A loss always seems fresh, even when the calendar tells me otherwise.
Depression can really sneak up on you. It’s not like you wake up one day with all of the symptoms, pull out your checklist, make an appointment with a doctor, talk it out for 30 minutes, swallow a pill, and call it a day. It’s sneaky and slow when it comes over you and, unfortunately, it’s even slower when it lightens. I’ve been through major depressive episodes. During the worst one, it took me over a year to figure out what it was and when I did, I read every medical article, book, and blog that I could on the subject. After 94,000 hours of reading, I said okay “ok, yup, I’m depressed.”
So, instead of going to see someone, or try medication, I tried other things: I guzzled fish oil because that was supposed to work, I got in my 30 minutes of Vitamin D, drank buckets water, took probiotics, started running and I freekin hated running (and I don’t mean just little runs… I started with a few miles, then I was running 8, then 15, then 26). As the time went on – I was surviving like a robot, going through the motions. I got out of bed purely out of habit, went to work because I had a family that probably would prefer to eat, I went to meetings and joked with my colleagues. But, when I came home I was exhausted. It was so incredibly tiring trying to be something I was not.
In reality, I would go back and forth between utterly numb and uncontrollably sad. At work, I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t remember things. My mind raced constantly and was always somewhere else. All day, I wanted to sleep and at night, I couldn’t shut my brain off long enough to sleep. In the morning, I would wake with a lump in my throat, a cinder block on my chest, and a vice around my head. That’s what it felt like – every. single, day. So, clearly I … just kept running. Finally, I ran a marathon and I distinctly remember crossing the finish line, looking around, and thinking to myself, ‘well, that didn’t work, now what?’
It kept getting worse, I continued to isolate myself. I stopped going home or spending time with my friends. It finally got to the point where I didn’t want to be around anymore … I was so tired. It didn’t seem like there was ever going to be an end in sight and physically, it was excruciatingly painful. Finally, I thought ‘you either need to get your shit together and do something about this or it is literally going to kill you.’ I checked myself into the hospital to get help. Waiting so long to get treatment is quite literally, without a doubt, hands-down, the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life. We aren’t guaranteed a single minute in this lifetime, spending two years willing myself to get better can only be described as an utter waste of the most precious of commodities, time.
I want people to realize is that things like depression or anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts, don’t discriminate. In the hospital, I was in there with a doctor, a lawyer, a professional tennis player, a PhD, an amazing piano player, and some lady who really liked cats. After I started to take care of myself, with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, the depression did start to slowly lift, but it was by no means a quick process.
In the spring of 2013, I was by no means “better,” but had at least improved. I started to hang out with friends again and started to go home again. It was during that time that I realized there was something going on with Ben. Ben was 8 years younger than me – we had always been close growing up – and because I hadn’t been home, I recognized some things that just didn’t feel right and some very noticeable changes. My little brother – who was super athletic, funny, shy and ticklish – was different. He was having really high highs and then really low lows. He started to become a little paranoid and he started to have breaks with reality – which they call psychosis – where your brain has literally convinced you that things have happened, which never had. I’m not sure if anyone can imagine how scary that must be to go through that. As these breaks happened he drank – probably to cope and to help him sleep – he became agitated, and sometimes aggressive.
Even now, I can look at picture of him and I can tell you instantly if it was my brother or someone that just looked like him – just by the eyes. My therapist sessions in New York turned into sessions about him and trying to figure out what to do. I started reading “I’m not sick and I don’t need your help” because, much like me, he was stubborn. I knew he would never take medication or go see someone. If he did, it was going to take a lot of convincing. More and more he kept talking about going out to Alaska to work on the pipeline. I made him promise he would at least come visit me in New Hampshire and check it out because I was sure he would like it ….and if he was close I could figure out a way to get him help.
On May 24th, my daughter’s birthday, he packed up and drove out to Alaska, blowing through all the tolls on his way. I found him a cabin out there – but it was incredibly isolated, out in the middle of the woods.
Ben: still seeing your doc?
Ben: sorry if it’s a little personal, making sure you’re doing well, that’s all
Ben: must work for you, better choice than booze, I guess you’re smarter than most
Me: I don’t mind talking about it – I go every week, it’s good for me
Ben: yeah, good for you, healthy for sure, as long as you keep happy
Me: you got a tv out there or anything?
Ben: No, won’t be here long, hopefully get something more spacious …maybe Fairbanks if this job doesn’t work
Me: Yeah, you gotta get around some people before you go nuts
Ben: Yeah, haha, sounds like a plan, eventually, gotta focus on work first
Me: Alright, I gotta go to bed – love you!
Ben: Back at you, gnight, keep in touch
Two weeks later I was on a plane out to Alaska to pack up his stuff and bring his remains home because he had died by suicide. He was 24. In hindsight there were so many signs … and I could sit here, and likely for the rest of my life, playing the would have / could have / should have, but every time I catch myself doing it I stop, because what has happened, and the result, cannot ever change. What I can do is continue to share my story, share his story, and share our story … because it opens up the door for you to share yours.
When I speak to high school kids now, I am hopeful because I’m convinced that they are the generation that will change the narrative when it comes to mental health. I see it in action, they are ending the stigma. Mental health issues are treatable and suicide is preventable. There is this notion out there that if you talk about a hard topic like suicide it can put the idea in someone’s head – all of the research and facts points to exactly the opposite conclusion. Although it may make people uncomfortable to talk about it – it’s the right thing to do. Hard questions can save a life.
Even if you are in the deepest throws of depression, it will eventually pass, but you have to hang on. Confide in someone. Accept help. I have the luxury of knowing this now … Ben never got that chance. Today, be kind to yourself and know that we are all imperfect … and it’s okay. Most importantly, you need to know that you are not alone.
Keep happy up there.
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