Woman Walking: Central Albertan walking to Texas
Central Albertan Tara Laidlaw, pictured here in downtown Lacombe, will make a 74-day walk to Texas this summer to help raise awareness for mental health and give back to the campaign Always Keep Fighting. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)
Walking to Texas for mental health wasn’t the first idea that popped into Tara Laidlaw’s head when she was challenged to find her happy.
On June 24, however, the Innisfail, Alta. native will embark on the first leg of a 74-day walk that is the culmination of what helps Laidlaw cope with depression and give back to a campaign she says has saved her life.
“The walk is for a campaign called Always Keep Fighting that raises awareness and support for people with any form of mental illness,” she said.
“They’ve saved my life in the worst of times — it started as a way I could repay them and thank them for that, but it’s ballooned into a way to help others and bring attention to a cause that needs a lot more support and awareness.”
Struggling with depression and anxiety brought to light in the wake of her son Tristan’s battle with an as of yet unnamed neurological disorder, it’s a cause close to her heart.
While there’s a push to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness — whether it be depression, anxiety, PTSD or another form — she said there still isn’t enough resources to help not just those dealing with mental illness, but the people surrounding them as well.
“I’m walking for different reasons than just to bring awareness to mental health. I’ve suffered through depression and anxiety my whole life. It can be debilitating,” she said. “They need to see someone who’s having those panic attacks that are crippling and have you on the floor, unable to breathe, but is still doing things and living their life.”
The mother of two began long-distance walking in the midst of her son’s medical struggles. She’d get on the highway and walk until her legs gave out, ending up as far away as Rocky Mountain House and Stettler.
Alberta’s winter weather, however, has a penchant for not always being kind and she needed another way to cope when she came across a Facebook page for Always Keep Fighting.
The page was inspired by the campaign launched by Supernatural actor Jared Padalecki through Represent.com after his own struggles with depression. The campaign, usually run through t-shirt sales, supports several organizations that deal with mental illness, including To Write Love on Her Arms.
“What worked for me was the positivity stream with jokes and memes and pictures of cats. I would scroll through and find them when I was in really low, low spots and couldn’t get out, stuck in bed crying –—literally suicidal,” Laidlaw said. “It was actually a video of Jared dancing with his son that saved my life.”
She’ll finish the trip on Sept. 5 when she walks across a finish line at the San Jac Saloon in Austin, Tex. — a bar co-owned by Padalecki. The finish line will come with a record in the Guinness World Records for the longest distance walked consecutively by a woman.
The trip will take her through a total of 71 municipalities, with her longest leg expected to take her 13 hours and 24 minutes, and her shortest surpassing the five-hour mark. She’ll begin walking at 5 a.m. every morning to arrive at each town at a reasonable time.
Laidlaw admits the response has been overwhelming, with large majority of locations asking her to speak and share her story. Rosebud, Alta. is set to bus in 2,000 people from Drumheller and Three Hills to fill the Rosebud Theatre to hear her speak.
The idea for the trek, she says, was an answer from God.
“I do a lot of praying when I’m out walking. I said to Him, ‘I’m really messed up. Nothing makes me happy,’” she said. “Walking makes me happy, which I do when I’m depressed, and the (website) makes me happy, which I use when I’m depressed. I’m happy when I’m depressed, how does that even make sense?”
The response she got was to set a personal goal — walking to Texas.
At first, she believed it wasn’t possible. The answer, however, stuck with her.
Suddenly she was working out the logistics of even being able to make the trek from Central Alberta to Texas. A year and a half later, she’s almost ready to begin the trip, and squaring away funds to go.
A Go Fund Me page has also been set up at www.gofundme.com/womanwalking. Funds raised until the departure date June 24 will go towards supporting Laidlaw and her walk to Texas. Once she leaves, the page will become a pledge site, with funds going towards Always Keep Fighting.
“If they can see someone who is struggling, who is having panic attacks and feeling the weight of depression and see I’m still choosing to fight, they can too,” Laidlaw said.
“As long as you choose to keep fighting, you’re winning your war and that’s what I want people to believe.”