Letter to dvm360: Depression article triggers memory from years earlier

May 11, 2016
Lee Stuart, DVM

Dr. Marty Becker helped this dvm360 reader get the best of his friendsand brought light to an issue he can relate to all too well.

(Getty Images)

I've never met Marty Becker, but I became aware of him from articles in trade journals starting not long after I graduated in 1986. I've never seen him speak, and yet we once spoke on the phone, and he did grant a big request on my behalf.

I was 10 years out of veterinary school and getting close to finally opening my own practice. The years had been long and lean. I was used to working six to seven days per week. I ran down to Orlando from my home in Ormond Beach to buy equipment at the annual NAVC meeting. Good buys were to be had if sales reps didn't have to pay to ship floor models home. I was feeling good. I got to the meeting early and ran downstairs to grab a quick lunch.

Though I had never seen him before, I saw a man sitting alone at a table who I would have sworn was Marty Becker. He didn't look like he was having a good day. I wasn't emotionally mature enough at that time to go over, say hello and offer a shoulder, so I bought lunch and sat alone wondering what I should do-which ended up being nothing.

Years passed and I finally decided to share that story with some new friends in a management group I'd recently joined. Spirits were high around the dinner table, and I tried to share that story as an example of how all people, no matter how renowned, successful and respected, can have their bad days. Leave it to a bunch of smart and semi-hammered male veterinarians to change that story quickly. By the end of dinner I was Marty Becker's best friend and confidante. For weeks after, one of those guys sent me every picture published of Marty Becker. Luckily he's a handsome dude.

So how could I get my revenge? Aha! How better to get even than to enjoin Marty Becker himself in my cause? I finally sat down and wrote him a three-page letter detailing our possible crossing of paths in Orlando and the chain of subsequent events. I thought myself a fool to mail that letter, but ... nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Weeks went by and I decided I had indeed been a fool to mail that letter. I hoped if nothing else that it would give Marty a smile. But then I walked into my office and found his message. He had called and left two numbers where he could be reached. We spoke and set up a plan.

At our next management meeting, he called our group while he was waiting to tape a segment on Good Morning America. Thanks to Dr. Becker's generosity, our group shared a moment we would never forget-nor would I.

That was 2007, and life seemed good, but significant changes were brewing. My younger first cousin committed suicide the following year. Not much more than a month later, one of my veterinary school classmates committed suicide. I was trying to keep a brave face but was in turmoil. The recession hit and my successful practice started to fail as our once dynamic economy crumbled. I was living on stress and sleep deprivation, and the emotional fatigue overtook me. I started experiencing that black hole others had described and was falling into it.

In my family depression was prevalent, so I had an idea what was happening, but that didn't make it easier. The days were desperate, but thanks to the nurse who heard something in my voice when I finally called and found an opening for me that day, thanks to my doctor who showed understanding and compassion when he prescribed the medications my exhausted brain needed, and thanks to that handful of friends who propped me up when I needed it most, I got through those awful days.

Dr. Sophia Yin committed suicide not that long ago for all the same reasons others do, and the profession finally started to discuss a topic that should have been addressed years ago-suicide in this profession was already occurring. In my simple analysis, for whatever reason, for those of us affected, our brain stops metabolizing serotonin and/or dopamine properly and we fall victim to irrational feelings we are challenged to overcome. Life gets dark and lonely. No level of success or reassurance from those we love and respect allows us to overcome those negative feelings. It's another lesson of how fragile we really are when those amazing biochemical pathways start to falter.

Today I read an incredibly insightful article from that very same Marty Becker I interacted with years earlier (“Putting my darkness into the light,” March). In the article he bravely chronicles the tragic loss of his father by suicide, his struggles with depression, his friendship with Dr. Yin and his efforts to cope with the suicide of a friend. Though we've never met face to face I felt such compassion and respect for this very man who had taken time to help out a stranger years before. How well I could understand the obstacles he's faced. Success is a veneer when you feel unworthy on the inside.

Despite his concerns that such an admission of his struggles might impact his reputation, I am writing to say that this was your finest moment so far, Dr. Becker, in a lifetime of amazing achievement. Let's pull back the curtains on this awful disease and let a little sunshine in. I felt a little of that sunshine today. I saw the man who experienced loss in ways none of us should have to experience. I saw the man and not the reputation, and I have more respect than ever before.

I hope we will meet someday.

Dr. Lee Stuart, DVM

Palm Coast, Florida