I am not sure what scared me more, making a list of reasons not to kill myself or only coming up with one thing. I sat there for hours, the paper in one hand and a gun in the other, wondering who would finally win this existential battle for my soul. I knew my list should have been longer, but my depression kept me from seeing all the beautiful things in my life.
I was born a healthy, intelligent, relatively attractive, white, heterosexual, American male who was raised by two middle-class parents. These genetic tailwinds allowed me to parlay my privilege into so many incredible things. I hold multiple advanced degrees and numerous professional certifications. I rode the corporate “escalator” to a point where my annual bonus is double what most households earn in a year. I married a smart, strong, independent, and beautiful woman. Then we decided to have kids and we raised our two (also privileged) young men in an upper-middle-class lifestyle which included a huge house, fancy cars, a pure-bred hypoallergenic dog, the best schools, and incredible family vacations. By every measure, my life could not have been better.
But the darkness kept growing inside me like a cancer. I started in my late teens. A few rough days here and there. The occasional bad thought but nothing I couldn’t handle. Then life got crazy in my twenties. In the span of just a few short years, I had finished my degree, started a career, got married, bought a house, and had two kids. All this stress served as both a distraction from, and an expedient excuse for, my depression. Unfortunately, the “episodes” got worse in my thirties. They were becoming more frequent and would last weeks instead of days.
I did my best to hold it all inside, but the dam finally burst, and my pain almost drowned everyone I loved. My family watched helplessly as the depression slowly ate me from the inside until nothing but suffering remained. I was convinced the only path to the peace I so desperately wanted was death.
Initially, I hoped for a random accident. A plane crash, while on a business trip, was my ultimate fantasy. I remember being on a flight out of New Orleans when, just moments after takeoff, the plane stopped climbing and banked hard over lake Pontchartrain. The pilot came on the intercom and told us he just declared an emergency. The entire plane was freaking out, but I just smiled. I knew it would be a quick death, and my family would get filthy rich. Between all the insurance policies, the accidental death riders, and the settlements from the airlines I bet my wife would net $5,000,000. Sure, the kids would miss me, but it was nothing a little time and therapy couldn’t fix. To help ease my guilt, I imagined all of them at a swanky all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean having fun with their new stepdad, Steve. Yes, I even fantasized about succession planning. Unfortunately, advances in aeronautical engineering and a contingent of well-trained pilots conspired to keep me alive.
My next death wish was for something health-related, but it had to be common and sudden. I didn’t want to burden my family with having to run a 10k every year trying to find a cure for some rare disease that caused my agonizing death. Dropping dead from a massive heart attack seemed perfect. So, you can imagine my disappointment when the nuclear stress test showed my heart was in great shape. I guess not smoking and being height/weight proportional can have a downside.
As the years went by, so did my good fortune. No health scares or tragic accidents. Not a single opportunity to run into a burning building to save a bunch of kids and die a hero, after I ran back in for their puppy. My life kept getting better, at least on the outside. It became clear that the only path to the peace I so desperately wanted, for me and my family, was suicide.
So, one day, I grabbed my gun, loaded a single bullet, and quietly snuck out the backdoor like I was going to the store. No notes explaining my decision. No cryptic text messages secretly pleading for help. I just needed the pain to stop.
I drove to a spot that best symbolized my pain, hoping it would give me the extra boost of confidence I needed to blow my head off. The next few hours were terrifying but mostly sad. I sat in my truck bawling my eyes out as I tried to piece together how things had gone so terribly wrong. The reasons for wanting to die seemed obvious, but there had to be some motivation to go on living. My analytical side decided to make a list. I grabbed a pen and an old Chick-Fila receipt and scribbled down two words: My Kids.
I am not going to lie and say it was because my kids would miss me. Hell, Steve would be a way better dad, because he would have made their mother much happier. Lots of kids have lost their dad and gone on to do just fine. The real reason was I didn’t want them to wear the scarlet “S” of my suicide.
I worried their friends would talk behind their backs and judge them. Steve might think twice before dating a woman whose husband killed himself. Even worse, it would significantly increase the probability that they would also choose suicide for themselves one day. I love them more than anything and could not bear having so much influence over their lives.
The decision was made. I tossed the gun in the passenger seat, crushed the paper in my fist, and sobbed uncontrollably. The existential cage match ended in a draw; too afraid to end my life and to depressed to go on living. But something was undeniably different.
For the last twenty years I had been falling into the deep crevasse of depression. Continuously picking up momentum as I tumbled further into a bottomless pit of misery. Putting a gun in my mouth changed something. Was this the proverbial “thud” of me hitting the rocky bottom?
Then I heard a calm, matter of fact, voice say “You can always kill yourself later”. This didn’t seem like the best advice to give a suicidal person, but it instantly made sense. If I can muster up the courage to shoot myself, then why can’t I tap into that same courage to do all those things I have feared doing. Life is a silly game and I had been playing it wrong. I am going to die, one way or another, so why not try to live a little while I am waiting.
The analyst in me went to work drafting an inner-peace treaty that would ease the tension my cognitive dissonance was causing. For the side of me that wanted to go on living, I promised to treat my depression so I could try and live my best possible life. For the side of me that wanted to die, I promised that if things went sideways, I would push the self-destruct button. Both sides reluctantly agreed to the “Parking Deck Peace Accord”. The deal was fragile, but I hoped it would hold long enough for me to figure things out.
I snuck back in the house as quietly as I had left. Nobody knowing how close I came to not being Hank.
The next few years felt like I was stuck on a demented emotional rollercoaster. Not the fun amusement park kind of ride. More like the metal death traps you find at a sketchy parking lot carnival that just spins you around until you puke. I was so emotionally dizzy I couldn’t think straight. I was happy to be alive and disappointed I didn’t pull the trigger. Being around my wife filled me with joy and overwhelmed me with shame. I loved spending time with my boys, but I resented them for being the reason I couldn’t leave.
I wanted to believe things would get better but the truth was I had no idea how I was going to climb out of this fucking hole. I had never felt so defeated.