A few months ago and at the time of this writing, two well known celebrities had taken their own lives. Kate Spade, a well known fashion designer and Anthony Bourdain, a celebrated chef and television host, both died by all available accounts, at their own hands. For most, the depths of despair they felt as a result of their depression is unfathomable. They were, by almost any standard, successful, having fame, money, and strong carriers that have influenced millions of people worldwide.
And yet, they differed enough to resort to suicide. Why couldn’t they see everything they had to live for and all the good things in their lives? Why couldn’t they just “snap our of it” by practicing an “attitude of gratitude”? I mean, they had everything, right? Money? Check. Fame? Check. They had friends and family…why couldn’t they just get over it, especially for those they loved? They had the ability to travel anywhere and do anything…why didn’t they just take some time off to get happy?
Most of the those things had been posted on social media by people who were hurt or confused by their deaths.
What is that old saying?…”Where ever you go, there you are.”
As a younger man, I never really understood that saying. As far as tautologies go, that one really never landed for me. Until it did.
When I left active duty Air Force, I started dealing with a deep depression coupled with suicidal thoughts. I didn’t really know why nor did I have any real coping mechanisms with which to handle it. I started pushing people away and didn’t want to see my friends because I felt even more alone and depressed when I was around them and other people. I could be in a room surrounded by people and feel completely alone. It took an incredible amount of psychological energy to be social, even for short periods. So, I stayed home alone. A LOT. My friends eventually stopped calling and inviting me to go places.
I blamed it it on my having gone back to school full time and of course working full time in order to pay my bills. I was exhausted and just needed sleep.
After I graduated and started my new career, I expected things to change and to have the energy to be social and reconnect with all my old friends—but they didn’t. I was starting a new job so I blamed the depression on the stress of financial insecurity and the loneliness. I blamed my friends for abandoning me when I needed them during school. In retrospect, that wasn’t the case at all.
I worked hard and after some time, received a job offer in another city and state and thought to myself, “Here is my chance for a clean break to start over in a place where I can be anyone I want to be!” So I loved.
Where ever you go, there you are.
The depression and suicidal thoughts followed me, which surprised me. I thought it was because my friends had abandoned me and the city I used to live in was lame. My job had me traveling 20-25 days a month, so once again, I blamed it on the long hours, jet lag, and loneliness.
A call came in that I would be moving again to an even more desirable city, at least socially speaking. I jumped at the chance for another change to move back to my home state of Texas, where I knew people and might have a leg up meeting people. I mean, there has to be a place meant for everyone, right? So, I moved again.
Where ever you go, there you are.
The travel stayed the same, but I was determined to be a happier person; to find fulfillment in my personal time and maybe even find someone special. So, I took some chances socially, connected with someone and started dating. It was slow going and we dated for almost a year before it was time to make the next step.
We moved in together and I started a business with the hopes that we would eventually run the business together. I thought I had finally overcome to darkness from which I had run so far. But the shadow was still there…and that someone special didn’t understand why I was angry and moody and sleepy, and didn’t want to be social. Predictably, everything fell apart. As a result, all that darkness that I thought had gone away or that I had locked away hadn’t gone away at all. It was just behind the door that had been thrown open with my breakup for me to deal with, all at once.
One night soon afterwards, I was texting with an old friend. I mentioned how bad things were going and that I only had one reason for not killing myself: my mother. I couldn’t stand the idea of knowing that I had hurt her with my actions, but that after she passed, I would have nothing tethering me to life. His response sticks with me to this day.
“You need to get help. Fast.”
I realized I had been too honest with him. He just didn’t get it. Doesn’t everyone feel like this from time to time? Isn’t depression normal? But, he got me thinking.
So, I decided that I since I was due for my annual checkup anyway, when I went to the doctor in a few days, I would bring this up to him and put it all behind me. He was going to tell me it was normal and that I just needed some sleep or to take some vitamins or prescribe me something that would turn me into a walking zombie.
I went to my doctor and as his assistant prepped me for the doctor, she peppered me with some questions. I told her that I had been feeling…depressed. She asked if I was having any suicidal thoughts.
“Well, yes,” I explained, “I think about killing myself all the time, but not in one of those ‘I’m gonna actually do it’ kind of ways. It’s more of a comforting, ‘I’m just thinking about it’ kind of ways.” As I heard myself saying it, I realized how crazy it sounded. And so did she.
I came to find out that I have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Its symptoms include social anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts…everything I had been dealing with for a decade or longer.
My doctor said, that along with treatment, I needed to begin working on myself. I needed to do things that I found enjoyable and helped me get out of my anxiety and depression. I had to find a way to start enjoying life again.
It had been so long since I had even considered life as something to be enjoyed. One would think such a task would be easy, but nothing was farther from the truth. I had difficulty finding anything that made me want to get out of bed, much less enjoy life again.
Across the street from where I worked was a Masonic Temple. "Wasn’t there a time when I was in the military that I had wanted to check them out or heard something good about those guys?" I could check them out now. I worked across the street, for crying out loud. I have no excuse. And if they are weird or if it's some kind of cult, I could just say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” There was a possibility I might not even be invited to join the group. So I emailed the lodge secretary and made a subtle inquiry. I was told to come to fellowship night before the next stated meeting.
The night came and I was terrified. I. Was. Terrified. The anxiety of PTSD almost stopped me from walking across the street, but I was determined to stop letting this illness rule my life. So, I got up and walked across the street into a room full of strangers. Now, looking back, Freemasonry, the fraternity I love so much, was (and remains) part of my treatment.
So, I understand better than most what Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were dealing with.
Where ever you go, there you are.
Depression is a part of you that cannot be escaped with vacations or fancy clothing, or great food, or friends. It isn’t a switch that can be turned off. It follows you everywhere you go, it influences every conversation and thought you have. It hides for periods of times, then re-emerges in different clothing, but it is the same old depression. It isn’t sadness. It is an emptiness—for me it is in my abdomen—a void that cannot be filled by food or alcohol or material stuff. It consumes everything good in your life and convinces your mind that you are alone and would be better off dead.
So, where ever you are, your depression is there, too, inevitably making it feel like everything would be better if it just…stopped
This is the first time I have ever spoken to anyone but family and close friends about my PTSD or my ongoing battle with it. I do so to implore our brethren to look out for one another. Look past the smiles and handshakes and self-deprecating jokes. There are brothers among us dealing with exactly what I am dealing with, some more successfully than others.
It was my brethren that have kept me here, even when they didn’t know it.
For those brother who are suffering, thinking there is no where to turn and no one that cares…there is hope and help, even when that voice is telling you that you are alone. You are loved. You are valued. You are a brother.