It was a couple days after my latest drunken escapade of stupidity and recklessness when I determined I had reached the end. The latest embarrassment — yet another angry rant — so compromised my reporting career that in my severely warped mind I became convinced there was nothing else left to do.
I would finally kill myself.
This time, all the pain and anger would mercifully stop.
I’ll never forget the sense of calm that enveloped me that early morning in July as I gathered everything that was property of The Associated Press — laptop, cell phone, etc. — and climbed into my car. I drove to the bureau office, numbingly wrote a letter of resignation, pressed send, turned out the lights and left.
Next stop: the county sheriff’s office to apply for a gun permit.
Seven months later, I’m still here. Somehow and thankfully, I climbed back over the hotel balcony in Las Vegas last summer. Luckily, I never did pull the trigger on that gun I held to my head.
When I had a lull in the dread that was often so overwhelming, I finally answered an email from my persistent sister. Thanks to her quick flight to Charlotte and relentless urging, I finally sought help. I’m now on two antidepressants that are doing wonders, alcohol-free for the second time after a relapse, and hopeful I can someday gain back the trust of all the people I hurt.
But perhaps the most important thing I want to do is implore others like me to seek help. There is hope — and I never thought I would say, write or think that.
Depression remains an unspoken word to many, and embarrassing to many who suffer from it. Where I come from, you deal with your problems quietly and on your own. But even if I that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t have mattered. Until recently I didn’t even know I was suffering from clinical depression.
I didn’t fit the TV description. I was rarely despondent or wanting to stay in bed all day. I masked my feelings by blaming others and seeking escapes through alcohol and other dubious behaviors. My physical symptoms weren’t tears. They were anger, back and knee pain and memory loss.
To start, I’ve always been a little odd. Social settings always unnerved me. Difficulty dealing with people cost me girlfriends, friends, hampered my career and stunted my growth as a person. To avoid embarrassing social interactions, I often avoided them entirely. People either thought I was a loner, aloof, a jerk or all three. That led me unwittingly down the road to depression and a common way to combat it: self medicating.
As I got older I discovered this incredible drug that would not only loosen me up if I needed to meet people or attend a social function, but also provide an addicting buzz that dulled the pain: alcohol.
There’s a period of time, usually between drinks 5-8, where I could function like a “normal” person and feel tremendous. I could be the funniest guy in the room.
Trouble was, I never stopped at eight drinks. So often around 11, or 16 or 24 I would either do something embarrassing or get angry at my lot in life and lash out at others. This was the way I could let out all the frustrations that were bottled up inside for so long, even if they were directed at the innocent.
Over the years I was fortunate my reckless behavior didn’t kill me or someone else. Yet, for much of the time I remained oblivious to what was really wrong with me.
I had a great girlfriend, had moved from radio broadcasting to a good job as a sports writer for the AP, bought a condo in uptown Charlotte within walking distance of the arena, football stadium and countless bars and was relatively financially secure. I should have been happy. Check that, I should have been ecstatic.
Instead, I was miserable.
But I didn’t think of it as depression. In fact, I did a common thing men with depression do: blame others. I lashed out at my girlfriend, the kindest person you’ll ever met. Then I cheated on her and eventually lost her. I was short tempered with friends and co-workers.
To get a reprieve from the feeling of worthlessness I turned to drinking and other risky behavior that produced a fleeting adrenaline rush. I had back and knee pain, which amazingly is another symptom of depression. I would be startled when others would bring up good things that happened to me in the past that I couldn’t recall, yet another symptom.
I spent too much money on too many stupid things. But I never worried about the long term consequences because I never expected to be around anyway.
I was 16 when I first thought about killing myself. By my sophomore year at Syracuse the urge was more pronounced. While I didn’t think about blowing my head off every day, it was always tucked away there in the background. Yet it was certainly never something I could tell anyone about. I felt it would make me look weak.
Never did I think I would live a regular life. A family and normal career? Absolutely not. My life would be short. There was no way I could feel like this for too much longer. The level of angst before simple social interactions was overwhelming. The feeling that I couldn’t do anything right was just too much to bear.
My behavior had been out of control for a couple years before my angry message to a source in July caused me to hit bottom. But when I quit my job and found out it would take up to a month before I got my handgun permit, I panicked. I’d have to live for another month?
I tried to hide. Because my work cell phone was the only phone I had, I was fortunately unreachable. When a worried friend knocked on my door and I didn’t answer, I decided I’d go on a trip to spend the rest of my money and get away from all the people I was convinced were trying to bother me.
The problem was when I get to a certain low point, I don’t even want to drink. It takes too much effort. So this cross country trip didn’t make life better. That’s when I stopped in Vegas and decided to jump off the ledge. The pain was just too much.
But I changed my mind, in part because I was afraid I would mess it up. Knowing me, I’d hit one of the lower ledges on the way down and not die, putting a burden on my family as a living vegetable. Not wanting to do it never entered the equation. The gun was likely fool proof. I did plenty of research online about how to do it properly.
I returned home and the permit was in my mailbox. So was an email from my college soccer referee assignor who wondered if I was available this fall.
That email saved my life.
I had refereed for many years but had virtually stopped a couple years ago. It was too hard to drink as much as I did and stay in proper shape. I had since put on weight. Yet I remembered I actually experienced a sense of accomplishment when I refereed. I thought I might try to work some matches. I could make some money that way and I thought I would then kill myself at the end of the season.
So I cashed out my 401k to pay the mortgage for a few more months and went on an intense diet and running program. By the end of the college season I had shed more than 50 pounds and was running up to 11 miles per day. Running had replaced alcohol as my addiction.
Then the soccer season ended and I lost my way again.
To avoid thinking about my lack of a future, I drove home to Massachusetts to see my parents in a plan that included staying there for a couple weeks before driving them to my sister’s house in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. But on the night of the holiday an incredible feeling of dread overwhelmed me. There was nothing else to distract me from the reality I was a worthless, miserable, failed human being.
It was time to die. This time, for real.
I quickly told everyone I was leaving the morning after Thanksgiving. I went on one final run when I got home — then decided to go to the bar.
Within two weeks I was all the way back to self-destruction mode. I traded the runner’s high for the old, reliable alcoholic buzz. In a way, I think I was making sure before I died I experienced that overwhelming sense of self-loathing again.
I was drinking a case of beer or more every other day. (I would be so hung over and feel so badly the next day I didn’t have the strength to drink.) On the off days I made plans to end my pitiful existence. I even watched “Leaving Las Vegas” to put my 38-year life into perspective.
I finally went to the gun store and purchased my gun. I then bought my ammunition. As I tried to decide whether to kill myself in my condo or in my car, I worried about my parents. I knew they would be hurt, but only because they weren’t fully aware of what a failure I was. Everyone else I thought wouldn’t care — or would quickly get over it. In reality, I had few close friends. There were many other people who rightfully thought I was a jerk.
Yet I didn’t pull the trigger that early January afternoon on the floor of my bedroom. Why, I don’t know. There was something deep down inside that told me to wait.
A couple days later I finally replied to one of the many emails I had ignored from sister. She was there in a couple of days, and after one final night tying one on, I checked myself into a behavioral health center.
After a night wearing a hospital gown, eating spaghetti and meatballs with a plastic spoon and hanging out with the severely mentally ill in an observation area — I had for the first time admitted I wanted to kill myself — I was given pills and orders to find a way to stop drinking.
It’s been a couple months now and it’s hard to describe the transformation. Simply put, I no longer want to die. I’ve experienced small joys I either forgot were possible or never enjoyed before.
Whether I can keep this going, I don’t know. I ruined my professional career and refereeing doesn’t pay all the bills. I’m hopeful someone will take a chance on me and I can return to writing, reporting or sports in some way. I miss the people I worked with and covered. I miss being productive. I’m excited to think what I could accomplish now that I’m no longer chemically imbalanced.
My biggest hope is maybe somebody will read this and say, “That’s me!” If so, there is a way out. Really.
I never thought a couple tiny pills would do any good. But medication can help. Support from others is crucial. You can’t do it alone. And it’s not your fault you feel this way.
To those out there who have been the target of my angry rants and selfish behavior, I’m sorry. For those who trusted me and were let down, I apologize. But maybe you can at some point give me another chance.
I want to give life a shot.