This past year saw several prominent Albertans and many countless and faceless others make the unthinkable and tragic choice to end their own lives. Too many people are living in the shadows of quiet desperation, ashamed and often socialized to see asking for help as a sign of weak constitution or flawed character.
One of these people was Ruth Kelly, the publisher of the once respected Alberta Venture Magazine. I wrote a column for Ruth which she named "The Business of Life". She watched her hard work crumble before her eyes as digital technologies and a vicious economy ripped the ground out from under her feet. She disappeared under the surface, never to be seen again.
As a coach I am interested in understanding all aspects of the human condition. Suicidal depression is in one large corner of that vast space. It's easy to judge, ignorant of what is really true for another human being. Long before Ruth, I was curious about how someone could get to that place where things were so bad that this final choice was all that seemed left as an option. I got my answer.
Laura Watson is a professional coach and social worker who worked the night shift on the Woods Homes suicide hotline for 13 years. I asked her what I should do if I was ever confronted with someone on that ledge. Shortly after, I had my first opportunity to apply that knowledge.
I received a call from a former client, who was right in the middle of trying to figure out the best way to end his life. (Miles has graciously allowed me to share his story so that it might help other people.) He had completed the purchase of a business six months prior as a way to build his personal wealth but a financial motive alone proved insufficient to sustain his resolve through the downturn. His anxiety spiraled out of control and his grip on reality unravelled.
This subject is very personal for me. I have also suffered periodic bouts of depression. At some level, I think I wanted to feel for myself what it was all about. Interestingly this was easier than it sounds. I have since been diagnosed with dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade depression, that stems from a genetic defect in my metabolism. My body simply does not produce normal levels of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters that affect mood. I know first-hand what it feels like to live a life devoid of joy. I have touched the blank depths of desperation and misery at the bottom of the deep hole. I got out of this alive, but it took someone who fell into the same hole to help me get back out.
I followed the protocol that Laura had given me. Miles got the psychological and psychiatric help he needed. I am not a mental health professional and I respect that depression is complex subject, but what he and I discovered through our work together was that in addition to some faulty brain chemistry, he had a poor concept about what might be worth living for.
We spent six months working on his vision and getting him more spiritually connected to the dream he has for his life. While financial security is still important to him, he came to embrace another kind of wealth. Miles is living a genuinely happy and joyful life today as he takes better care of his health, his marriage, his family and the financial security of his staff. And for me, helping him get back to the light–being in service to one of my fellow men–meant I got there too.
It is difficult for many people to reach out and ask for help. It still carries a stigma. Sometimes it's easier to pay attention to what's going on in the lives of other people and offer support when we think they might really need it but are too proud to ask for it. The life you ultimately save in doing these acts of kindness and service may well be your own.