"I'm struggling." I hadn't said that in a long time, but about two months ago I uttered those very words to my wife, Stephanie. For the first time in my life (outside of talking to family members or a counselor), I shared my past mental health struggles with Michael Bamberger for his book The Ball in the Air. Since then, I have been talking about my journey on podcasts, radio and TV. That doesn't mean I've been comfortable talking about it. I'm not. It's an uncomfortable topic. It's hard to admit that my depression got so bad I tried to jump out of a hotel window. It's embarrassing, quite frankly. I've written this article four times, but only now is it making it to the website.
That moment in Las Vegas happened 15 years ago, and I’m glad I went through it. It forced me to be keenly aware of when I was struggling, as all I had done until that point was avoid admitting my struggles. A few years after Las Vegas, I met my Stephanie, and she changed my life. Stephanie struggled with her own depression after her fiance died in their bed one night. He had an undetected condition, and his heart exploded. Steph, a nurse, tried to save him with CPR, but no one could have. They were both in their early 20s. To make matters worse, her would-be mother-in-law blamed Steph for not saving him, and her father told her, “Well, these things happen.” Those are things you don't "get over."
We talked about our experiences on one of the first dates; it was liberating for both of us. It sets up the foundation for a relationship built on honesty and makes us hyper-aware when the other is struggling. It has also made us so appreciative of our life together and made it possible for us to get through some tough times.
The fact is, in the 12 years I’ve been with Steph, I haven't really struggled. Events such as the brain surgery our son, Jack, underwent weren’t easy, but we powered through. The recent death of my dad hit me hard. That, coupled with the fact I walked away from my job, not entirely by my own choice, left me struggling. When Dad was sick, there was a mini-crisis every day; you almost didn't have time to think about struggling because another problem was right around the corner, and you had no choice but to face it.
A week after Dad died, my mom broke her tailbone and moved in with us. Suddenly, she looked very old, and I thought we might lose her too. On top of that, things at the Fire Pit Collective were unsettled, and I made the tough choice to leave and start my own website. Things were not good, mentally or physically. I was out of shape, having gained 40 pounds during the year we were taking care of Dad. For the first time in years, I was truly struggling again. It wasn't jumping-out-the-window struggling, but daily tasks like showering became difficult. When the everyday tasks became a chore, I knew it was time to get help. That is when I told Steph I was struggling.
I wrote this article for a couple of reasons. First, it's a thank you to my wife for being my rock. For me, exercising and eating healthy is essential. She encouraged me to start exercising again. For about six weeks now, I have walked three or four miles a day. I hate every second of it, but it makes me feel so much better, and Kenny Knox, our dog, absolutely loves our new routine. He wags his tail furiously and barks as soon as I begin to lace up my tennis shoes each morning. Steph is always making me a healthy lunch; it's her way of helping me stay on course. I've lost 30 pounds, which has helped me physically, but more importantly, the exercise has helped me mentally. Those things coupled with playing golf and putting my phone down a bit more, have been a huge help and got me back to feeling "normal".
Another reason I’m writing this is because you might not know if someone is struggling. You might see a tweet saying exactly that (I've done it myself), but are we genuinely looking out for friends or family members who might be? The answer for me is no. We all get stuck in our own lives, filled with our own problems, and our vision becomes more narrow. So this is a reminder for you (and me) that we don't know who is suffering, and we all need to be aware of signs that someone we know is. My wife is my support system, but not everyone has one.
It's not easy to talk or write about this. I have gotten maybe 100 messages thanking me for talking about my struggles. Total strangers have detailed their own plight or told me about someone they know who has struggled. That said, the only message I remember in detail is the one that called me a pussy. That is what motivated me to write this.
Look out for each other, and reach out when you are in need.
It's OK to say you’re struggling.
Suicide Prevention Website: https://988lifeline.org/