be an anti-climax for the eight or nine of us who have put five months’ work into organising the Galway walk, but there is great satisfaction in knowing that our efforts go some way towards helping people who are in distress.
Let’s hope the weather is a bit better than last year! Most people were drenched to the skin when they returned to Leisureland, but nobody seemed to mind as they stayed around for some excellent musical entertainment and a cup of tea afterwards. In fact, the atmosphere was so magical that nobody wanted to go home!
The Galway City Darkness Into Light walk takes place at Leisureland at 4.15am on Saturday morning. Check out the event’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Darkness-Into-Light-Galway/413050655520763. T-shirts can be collected in Leisureland on Friday evening, May 8, from 5 to 8pm.