Years ago, I was invited to attend and speak at a community event. The event was open to community partners to set up tables and also featured speakers who focused content on community and mental health.

I’ve never been a fan of “tabling”, mainly the part where we sit and wait in hopes someone will approach your table because they are pulled by curiosity. That and tabling for suicide prevention wasn’t always (and often still isn’t) the most appealing table for many to walk up to.

I’ve learned small “tricks” over the years to help make the five steps forward a bit more enticing. Candy, stickers, cool and unusual swag items, things folks actually need – think phone chargers. I’ve often incorporated props or plot devices in my speeches too. If it makes the point, it was a success.

My driving questions when doing both are, how can I make this interesting and capture their attention? How can I make bridging the gap just a tiny bit easier?

That day it was donuts.

I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on donuts a few times in my life. Several of those times were to feed energy laden youth as we plotted how we would take over the world and spread hope and mental health one fun activity at a time. They knew me best as the “suicide lady” bringer of donuts and weird.

And then there was the community event where I loaded the back of my car full of boxes of donuts and little else. Never a fan of pamphlets, I hoped the donuts would do the trick.

At the table, I laid box upon box and excitedly shouted, “free donuts” at any person who sauntered past. My goal to have but one box left for the speech. Imagine my non-surprise when I doled out my last sweet delight long before I was set to speak. I had accomplished my goal of saturating the crowd with donuts and striking up conversations around favorite kinds and why. This dessert-like distraction led us down a nonthreatening and inevitable conversation around suicide and mental health.

By the time I was set to speak, I had cemented my need to speak to most of the crowd and ensured they would definitely remember me. Stomachs tend to have strong memories.

It was time to start my speech and hope it would leave an impression beyond the looming sugar crash.

“It’s funny the things that trauma leaves behind for us. For me, this box of donuts represents a deep childhood trauma. (Many in the audience laugh, thinking I’ve made a joke.) One that for a long time meant I hated donuts and what they brought to mind.

You see, most mornings I went to the 7-11 with my stepmom. She’d buy me a donut. That would be all I would eat a lot of days. What you may be thinking is, “oh, you obviously didn’t have any money.” Or some variation. But the truth is that we had enough.

My stepmom simply hated me. She was abusive, neglectful, you name it or its hateful variation and she would inflict it on me.

A single donut meant she fed me. It meant that I couldn’t say I hadn’t eaten. That small masterful intention embodied her style of artistic approach used to cover her myriad of abuses.

Donuts represented hunger topped with a side of shame for far too many years. I wasn’t given lunch money or lunch during the school day. Over time, I learned that I could pretend I had forgotten my lunch about once every few weeks and go to the principals office and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (which I also am not fond of). If I went too often, they would call home and I would have an angry and violent woman waiting for me. So I played dumb and forgetful and went through many days with a grumbling and empty stomach. Rather be hungry than hurt, even though that happened on its own anyway.”

This speech opening was a moment of acceptance and deep sharing where I expressed how something so innocent, something from the everyday could cut deeply. I hoped by sharing this often invisible part of me that people would pause and consider how many traumas float around each of us every day.

Over time, I’ve found happiness in donuts. From sharing long Johns with my grandfather while he drank coffee to the happy squeals my children have when I surprise them with a box. Not to mention the hundreds of youth I’ve watched tear through an assortment of donuts while they connected with one another.

My trauma was untouchable for such a long time. It left me avoidant and remembering that sad little girl. I now eat donuts and as I do I’m thinking about what kind I’m craving and who I might be able to share one with. The happy moments push the hard ones further into the distance each time.

That day I opened with my trauma and spoke of the importance of kindness. I spoke about how so many things are tied to mental health, loss, and grief. I hoped by sharing that others would feel it was okay to open up and that we might have a brief but meaningful connection. I wanted the audience to see that they’re role in my life could take up more space than my past pains.

I started the closing of my speech by slowly walking over and intentionally picking up the last box of donuts.

“Now that we’ve touched on the trauma this little delight caused me for so long….”

I pause, open the box, and take out a single donut.

“Will you all join me in creating a beautiful memory to help move me a bit further away from that sad and hungry little girl?”

I hand the box to the first person sitting in front of me.

“We can all heal when we are kind and take the time to see the people standing in front of us. You are now a part of my journey of healing. Thank you for stepping forward beside me today.”


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