FLINT, Michigan — For Tarissa Reel, there is a strong desire for her to combat the stigma of mental health with a different approach.
“You have to do something crazy,” said Reel. “When you say or do something crazy, that’s when people start to listen. What’s crazier than walking 800 miles on foot?”
On June 22, Reel turned 26 years old. Instead of packing her bags for a birthday vacation, she packed what she needed, and set afoot with her companion with no particular destination. She began “Walking for the Voiceless.”
There was no mental preparation prior to this journey, but Reel insisted she pushed for a bigger purpose. This 800-mile walk provided more than just an out-of-the-ordinary tactic, it personally helped her face her biggest barriers.
Growing up, Reel experienced an abusive and neglectful childhood. At the age of 10, she independently raised four of her siblings with one being fully handicapped. Her mother became addicted to prescription pills and her dad was not a part of her life. At the same time, Reel suffered through many of her own mental health issues. OCD and anxiety limited her courage to explore the unknown and forced her to only go to places where she had to be.
“Doing the walk put a lot of things into perspective," said Reel. "Even though you can’t control your whole environment, there’s so many things that you can see. Good things can happen even if it doesn’t go the way you thought it should have. Once I did it, there were some hard days but there were some really good days. Just like mental health. That’s how it works.”
Lush greenery and calm rivers were some of the sights to view during Reel's walk.
Reel passed through many cities, slept under bridges to stay dry from the rain, and withstood heavy mosquito bites. At one point, getting heavy amounts of mosquito bites under a bridge resulted in her calling it the Mosquito Bridge.
Between the highs and lows, Reel met many people from all walks of life. There were a lot of people that helped her out, stopped to listen to her stories, and just walked up to see what she was doing. A memorable moment of the venture was in Perry, Michigan when she met a homeless man with a difficult past. He had lost his daughter to drowning in a pool, his sister to suicide, his wife to overdosing, and himself to alcoholism.
“He stopped us outside of a Burger King very late and asked us how we were doing and how we were surviving,” said Reel. “He thought two hikers would know a little bit more than what he did. It was a tough thing to see that no matter who you are, one traumatic experience can happen.”
In 2017, Reel went through a rollercoaster of traumatic events herself. Her daughter was born, but shortly after, she suffered postpartum depression because she had lost her mother earlier that year due to heroin addiction. Everything added up for Reel and because of the way she had been taught to deal with her emotions growing up, she felt like she wasn’t allowed to feel anything.
She had lost her voice because of the expectations and judgment placed upon her as a child.
She, however, prevailed and had a breakthrough. Reel wanted to exemplify that just because she came from a dark place didn’t mean she had to stay there. She wanted to walk for the voiceless.
“I can get up and walk 800 miles even if it seems insane," she said. "I can do it because I chose to do it. I just don’t want to be of the darkness when there’s a lot of light out there. That’s what I like about this world, you can be who you want to be.”
Although she wasn’t taught a lot about her own emotions as a child, Reel wants to have a direct line with the youth to shift the stigma on mental health.
“They are what can change our society and the way we view things or the way we are able to speak up," said Reel. "If we can put into our children that it’s okay not to be okay, it’s okay to talk about the bad things or the trauma or the things you are going through, and it’s okay to find your voice even when people are telling you not to have it.”
Reel’s venture came to an end at Kansas City on August 16, completing 800 miles in 54 days. Her next big goal is to cycle coast to coast or embark on her next walk for the voiceless to California within the next year.
You can join the mental health awareness movement and keep up with Reel’s courageous ventures by following her on Facebook,TikTok, and Instagram.