I am a grown man and each day I feel grateful to be alive.
While in college, I was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Due to stigma, stubbornness, embarrassment, ignorance, and fear I refused all help. Instead, I tried to “just get over it.” For the next 14 years, I caused untold misery for my family, my friends, my colleagues, and myself.
My depression led me down a path of negativity, pessimism, agitation and hopelessness. I rarely felt happy or content and I frequently felt alone despite the presence of many people in my life. My once-confident and outgoing personality began to resemble that of an insecure and timid teenager. The more depressed I became, the less I recognized myself.
My favorite pastimes such as playing hockey, running, camping and hanging out with friends no longer mattered. My initiative and drive all but vanished. My depression once landed me in the emergency room, being treated for a “heart attack” at the age of 27 when in reality I was simply depressed and anxious.
My depression sorely impacted the quality of my relationship with my wife. Once children arrived, I was useless as a parent. I had no tolerance for their needs as infants, their cries, and their requests for help annoyed me. I avoided them whenever possible. When unable to avoid them, I wasn’t engaged, and usually angry at them.
My depression cost me one high-profile job and nearly cost me a second. When at work, I was preoccupied with worry, anxiety and I could neither concentrate nor produce. Depression led me to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It pushed me down a path of searching for happiness in ways that only caused heartache and pain for myself and those who cared about me. My depression also caused me to want nothing more than to escape the pain and kill myself.
The night I nearly died was a night like most we had come to endure in our home. My depression was completely out of control and I was completely checked out of life. My wife was running around the house trying to get our three young children fed, bathed and ready for bed so her depressed husband would not be responsible for tasks he wouldn’t complete anyway while she was at work.
The children were busy being their young selves: Running around, laughing, babbling, playing and making the sort of commotion you would expect from a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 9-month-old. They were (and are) wonderful children filled with optimism, fun, joy and a collective spirit that to this day inspires other families and children. I neither saw nor cared about any of it. I had arrived at a place where life no longer mattered.
In my mind I was a disgrace, a failure, a loser, a terrible husband and a worthless father who no longer deserved to or wanted to live. I was in pain and out of options, which is ironic since I never fully explored any of my options for treatment. My inner being resonated with self-disgust. The only voice I heard was the one telling me how awful I was, and that the reasonable thing to do was to kill myself.
That night, as my wife left for work, I knew she was completely detached from me. Not because she didn’t care, but rather as a means of self-protection and protection of our children. I was unpredictable, unreliable, irritable and not to be trusted. Over the last couple of years, my depression had become more constant, more intense, and a source of difficulty for those around me.
Hurrying my children off to bed as soon as I could, as I had done so many nights before when I was alone with them, I reached out to alcohol. By drinking myself into a stupor I was able to avoid the pain of depression. I always knew the pain would be there when the alcohol wore off, but for those brief few hours I could simply be drunk and not feel my depression.
This particular night my mind was racing more than usual, which is to say that rather than going about 100 miles per hour, I was taking corners at 180 mph and only one wheel was touching the track. Recent events had compiled and compounded the impact of my depression. A couple of nights prior I had decided this was my chance to finally get out of the mess I had created.
With my three children asleep downstairs, my wife at work, and my judgment reduced to zero, I removed my shotgun from its storage place and inserted a shell. I recall a mixed sense of relief and fear. My fear was that somehow I wouldn’t do it right. My relief was that I could finally escape the messes I had created. I could get away from the constant feelings of sadness, guilt, shame and self-hatred. I could finally leave my wife and children to get on with their lives without me.
I sat with that gun cradled in my lap, then slowly raised up to my mouth as tears flowed down my face. I started to think about how I should position myself so that it would be easier to clean up. I wondered if I should somehow try to muffle the gun with a pillow so as not to disturb the neighbors or my sleeping children.
I don’t recall how long I sat in the corner of my upstairs room, but what I do vividly recall is the feel of the trigger and the steely smell and taste of a loaded gun in my mouth, waiting for that final moment.
What happened next saved my life.
As I sat with the barrel of my gun in my mouth, I heard what started as a whimper and eventually grew into a full-blown wail. My then 9-month-old daughter Ellie woke up at a time when she generally didn’t awaken. Ellie was a rock-solid sleeper and she had been thankfully allowing my wife to sleep through the night for many months. But this night was different. Her cries were enough to jolt me back to reality and recognize what I was doing. The otherwise-shrill and disruptive cries of a startled child turned out to be the song that saved my life.
Setting the gun aside, I got up — shirtless, intoxicated, scared, and very depressed — and went down to hold my daughter. Lifting her out of the crib, she snuggled her head between my shoulder and the side of my head. I could smell the wonderful smell of a baby and her crying soon turned into the gentle breathing of a peaceful child, sound asleep.
What happened after that is a blur. My wife came home to discover an intoxicated husband holding a sleeping baby while a shotgun was on the bed. Hastily my wife was able to get me transported to the hospital.
Held overnight in the regular hospital, I was eventually transferred to a psychiatric hospital. When admitted, I weighed some 40 pounds less than I do today. I was dehydrated, I hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night in over a year, and I was on the verge of losing my marriage, my children, my home, my job, my life and everything else that should have mattered to me, but simply didn’t.
After spending time in the hospital, I slowly began to turn a corner and gain control back over my life. I learned to better manage my stress and redirect the negative thoughts that once demanded that I end my life. I began to accept that I was a good person despite this detour through depression, which I had neither asked for nor anticipated. The process was at times tedious and painfully slow, but also necessary.
Fast-forward 7 years to today. I am a new person. I don’t have my old life back because quite frankly, that life sucked. Instead I have a life that is filled with the same challenges I faced before, but now I face those challenges with clarity and free of depression and anxiety. I still have bad days, I still question my skills, I still get frustrated sometimes with my kids, and my wife and I still disagree at times. But now I don’t get swallowed up by these day-to-day challenges the way I did when living with depression.
My life is now in balance. I love and enjoy my children in a manner I didn’t realize was possible. I coach youth soccer, softball and hockey. I help with my children’s school events and I am involved with my church.
Today I have a successful consulting practice, I am an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota, and I travel the United States speaking, training, and building programs about depression.
I have appeared on television and been interviewed for newspaper and magazine articles about depression. I have received awards from national organizations for the work I’ve done, which is great. But I continue to meet men suffering in silence with depression, so I know there is still work to be done.
Coupled with the fact that I have met hundreds of men who have pulled me aside after a presentation, or who have called me, or emailed me who say “I think I might be depressed, but I can’t tell anyone,” I know an organization focusing on the needs of men with depression is sorely needed.
Let’s face facts, guys; We get depressed, but we are often too stubborn, too proud, unaware of what we are experiencing or unwilling to address it. I have heard the arguments about how only weak people get depressed, people need to just get over it and try harder, and how we shouldn’t talk about our problems in public. Well, by listening to those ideas for over 14 years I wasted a lot of time, neglected my marriage, my children, my friends, my career, and I nearly killed myself.
Those “macho man” messages are a load of bull. But I also know that men are different when it comes to understanding and addressing their emotions. Men are often unwilling to consider treatment for depression. I know there is a great deal of stigma and embarrassment that goes along with depression, which is why I founded Face It. A group that understands the needs of men with depression is long overdue.
Face It is an organization that helps men (and those who care about them) to better understand and address their depression. Our organization is founded on hope, purpose, and positive outcomes in the face of adversity.
I need your help as I establish this group. I need your generous donations, I need your words of encouragement, I need your ideas, I need your prayers, and I need your willingness to talk about Face It and depression. I look forward to what the future holds. I hope you will consider joining me in this effort!
Mark A. Meier — Founder