Hello! Who are you?
My name is Ron Blake. I’m quite a bit more than the trauma I experienced.
I was born in Gary, Indiana, and raised with four siblings in suburban Chicago. I've run five marathons and graduated with an MPA from Indiana University. And during that one pretty cool summer I spent in Beverly Hills, I worked for the actress Sandra Bullock. I’m married and now residing and working in Phoenix, AZ as an artist and writer.
Independence and creativity are the foundation I use for my happiness. Despite the mental and physical pain I still experience from all the bad stuff I went through.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I was diagnosed with PTSD following a brutal rape days before Christmas in 2011. Three men entered my home one night while I was sick and asleep. I was held down, raped, and beaten. They nearly killed me.
I struggled badly with my mental health for so long. As well as requiring surgery, many years of extensive physical therapy, and lots of PTSD counseling.
My situation was exacerbated by something else. I was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. It caused me to be unable to remember most; if not all of the rape, for about two years after the trauma.
If you’ve ever watched the riveting Jason Bourne series of action-thriller movies, then you likely already have a good idea of what this condition is.
The Jason Bourne character played by actor Matt Damon spends most of the time trying to uncover just who he is and what happened to him in the past. To understand what impacted him so badly in his present life.
It is a condition that occurs as a result of experiencing severe trauma. It occurs in only about 1% of the population. Thus, it is not often understood.
That is my story. I had to remember over time just exactly what happened on that fateful night. Being awakened to the rape. The beatings. The harrowing 911 call I made as the rape was still occurring. Nearly being pushed off that 7th-floor balcony as I waited for help to arrive.
It will never completely leave me. PTSD is one of those chronic illnesses. You find ways to successfully manage it for the rest of your life.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
One of the three men involved in this brutal crime against me had been my partner for almost a decade. It was an incident of domestic violence too. I shared more details of what happened in this interview.
Explaining the additional challenges I faced knowing someone I had loved for so many years could have betrayed me. Being involved in something so heinous like this.
Shortly after the trauma, I started to isolate myself from the world. Experiencing anger with just about everything and everyone. Those closest to me sensed something was wrong. I knew something was wrong. But I was not able to identify what it was. Nor could anyone else. I continued to spiral out of control.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
An unexpected moment of laughter from a late-night comedy show stopped me from suicide at 10:44 pm on November 2, 2015. That spark of hope began my now eight-year 64,000-mile cross-country journey to become a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
It just sort of happened. What helped me was to go out on what’s called the Hero’s Journey.
This is a literary theme that was made popular by the author Joseph Campbell many years ago. It involves having a disruption in your everyday life. Answering that call to action. Going out on an adventure to face your fears. Overcoming challenges along the way. Then coming back home transformed and triumphant.
This Hero’s Journey theme has been used in many classic movies such as Star Wars, The Lion King, and Harry Potter.
My disruption was that moment of laughter I had on that dark night. It was my call to action. To head out on a journey to reach that symbolic goal involving The Late Show in New York City.
Every day on my now eight-year odyssey, I have courageously spoken out as a blue-collar male rape survivor. Breaking down stigmas. No longer isolating from the world. Learning to process the trauma by talking about it. Being vulnerable with strangers. Them being vulnerable back with me.
Overcoming relentless challenges with the PTSD, surgery, and extensive physical injuries I suffered from the rape. Not giving up. Staying determined. Even though I’ve been repeatedly hunted down and threatened by those bad guys on my international journey.
Meeting 32,259 strangers one by one on my travels who contributed colorfully written support on 496 giant foam boards for my 22,000 hours of effort to try and reach the symbolic goal of becoming a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Along the way, creating this massive display of artwork being featured in dozens of exhibitions, publications, and TV/radio news segments. Being signed to a contract as an author. Throwing out the 1st pitch in front of 43,000 fans to represent the moxie of trauma survivors.
Testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a new law. Giving a TEDx talk and presentations at 28 colleges. Being the featured subject in an Emmy-nominated documentary about my innovative recovery journey.
And coming back home transformed. To now share my triumphant story to inspire others struggling with challenges to head out on their very own Hero's Journey.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
Before beginning my adventure, I made a post on Facebook. For the very first time, I let all my family and friends know that I was raped.
I took a big chance doing that. I was born in Gary, Indiana, and was raised in the tough-as-steel neighborhoods along Chicago’s southeast side. I was not sure how my blue-collar pals would react to me sharing this.
Would they see this as a sign of weakness? Talking about being raped…as a male. And opening up about my mental health struggles.
I got an answer. My buddies and family responded with hundreds of supportive Facebook responses. They did not always use politically correct wording and did not talk to me like Dr. Phil. That did not matter. They were all there for me when I needed it. That’s what mattered.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
My piece of advice to give is this. And it comes in two parts as I will explain.
I have met those tens of thousands of strangers across all parts of the U.S. and Mexico during the past eight years. They have written the most incredible supportive stories on my 496 giant foam boards. Stories written in 94 languages with 27 Sharpie marker colors.
This massive collective story of laugh therapy will come with me to The Late Show when I do finally get invited. To help inspire millions of viewers who are struggling with mental health know two important things.
First: No one walks alone through the bad stuff we go through in life. The giant foam boards with those 32,259 vibrant stories demonstrate the abundant amazing support and love that’s out there for each one of us.
Second: Laughter is all around us. Even in our darkest moments.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
The best resource for me has come in 32,259 swashbuckling chapters. It is the book of love. Created from all those beautiful people I’ve met along my 64,000-mile adventure.
Each person along the way that has shared their story of support back with me on my giant boards has influenced me. Keeping me motivated. Keeping me going toward that symbolic goal at 53rd and Broadway in NYC. And keeping me away from suicide. How cool is that!
Where can we go to learn more about you?
Or just Google Ron Blake Phoenix. A lot will come up about my eight-year Hero’s Journey.
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