While I was at work outlining today's post, I had a bit of a sensationalist opening sentence. I decided to go in a different direction because I'm not trying to incite a reaction, I'm trying to paint a picture. There are a few specific traits about myself that I can recognize from an outside perspective, and it's not that I'm trying to get pity or take pride in these aspects of my life, they are simply truths that I recognize. With the topic of mental health, I don't think there is enough of a focus from the community at large, and reducing it down to a cheap tabloid headline only seemed to undermine the point that I'm trying to make. When I decided to write this post, the first question that came to mind surprised me. I find myself less concerned about what people think or how they might respond, and instead I'm zeroed in on the following thought. Of all the people in my life, I wonder how many have no idea, and how many I don't know about.
I think about suicide every day of my life. Most days I don't want to kill myself, today and tomorrow included. Sometimes I look at people who are smiling from ear to ear, and I hear my inner dialogue make the statement, "I wonder what that feels like." I know what being happy feels like, I've been happy before, but I can't ever seem to recall the feeling of joy. I feel like despair shows throw me in the wiry silver hairs on my head and the bags that hide behind the bottom rim of my glasses. I know they hide there because I choose my glasses based on what conceals them the best.
Concealment is my downfall. I conceal what is uncomfortable to me, I hide the parts of my life that might be unappealing. Why would you want to talk about it? It just makes for an uncomfortable conversation with people unfamiliar to the topic. But then I wonder how much of my life is uncomfortable. It's difficult to put into words, but I start to feel as if my entire life is simply an uncomfortable topic. I retreat. I find my comfort. I conceal. I become an entirely private person, all the while my core issue proceeds unchecked.
This past week, Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz took the lives of 149 individuals in what will be remembered as an outright tragedy. How does the old saying go? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In situations surrounding mental health, there is still a stigma against those coping. I am not justifying his actions, but I'm curious about the reasoning. My uncle is a pilot, and I've talked to a few friends who have flown aircraft, and the feeling has been described as unmatched. In the same light that I am pursuing barbering to find purpose and joy in life, I wonder if Andreas found his sense of joy in flight. If so, it was a tragedy from the beginning. The airline industry and mental health mixes like motor oil and bitter vinegar. With as many lives as they are responsible, pilots are subject to very stringent mental health checks, and with any history of depression or medication, you can be nearly assured it is the nail in the coffin of that career. What if to Andreas, flight was the only happiness he had, and he was fighting to find purpose. Authorities found medical documents stating his doctor recommended he no longer work. What if his joy was about to be taken from him, and he wanted to have his last memory be his happiness. The flight recorder hears the pilot screaming for help, and the co-pilot completely calm and breathing in his final moments. Again, I am not justifying or trying to rationalize the actions of the actions leading up to tragedy, but as someone who has that conversation on a daily basis, I can certainly imagine what that struggle must have been for him.
So if nobody talks about mental health, how does the conversation come up? The common approach seems to be in response to a tragedy. I remember where I was on a few specific days that responded to tragedy. April 20th, 1999. September 11th, 2001, but the date that protrudes from my mind like a knife from a heart, is August 11th, 2014. I remember every detail of sitting at my table, staring out my glass door into my backyard in disbelief as my mom told me over the phone that Robin Williams had just been found dead. This news couldn't have come at a worse time in my life. I had spent the two weeks prior graduating my daily thoughts of suicide into conversations about how I could see it happening. I hated the ongoing cycle of disappointment I had seen surrounding a decade following a career that I hated. The irony of all of this, is the person I had the most respect for was my boss. I trusted him, and he knew I hadn't been happy at work, and looking back I'm sure he had his assumptions it was bigger than just that, but I decided to trust him a little bit more after that. I told him I needed to seek out FMLA because my thoughts of suicide had been getting worse, and the death of Robin was killing me. This is Patch Adams. This is Sean Maguire. This is Jack. This is a man who has brought smiles and inspiration to literally millions of people. If he wasn't able to see things getting better, how could someone like me get past it?
Jim Carrey probably said it best - "I learned many great lessons from my father. Not the least of which, was you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love."