I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Lindley, a 25-year-old soon-to-be attorney from St. Louis, Missouri.
He founded Project Wake Up in 2014 in response to the suicide of his childhood best friend.
Project Wake Up aims to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness and hopes to combat the inadequacies in the mental health is legislated, treated, funded, and perceived by the public.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“I love spending time with friends and family in St. Louis. I love to travel and am especially keen on trying the best local cuisine and beers in each city I visit. My biggest pet peeve has to be plan flakers; if you schedule something stick to it.”
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“On a lighter note: Few know this because it is pretty embarrassing, but I literally do not know how to do a basic dive into a pool. I wasn’t a big swim-team kid and didn’t go to the pool very often, so I never learned how to dive into a one… Seeing me try is pretty comical. Picture a golden retriever jumping in.
“On a heavier note: You’re reading this article right now because I gave two eulogies before the age of 22. Both for best friends, both died by suicide.”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“There are certainly two individuals who have inspired my work: Carolyn Dolan and Ryan Candice, two best friends that I lost to suicide in college; both in the span of two years, both before their 21st birthdays.
“Carolyn was a beautiful and fiery spirit who had an incredible sense of humor. She was very bright, fun-loving, and youthful. Above all, she was a loyal friend to countless people. She battled demons for years and took her own life in April of 2012. Her death deeply affected those close to her, myself included. I recall our friend group feeling as if we couldn’t really talk about her suicide, perhaps because of the stigma, perhaps because we couldn’t understand. We bottled everything up and I now know that is absolutely not the way to grieve a suicide. Carolyn was a bright light in so many lives and she left us much too soon.
“After Carolyn passed, I tried my best to research suicidal warning signs and risk factors to try to make sure my friends were okay. Despite my best efforts to prevent another tragedy within our friend group, Ryan died by suicide in the summer of 2014.
“Ryan was the last person anyone would have thought to be considering suicide. He was Mr. all-around; well-loved, determined, handsome, and had a very bright future ahead of him. He was the most popular person I knew and was considered a best friend to so many. He exemplifies the notion that mental illness does not discriminate and that even those who seemingly have it all may be suffering in silence; the stigma surrounding mental illness kept him, like so many others, from reaching out for help. Ryan suffered head trauma that led to heightened anxiety, and ultimately, to his demise. Couple his anxiety with some negligent psychiatric care and the result was a 7a.m. phone call that no one ever wants to receive.
“Ryan was my best friend. We grew up together and I considered him to be as close to a brother as someone can be. His death profoundly impacted my life and still affects me today. His death changed me and made me grow up quick. I miss him dearly and will never be able to fill the void he left.
“The bond we had inspired me to do something positive to keep his memory alive. I found inspiration in the fact that the mental health care system seemingly failed him when he needed it. I also believe that the stigma surrounding mental illness kept him from truly reaching out for help. The stigma forces those who need help to suffer in silence. People don’t want to be labeled as crazy, or different, or weird, so they bottle up their illness.
“I quickly decided to try and use Ryan’s story to combat this stigma and the mental health care system’s shortcomings. Just a few months after Ryan died, I conjured up the idea to make a documentary film to ‘wake up’ the nation to the inadequacies of the mental health care system and society’s ignorant perception of the mentally ill. Project Wake Up was born.
“I rallied a group of Ryan’s closest friends at the University of Missouri and we got to work attempting to turn a tragedy into an inspiring and effective advocacy project. Four years later, Project Wake Up is a 501(c)3 that has held many successful fundraising events and solicited thousands of donations which have enabled us to create media to advance our mission of mental health awareness. We have created a 12-minute short film, and a two-minute PSA titled Wounds. In 2017, we finally hit our fundraising goal that gave us the capacity to produce the full-length documentary film that we dreamed of months after Ryan passed away.”
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“My team and I are currently producing a documentary film addressing the startling rise of suicide rates in the U.S. since the turn of the century. Our film is being directed by the incredibly talented Nate Townsend and produced by Paxeros Creative.
“We have many of the nation’s leading mental health experts and influential Congressmen involved with our project, and plan to focus our film on Ryan’s life and on the lives of several diverse Americans who have either died by suicide or attempted and survived to tell inspiring tales. Our film is set to launch in Spring 2019.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“After the documentary is completed we hope to score a distribution deal with Netflix/HBO/etc., and hope to incorporate our film into college orientation programs across the country. Also, we just recently endowed the Ryan J. Candice Memorial Scholarship at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The scholarship will be gifted to students pursuing careers in mental health social work. Our plan is to eventually create similar scholarships to be available to students with similar career paths nationwide. This country simply needs more professionals in the field to assist in mental health crisis situations.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“Never let yourself feel that you can’t afford to take a risk. You really can accomplish ambitious endeavors with the right attitude, resilience, and support system.”
All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a 2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?
“I’m not an actor/musician/celebrity in any way, but I’ve still had my fair share of 2 a.m. moments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that this project was not going to come to fruition, that I couldn’t handle it anymore, or that I couldn’t push it to the finish line.
“Suicide obviously isn’t an easy topic to think about, and essentially forcing myself to confront the tragic loss of my best friend on a daily basis has been emotionally draining. I’ve also lost a lot of sleep thinking about letting down Ryan’s family, our supporters and donors, and all of those who really need a film like this to be made and made right.
“A lot of great people who were once a part of Wake Up’s staff have since quit because they felt like they couldn’t handle the gloom of the topic or the inescapable thoughts about our friend Ryan that this project inevitably invokes. For others, this project has been therapeutic and a way to help heal from our loss; I completely understand both views. It has helped keep Ryan alive in my mind’s eye, but it has also taken years off my life.
“Trying to make this all work while working through law school had me on the verge of many a breakdown and I am incredibly thankful for my supportive girlfriend and family members who have lived alongside and supported one stressed out 25-year-old. But no matter how hard it has been, there has always remained that constant motivating force that is my love for Ryan. I know that this film will keep his memory alive and I know he would be proud of what we’re doing in his honor. I also know that his story will undoubtedly save lives. We will never how many, but it will save lives. And that right there makes me wonder why I’ve ever let quitting even slightly cross my mind.”
What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.
“I ask everyone who reads this to consider being more compassionate to those with mental illnesses. Compassion and understanding will lead to open discussions and that will help break down the stigma that keeps people from reaching out for help. Please look out for our documentary due out in spring 2019 and please check out our Facebook page or website for more information.”
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This was really awesome! Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com