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Putting my darkness into the light
The fire behind you is so hot, you choose suicide as the least painful way. For some veterinary professionals, the darkness inside is so debilitating, that you choose suicide as the least painful way. Please don't. Please seek help.
Photo: Getty ImagesEditor's note: This article includes graphic discussion of suicide, depression and mental health issues. If you're experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK; 800-273-8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org). It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter what problems you are dealing with, people on the other end of the line will help you find a reason to keep living.
Some of you have known me as a practice management guru and veterinary medical correspondent for over three decades. Only a half-dozen of you know that my father killed himself with a shotgun and that I, too, suffer from depression.
I'm almost universally known for being upbeat, positive, high-energy and good humored. An extrovert, optimist and leader for change. But that's only most of the pages in my book of life. There are pages filled with darkness, lethargy, sadness and wanting nothing more than to sleep and not feel depressed.
My father, Bob, had a family inflicted and conflicted with manic depression that resulted in many suicides ...
I grew up on a farm/ranch in rural southern Idaho. My father, Bob, had a family inflicted and conflicted with manic depression that resulted in many suicides, including intentional drownings, driving off a cliff and self-inflicted, fatal gunshots. Notice the plural “shots.” My dad's first shot in the basement of our house shot off his lower jaw but didn't kill him. He was so strong and determined, he pumped another 12-gauge shell into the chamber and this one found the mark.
Why would you want to kill yourself? I have researched this, worried that I might feel it personally and have come to the conclusion that the pain becomes so severe that any relief seems welcome even if it's a final solution.
I kept thinking I'd just worn myself out … but as the days started to get longer, the sun kept dimming for me.
I first became depressed (like many others) in my late 40s. It was around 9/11 that shook me to my core (like many others) and I'd just finished a grueling year of travel and (ironically) work on the book The Healing Power of Pets. I was so sad, exhausted, withdrawn and wanting to sleep. I kept thinking I'd just worn myself out, but as Christmas passed and the days started to get longer, the sun kept dimming for me.
Knowing our family history and seeing that I couldn't will or pray myself better, I finally went to our local doctor who prescribed an antidepressant. The results were dramatic and quick. Soon, I was on the sunshine side of the mountain again. I was able to go off antidepressants after about six months but about five-years later I once again became depressed. This time I needed to get onto a combination of drugs to achieve the happiness I needed and deserved. Eventually, I found someone else in pain too.
I was introduced to Dr. Sophia Yin by our mutual friend, Dr. Jim Wilson, about 25 years ago. Sophia and I became friends, but it was only the year that she died that the two of us became close and I learned of her severe depression. Sophia thought that her business was failing (it wasn't), that she'd been a failure (she wasn't!), and that she might lose her house (impossible). While my wife, Teresa, prayed with her at least weekly for many months, I talked to her about business, faith, family, life and depression.
We talked about why you need antidepressants for depression. I used logic that should appeal to a doctor, comparing depression to:
> Infection. If you have a bacterial infection, you need to take an antibiotic.
> Diabetes. If an individual can't control blood sugar by other means, you need to take insulin.
> Hypothyroidism. If you have low thyroid, you take a supplement.
> Seizures. Convulsions are typically controlled with a medication.
> Depression. Many of us need chemical crutches to help restore normal function.
Yin was a brilliant veterinarian. She knew diabetes, low thyroid and seizures often require a lifetime of treatment. She knew that many behavior issues in pets require lifetime medications for anxiety, fear, OCD, etc. But for some reason, she thought she was different and could simply pray away or outlast the depression. She couldn't.
She thought she was different and could simply pray away or outlast the depression. She couldn't.
Like many others who knew or admired Sophia, my wife and I were shocked and saddened by her suicide. We felt that we'd missed signs or in some way let her down. We both thought she was starting to emerge out of the darkness and on her way back up. She wasn't.
It was several months after Sophia's death on a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan that I found the reason (in my mind) for Yin's decision to jump. In this incredibly somber and moving museum is a side room that shows the story of the people who jumped from the Twin Towers. One particular image shows the 60th to 90th floors of a smoldering Tower Two. There are several people in mid-air falling one after another like raindrops and at the top is a woman stepping off (holding the sides of her skirt so her dress wouldn't blow up exposing her). I thought to myself, this isn't a cartoon where you hit the ground, flatten and then pop back up. You know you're going to die when you jump, but you do it anyway. Why?
You know you're going to die when you jump, but do it anyway. Why?
The fire behind you is so hot, you choose suicide as the least painful way. For Sophia and others, the darkness inside is so debilitating, that you choose suicide as the least painful way.
I'm not writing this as an “I'm getting older and need to get this off my chest” exercise. Even my own family doesn't think I should be so open with my own depression and our family history of suicides (my wife's family has depression; between our families there have been over a half-dozen suicides). But I feel called to put this darkness out into the light.
If “America's Veterinarian”-who lives in a big log house on a horse ranch in northern Idaho, is married for 37 years to the love of his life, is financially successful and is blessed with influence to help pets, people and his beloved profession-can admit that he has mental health issues and needs daily medication to live a happy, healthy, full life … maybe some of you will move past the shame and pain of trying to fight emotional issues by yourself and seek help from professionals.
God loves you and so do many others.
Editor's note: If you're experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK; 800-273-8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org). It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter what problems you are dealing with, people on the other end of the line will help you find a reason to keep living.