I recently learned about the power of love and compassion from someone who had all but given up on life. I met him, if you can call it that, in the comments section of another blog, where he posted that he was contemplating suicide.
What really bothered me was that no one had addressed his comment. Did they not see it? Were they uncertain of what to say? Was it a breach of blogger protocol to address a serious issue in someone else’s comments section? I didn’t know, but one thing was certain: this person was suffering. I could not simply go about my day as if I had not noticed it. The last time I tried that approach, things did not work out so well.
When Depression Threatens
Four Christmases ago, a very dear friend of mine took his own life. In a moment of hopelessness and despair, he shot himself. For fourteen years he had been one of my closest friends; we were always there for each other, and I loved him dearly. This was no mere acquaintance, so the news affected me deeply.
This was a fellow pilot and grieving soul. Like me, he had lost his parents at a young age, so we felt a strong connection; we promised to be each other’s shoulder to cry on and soft place to fall when life was knocking us down. He called me every year, without fail, on Valentine’s Day and my birthday, even when I moved to Costa Rica and he moved to Belize.
In 2005, when I got that birthday call, I knew something was terribly wrong. I had never heard him so despondent before. This guy was an aerobatic pilot, a Reno Air Racer; he was full of adventure and passion. But on this particular call, he was somber, quiet, and sad.
He had been struggling with bipolar disorder for a couple of years. He never would have admitted this fact, or sought treatment; but I knew. I recognized all the telltale signs because I had seen them in my dad: the endless rambling phone calls at all hours, the god complex, his blacklist of “enemies” which grew increasingly longer, the purchase of insanely expensive things with other people’s money, the topics of conversation bordering on sexual harassment…
These, and many more, were the symptoms I had been watching develop in him over the course of a few years. I would hear from him a whole lot when he was manic, then not at all for months at a time, during his depressive hibernation.
His family and friends had noticed this as well, but when they tried to get him to seek treatment, he just put them on his blacklist of people to avoid (and get even with). Finally, they did the responsible thing: they reported his condition to the FAA, who promptly revoked his medical certificate. He could no longer fly, and he’d never really done anything else. He used to tell everyone, “The day I can’t fly is the day that I die.” It was his whole life.
Reaching Out for Help
When he called on my birthday, I knew he was in utter despair, trying to figure out what life he could possibly have without flying. But I assumed it was just a phase, and that he would resolve it on the next upswing. I was busy and distracted, moving from Costa Rica to Austin, so I told him I’d call him later.
My birthday was in October; we moved to Austin in November. I almost called him then, but decided I would wait until we were settled in our new home, in early December. Then I was busy moving in, meeting neighbors, and getting ready for Christmas. I meant to call him; I really did… and then I got the email from his ex-wife. Just like that, it was over. All the history we shared and all the promises we made vanished into thin air.
I spent the first two years after that torturing myself with guilt. I should have been a better friend, and called him. Perhaps I could’ve gotten him treatment for his depression since he trusted me and knew about my dad. It would have made all the difference if I just took a moment from my busy life to let him know he was not alone. WHAT IF he had felt loved, instead of abandoned?
I will never know. I did nothing.
Maybe there was something I could have done, maybe not. But I could have tried. I didn’t reach out to help him when he suffered, and I can’t do anything about that now. But I can try to help others who are suffering.
What if Love and Compassion Win?
So, when I saw that person mention suicide in the comments of a blog, I gave him my email and asked him to contact me. And he did. We have been in contact ever since, and I cherish each email I receive from him. He still has a whole set of challenging circumstances to deal with, and I can’t make those go away. We all have those constant burdens to bear, each in our own way. But I can let him know I care, I’m here, and things will get better. Sometimes that is all we need to find the strength to keep going.
A short while ago, I told him I was going out to the yard to plant strawberries with my son. He asked me how long it takes to grow a strawberry plant.
I replied, “I don’t know yet how long it will take to harvest my strawberries. There’s a good chance I never will, because the birds will beat me to it. But it’s ok… I like the planting… and the birds.”
His answer helped me understand the key to happiness: He said, “ Yes, there will be birds, but we should not stop planting strawberries. That is the essence of life. Like what Albert Camus tried to propagate in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. ”
For those of you who may not remember, Sisyphus, of Greek mythology, was the guy condemned to push a boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down, and repeat this for all eternity. His burden is constantly present, but he presses on anyway. What else can he do?
It seems to me, since we each have our individual burdens, that the way to fight off suffering and depression in order to be happy is to find the little things that bring us joy, the simple pleasures. Make time to find them; take time to appreciate them. Just as importantly, if someone you know has lost the ability to enjoy anything, take a moment to help that person. Show a little Love and Compassion, because even little things can make a world of difference. You never know… the life you save may be a friend’s.
Lisis Blackston is a wife and mother who is dedicated to helping others find happiness and inner peace. You can learn more about Lisis at her blog, Quest For Balance, which is dedicated to this concept:
Whether we find happiness through grand adventures, or seek it in every-day places, we all want less pain and more joy. Quest for Balance is a place where people can be reminded that finding lasting happiness and inner peace is not only achievable, but surprisingly simple… for all of us!
Thank you for that really touching post, Lisis. And for the readers, I’ll be back in a few weeks! It’s exam time, and my brain is overloaded. This semester is particularly vital for me.