Let’s Talk

Last Saturday I woke up ready to tell you all about the latest in our moving adventures. Then the phone rang and our world suddenly shifted. A dear friend of ours was gone, had taken his own life. Details were sketchy at first, but soon we all understood that something had gone horribly wrong. Jake had struggled his entire life with depression. Mostly, he had it under control. He took his medication and enjoyed his family, using jokes and laughter to power through his days. One of our friends had dinner with him last Friday night and said he seemed fine. Saturday morning, while his wife had the kids on an outing, he shot himself. Just like that.

I’ve been thinking almost non-stop about Jake this past week. We met almost twenty years ago. We worked together on a couple of squads before I made sergeant and he came to my squad three of the last four years of my career. He was a great cop. He had that unique ability to relate to almost every person he encountered. I think that his illness gave him an uncommon empathy for his fellow man. Truly. Even in some of the worst, crime-ridden neighborhoods, on a violent arrest, Jake would be able to talk to the person he’d just arrested. It wasn’t personal, just his job. He would follow up with people from previous calls, just to check in to see how they were doing. Looking back, I believe it’s because he knew a little about what they might feel. His illness made him a better cop.

As for me, Jake and I shared a love of Pittsburgh sports teams and the singer, Pink. His friendship made me a better person because he made me lighten up and not take myself too seriously. Everybody needs a friend like that. Like so many other faces of depression we’ve lost over the years, his outsized humor masked his own pain. That’s a heartbreaking truth. It’s also true that far too often the stigma of their illness makes people living with depression or other disorders reluctant to talk about it or seek help. That is something we have to change. All of us know someone struggling in silence, whether they’ve shared it with us or not. Why they choose not to talk about it is what we have to figure out.

In the police/military/firefighting world that Jake and I shared, the “toughguy” culture is the problem. Guys especially, who show emotion are ridiculed as weak or worse. “Suck it up” “Get another job” or any other number of disparaging remarks will fly if one is perceived to be “soft”. I’m with the late General Schwartzkopf on this one: “I don’t trust a man who won’t cry.” We irrationally expect those who protect us to be stronger than us, but soldiers and cops have emotions and flaws, too. We all know that for many reasons, depression is a huge problem in the LGBT community as well. Our emotions and flaws make us human, nothing more, nothing less. Facing our fears defines strength, not weakness, no matter who we are.

Cheri (The Rev) courageously wrote about her struggle with depression. Cheri is a mom and a wife with a career and a side-gig as the host of The Cocktail Hour podcast show. Many of us call her friend. I read her blog the day after Jake’s suicide, struck by her courage. How many of us could write so eloquently about our deepest emotional battles? Not many. But if our loved ones can summon the courage to fight, then the least we can do is listen and try to understand.

Today, if we were in Tampa, we would be among the many who loved Jake attending his memorial service right now. I know there will be many stories about the guy who always made us laugh. He was one of those larger than life people. His sense of humor was the only thing bigger than his 6’8” frame. We mourn our friend, wondering what any of us could have done or what we missed. That’s a normal reaction, I guess, and I don’t have any answers. I only know that we have to keep having the conversation, stop saying it’s not our problem, stop blaming people for their illness, and start helping.

~Peace. LM

 

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15 thoughts on “Let’s Talk

  1. LM – Thank you for sharing with everyone about Jake. I’m sending you and Sandy some extra strong virtual hugs.

    It’s stories like this that actually scare the shit out of me. When folks are doing what they can to fight their battles – meds, trying to keep a positive outlook, and relying on the support and love of friends and family – and it still becomes too much.

    Even though my heart is aching for Jake and his circle of loved ones, I hope that by continuing the conversation as you’ve done, more and more people will find the courage to keep fighting and to find some support. Sometimes we have to stay focused on just making it through another day. One day at a time.

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    1. That’s the whole point, Cheri. I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach the subject, then I realized that we are all unique and our experiences reflect our individuality. But under the surface is where the similarities lie, and I hope that message comes through. The struggle is the same. We can’t ignore what we don’t understand. Talking about it and acknowledging each other is the only way to help. Thanks for all you do to brighten our world.

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  2. LM – Thank you for keeping the door open to talk about depression and suicide. My heart grieves for you in the loss of your friend. I lost someone this way too, and that time has forever changed my life. I’ve never been in a war zone, nor faced a gunman intent on wreaking havoc, but I know what it is to fight. I have fought to save lives, my own and others, as depression is demon I know all too well. It was when I’d let myself grow small and afraid that I lost my friend. I’ve blamed myself for not being strong when she needed me. In some sense, that will never go away. And yet I know she’d give me a good shake for thinking so. We each fight to the best of our ability on a given day.

    Cheri – Deep breath and keep doing all of the positive things you named. I think of depression as this force that we press back together. I don’t think of us as individuals targeted for its attack, but as a bunch of ordinary folks whose genetic makeup have positioned us where we feel depression’s pull more strongly than most. Viewing depression as a common enemy, rather than an individual burden, helps me stay in the fight and gives me the strength to listen to a young man’s disturbing poems, letting him vent his internal struggle, and giving back encouragement with the knowledge that he’s not alone.

    That’s really what all of us need to be doing. Listening to each other and remembering that none of us are in this life alone. We are a beautiful and intricate web, strong and iridescent. When we choose to reflect light and life, the world is a better place.

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  3. “Listening to each other and remembering that none of us are in this life alone. We are a beautiful and intricate web, strong and iridescent. When we choose to reflect light and life, the world is a better place.” That is beautiful, Ck. Thanks for that lyrical inspiration.

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  4. Lynette,

    I appreciate your post … as the surviving friend of a person who committed suicide the question “what more could I or should I have done?” never really ends. I try to tell myself that I really don’t have that kind of control over someone else’s life and maybe there was nothing I could do … but that is just a survival mechanism for me it seems … Forty years later, the pain and confusion are still there.

    In sympathy,
    Lynn

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    1. Hi Lynn. My sympathies to you, as well. I’m not dwelling too much on the “what more could I have done”, with the exception of talking about depression or being there for those who struggle. As CK says, we are all inextricably connected. The responses here definitely show that. Take care and thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Jeanne. I think about our impromptu talks sometimes and recall with gratitude the gently supportive ear you were able to give to me. It’s a reminder to slow down and listen because we never know what we might be giving to another soul by simply being there. Big hugs.

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  5. Dear L, Lee and I are so very sorry for your loss and the loss to your dear friends loved ones. Knowing he is at peace after a long hard struggle will be a blessing to hold on to until you meet again. xoxo Lainie & Lee

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  6. Great blog. I have a good friend from HS here in FL who began suffering from depression last year. It blows me away how much it impacts a person; I never really understood how severe it can be until now. Hope now that I’m down here, I’ll be able to help her out. Robin Williams’ death shed a lot of light on this, but so many people still don’t have a clue how debilitating and life-threatening it can be. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I’m sure you will be a great help to your friend, kejaeck. I think being more aware is the first step for us all. Understanding isn’t always possible or even required. Empathy and support are what matters. Take care.

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  7. Thank you for posting this, as painful for you as it was cathartic I imagine. I am more familiar with depression than I’d like to be, and I too take medication that for me, works thank God. It’s been almost 18 years since I failed at suicide. But I have a med that works now, thankfully. But I’ve said that to say this ~ I think it made me more emphatetic too during my decade as a 911 Operator/Supervisor. I always tried to take time with callers and I tried to follow up the best I could. And even now, at our MCC church, I’m on the Pastoral Care team and it’s perfect for me, because I CAN follow up with people who are having issues, and I love it. I didn’t really want to “out” myself as someone who used to live with depression, but if I can help one person, it’s worth it. Like you said LM, we have to talk about it. And if anyone ever needs to talk, please email me. I’m so sorry about your friend. A physician friend of mine commited suicide and I didn’t think I would ever get over that. We were to have lunch that very day………I’m glad I wasn’t sucessful, and more grateful my partner saw me through it and we’re still together at 33 years and counting…….

    Melissa

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    1. Hi Melissa. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure you have helped many more people than you perhaps even realize. You are a great example of how talking about it can make a difference. The more we give, the more we get, so I imagine that counseling others at your church is a fabulous way of helping yourself, too. One soul at a time is enough. Take care.

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