It shocked me to learn, last week, of the suicide of Peter Robbins. For those of you who don’t know who Peter Robbins is, he was the voice actor who gave life to Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts specials in the 1960s. He also reprised his role as Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Peter was 65 at the time he ended his life. As a friend of mine put it, “I hope he found peace.”
I heard of another suicide last week as well. This wasn’t a famous person in any way. He was a 72-year-old he left a note that said, “He couldn’t find a path forward to happiness.”
I wish with all my heart that these men had talked to someone before they ended their lives. Depression to the point of suicide is not rare but it should be. No one should ever feel that alone. No one should ever feel that taking his or her own life is the only answer.
I have been dealing with depression most of my adult life. I believed I was unloved and useless and like the note left above, I could see no path to happiness or contentment. Many times suicide crossed my mind. It seemed reasonable to kill myself. I remember plans I had for committing suicide as way back as my teenage years. I planned I would get in the shower and stab myself so there would be no mess to clean up. I had other plans too.
I felt like a failure most of my adult life because I wasn’t living up to somebody else’s expectations of me. I put their opinion higher than my own. I put what they thought was right for me higher than what I thought, or even what God thought, was right for me. This led to depression. Low self-esteem to the point of self-hatred and then to suicidal thoughts. This all came to a head in March of 1990.
I had been living on my own for the first time since the previous October in what was the greatest apartment in the world. It was the top floor of a Victorian-style home with all kinds of gabled roofs and large ceilings. There was a tiny spot with a window and a small arched ceiling that made a mini chapel. There was another spot between two rooms with an arched ceiling with no windows that looked like a cave. There was, also, a bathroom with an old-fashioned tub with feet. I loved that apartment. At the time I couldn’t drive and the apartment left me very isolated. I rarely entertained and nobody ever called. I felt more and more alone and those feelings turned into a deep depression. The depression turned to suicidal thoughts.
I should have hidden my bad feelings at work, but I couldn’t, so those feelings turned to bouts of anger. I would lash out at just about everyone. One day I was walking to the trolley stop to go to work and I firmly decided that I would kill myself the next day if something didn’t happen in the next 24 hours. It was a decision but it was also a prayer because it was a threat I was making to God Himself. My boss came in and I said something nasty to her. She got away from me as quickly as possible but soon came back and called me into her office. She told me I was out of control and these fits of anger had to stop or I would be fired. I asked for the rest of the day off and went home.
I made it back to the apartment and didn’t know what to do. So I called my friend Manny. Manny and I had been friends for more than ten years. He was a pastor and he was the only one I could think of who might be able to help me. And he did but it was radical.
After listening to me, praying with me, and bathing me in scripture, as he called it, he then advised me to quit my job and move in with him and his family in Syracuse NY so he could help me one on one. And believe it or not, I did it. I packed up and moved to Syracuse.
I spent three life-changing years in Syracuse and met some friends who will always be a part of my life. The problem is, though I learned a lot, I was not changed when it came to depression. This was between the years 1990 and 1993. I came home, worked a few different jobs, and ended up back in the job that I had left.
It wasn’t long before depression took a strong grip on me again. This time I had to mask it. I couldn’t lose this job. So I hid my ugly thoughts. I had seen a video on the way The Disney Company expected their cast members (all Disney employees are cast members) to act. While working they were to consider themselves on stage and to their customers and fellow cast members they were to be positive smiling people. This became my work ethic. I was working in dialysis and while on the floor with my patients I was smiling helpful and encouraging. When I got home I fell apart and despaired.
This went on for about 4 years until I finally talked to a nurse I had been working with for years. She told me I should see the new associate pastor at her church. He had counseling experience and might be able to help me. I honestly didn’t want to do it. I agreed, but only if she made the appointment. I figured she would forget and I would be in the clear. She didn’t forget and, my healing journey began.
It took years. That first counselor turned into another counselor and a psychiatrist. I had to take medication and that had to be dosed just right. Over the years because of changes in insurance and people moving away I have had 5 counselors and 4 psychiatrists. My current psychiatrist handles both the talk therapy and my medications. I was blessed by each of these people in their own way.
Thoughts of suicide still cross my mind but they are fleeting. More like a fly I can brush away pretty quickly. My self-esteem has gone up and I can see value in who and what I am. I know now that I don’t have to change for anyone. I’m OK being me. I have family and friends who I know love me. I may not see them as often as I would like but I know for sure they are there in times of trouble. Just go back read my blog titled Moving Day to find out how both my family and my friends pulled together to help me.
I’m not free from depression. I’m not sure I ever will be. But everyone gets depressed once in a while. I have to be aware of when my depression is justified, caused by some real and possibly fixable situation in my life, and when my depression is chemical. The chemical depressions are the hard days. Sometimes you just have to see them through. Sometimes you have to talk to a friend, a family member or a professional. Sometimes these require hospitalizations. I have been in the hospital twice with depression. I don’t want to go a third time. There is no shame in needing help during these times. Anyone who tells you there is doesn’t know what they are talking about.
I can’t stress enough that everyone begins to listen for signs of depression and possible suicide attempts. The first part is to listen. We all need to be heard and sometimes our own need to be heard can drown out another’s need. Listen to your friends and your family. Don’t blow anyone off who is feeling down for whatever reason and don’t brush off their pain as something they should just “get over.” If you don’t know what to say, acknowledge that you’ve heard them and ask what you can do to help. If you’ve listened without interrupting you may have helped enough.
If you are having thoughts of suicide talk to somebody. There is always someone that wants to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. I used to have this on speed dial at one time. I don’t anymore. I am proof that things do get better.
Musicologists have found that listening to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s helps with depression. The Carpenters, The Partridge Family, Bread, Barry Manilow and so on can help stabilize your mood. Singing along helps even more. I have found singing Broadway songs helps me. Especially the music of Rodger’s Hammerstein. My Favorite Things is my go-to song as it depicts lovely things that if you can see them as you listen or sing they cannot help but make you smile. “Raindrops on roses, and Whiskers on Kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things. You can’t help but see these things in your mind as you sing the words and as you do, your mood will lift, maybe only little at a time, but it will lift.
To both both those who suffer from depression and to those who know someone and want to help I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Dickens from his book Doctor Margold, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” For you who are hurting think of times, you have helped anyone. You’re not useless. If you can’t think of anyone go out and help somebody get out of your head and meet another’s need and you will feel better about yourself. For those of you who are helping someone who is hurting emotionally, you have tremendous value and it is my hope that God blesses you for your kindness.