In recent months it seems one cannot turn on a news program or pick up a newspaper without hearing or reading about someone who has taken their own life as a result of suicide. There seems to be a kind of epidemic spreading. It is not limited to just the uneducated, the poor, teenagers or the influence of social media.
The list of famous, successful people who have committed suicide is a long one: Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist, James Forrestal former secretary of the Navy, Junior Seau 10 time All-Pro football player, Kurt Cobain singer-songwriter, Lembit Oll chess grandmaster from Estonia, Meriwther Lewia an American explorer, Samuel J. F. Thayer American architect, Vincent van Gogh post-impressionist painter, George Eastman inventor of rolled film and founder of Eastman Kodak Company and many, many others. Samuel Austin Kendall, spent 14 years in the House representing Pennsylvania. He lost a re-election bid and shot himself in the House Office Building just before his successor was sworn in. All of these people suffered from some kind of depression or emotional disorder and committed suicide.
Throughout my life, I have lived with the feeling that there has been this storm cloud following me, or I was continuously walking in a rain storm. For all those years I have tried to find a reason why but to no avail.
Family: While searching for answers I have felt it was my parents’ fault, dressing me in out of date hand me down clothing which didn’t exactly fit right, or with their busy lives didn’t give me enough attention. Was I beaten as child? Did I have poor toilet training? Looking back in all honesty I really can’t say that. We were far from the richest family, but my parents were loving people. They were not June and Ward Cleaver, they were more like Archie and Edith Bunker. They were hardworking people who did the best they could with what they had. If there was a problem with them the hardworking part might have something to do with it, but they spent as much time as they could, not only with me but also with my siblings.
Were there other family members with the same condition? I’m not really sure if I can say that. Like most families, there was the odd duck here and there, although some branches of my family tree may have been weighed down with more than its share of odd ducks.
Walking through life followed by a storm cloud became a daily state for me as far back as I can remember. One episode I clearly recall is a conference my parents had with my teacher at school. I was labeled a dreamer, an underachiever, a bit of a discipline problem and possibly had a learning disorder. As a result, I was packed up and sent to a Catholic school. I have to confess that this didn’t really force me to pay closer attention in school; I had average or slightly less than average grades. I did just enough to get by, with no idea of what I wanted to do after graduation.
School: I should take a step back at this point and explain that I was placed in a Catholic school, but I’m not Catholic. I should say that being different may not be a bad thing; it can make a person more interesting. However, being well established as a little strange and then being a non-Catholic in a Catholic school is a recipe for feelings of isolation. To further my isolation, I was six feet tall at the start of ninth grade, very skinny, really never grew into my ears and did not have the right kind of hair for the time period. So here I am a non-Catholic, head and shoulders above everyone else, being so skinny I looked like a feature picture from Mission Magazine, with ears that looked like both car doors were open, dressed in clothing that was in style ten years ago and didn’t fit quite right. This combination just added to my feeling like a “Freak”.
College was never encouraged for me in high school, but as I remember, it was considered a waste of time for me to apply. I actually thought I would like to be a history teacher or study art history. My dad grew up during the depression, and was a blue collar worker all his life. He did not understand why anyone would waste time on college, so I was told to learn a trade. I did manage to be accepted at a local two year college for accounting but after my first year I realized accounting was not for me and dropped out.
I didn’t know it at the time but I was self-medicating, drinking way too much and totaled a car. I should have been seriously injured but wasn’t. I was a young adult and didn’t know it then but I was on a down slide. Then I met my wife.
Romance: Romance was equally challenging for me, not being comfortable in my own skin. It seemed young men and women had no difficulties with dating. Somehow I did manage to acquire a girlfriend, who I cared very much for, but it didn’t work out.
I had a few other short term relationships but once again nothing that seemed to be permanent Finally, I met a women who at first I really was uncomfortable with. We met in December were engaged in April and married in October. We are still together, have three children and through my darkest times she has become my rock. Looking back I think I first married because everyone I knew was marrying, it was expected, the next state of my life. I have found numerous creative ways to mess up my life and she has always been there to put me back on track and I still to this day don’t always understand why, but I am very grateful she is there.
Careers: I bounced around a lot from job to job; my average life expectancy at a job was 3 years at the most. I have had a multitude of different career experiences but none seemed to work out. I guess I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and truth be told I still don’t. What is interesting is that despite all my different careers, I always seemed to find myself in a position of supervision or management.
Working in management for most of my working life was not something I sought out. I could never understand when I was so out of control inside how I was able to keep things running on the outside.
Also at this point I had become so insecure, I didn’t really want to deal with other people’s problems or have to encourage others. But I did, sometimes I would be so nervous for example if I had to terminate someone. As I remember I would shake after the task was done.
The First Crisis: I didn’t know it at the time, but I was working in management, in a field I did not realize I hated; I was married with two small children a third on the way and had just bought a house. I was twenty eight years old and my first storm cloud hit me. I had no interest in anything, never wanted to get out of bed, wouldn’t do anything around the house, I had no interest in doing anything with my children, I was miserable to live with and blamed the world for everything and lived in a constant state of anger which showed itself at home
I am not going to explain how I had planned to do myself in; I’ll keep my plan to myself as I don’t want to give anyone ideas. My wife knew I was having difficulties, but unbeknownst to her and I believe she is just finding out as she reads this, it was the birth of my third child that stopped me in my tracks. I was all set, I had a plan, but I just couldn’t leave her and my new child.
Help: I became aware that I was falling into a deep black pit with no bottom and no way out and, with the insistence of my wife, I began to seek help and started seeing a counselor, I started out with two times a week visits. They seemed to be helping although there were so many thing running through my head, sorting out where the problems were or what caused them became murky for me after a while and I was saying “oh yes” to anything that was suggested as an issue for me.
The Second Crisis: This one came about around a year and a half later. I had become very frustrated with my job, things were not going right at home, there were financial issues and it seemed like I was working continuously and get nowhere at rocket speed. Friendships were very limited. My own family (father, mother and siblings) seemed to be aliens and understood nothing about me. I felt very alone and isolated with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Once again I had a plan to do myself in, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and nothing was going right. I was close to getting off work for the day and had planned on ending the pain once my shift was over. Out of the blue my middle child called me, and told me I was missed and asked me to come home. I melted.
Back for Help: Now I went back for additional help, but this time I was put into a group. I can’t honestly say the group did any more for me than individual psychotherapy, but there was a kind of awakening. I realized that no matter how I bad I felt, there were many more out there with bigger problems.
Working My Way Back: It has been a long difficult road back and I continue to experiment with how I handle life, but I have come to realize a number of things about myself, depression and the wrong beliefs I had, as does much of the world:
Smoke and Mirrors: I was certain that because I was creative with a good imagine I had everyone fooled. I believe no one realized how much trouble I was in. WRONG!! The only person that was fooled was me. The problem was no one who knew me dared say anything out of fear of my reaction. The exception was my wife, but again she had to walk on eggshells at times when approaching the subject. It turns out I was not only hurting myself but those closest to me. I became so absorbed with the illusion and myself, I never saw the pain I was putting others through.
Medications: I was very resistant to psychotropic medications at the onset of my depression; it was many wasted years before I’d agree to take any. Once I finally went along with using them I made the same mistake many people make; I was feeling better so I must be cured and therefore I don’t need them anymore. WRONG!! The feeling better is directly a result of the medications, I failed to realize that and that is a mistake I’ll not make again. If you stop the medications you can fall deeper into the bottomless hole.
Male Ego: Like most men I was raised that males should strong, with no emotion or at least they should never show or, heaven forbid, talk about them. WRONG!! What destructive foolishness. I now believe because of this thinking depression in males may be harder to deal with, and actually because of the communications breakdowns may very well cause the depression to be more intense. As a man you just don’t talk about such things.
The Unspoken Illness: Perhaps because of the unpredictability of the actions of people suffering from depression we hide it. Too many people believe if we ignore it will go away, or he/she needs to grow up and get tougher or you need a thicker skin, or they are just looking for attention. WRONG!! The person with depression is in very real pain. We offer sympathy for people with heart conditions, or lung disorders or a stomach problem, why can’t we see the human brain can malfunction just like the rest of our body. We need to take depression seriously, have serious conversations about depression and hear the cries for help. We need to recognize it as a disability and ailment just like cancer and realize no one is immune.
What Works For Me: I have been told writing this article may be therapeutic for me, I’m here to tell you for me it is not, just too many demons under my bed that I have no interest in revisiting. There is very much I have held back, but I want everyone to know I live with depression every day. It’s an ongoing challenge that will never go away. I take medication. It does not stop it, but helps me to deal with the illness. I am not cured, but I have gotten to the point where, when morning comes, I still want to pull the covers over my head and hide there all day, but I rely on my knowledge of the illness to keep me going and I openly talk about it.
Most day I still feel like the odd duck, very much left of center. I’m still not comfortable with my height. I have learned to adapt to those feelings of being different, sometimes even take pride in it or embrace them. It has been said in every career I have had that I’m supposed to be very talented and creative; I never believe it, I always think there is an ulterior motive and have become a master at sabotaging myself in everything I do or have done.
I found I use humor to overcome my discomforts; I have become an expert at self-deprecation. I shouldn’t admit this it is partly a defense mechanism against my own mistakes I make and negative comments directed to me. It’s like disarming you enemies.
Over time I have come to the conclusion that, for me, depression is more of a chemical problem. The dark clouds are still there and may never go away and some circumstances can exacerbate this preexisting condition but meds are my umbrella from the rain cloud over me. I have come believe those dark clouds are what make me who I am. They are part of me and make me the unique individual I am.
The key for my survival are those little places of “ZEN”, where I find time slows down or distorts, and where I can clear my mind. Those places are where there is no outside world and I try to relish those moments and try to keep them in my head as long as possible.
Suicide and depression appears to be at epidemic proportions. What I hope readers take away from this article is to realize how important it is to change our views on depression and suicide. This article is about me, but it not about me, it’s about depressions and the feelings of loneliness, isolation and uselessness that accompany depression. Change cannot happen until people are willing to listen and depression is brought out into the light.
I did somehow manage to go back to college with a great deal of support from my wife, in fact I received a Master’s Degree. So much for a learning disability!
One final note for all of you marching to a different drummer: I no longer feel like the world is dressed in plaid and I’m wearing polka dots. Everyone is still wearing plaid, but I’m dressed in pin stripes. I’m not marching to a different drummer, it’s a whole different band and I’m learning to be proud of it.
This post is dedicated to my wife for her tireless encouragement; I still don’t know what you see, but the world needs more of you.
24 Hour Suicide Hotline in the U.S.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
For Additional information please visit the following: (General Information)
(These are just a handful, there is much more information available. Get Informed, Get involved and make a difference)
Prevent Suicide Apps: