Our Executive Director, Guy Fessenden, recently “celebrated” the five-year anniversary of his run across the country to speak out against and bring awareness to the stigma of mental illness. It was an unbelievable journey and spectacular way to pay tribute to his daughter Suzanne. Anyone who knows Guy knows how passionate he is about mental healthcare and awareness. His trek across America was just one of so many impactful and near-miraculous things that Guy has done for his cause. We’re proud of him and we’re proud that he is the leader of our organization. Here, in his own words, he recalls that journey.
A Run to Raise Awareness
“Hard to believe that it was 6-1/2 years ago when I got this crazy notion. It took a year of training 5 hours a day, 6 days a week to prepare… and then I set out from Savannah to Los Angeles at the rate of 100 marathons over 140 days. The objective was to stimulate a conversation about mental health by talking about my daughter Suz Fessenden and the challenges she has had for most of her life. With the help of friends, Marc Jacobson, Gerald Stern, Claudia La Bianca, John Velasco-Mills and especially Jeff Weiss, I took off running in October 2010 to try to add my voice to address the largest remaining unaltered stigma in the world.
I’m disappointed that this event didn’t have a larger impact, but national media outlets tend to stay away from stories about mental illness unless they are tragedies. CNN told me ‘Suzanne’s stories scare us’ and MSNBC said ‘we try to stay away from your kind of story’. TV stations treated me as the feel good story at the end of the broadcast and left the real message I wanted to deliver on the cutting room floor. Newspapers also edited the more gritty and important parts of Suzanne’s story out of the final edition.
But what I did find was that the local media, especially radio folks, understood me, heard me, and were willing to help me promote my message. They gave me an uncensored platform, because you can’t edit radio, and that made a big difference. I met kind people, who are tied to the community, and understand mental illness to be an enormous problem that changes people lives so early in life and is largely ignored or ridiculed as a societal abnormality. People like my Facebook mom, Irene Robinson in Oak Grove, Lousiana, Steve Kaplowitz in El Paso, and Bill Smith in Meridian, MS are great examples of community leaders who shared their airwaves and gave me a platform. As an example, Steve was awesome. He hosts a sports radio talk show and we were supposed to be talking about running, but instead we talked for 45 minutes about mental illness, and probably caused great confusion to his sports-oriented audience in the process. Mrs. Irene is also amazing and continues to be a good friend who opens her microphone to me often, as recently as last month.
I am especially grateful for the personal gains that have come through this project. Somewhere around the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico, I decided to commit myself to the mental health field as a profession, and found the great people at CHOICE, who gave me a chance to lead this organization even though I had no direct experience in the field. And through that I met my soulmate who would become my wife, Stephanie.
I’m turning 60 this year and feeling my mortality. I have one last great big idea, which I haven’t done anything about for the last couple of years. Hopefully I can pull things together and get it done. Maybe you will be hearing from me about this soon. Stay Tuned. I’ve run across the country… you never know what I will pull off next. Thank you to all of those who listen, understand, and help to move this conversation forward.”