Don’t be hiding in sorrow, Or clinging to the past ,With your beauty so precious, And the season so fast, No matter how cold the horizon appear, Or how far the first night, When I held you near, You gotta rise from these ashes, Like a bird of flame, Step out of the shadow, We’ve gotta go where we can shine.
~David Gray “Shine”
A week ago, I received the news on Facebook, as has become the norm of how we pass news to one another. One of my friends and fraternity brothers from college had committed suicide due to depression. This is not the first time I have been faced with this news, it is not the second time, it is not the third time, it is the fourth time. How can this be?
This particular person who chose to take his life was kind, was never mean that I knew of, was in fact always happy when I saw him. He had recently, though, had his marriage to his college sweetheart dissolve and had his business that he tried to start fail. I’m sure to him, nothing seemed to be going right. He left a girlfriend, ex-wife, a 9 and 4-year-old child and a humongous load of fraternity and life friends who now clean up the pieces left from this action. For me, there was always going to be another day, tomorrow maybe, when we would see each other again. Now, the next time I will see him is when he is lowered into a six-foot hole in the ground.
My problem is that I know the darkness he felt surrounded him. The hole that you fall in and look up and don’t see any light to guide you back home. Your family and friends might be just down the street as are mine, but you feel so alone. There is no one to understand what you feel, you think. I am alone and I don’t see the way out, you hear yourself saying. Depression and mental illness are diseases and we have not yet fully understood how to diagnose and help those that have it. Is it the magic pill, therapy, time, or some other magic trick yet thought of? I wish I had the answer. I saw no scream of help from my friend before he made his terrible choice to take his life and leave all of those that cared about him.
But depression can rob you of thinking logically. We have to pay attention to those around us. Take our faces out of our tablets, phones, and distractions and get back to focusing on raising our community through interaction. I am truly as guilty as anyone for not paying attention to those around me and have my nose in my electronic toys of the day. But in my life I lost too many friends to suicide and depression or just a lack of care about themselves:
1. Chris McCandless – Yes, the one they wrote the book and movie “Into the Wild” about. The boy I grew up with from 13-18 years of age was not the person in that movie. I don’t know what happened to him during college or why he made the choices he did, but he obviously gave up on society. I don’t know what led him to do this. I can’t hardly read the book or watch the movie. That’s not the Chris I knew. It seems so unreal to me that the person I grew up with made the choices he made.
2. Mike Whalen – A High School and College friend who was struck by a train while walking on train tracks. I’ve walked on train tracks. I’ve felt them rumble as a train approaches. You don’t just get hit by a train while walking on train tracks. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know that in High School he was a preppy kid and then on the first day of college, I went to see him and he was in leathers with a mohawk. I’m not sure he was ever able to be comfortable in his own skin. I don’t know about his home life. I only know I can’t see him again. He is another friend that always had a smile and kind word for you.
3. “Krazy” Greg Milewski – When I graduated from college I started working as a director for a local cable access show starring “Krazy” Greg called “Krazy Greg’s TV Platter Party”. We had so much fun doing that show. Greg truly wanted to be a 50’s record host TV star like Dick Clark was. We made a show as best we could. I enjoyed the few years that we did this. Then one day out of the blue, the producer of the show called me to tell me that Greg shot himself in the head. He was dead. I had to go to his apartment and clean it out. I had to help clean the van that he committed suicide in. I can’t put into words what that was like and how much that hurt us, the ones who had to live with this as his last memory. Why did he do this? Depression not doubt played a part. He was also accused of a crime and he also had little to no money and a hard family life. All he has was in his mind was his show and reputation and that wasn’t enough for him. The note he left said the world would be better without him. It is not. It most certainly would be better with him in it and the happiness he brought through his love of the 50’s. But he can never know that now.
4. Rob Fitz – My friend and fraternity brother. I wish I could say I knew him better, but the times we did see each other were some special times. He always made me laugh and had a free spirit about him that made you want to hang out with him. I hadn’t seen him in some years, but my fraternity alumni are very active and we all keep up with each other. Of course he was a Facebook friend and I could spy on his life through that, so never felt like he was that far away. Now he is away permanently by taking his own life and leaving literally hundreds of people questioning why.
Suicide is a selfish act. Suicide due to depression is a lost soul, who will never know that when you hit the bottom of the hole, there is only one way to go from there, and that is up. It is so hard to see the light from the bottom of the hole though. That is why there is professional help and medication if needed. I needed to make many changes in my own life to realize how valuable I was to others…to myself. To find the rungs of the ladder and climb out of that dark and deep hole. No one promised any of us that life would be easy. Depression does not discriminate based on your status in life, your wealth, or your career, your family life, and your success. It is a disease, like getting the flu. You have to ask for help, show you need it, and decide which process you will take to get better. If you don’t seek or ask for help, you may decide that life is no longer worth living and no one around you could help you get what you needed.
I have talked to many people who have survived and learned to thrive past their depression, whether due to a past of abuse, bullying, or just the way their mind works. Of course, I know firsthand as well. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I am lucky to have a large family around and many friends who love me. It is unconditional and I had to live, if for no other reason, then because I couldn’t bear to hurt them. But during that time, I certainly did not think much of myself. I needed to want to get better. I can’t bring back any of my four friends I have told you about above. But I can share their spirit and keep them alive through sharing this story. If one of you reads this and realizes that life is always worth living and it will get better, than it was worth writing and sharing this personal pain. I will keep going, but I never forget those four friends and the choices they made. They robbed me from a life of positive memories that would come once they got past their depression, issues, or whatever led them to make their choice.
I hope that you read this. I hope that you understand that life is a large amount of peaks and valleys and we can only see how wonderful the peaks are if we fall into the valleys and look up. Then it is a hard climb back to the peak. But when you are back up there, with the fresh air and surrounded by your friends, family, and doctors that held out their hands to pull you to the top, and only when you are pulled back up, can you truly look back down at the valley and say, “Maybe one day I climb down again, but I know that I can get back up.”
I wish my four friends could have done that.
Please, if you are feeling alone and depressed, see these Depression Resources on the National Association of Mental Illness site and seek help.