Being physically active, part of a community and taking care of your mental wellbeing- they’re all ingredients for making life richer. Darkness Into Light is an annual event raising funds for Pieta House in Dublin, supporting people through mental illness, in suicide prevention and spreading the message that it’s ok not to be ok.
It’s something that the Irish expat community in Australia come together for. They run, walk, swim, dip and share important connections and conversations.
Just before Darkness Into Light 2021 on 8th May, we caught up with Caroline McKenna of A County Down Under, and Aisling Quigley of The Sunrise Collective. Across Sydney and Melbourne, these two are trail-blazing the way to bring the Irish community together more than ever before. For Darkness Into Light, and beyond. Here’s what they had to say...
You’re both doing such amazing things, but where did the journey with DIL start for you?
Caroline:I first got involved five years ago when I moved to Sydney. It was still an up and coming initiative but an important one, and I remember arriving at Bondi beach to what felt like the middle of the night. I couldn't believe the thousands of people in yellow shirts standing in the darkness, I was so taken aback.
Aisling: I’m passionate aboutmental health, and have had a lengthy and challenging battle of my own over the years. My own journey led me to do the work that I do now though, supporting others on theirs. Being both from Ireland and living in Australia, I’ve always admired Darkness into Light and got involved to help share their message with as many people as I can.
What makes it such an important cause to you personally?
Caroline: Growing up In Ireland, we sadly lost many young lives to suicide in our community. I found it hard to understand and comprehend. Even though I didn't know all of them personally, I felt there must be more we can do as a community to help. I started volunteering in Sydney four years ago for The Light Ball, an annual black-tie event that takes place every year to help tackle mental health in Australia, Ireland and beyond. It started with a group of friends who came together after losing their close friend in Ireland to suicide, and the movement has seen the original event in Ireland grow to Sydney, Melbourne, Abu Dhabi and soon Brisbane. Darkness Into Light and The Light Ball work together to help to raise awareness of this extremely important cause. After a devastating year in 2020, we need to gather together more than ever.
Aisling:For me it’s themessages they share, conversations they start, and community they create. They encourage activities to support both physical and mental health, and I've seen first hand the impact that being part of a community and prioritising wellbeing can have. I love being able to give back in some small way after all the support I've received over the years on my own journey, to help others in need and do such an important job of raising awareness. I’m also so appreciative of the connection it gives me with so many Irish expats. That link to home is something very special after living away for almost a decade!
That really is something special. They really do bring the Irish community in Australia together don’t they?
Caroline: It’s really amazing. We have all been affected by suicide in some way, and there are no excuses made by the Irish community when it comes to turning up for Darkness into Light. We block out the date in our calendar months in advance, and when we all gather on the beaches on the 8th May- there’s a feeling in the air I wish you could bottle. The emotion, sense of family, and comfort is something you have to experience. The Irish have always been known as compassionate and caring people, and this is shown on the day where we gather to help make change. This year DIL will be a very emotional one- we will be gathering as a family who have helped one another through the heartbreak, isolation and devastation of being unable to get home to Ireland.
Aisling: When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you give permission to others to do the same. It never ceases to amaze me. These DIL events let us create spaces and experiences that connect us to home, and allow us to have real and open conversations- it’s incredibly powerful. Life is not always the showreel we see on social media, and we’re all finding our way together. As an Irish expat community, this bonds us on a deep level. We all get it. We do love our lives here, but what we all wouldn't give to be sitting at our kitchen table with a cup of Barry's tea...
Being physically active plays a huge role in a lot of DIL events- walks, runs, dips... How do you think living an active lifestyle supports mental wellbeing?
Caroline: I think physical and mental health go had in hand. I discuss my own struggle with depression on my podcast, and how getting out for a walk and going to CrossFit helped me get through even the darkest days. 2020 showed us this more than ever, and made us all try to take better care of ourselves and our bodies. The local mountains, fields and parks were filled with people finding a more active lifestyle, it was great to see.
Aisling: In so many ways! I think the key elements to wellbeing are movement for your body, quiet time for your mind, feeling close to nature, and community. Like-minded people coming together for a common purpose and feeling connected to each other. Living an active lifestyle encourages all of these things, and you benefit mentally and physically.
Can you tell us about the events you have planned for this year?
Caroline: In the past year I have started A County Down Under Sunrise Social Clubs all over the world every Saturday to help bring people together and make life richer. Ironic, considering only a few years ago I hated the idea of getting up for sunrise, but I have found something very peaceful about sunrise. It makes a massive difference to my mental health and it has created a community of like-minded people all over the world who can connect, make new friends and feel a sense of belonging. Don't get me wrong, we still love to have a party, but sometimes it is nice to start the weekend off on a more wholesome note.I’m excited to say that A County Down Sunrise Social Clubs in Australia (Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide) and Ireland (Belfast, Portstewart, Cork, Fermanagh, Dublin, Galway, Tyrone and County Down) are all taking part in Darkness Into Light this year. We also have a sold out fundraiser breakfast for Darkness Into light planned in Sydney, which has already raised $2000 and counting!
Aisling: I was lucky enough to be involved with the ‘12 Dips for DIL’ where we held a Sunrise Collective in December with over 65 people crazy enough to get up at 6am and dunk themselves into the sea. It couldn't have been further from the idyllic sunrise swim you'd imagine in Australia, more like the wild Atlantic Way, but the energy was unforgettable! There was a very special banding together that day. We are also of course planning a very special Sunrise Collective for Darkness into Light on May 8th, but my lips are sealed on that one…
This is incredible. We can’t wait to hear more after these events have happened! Do you have other things happening throughout the year too?
Caroline: Darkness Into Light is only held once a year worldwide, but we will be hosting The Light Ball Sydney at the end of this year. I also hold monthly events in Sydney to bring the community together, tackle mental health and raise funds for Darkness Into Light and the Irish Support Agency in Sydney.
Aisling:I have become good friends with the DIL committee - they are such a great crew. And so we are always brainstorming together on what amazing things we can bring to life to keep the conversation going - watch this space!
We absolutely will! With so many amazing things happening, what’s the best bit about being involved with DIL?
Caroline: You really feel like you are making change, and seeing the good in the world. We live in a world with a lot of negativity and social media that can have a detrimental impact. I can’t wait too see social media light up on May 8th for all of the right reasons.
Aisling:Hard question! If I had to say, probably the community. The people I've met through this special organisation are some of my favourite people. There is something magic that comes from good people wanting to do good things, especially when it comes from such a genuine place.
What would you say to anyone considering getting involved with a DIL event in the future?
Caroline: You won't regret it. Not only are you helping change the lives of others and raise funds for an amazing cause, but it’s so good for your soul. You’ll meet new people, and feel truly part of something.