Several years ago I was contemplating taking my own life. But if I’m being honest, it was more than merely thinking about suicide–I found myself actually planning my own death.
Depression and anxiety are words I had always associated with weakness and truly never understood. However, as an ultramarathon runner, I didn’t have any tolerance for weakness. I always fought through pain and discomfort and pushed myself through even the deepest of lows. But since then, I’ve learned there are some things you can’t simply run through, or away from.
Before my slippery journey started, I remember talking to a co-worker of mine who said if you ever have depression or thoughts around suicide to not tell anyone. He said if you tell your doctor there are certain keywords that they have to report. When I started to realize where I was at I was afraid to tell anyone. I knew I wasn’t abnormal or needed to be committed. I had an issue that I needed to resolve and didn’t know where to turn.
When I ultimately acknowledged my depression and confessed my planned suicide to my wife, she like others I would eventually tell, was completely shocked. I didn’t fit the stereotypical depressed character we are used to seeing in movies and on TV. I’m a very positive and outgoing person. I’m a long-distance runner. I’m a loving and attentive father. None of the typical traits of mental illness apply to me–at least on the outside.
Since then, I’ve learned that far from being an outlier, many people, men especially, suffer from the same afflictions I’ve been dealing with most of my adult life. And like me, refuse to call it depression. They refuse to classify it as mental illness, but rather dismiss it by saying things like, “I’m just tired” “I’m just having a bad day” “I’m just hungry” “I’ll get over it”.
My story, sadly, is quite common. The more I talk to people about what I went through and continue to struggle with, the more I hear from people going through similar challenges. There were so many factors that contributed to my depression and being raised in a culture where men don’t talk about their feelings, I bottled everything up until it inevitably overflowed. I was unemployed and overqualified for many of the positions I was applying for. The rejections began to pile up, taking their toll on my self-esteem. Men are supposed to provide for their families, right? And if I couldn’t, what value did I have?
My wife was working full-time and so I became ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ a stay-at-home dad. I was struggling to help my kids with their homework and internalized any and all problems as personal failures. And finally, what really sent me spiraling was the achievement of a major goal. I finished the Wasatch 100, which is arguably one of the toughest races in the country. Many people are surprised to learn that this was a catalyst, but it was something I had been focused on and working towards for so long, that once it was over I was left feeling without purpose. With no job, feeling like a failure as a man, husband, and father, and no longer having this race to focus on, I struggled to find any self-worth.
But despite the way this story started, it isn’t one of despair or hopelessness. It is of the contrary, one of celebration and redemption and I hope that by telling it I can help someone see the beauty of life and climb out of that terrible place. There is still a stigma around mental health and it’s treated differently, but in all reality, it should be looked at like a knee injury. What caused it, what’s going on, and how do we treat it. It’s not a time to medicate or band-aid the problem and better yet it’s a time to love each other because, in the end, we’ll be better people for it.