Reflections As I Turn 46
Sometime in my early 20s, I thought about my future self. It was a little unsettling that I couldn't imagine myself after 40-45 years old. It wasn't that I couldn't see beyond another 20-ish years. Rather, I didn't think I'd be alive.
The first time I contemplated suicide, I was probably eight years old. Memories from such an age and so long ago are likely to be inaccurate. So, I can't say for sure how serious I was then. What I do know is that I've battled suicidal ideation ever since then. Ironically, I never put the two together...that I wouldn't live past 45 because of suicide.
By the time I reached my early 40s, I hated myself for being to weak to get it done. I loathed myself for many things, including not getting my full plan together and ending my life. I finally developed most of my plan.
One weekend morning, as I was staring at my computer pretending to work while actually figuring out some details of the plan, my wife asked "are you alright".
Many times throughout my life there were moments when I wished someone would ask that question because I was ready to tell someone, but couldn't do it without the question. At other times, I wanted to be successful and would have found a way to say "yes, I'm just tired" or some similar excuse for what they were noticing. Luckily, I wanted to be asked on that weekend morning.
The words barely came out to tell her what I was doing when a lifetime of shame, fear, and mostly exhaustion poured out in tears. Living with it was the most exhausting thing imaginable. And suddenly, I felt the emotional equivalent of skydiving without a parachute. In that moment, I suddenly realized how much the world had just changed for me. A small piece of me wished I hadn't said anything because now I couldn't do it without my wife feeling even worse than she would have without knowing. Most of me just felt the relief that my best friend might be able to help. For the first time in a long time, I had real hope.
Even in my late 30s, I couldn't see my life beyond 45. Even after sharing my secret, I didn't know if I'd make it. Earlier this week, I turned 46.
In the recent few years since that weekend of sharing my deepest and darkest secret with my wife, I've made drastic changes in my life. Deep introspection and thought have helped me identify many of the things that trigger my depressive episodes and I've developed strategies that are working for me to navigate them rather than spiral down as I have always done in the past. I've restructured important aspects of my life and developed rules and a philosophy that have helped minimize the triggers of anxiety.
Running (exercising really) has been the cornerstone of my therapy. For me, exercise has an enormous impact on my mood, outlook, and deep sense of joy and fulfillment. It's not all roses, and I don't ever expect to be 'cured'. It's too scary to think of myself that way for fear that I may drop my guard because when the dark clouds move in, I want to be prepared. But, there's no age I can't see beyond now.
My wife is the reason I'm alive today, and will be tomorrow...and all the tomorrows.
Along the way, over these recent few years, I've found several influences that have made a very big and positive impact on my life as I've made the changes that have helped me to find a new way of living and thriving. They are a strange and unlikely compilation and none of them would have any idea how much there message and example has helped me. They are, in no particular order: Shawn Achor, The Book of Joy (by Douglas Abrams, Desmond Tutu, and Dalai Lama), Michael Gervais, and David Roche. There have been many other amazing and positive influences in my life, too many to list, and I am so deeply grateful to all of them.
Our dog, Lady, a chocolate Labrador retriever died a few years ago. She joined our life after being abandoned on the road; she had been abused. She adopted us and my bond with her was extraordinary. Terrified of almost anyone else, she was absolutely committed to my wife and me. I'll live the rest of my life working to see in myself what she saw and to deserve some fraction of the love she gave.
I hope that anyone who reads this will take a moment to be grateful for something in their life and to spend some time with someone they care about today. If you find yourself relating to me and keep your own secret, tell someone...now.