Trigger warning: This post contains content about suicide.
This week I was shocked to learn that a good friend whom I’ve known for over 2 decades committed suicide. The news is still fresh and raw so this post is difficult to write, but let me start by saying if you or someone you know is considering harming themselves, please stop reading this and immediately call a suicide prevention hotline like Lifeline.
My reaction to the news was a mix of shock and confusion. It just doesn’t make sense. He left behind a 9 year old daughter whom he loved so much. I literally watched him begin a new chapter of his life 1 month ago, marrying a woman he’d described meeting and thinking, “Oh. There you are. It’s us.” But that’s the frustrating thing about these kinds of situations. Our brains immediately try to reason about how it could make sense when in reality, there’s no rhyme or reason to mental illness.
While I’ve thankfully never personally dealt with suicidal thoughts, I am very familiar with mental health issues. I think it’s easy for people to look at me and my career and assume I’ve somehow magically figured out life and have it all together, but first off, of course that’s not true, and second, I’ve had a lot of help over the years to get to where I am now. While this help has come in the form of love and support from my amazing wife and kids as well as friends and other loved ones, I think it’s also important to publicly say that a big part of my personal growth and success has come from the fact that I’ve been in regular therapy sessions for well over a decade.
My generation grew up with a stigma around seeking help for mental health issues, and while the public discourse around mental health is improving, the stigma still exists, because when I ask most people I mentor if they’ve ever seen a therapist, the vast majority say no.
I can understand this, because I didn’t seek out therapy (even though I desperately needed it!) until about 12 years ago when my wife suffered severe postpartum psychosis and we ended up in a crisis center. After an evaluation, we were given a reference to a therapist and psychiatrist. I went to our first therapy session because I was a good husband and wanted to attend the therapy sessions that my wife needed, not me mind you, my wife… Well, it took about 5 minutes for the therapist to focus in on me and say, “So what’s going on with you?” Wait, timeout! We’re here to talk about my wife’s problems, right?? Can we talk about my wife and not me please?? And so began my personal therapy journey.
For several years, my wife and I attended couples therapy, and eventually it got to a point where we were generally able to communicate with each other in a healthy way, and we realized the recurring issues that were still coming up were caused by our own personal issues that needed work. So we transitioned from couples therapy to individual therapy, each finding a therapist that could help with our specific individual needs. Fast-forward to now and I can easily say I’m in a much more stable place than when I started. However, I still see my therapist every month.
I was pushing 30 years old when we went to that first therapy session and while it was uncomfortable and awkward for me at first, even then, all I could think was, “We should have done this ages ago!” Now I encourage my mentees and anyone else who will listen to attend therapy, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. I recognize not everyone has access to quality therapy and that’s a separate issue, but many do and choose not to use it thinking it’s only meant for emergencies.
The way I describe it to people is to think of it like office hours in college. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received when starting college was, “Go to office hours before you’re in trouble. You don’t want to be sitting in your professor’s office hours a week before finals, along with a crowd of other panicked students, trying to learn a semester’s worth of material in a couple hours.” I followed this advice, regularly attending office hours throughout the semester, and it made a huge positive difference in my academic experience.
Therapy should be treated exactly the same way. Don’t be like me and wait until a crisis situation to go. Don’t wait until you’ve hit rock bottom or divorce is on the table or you’re suicidal. Even if you feel relatively stable, I assure you, therapy can help you uncover personal baggage that is impacting your daily life more than you realize. Therapists aren’t there to fix you, but a good therapist is incredibly helpful at leading you to focus on root causes of struggles in your life. Oftentimes, they help simply by providing data and research that shows you’re not alone in your struggle and many others are struggling with similar issues. That knowledge alone can bring a huge sense of relief and open the door to self-compassion. They are also often able to provide tools to help you work through your issues, eventually coming to accept yourself more and more for all your unique talents and quirks.
I loved my friend and I miss him terribly, and while I can’t do anything to help him now, I hope this post encourages someone else to seek the help they need well before their situation becomes dire. Also, if you’re reading this and you’ve already found therapy for yourself or a loved one, please do me a favor and post about your experience with the hashtag #ineedtherapy. Let’s get it trending to spread awareness that it’s ok to go to therapy and talk openly about the fact that we do!
Take care of yourselves and give your loved ones a big hug today if you can.
This post is dedicated to Eric, a loving father, husband, and friend. Eric, I hope your soul has found peace. 💔