I came across Mario and his inspiring Footpath of Life project recently. It is a bittersweet story which some may find triggering. Footpath of Life is a really beautiful testimony to the light that can come out of darkness. Here is my interview with Mario.
Could you tell me a little about your partner whom you are doing the walk in memory of?
My partner Jürgen had suffered from depression for many years. Sometimes were worse than others. He had depression, since he was young, as did his mother and his grandparents. They suffered really badly with it. His mother had attempted suicide twice, many years ago. She has been taking antidepressants for the last thirty years and this has kept it under control.
Jürgen always told me, that it is not so bad and that everything is under control but on the other hand he told me, that he had suicidal thoughts, since he was 16.
When we talked about life and I mentioned, that I want to live until I am 88 years old, he always told me, that he did not want live that long. When is life was going well he managed, but if he faced any problems, the depression hit him very hard.
Even then he reassured me: this will be ok again soon. I could see, however, that this was not true because he couldn´t sleep, concentrate or focus on anything. When he started to take medication he improved. He could sleep, he was happier and his personality changed. He noticed it and he told his parents, that he felt so much better.
Between, the good spells, without a reason, he stopped taking the pills. Again and again and this behaviour brought him into deeper depression. Both I and his psychologists talked to him about this, but he refused to listen.
He began to deteriorate and after many months I was really afraid, that I would find him dead, if he did not go to hospital, but he refused another treatment. At the same time his behaviour became strange and unpleasant and I begged him: “Listen, if you are not going to hospital, I will find you dead, I am really sure about it. I can´t live with such a situation and being in fear …. and therefore I want you to think about what to do, otherwise I don´t know how to cope with the situation and how to go on.”
Some days later I drove, like every year to Berlin, which is, more or less my home, to see my friends. It was the first time in eighteen months that I left Jürgen on his own. At some point during those days he killed himself.
The idea behind Footpath of Life is of course in memory of him; but the main reason why I am doing it, is to help people with depression. Those people who think, that the death will be a solution, those who are suffering, because they can´t see the light and a future.
I want to help them to see that everything is possible doesn´t matter how terrible and dark your life is at the moment it will improve. I, myself have suffered from depression for more than five years, since my partner killed himself, I have also attempted suicide, I have been in hospital myself for months and after Jürgen’s death I stayed for six months in my apartment not able to leave it. I was not able to live, I was existing and cried day and night.
I have been in the depths of the hell. I know what darkness and being hopeless means. In this darkness I started to give up and to give away everything I built, everything I own, which is not much.
I don´t have a car, a house or anything I can sell to make the idea happen. I simply have faith in what I am doing and I will prove, that it will work out and that life will help, to make the impossible possible. It doesn’t matter how terrible someone feels… but it is possible. You just have to get on and do it. I hope this is what my walk will prove.
What is the idea behind Footpath of life?
I want plant trees of memory on a path around the world. I will walk the path I will plant those trees. By now 25 trees in 10 countries have been requested and I think that at the end I will walk about 75000km.
What is the meaning behind this ring lined by trees of memory?
Among the many billions of trees none are identical to another. Just as love is: Unique and not comparable.
This is why I think a growing tree is the perfect symbol. Even the seasons symbolize the various phases of a relationship. What is still flourishing in the beginning, must also go through frosty times from time to time. This is important for every new start and changes help to become a stronger relationship.
Every tree stands for a life that is past and one that is still ongoing.
Trees are planted on a ring around the earth that stands for the infinity and the cycle of life. The earth is spinning and life goes on from the beginning of time. A life without friendship and love is not possible both for man and many animals. A ring is a widespread symbol, not just for infinity. We wear wedding rings .
I want the Footpath of Life to become an international and intercultural symbol for the beauty and the value of life. Life belongs to death, just as joy belongs to grief too. But at the end of every day life is beautiful and diverse and it is worth fighting for; Every single day.
My idea with Footpath of Life is to break to taboo of suicide with widely visible sign of the importance and the increasing need for suicide prevention. I think we all underestimate the signs which have been ongoing for a while and cannot imagine the unthinkable. Those affected often refuse to believe that a depression can lead directly to death, if untreated.
Are you aware of the effects of suicide on partners, children, parents or friends? The hospitals and the mental institutions are aware that the care and support given to relatives of those who commit suicide is often lacking and it often takes years before they can lead a normal life again. Health systems often can not afford to help. That is why each one of us has to play a part. It costs you nothing just listen and respect that everyone is different in how we cope with life’s trials. Do not give up. We need you.
One of the reasons for doing this is to help me process the circumstances. My whole life has been determined by people, work and circumstances. My depression caused anxiety and almost led to me completely destroying myself – almost. I am still here, because I fight, because it is worth it. Jürgen’s suicide took away everything that was a happy life for me. I could not help it. My feelings of guilt plague me often and not few people realise that depression is a disease that can end in suicide. Cancer of the soul.
With this project, I hope to face all my fears, worries and needs, and one day I regain spiritual and psychological freedom. I will take total control of my own life and with the encounter of abilities and shortcomings that I have not yet known, I will be able to give back what is no longer conceivable for many: Faith in life. I will fight for it. For others and myself.
Have you planned your walking route?
I cannot plan the route because the route will be designed by those who wish to become a part of Footpath of Life with their tree, in memory of their loved ones. People who have lost somebody will write to me and invite me to come to the city to the place, where they lived with this person, so together we can plant their tree. It is important that those people are with me, because it is in memory their relationship not mine. Maybe somebody invites me to New Jersey, the next one invites me to Washington DC, the third one to Columbus and the other one to Los Angeles and so on… I will plan the route and then I will walk from place to place. I will plan just maybe three months in advance and so the path around the world will develop as time goes on. If you want to become part of it you can find the information here. http://footpath-of-life.co.uk/informations-2/receive%20your%20tree.html
Receive your tree – footpath-of-life.co.uk
Now you have come this far. Let us go along the next step and let’s get together to plant a tree,
I would like to do this for free but if people could offer me a bed and a soup for the day it would be good, if not, it is not a problem.
How are you preparing yourself for the walk?
For the last weeks I have a boxing club who are helping me by offering cardiac training for free. As well as that, I have started now taking long hiking trips at the weekend. Even without this I do not think it would be a problem because stamina increases with walking. Once I walked a 1000 km trail without any prior training. The first two weeks were bad but day by day I became fitter and more able to achieve it.
What have been your family and friends’ reaction to you doing this?
Well, most of my friends were afraid I would not survive this depression. In my lifetime I have taken on many big challenges (crossing Africa, first climb on a mountain in Antarctica and stuff like that). My friends were all very moved, when I told them of my plans, they were brought to tears, but at the end all of them told me: “I am so happy that Mario is back.”
This is a really inspiring story. How can we help you in your endeavour?
I need every help I can get for this big project. first of all I need financial support to start everything. I have bought a tent and many things I will need but as the journey continues I need some food and from time to time new shoes, so I will need some ongoing financial support. I hope in time the project will become self supporting in around two years. If this happens everything is safe an then I can put all extra money into suicide prevention work in the countries I am walking through. This my main goal. Donations can be given at: https://www.gofundme.com/FootpathofLife
Another way people can help, is by becoming a financial sponsor or providing equipment. I still need a lot of equipment and as I foresee being on the road for fifteen years, I could test equipment which will be a great opportunity for companies to work with me. Companies can also ask sponsor a tree in memory of their employees who have passed away. There are many possibilities mentioned on my website www.footpath-of-life.com
If somebody wants to support me with an equipment gift she or he will be very welcome. On this page I have a list of all the equipment which is still missing. Equipment can be bought and sent to my address, which you will find under “contact” on the website.