I have been depressed, I will admit, over the events of this past week. The event, I mean, which is the suicide of my friend, Joseph, who was exactly my age. The difference in Joseph and me is that he had been suffering for years with major mood swings, and as a result had been on medication for as long as I have known him, which is right at 20 years. The other difference is that Joseph – I came to learn from his partner – had been spiraling downward in the past two years and had been experiencing not only depression, but also severe anxiety. For this, he had been given any number of combinations of medications, none of which were working. Hence he was in the process of closing his law practice, which couldn’t have been easy for him since retirement can be tough on the most stalwart of people. The bottom line, this was a deteriorating situation that seemed to have no natural end in sight for Joseph.
That brings me to what I believe is really the core of my own depression over all of this besides natural grief over having lost someone of whom I was fond. The issue that unnerves me is the apparent lack of alternatives that Joseph was facing. He was doing everything right in terms of his treatment. He wasn’t someone who did all the doctor suggested, but also drank too much, took drugs that counteracted the medications or even led a lifestyle that was over-indulgent and mind numbing. No, he was doing everything medical science had to offer and nothing was helping. How does that fit into this world where we are told that science has an answer for our physical woes if we will just get there soon enough for the remedy? Clearly, there is some false advertising going on somewhere.
I understand that medical science doesn’t have all the answers. I lost two brothers to AIDS before protease inhibitors were introduced to the general public, a father, mother and brother to terminal cancer, all of whom were sent home with no treatment options, and a sister to a head injury that twenty years later presented as Alzheimer’s and subsequently killed her. I am not naïve when it comes to terrible health outcomes. I guess, I suppose, that I have always made a distinction between physical and mental illness and thought on some level that mental disorders could be controlled with the “right” medication, at least to the point of making life relatively tolerable. But, it is obvious this is not always the case.
When I was working as a mental health therapist, I had a client at one point who had been very psychotic and then – with the right medication – returned to a relatively normal mental state. He told me, however, that his psychosis had been accompanied by severe depression and that if and when that depression ever reared its ugly head again, he would end his life before experiencing the pain that went with it. He told me that, as strange as it seemed, even the ends of his hair hurt when he was in that state. I must admit I have no understanding of that level of depression. I feel down this week, but it is clearly situational. In the past, I have also felt depressed from time to time, but never with physical symptoms that accompanied my emotional state. But I have to accept that some people experience such a severe biochemical imbalance that life becomes a living hell and one that is eventually deemed not worth living.
This is the case with my friend, Joseph, who stated in his suicide note that though he was deeply sorry for letting his family down, he simply couldn’t operate any further with the level of pain he was experiencing.
I have learned once again a lesson I keep learning over and over – that life is more complicated than I could have ever imagined and that some people do the best they can until they simply can’t anymore. At that point, they go to Plan B.
I hope and pray that a new pharmaceutical antidote is being developed for immediate distribution for those who suffer from such anguish. I also hope that more information can be disseminated about major depression and chronic anxiety so all of us have more clarity and understanding about the ravages of these heart-wrenching conditions. Finally, I pray that those closest to my friend – including myself – can find a way to recognize that sometimes peace comes in ways that are difficult to understand.
Life is complicated and never quite as straightforward as one might hope. Perhaps it is in the convolutions that one stumbles upon the truth – we have no idea how we might behave in another’s situation unless we have experienced life as they have.
May all who loved Joseph find solace, and may he finally rest in peace.