x
Breaking News
More () »

MENTAL HEALTH MISSION: Woman raising awareness with Michigan-to-California walk

Tarissa Reel has battled mental illness her whole life. A product of an abusive and neglectful childhood, she's raising awareness through a 2,300-mile walk.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sometimes, we just need to get our mind off things. You know, escape from the mental drain of it all. Going for a mile-or-two walk is always an option that can often help.

What about taking a 2,300-mile walk?

A Michigan woman has decided to do just that, setting out on a stroll from her home near Flint all the way to Los Angeles, Calif., with the hopes of raising awareness for and help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the United States.

Life hasn't been a friend to Tarissa Reel. She admittedly grew up in a dysfunctional home that involved a whole bunch of abuse and neglect.

"My mother suffered with bipolar disorder," said Reel, 26. "I basically had to fend for myself and raise my siblings alone."

As Reel entered her teenage years, the abuse intensified, leading her to attempt suicide not once, but twice.

"I was 16 when I tried to kill myself the first time," Reel said. "I thought that was my way to get out.

"I decided to try it again a month later."

When Reel turned 17, she moved out of her family home, figuring if she got away from the situation, it would all go away.

It didn't.

In 2015, she gave birth to a son, then two years later welcomed a daughter. While she was in the hospital, she says she was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Post-Partum Depression.

"My obsessive thoughts were to harm myself," Reel said. "Sometimes when thoughts like that become too much, it almost seems like you have to do them."

Soon after her diagnosis, her marriage began to fall apart and most relationships she tried to cultivate after continued to be affected by her mental health issues.

"In early 2021, I left where I was living in Ohio and moved to Michigan," said Reel. "The man I was dating at that time threatened to kill me so I knew I needed to get away."

Reel settled in Burton, Mich., which is near Flint. It was in February of this year when she decided enough was enough and she wanted to change her outlook on life and do the same for others who may be battling mental health disorders.

"We need to talk about mental health more than we do and how it impacts lives on a daily basis," Reel said. "There's too much stigma around it."

Reel wanted to do something to help. She says got in contact with somebody who walks for veterans and thought about doing the same thing to raise awareness and start a dialogue about mental health.

"I thought, 'What about walking across the United States; that might stir-up some attention.'"

After a few months of planning and preparation, and selecting a charity of choice (Whaley's Children Center, which is a nonprofit dedicated to helping abused, neglected and at-risk foster children), Reel circled June 22 on her calendar - her 26th birthday - as the date she and her travel partner, Matt Koorsen, would start hiking from Michigan to California.

She also created a "Walking for the Voiceless" Facebook page so people interested can follow her story, updating it with motivational quotes and anecdotes about her trek.

Credit: Tarissa Reel
Diagnosed with several forms of mental health issues, Tarissa Reel is walking across the United States to help others struggling, talk about it and seek help.
Credit: Tarissa Reel
Diagnosed with several forms of mental health issues, Tarissa Reel is walking across the United States to help others struggling, talk about it and seek help.
Credit: Tarissa Reel
Diagnosed with several forms of mental health issues, Tarissa Reel is walking across the United States to help others struggling, talk about it and seek help.

"We went from Burton to Durand to Perry, then through Owosso, Lansing and Kalamazoo, making our way south," added Reel. 

Before she left Michigan, her journey was slowed by some heavy rains and a tornado warning.

"We had to stop and seek shelter inside of a gas station until the [tornado] warning expired," Reel said. "The rain didn't let up so we pitched a tent under a bridge and slept there."

With food and supplies in her backpack, and a wooden cane-pole in her hand, Reel says she's been walking 15 to 20 miles each day. As of Tuesday, July 27 (35 days after starting), she and her travel partner were 670 miles from home, set to hop on the Katy Trail near Jefferson City, Miss., and start walking west toward California.

Credit: Tarissa Keel
On July 27, 2012, Tarissa Reel and her travel partner found themselves close to 700 miles from home, preparing to start walking due west to California.

"The only real complaint I have would be the mosquitoes," joked Reel. "The best thing so far is meeting people willing to share their personal mental health struggles, and donating to help."

Making it all the way to Los Angeles may be a real challenge since she's placed a deadline on her travels.

"I have to be back home [in Burton] on August 14 to get my two kids back in school," she said. "So, as far as I get will be as far as I get, but I can assure you I'm not going to stop walking until August 14."

Credit: Tarissa Reel
Hoping to generate conversation about mental health, Tarissa Reel has a message on her backpack that says, "I walked from Mi. Ask me why!"
Credit: Tarissa Reel
Hoping to generate conversation about mental health, Tarissa Reel has a message on her backpack that says, "I walked from Mi. Ask me why!"

Reel hopes that her walk will bring about hope to those who believe there's none.

"If you start speaking up and you start sharing your story, you never know who will be able to help you," Reel said. "My whole goal is to show people they're not alone, and that it's okay to not be okay."

If you would like to know more about Tarissa Reel and how to donate to her cause, you can visit her Walking for the Voiceless Facebook page, her GoFundMe page, her Venmo: @rissareel or her TikTok: The Sunshine Walker.

Tarissa also is encouraging anybody who's currently struggling with mental health problems to send her a direct message on the Facebook page. She promises to respond whenever her walk leads her to an area that provides decent cell phone service.

Related video:

Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@13onyourside.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.