When we look at the death of a celebrity, of someone we don’t know but know of, we don’t look at their life so much as we look at ourselves. We measure the choices they made and the small sliver of their lives we know about in comparison to ours. We take the few things we guess about what it must be like to be them, and toss out the hard choices and experiences they had to endure to get to that place.
Derek Boogaard was the one that hit me the most. I didn’t know much about Rick Rypien, other than what I had read. But Boogaard was a guy I loved to watch, the few minutes he was on the ice. There was something about him that seemed so fun, but at the same time so real. He didn’t look or act like a character on the ice. He looked like someone who was having fun, even if it meant dominating someone in a fight.
And then, Wade Belak. At first, it was just another weird circumstance. But then, I saw this tweet (which I hope isn’t true):
We see in the stars, the celebrities, the people we cheer for and boo at, something about ourselves. We see a grander reflection when we watch the shining stars, or we see how we want to be. We condemn the villains, and ask how they could ever behave the way they do, because we would never do that.
And in the tragedy, in the people we see fall too soon, the ones who cause their own demise, we see ourselves as well. Perhaps even more clearly.
Depression is difficult. It’s difficult because you don’t see a way out of it when you are in it. You don’t feel like there is any solution. You feel like you should be able to take care of it on your own. Those times when you look around at your peers, your friends, and you wonder why you can’t pull it together. Even if you recognize it for what it is, depression never seems that unbeatable, until you can’t take it anymore. That is the most insidious part of depression, the part that makes you think it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, at the same time that it has it’s claws in you.
I’ve dealt with it. I still deal with it from time to time. I wonder what is wrong with me, why I’m so mad, or sad, or disconnected from the world. Those times you don’t see a way out, and you don’t know what to do next. When you see the happy people around you and wonder why you can’t connect with that same feeling. Or you don’t know why you’re here. At all.
I remember sitting on the corner of my bed when I was a teenager, with a knife in my hand. I was crying, because I didn’t know if I could take another day of the loneliness, or the anger, or the pain. I didn’t know if I could keep going. No one knew, and until now, no one ever knew. I sat there with that knife more than once. I looked at my wrists and said to myself, ‘do it.’ For some reason, I didn’t do it. Somehow, I went on another day, and then another. I don’t know why, but I did. And somehow, I made it this far.
Imagine how it is for an adult. You want to do things with your life, have a relationship, be with friends, do good work. Show your weakness, and you will never be looked at the same. Everyone will wonder when you will break. Some people will try to make it happen sooner. Some people are just like that. People with depression don’t want to be treated different, they want the tools to deal with how they feel. They don’t want sympathy, they want a solution.
Depression is easy to hide, but it’s also easy to ignore. It looks like a lot of things. Anger, loneliness, fear, even happiness. Yeah, we put a smile on our face to show that we aren’t weak, that we aren’t sad. People who are depressed hide it all the time. I hid mine for years, and I still do. I keep it from my co-workers, my friends and my family. I keep it locked away, and wait for the tool to surface that will some day make it all seem like it was worth it, that will let me walk away from it. I keep it away from the people closest to me. I try to keep it away from everyone. I’ve become an expert at hiding it.
I remember how people used to say – and maybe they still do – that suicide is the coward’s way out. There is no cowardice in those people. It took unbelievable strength to make it as far as they did. It’s more cowardly to turn your back on someone who is hurting. But first, you have to recognize it. And the person who is hurting has to let you know that they hurt that much. I wish it were easier than that, but it isn’t.
Where does that leave us today? With people saying you should hug a friend? With little tribute icons and status updates? What would it take to really fix the problem? What would it take to end the pain for someone?
Rypien, Belak, Boogaard. Those were some incredibly powerful people. They weren’t taken from us. We let them slip away. We’re all just slipping away.
UPDATE: I feel like, from the comments I’ve gotten, I should clarify something.
I’m more than 20 years removed from that teenager who didn’t know if he could go on. Sometimes it feels like that was someone else. I still have depression, but it isn’t all the time. I feel good, and I feel bad. I am functional, and can manage it sometimes. Sometimes, I have a really hard time managing it. But I don’t feel like doing myself in. Somewhere out there, there is a solution. That I know. Until I find it, it’s still a struggle sometimes. Not all the time, but often enough.