My Friend Rob … the importance of asking for help
Dear Pack Members –
This is the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write.
But I’m writing it out of love. I’m writing it because my heart is breaking. And I’m writing it because I want every one of you who reads this to understand your own value.
Everybody in the world gets illnesses. It’s a normal thing. Most, like colds and flus, go away after a while. But some of us have what’s called a Chronic illness. That’s a problem that one can’t get rid of. Diabetes is a Chronic illness, for example. So are Parkinson’s, and Herpes, and some forms of Cancer.
This is also true with the mind. Some mental conditions one has for a while and then moves on from. A very depressed mood, for example. Or Grief – like I’m feeling now.
But there are also mental illnesses that are Chronic. Some illnesses with big names like Schizophrenia, where people hear and believe things that aren’t really there. While other people have a mood problem that will always be with them. There are new amazing medications that can help them, and therapy and other activities help a lot – but there is no cure.
One of the types of incurable mood illness is called Bipolar Disorder. In this condition, the person is usually Depressed, but then at times gets a crazy kind of excitement, called Mania. It sounds fun, and it might even look it from the outside, but it’s not – it’s horrible. Especially because the higher the Manic time is, the deeper the Depression that follows it.
Now as I said, there are medications that can really help with these sorts of problems. But often the people who need them don’t like to take them. (You know, just like how all of us – me included – hate taking our medicine?) But these people will often avoid taking their medications because they start to believe they don’t need them. At first, they might actually feel better without the medicine, because nothing is controlling their mood. But then, when their mood shifts into Depression, and there’s no medicine helping them, they feel as low as low can get. And nothing makes them feel better, and they feel like nothing ever will feel all right again.
I’m writing this essay because one of my best friends, one of the people who helped create the AskShirelle.com website, died this month. And he died because he had Bipolar Disorder, and because he stopped taking his medications. And because, when he got fully depressed, he took his own life.
Rob was a wonderful man, with a great sense of humor, a beautiful wife, dogs he loved, and an enormous pride in what he had achieved with our site. He knew all about computer programming, and had everything to live for. Today, though, he has left a gaping hole in the hearts of everyone who loved him. He’s not there to hold or kiss his wife, or to scratch his dogs’ chins, or to tell a joke, or to enjoy the success of his work. For his whole life, Rob was someone who you were happy to see when he walked into the room. But that’s not going to happen anymore.
I’m writing this to all of you, because recently I’ve gotten a lot of letters from Pack Members who say they’re so miserable they’re thinking of ending their life. They feel like they’re alone, like no one cares about them. Well, that’s what Rob was telling himself too. And it wasn’t true for him, and it’s not true for any of you either. If a voice inside you is telling you that you don’t matter, or that you’d be better off not alive, or that others would be better off without you, that voice is a Liar!
Handsome and I have a plant that Rob and his wife gave us a few years ago. It has flowers that only bloom for about a month every year. And I love to lie on the doorstep by it and watch them struggle every spring to grow and open. And when they do, they have gorgeous deep magenta petals that shoot out of the buds, and reach for air, reach for the sun, reach for moisture, reach out to attract bees to pass on pollen, reach out to hummingbirds to pass on seeds, or maybe they reach just to leave me awestruck at their beauty. They know they don’t have as much time as they want, so they give it their all and live as bright and full and long as they can. That plant – its leaves, its shoots, its buds, its petals – that is life! That’s desire and love and passion and yearning. That’s every song and singer, that’s every painting and artist, every kiss and bite, every laugh, every cry.
And that’s you. That’s the volume level you have the right to live – Big and Full. Because you matter.
I wish each of you could see how I brighten up when I get an email from you. How your questions make me sad, make me thoughtful, or sometimes make me laugh. I wish you could see the faces of the thousands of people who then read your questions when they’re posted. Who agree or disagree with what I say, but either way, are feeling some of what you felt when you asked it. Who are letting you matter to them.
Just think – all these people you’ve never met, and you’re affecting them. Just imagine how much you must mean to the people you live with.
Rob’s decision will hurt a lot of us for a very long time. But if I can convince just one of you to do one thing, his loss will not be in vain. Please, for me, for Rob, and for everyone who’s ever cared about you – when you need it, ASK FOR HELP! If you’re feeling depressed about something, feeling hopeless, feeling terrified – ASK FOR HELP! And especially if there’s something actually wrong inside you, a chemical problem in your brain – ASK FOR HELP! Ask a relative, ask a friend, ask a teacher, ask a religious leader, ask a police officer, or make a phone call to a Suicide Prevention number, or ask a Therapist (this is what their whole job is about).
Or if you can’t find words to say what you’re feeling, of course you can always ask a friendly dog. We will look into your eyes and see your sadness, and feel it. We will like it when you hold us tight. We will play with you to take your sadness away. We will run with you to get you away from it. And you know, we will try to lick it right off your face!
Remember, there’s always someone.
You know, it’s an odd thing about that plant. This spring, for the first time in years, its flowers didn’t bloom. I think now I know why. I only wish I’d realized in time.
Love to all of you,