To this day I have no idea why he did. He and his wife had just welcomed a new son, and when I last saw him at a conference in Dublin, he and I had the greatest time enjoying a Norway-Ireland soccer game.
There were just no signs… that I could see. Even his last tweet seemed cheerful, after he had spent the day with mutual friends:
— Gary Birkett (@lcuk) September 12, 2011
Four years later his loss still haunts me. Did I just miss some signs? I consider myself pretty tuned in, but I just can’t say for sure. What about those closest to him?
I simply don’t know.
But now another friend may have just attempted suicide, and this time there were signs. She lives quite far away, so I couldn’t be there for her… but she confided in me recently that she was troubled. Nothing concrete, but given her normally bubbly nature I took her seriously and tried to listen and support her as best I could from a distance. She invited me to come stay with her a while, and now I really wish I could have found a way. Could I have helped prevent a tragedy?
Right now she’s in a hospital fighting for her life, and I don’t want to share too many details out of respect for her privacy. But I can’t help but wonder:
Did those closest to her miss some signs?
Here’s where I’m going to make a dark confession: in the past two years, as I struggled with a failed marriage and potentially fatal health issues, I wondered if I could take my own life.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m more concerned with my friend’s current distress than my own right now, and I’m not trying to make that about me. But please bear with me.
When I was at my worst, when I couldn’t swallow solid foods and tinnitus screamed in my head until 4 AM or later, and I was struggling to survive work on less than 20 hours sleep per week, I wondered how I could go on living. There were moments when I honestly couldn’t find much of an answer.
The parallel here is that I’m a very outspoken guy and I shared that with people around me, even with the Internet. But I consistently found that few wanted to hear it. I was told by most to cheer up, toughen up, don’t talk crazy (that said, a few did support me in private).
Did Gary and my other friend hear this, too? Folks, it’s not helpful… even if you mean it to be.
Now, I’m not out to make anyone feel badly, I simply want to convey this: PLEASE don’t blow anyone off when they share their distress. Odds are there’s an emotional component to what they’re going through, and the LAST thing they want to hear is “oh, you’ll be fine”. But too often… that’s where the support ends.
In my case, I’m starting to think I’ll be fine. I’m discovering ways to manage and deal with the tinnitus, even though it’s no picnic. And I think I’m on track to repair lung damage that Western medicine swears is irreversible (no, not from smoking), using enzymes. I’m also trying to be hopeful that I’ll find a way to get necessary corrective spinal surgery.
But Gary didn’t turn out fine. And I still don’t know about my friend in intensive care.
I just know we all need to listen better.