Saturday, April 14, 2012

Action 326 - See The Signs.

(This is the first in a five part series on depression and suicide. It's an ugly topic that stirs up a lot of painful memories and experiences for me, but I feel like the value in sharing this far outweighs the pain of revisiting it.)

Bob Bergeron was a life coach in New York City. He was also an author, having recently completed writing "The Right Side of 40," a self-help book focused on how life for gay men is better after turning forty. Bergeron was known for being relentlessly optimistic and encouraging, a constant source of motivation and inspiration for those who knew and worked with him.

And on New Year's Eve, this upbeat and life-affirming man laid out a table full of financial documents and instructions and then took his own life.

For his friends and family, the reaction was the same. "Why?"

Unfortunately, the only person who could answer that question is no longer here with us. Others are left in the dark, never to know what drove a seemingly happy and successful man to end his life.

There is speculation, of course. He knew everyone but had no true friends. He worried that his book would be ridiculed and he would be exposed as a fraud. Or he was alone, lonely, and desperate to be loved.

No one knows for sure and they never will. But his circle of friends has lost someone precious to them and must now live with that loss for the rest of ther own lives.

I get it. I don't mean that I know something his loved ones do not. I am not that presumptuous. I mean that I understand how a person who appears to the outside world has having it all can, at the same time, struggle with depression so dark and overwhelming that even breathing is difficult.

I have dealt with depression my whole life. That comes as a surprise to many people who know me, because I have a reputation for my energy, my spirit and my passion for life. But they aren't really conflicting truths. When I am up, I am all the way up. But when I am down, I can really hit bottom.

I wish I could say that these depressing times were long ago, but that's not so. In fact, it was just this past December that I went through it. I was dealing with a professional issue that had bled over into my personal life with devastating effects, and I was struggling to get through it. I was also feeling overwhelmed by other financial issues and feeling emotionally distanced from my husband. In my head, everything was bad and getting worse.

I remember the lowest point. I was sitting in my home office, staring at my computer monitor, numb from another frustrating conversation with my attorney. I was angry that I was being dragged into a work-related problem that someone had caused, hurt that it was doing so much damage to my personal life, and sad that I had no one to talk to about it.

And then it came to me. The solution. It was as if someone had leaned down and whispered it into my ear.
"There's a pistol less than 20 feet away. One shot and this all ends."

And I sat there staring at the closet door, knowing that the gun was there... right there... and that a single gunshot would make everything end.



Why didn't I do it? I'll be completely honest and candid here. I thought about it, but then I thought about my husband.
"If I do this, Ric will kill himself, too. He won't go on without me. He won't be able to handle the pain of losing me AND the financial mess my death would drop into his lap. Killing myself means killing Ric, too."

And from there, I thought about our two dogs. With Ric and I both gone, the dogs would end up separated in a shelter somewhere. Or, worse still, they would be put down.

So my "single shot makes the problems stop" theory was flawed. My one shot would ultimately mean the taking of four souls. And I just couldn't get myself to accept that as the right thing to do.

And that really was the bottom for me. After accepting the fact that I wasn't prepared to kill us all, I realized that suicide wasn't going to be an option at all. And that meant I needed to get my act together, find alternative solutions to my problems, and get on with my life.

These days, I look back on December and cringe at how broken I felt. And talking about it now isn't easy. But part of improving my own life is reaching out to others when I can, and this is a topic worth discussing out in the open. It also helps me to look back and see how I got to that point, and be concious of the same emotional tumble happening again.

Which brings me to Action 326 - See The Signs. Because they were there. I was making more of my problems then I should have been. Yes, I was dealing with financial issues. So what? The worst that happens is I file bankruptcy and put it all behind me. I was feeling isolated and lonely from my friends. Sure, but I was the one putting the distance between us. And, most telling, I felt estranged from my husband. But again, it was me that was moving away from him, not the other way around. He was the same steadfast rock that he has always been.

I will go through tough times again. It is an inevitable part of life. But the former (go through) is more important than the latter (tough times). The bad things that happen to and around me are just experiences that I must survive. They are not the sum total of my life.

I am stronger than anything bad that can happen to me. So when I see the signs of depression in my own behavior, I need to see it for what it is. I need to acknowledge that I am in trouble and reach out for help.

Depression and suicidal thoughts can sometimes be a part of my life. But they need never become so overwhelming that I let them seem more important than my life itself. I am not going to let a single low point take me out of this life.