I think I am still lost.

But I think that is okay.

It was less than two weeks ago that I turned on my Spotify “Release Radar” and was greeted by the voice of a musician that I knew to have committed suicide. I don’t use the word “shook” often but it is the only way I could describe how I felt. Or confused, maybe. How was there new music with the voice of Chester Bennington, who passed away in 2017 after a long battle with addiction? Did the studio take pieces of his voice from years of recording and create a new song? My mind was racing.

As it turned out the band was able to release a song that was left out of the original Hybrid Theory album when it was re-released for its 20th anniversary; this made a lot more sense to me. Chester’s death never sat well with me, with song titles from his final album ‘One More Light’ (“Nobody Can Save Me”, “Good Goodbye”, “Heavy”) screaming help in my head. I hope someone reached out to him. I mean, I am certain people reached out to him, and it is just very sad and very unfortunate that Chester lost his life to addition, leaving behind people who wanted to see him get through undoubtedly difficult circumstances.

“She Couldn’t” got me thinking about this, as well as the early (and current) days with Lost&Found which is celebrating it’s 10-year anniversary as a non-profit, 12 years after I had made it into a high school project. I love that Lost&Found is going strong.

I am also thankful, because without Lost&Found’s current leadership, the organization would not have continued to grow and thrive.

An Instagram post signifying Lost&Found’s 10-year celebration.

Before that, though, and before moving to Seattle for another degree, before over a year of dealing with too much medical baloney, before my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I served as the President of Lost&Found until the end of 2014. If you want to read the whole story, feel free to stop by here.

A newspaper clipping from summer 2010

Taking one step before that, the school project that becomes Lost&Found focused heavily on making sure people didn’t feel alone. I would make weekly and monthly tasks for thousands of members to complete. We would litter the high school with sticky notes to brighten our peers’ days, write letters to our mentors and friends to show they matter, you get the idea. At the heart of this project was that we as a community can be better to our neighbors and friends to prevent mental health issues all while attempting to reduce the stigma surrounding it. While it is easy to see the evolution from that to a focus on resilience (as seen in much of the organization’s marketing), it is also easy to see how much the organization has evolved as it takes on a serious and professional role in the Midwest. I firmly believe Lost&Found is tackling mental health in a way that has not been seen elsewhere; the organization still focuses on suicide prevention but has matured. Now, Lost&Found recognizes that building mental health resilience is essential to preventing suicide and protecting the mental health of our friends and communities.

There’s an in between here, of course. All of this “in between” comes from our inception in September 2010 up until my departure to East Africa in 2015. I am sharing a lot of this for the first time. I think strong people should be vulnerable. At the same time, I do not know that I am the epitome of strength. I know for a fact that while I am writing this for a general audience, I generally do not want to sit down with you and a cup of coffee to discuss my struggles with mental health. Not only does COVID forbid it, but also it just isn’t something I am comfortable having a conversation about.

Early on in Lost&Found’s inception, I would say (and still believe) that it takes broken people to help broken people. And I still believe that. I remember being young and closeted in a Midwest town, adults I respected being sure to let me know the LGBTQ+ community will go to hell. I remember mental health being trivialized. I remember being told people do X or Y for attention. Somehow, mental health wasn’t discussed despite South Dakota having one of the top 3 youth suicide rates in the US. Needless to say, this stuff piles on for a kid trying to figure out who they are, and it makes it incredibly difficult to open up about what you are feeling without the anxiety or worry you will be ostracized or that your feelings will be trivialized. A lot of these experiences are what inspired me to start Lost&Found.

These experiences, and a lot of societal norms for men, also made it incredibly difficult to take the organization’s mission and apply it to myself. One example of this comes from my first semester at college. I decided, as an adult, I could finally see a doctor for the anxiety I had felt for years that I was previously unwilling to discuss. Now, my anxiety at this point was so high that I jumped through hoops to make sure nobody knew I was going to a doctor, much less what for. I paid for the visit out of pocket, only for the doctor to tell me my feelings are normal and that I am overreacting. He sent me off, I felt defeated, and that is the absolute last time I opened up about my mental health for 2 more years because I didn’t trust that people would trust me.

The funny thing is that it did not stop me and fellow students to start a college chapter of Lost&Found. If anything, it pushed me to bring the organization’s mission to light so other people didn’t have to feel the way I felt. I traveled across the Midwest speaking about mental health with organizations such as FCCLA (where the project started) and HOBY. I spoke with high schools alongside other board members, and with psychology students at universities. I loved speaking about the organization and I hated speaking about my personal struggles with mental health.

This hypocritical stance drove a wedge in between myself and the organization I loved. I felt selfish, telling people to open up about their issues and to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, all while the stigma surrounding mental health had a firm control on my ability to speak about my own struggles. I still did as much as I could with Lost&Found at the heart of my work. I worked with the Board of Regents to bring about policy changes that prevent cyber bullying and cyber sexual harassment, two major issues related directly to mental health.

It was a vicious cycle for me. I was ashamed that I was unable to speak openly about my own mental health. I focused my time elsewhere, too afraid to be above the stigma despite what I espoused. I understand this is a feeling many of us have when talking about very real issues regarding our well-being. I get it on a very deep, very personal level.

This is not an excuse, but rather a segue into an apology. I felt personally responsible for preventing the growth of Lost&Found and nearly allowing the organization to fade away. Recently, I was able to sit down with a few other people that were part of Lost&Found’s early years, and I expressed these feelings. And I do, honestly, apologize for not “doing more”.

These people reminded me that we were young and learning and were all fighting our own battles. They also provided some insight into the fact that the organization needed someone able to dedicate more time and resources than a group of college kids who had other focuses at the time. This knowledge, looking back at it, really created a pivotal point for the organization.

I stepped away and am incredibly thankful that my close friends were able to take on this important cause full-time. Shoutout to you, Erik Muckey. More than anything, I am so, so proud of where he and others have taken Lost&Found. I deeply miss the meaningfulness and the work Lost&Found does. If Erik hadn’t taken on this role, I know Lost&Found would not have evolved into what we see today. I will always feel disappointment in not being a bigger part of Lost&Found these last few years, but that does not stop the joy I feel in its success.

Ten years ago we were a group of fresh-into-college kids with an idea that we wanted to help people who were like us. We wanted to bring a voice to mental health well-being. Now, Lost&Found is serving communities across the State of South Dakota and only continues to grow. Heck, it even helps me. I recognize that there is a vast spectrum between “Lost” and “Found,” and I don’t think any of us are purely one way or the other. And I think if I am not quite sure where I land, I am probably leaning left of center.

But the neat thing about that is I am working on myself. I think it is okay to not always be okay. I also think we should all continue building our abilities to support ourselves and support others.

I am so excited to support Lost&Found for another ten years.

In supporting Lost&Found, I also hope to work on myself. I hope to be better at saying I need help.

And, sooner than later, COVID be damned, I will be comfortable sharing these feelings with you over a cup of coffee.

I began with a song, I find it only appropriate to also end with one. This started playing after I published the actual blog post, but it really felt like it belonged right here.

With a deep love and appreciation for everyone who has ever been involved with Lost&Found,

DJ Smith

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Dennis J. Smith

Human Enthusiast. University of Washington, MA International Studies. University of South Dakota, BS Political Science, English. Twitter @DJorDennis