By Mike Rosen
This week, the featured post is authored by MenLiving facilitator, Mike Rosen. Mike is a father, a 4th grade teacher and has been the lead on our Tuesday night seperation / divorce meeting since its inception.
**Trigger Warning** This post discusses depression, suicide, and suicidal ideation, and some people might find it difficult. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For the United States, the numbers are as follows:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 988 or 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.
I’m not a mechanic, but I know when there’s something wrong with my car. I’m not an HVAC technician either, but I know when my home system isn’t working. I’m not a mental health specialist, a therapist, a counselor, or social worker, but I can certainly now tell when something is amiss with my mental health.
This hasn’t always been the case. Throughout most of my life, I was of the belief that I was someone who would never struggle with depression. Not me! I judged those who I knew to be struggling as weak. I would hear stories of friends and acquaintances who were in the throes and think “Geez. You have it good, what’s the issue?” It was easy to ignore and judge, my ignorance is hard to admit, and feels tremendously embarrassing in hindsight.
My Mom is the daughter of an alcoholic, she is an alcoholic too. She practiced a pattern for decades that regardless of what was taking place in our family, in her life, in ours, everything was fine. No issues here! Everything’s good, right? Peace at any price.
I mention my Mom because I learned from her very early on how to NOT ask for help. How to shrink at home to not cause issues. How to fade, live small, and diminished. How to take on the weight of whatever I was feeling entirely by myself. I don’t need help because there isn’t a problem. I’m strong. I’m tough. I’m smart. Watch, I can be more stoic than you. Watch as I keep all my feelings inside. Watch as my communication skills remain basic at best. Watch as I learn how to avoid conflict because I don’t know how to navigate it. Watch as I isolate myself physically and emotionally. Watch as these patterns etch in my young mind and heart, continue through adulthood, and inform my approach to just about every aspect of life–people, school, relationships, work. I’m good, thank you.
Until I’m not.
14 years in, August 2017, my marriage began to really dissolve as we separated. I was the arrogant, scared, stubborn impetus behind a lot of the challenges, I moved out. I was now physically isolated from family and friends, living alone in a nearby apartment.
But I’m not. Anything but.
I hurt everywhere–in my heart mostly. ‘What have I done? My boys, I miss them so much words can’t begin to explain. What.have.I.done? Who does that?’
In my head–’What is wrong with you? Why can everyone else figure these things out except you? What’s wrong with you?’
I fell into a deep depression. I lied to everyone on how I was doing and depression lied right back to me. I told people ‘I’m good!’ when I wasn’t. Depression lied and told me I was a failed husband, an awful Dad, an awful person, hardly worthy of much. It often asked me “Who would do that to a loving wife and beautiful kids?” I didn’t have answers and the abyss grew and grew.
I stopped running, which for someone who had been a runner for 34 of their 46 years at that point and who used it as a therapy tool amongst other things, was big. I drank more alcohol. I ate poorly. Depression lied and told me those were all great choices. I isolated and struggled in a vicious cycle that I didn’t even recognize I was in. I attended Men Living meetings and lied some more. “I’m good! Thank you!” and I repeatedly told my family I was fine. At times I actually believed it. Depression lied and said ‘Nice work, keep up the isolation. It’s easier.’
Yet just below the facade the pain was nearly unbearable. Any constructive outcome to separation and divorce seemed entirely unreachable. Any semblance of my worth and esteem was long gone, dissolved by the loneliness, shame, and guilt I felt. My boys were my biggest life force and I could see and feel the pain my choices had caused them. Lost, struggling, the fog of depression slowly invading every corner of my being.
I just wanted the pain to end. Please make this suffering end.
After months, the only reasonable way out felt like suicide. Through the fog I couldn’t see another option. I researched, information around all of it is abundant and remarkably easy to access in today’s world–methods, tips, efficacy rates, duration, common mistakes, pain levels, etc. Wow. Decision made. I made a list of ‘To Do’s’ to make it ‘easier’ for Lynette and the boys. Close this bank account. Done. Refund the deposits for my woodworking customers. ‘Why?” they asked. I found a truthful answer that ignored the reality. Done. Do this, do that. Done and done. The fog had fully enveloped my brain and the lies continued. Depression continually told me the world would simply be better without me continuing to inflict pain and sadness upon those closest to me and whom I purported to love.
It was a Thursday. I wrote letters to Lynette and the boys. Printed them out. Set them on the dining room table in my apartment. One began like this:
June 7, 2018
It’s a beautiful, sunny June day, I can hear the sounds of kids splashing in the pool out my window, laughing. I should be grateful and thankful but the pain I feel is overwhelming. I just want it to end. I just want the pain to go away.
I continued with an apology, a plea to remind the boys how much I loved them and how sorry I was for messing things up and sorry that I didn’t do better and please, please, please know that I wasn’t giving up on them. It just hurt so much.
12 hours later I woke up, having fallen asleep from exhaustion on the floor of my bedroom, many missed calls from my therapist and Lynette. I hadn’t slept for days prior and was as close to suicide as I think I could come and as close as I ever want to be. I was as deep into the abyss as I’ve ever been and I’m lucky to be outside of it now. Depression lies and it’s hard to challenge it and call it out. It takes courage, it takes love, it takes time, it takes compassion, it takes connection, and it takes grace. There is an abundance of resources to help, some are linked at the end of this post.
MenLiving helped save my life. The examples and practice of connection, the trust, the openness, the non-judgmental way men show up for each other, for themselves, for me. They helped teach me self-compassion. They helped cultivate in me an openness, a vulnerability, and a transparency I never knew of. I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to many–Todd, Frank, Eric, Shaun, Craig, Tony, Chris, Tim and every man who was a part and is a part of MenLiving now. You may not have known it at the time, but you were helping to save my life. This gratitude helps inform the commitment I’ve made and the work I do as facilitator on behalf of MenLiving.
Each June 7th since then, I take a bit of time to reflect and appreciate the entirety of my journey, though sometimes I haven’t even noticed the approaching date. Last June 7th, before our coffee was even poured, Kelly took my shoulders in her hands, looked me in the eye and said “I’m glad you’re here. The world is better with you in it.” and hugged me. Kindness, effort, compassion, grace, and love. I used to not believe those words Kelly spoke but now I do, I truly believe her and she’s right.
My invitation to you is this: reach out to someone you know, someone who you might think ‘Is fine.’ Call, text, email. Connect. Tell them about MenLiving. I know it’s easier not to, I fall into the same trap and there’s always reasons why I can’t or why it can wait or why I don’t want to. If you’re reading this and happen to be struggling, trust me when I say the world is better with you here. The world is better with that person you know who might be struggling in it. The world is better that I’m here too, I know that now. The world is better with MenLiving in it. Kindly spread the word and thank you for reading.
With Grace and Love.
Some resources are here.