Suffering from mental illness, drug abuse and having suicidal ideations all come with unnecessary stigmas and labels.
Because of the stigma of these ailments, finding adequate treatment with traditional medicine is even harder, and alternative treatments are still ever-evolving.
Aaron Hoff, founder of the Keala Foundation, is acutely aware of the traps of all of these roads, having experienced bouts with the devastation of mental health personally.
It’s difficult because we live in a world where weakness, or the perception of weakness, leaves us vulnerable to exploitation.
Hoff, who battles his own addiction with methamphetamines and has remained sober since 1996, continues to help at-risk youth as a preventative measure while taking a proactive approach to helping the community.
Hoff feels that if we rely on the state and government to take care of these various issues, society will be too knee-deep into various crisis by the time help arrives.
That is why he took things into his own hands and chose to walk the entire length of the island in a journey that started at 5 a.m. Friday morning at Kekaha CrossFit and will end on the North Shore in Hanalei.
What compelled Hoff to walk this 70-mile trek turned out to be a simple answer.
During Hoff’s walk, he saw reminders of the devastation, with several tributes to family members who succumbed to mental illness and unexpected death on the side of the road.
“Everyone knows what my life is about, and one of my good friends told me the day we started walking that their son committed suicide,” Hoff said. “Stories like that are what keeps me walking.”
It takes a village
Motivated by the strength of the community, some who joined him throughout this journey and some who stayed with him through the duration, he carried on.
“Oh man, with the whole community, there were people on the side of the road offering coconut water, and everyone was slowing down and honking their horns,” Hoff said. “I was motivated by all of the kids that showed up throughout this entire trip. Everyone showed up at the perfect time, right when I was about ready to quit. They were right there to pick me up.”
Hoff endured blisters and pain shooting up his back, but the 47-year-old, who considers himself in good physical condition, endured to finish the journey.
Hoff also wanted to deliver a simple message after his foundation successfully reached its goal of $100,000.
“We are all in the same fight,” Hoff said. “The most important thing is transparency, and being OK to put your guard down and say ‘I need help, I am broken.’ That is the hardest thing to do because the majority of people are hiding behind ‘I am doing just fine.’”
Hoff’s point about not depending on the state and the government to fix the problem was poignant.
“I just want to bring awareness that there is a solution, and what we are doing works. But this help can only come from the community,” Hoff said. “Not the state or not the government. The only solution that we can fix is the individual people in our community and the unconditional love in your heart.”
Hoff endured a lot of pain to prove his point.
“My pinky toes have no skin on them, and my two big toenails are gone,” Hoff said. “The side of my heels have blisters, and the pain is shooting up my leg with every step I take like it’s nothing.”
Hoff’s endurance of the 70-mile walk should be considered heroic, not just because of the pain he endured, but also why he did it.
We have to band together as a community to fight these epidemics, because if we don’t, no one else will.
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437or firstname.lastname@example.org.