Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Facebook Stops Suicide: My Personal Thoughts

A girl in Maryland saved the life of a boy who was her friend on Facebook. CNN News told the remarkable story.

" ....a 16-year-old girl in Maryland learned that one of her Facebook friends, a boy in Oxford, England, was in distress. Late on Wednesday night, he wrote: "I'm going away to do something I've been thinking about for a while then everyone will find out."

The girl didn't know the boy's address. But she immediately felt this was a serious situation and told her parents.

They contacted the British Embassy, who in turn got in touch with Scotland Yard and the local police in Oxford.

All they had was a name. But they worked quickly to narrow the possibilities down to eight addresses.

The British police went down the list of eight possible senders and found the boy, who had already overdosed on drugs. They were able to rush him to a hospital and save his life.

What was so nice about this story was how so many people were in the right place at the right time and did the right thing. This is not to be taken for granted. If one person had dropped the ball or delayed acting, the outcome could have been tragic.

This story brings me back to when I was the boy's age. I was socially inept and out of step. After lonely years in middle school and then high school, I was finally starting to run with a nice group of kids who accepted me. Life seemed to be beautiful. Then my father got transferred overseas. My social life was back at ground zero. Most people told me that I was lucky to have a learning opportunity that most people only dreamed of. That only made me feel worse. My parents sent me away to work in a resort hotel in a small Alpine town. I was a social misfit and barely hung in there. Amid some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, I was mired in depression. At night I prayed not to awaken and in the morning I cursed my fate for having done so. It is only in retrospect that I realise how bad off I was.

Had my prayers been answered, I would never have married and raised a family. I would never have welcomed a grandchild to the world. I would not have lived to see mountain sunsets that magnified my sense of unity and purpose instead of mocking my inner darkness.

I still have days and moments. Changes of season still trigger inexplicable sadness. A smell can bring back vivid bittersweet memories. I still relate to a foggy day like an old drinking buddy who doesn't waste his breath telling me to cheer up.

But life is a wheel. The emotional roller coaster of my youth gave me a measure of empathy that would not have been imparted by a tranquil adolescence. I have internalised a lot of the advice of those to whom I have turned for counsel. In retrospect, I gained a lot of insight from the troubles I had in life. It was an irreplaceable education that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Why do some people weather unspeakable tragedies and sorrows while other people trip over cracks in life's sidewalk? I don't know. My life definitely wasn't a walk in the park, but it certainly wasn't a four hanky tearjerker either. I was from a securely middle class family. My parents weren't divorced although they certainly had their high decibel moments.

In retrospect, the strangest thing about depression is how it is free floating. You can be sad as hell and not know why. Sometimes with counseling, or advice, you can match up what in your life might trigger such dark moods. Once you do that, depression seems a lot less mysterious. Sometimes you can actually do something about areas of your life that are less than satisfactory. That is better than any medication.

I am still thinking about the kid in Oxford, England. I hope he is getting a lot of support from family and friends. I hope he is getting some counseling to understand how he got so depressed and how to cope. The way life is, there are probably hundreds of thousands out there who are feeling as lonely and desperate as he did before a caring girl in Maryland reached out and plucked him from the abyss.

I am normally reticent when I am posting to my blogs. I don't like the confessional mentality of spilling one's guts on Oprah Winfrey or G-d forbid Jerry Springer. The only reason I am mentioning my personal difficulties is in hope of offering some encouragement to those out there in the fog of depression and despair.

There are a few fragments of personal advice I will offer in no particular order to anyone out there who may be suffering from depression.

1) It's normal to respond to a breakup or unemployment with feeling sad and upset. But if you feel like that for more than a couple of weeks, you might want to seek advice from someone. A therapist, a clergyman or someone with concern and detachment from your life and relationships might be able to offer insight and understanding.

2) Don't be afraid to shop around. If someone's approach is grating to you or doesn't resonate, you may want to consider going to someone else for advice.

3) Once you have made a commitment to yourself to talk out your problems, you might also want to work on improvements in your life. Painting your apartment, learning how to drive or taking a college course might yield improvements in your life that you weren't even looking for.

4) Happiness is something that happens when you are working on something else.

5) Train yourself to judge others kindly. When you get in the habit of thinking well of others, it is easy to imagine that they are thinking well of you.

6) If someone tells you that you have no reason to be so sad, be polite to them but don't listen to them. You feel the way you do and there's no reason to apologise for it.

7) You don't need to have a terminal illness or be in a train wreck to have troubles worthy of consideration. Depression is real, and it has a powerful pull. Anyone who has been there knows that.

8) Stay away from drugs. Smoking up or getting wasted isn't going to make your depression go away. It is far more likely to make you feel worse. And while your at it, try to go light on the cigarettes and caffeine. Notice that I didn't say to quit. When and if you decide that you want to quit or scale down those habits, you'll do it. Right now you have enough on your plate. But trust me. You do not want to get pickled or wasted.

9) Try to avoid blaming other people. You can't change them. It's hard enough to change yourself, but it's the only thing you stand a fair shot at. If something is your fault, you can change it. Depression involves feelings of powerlessness, that nothing you do matters. Look to see what you can do better than you are doing now. It will give you the feeling that you make a difference. Because you can and you do.

10) Because there are so many different faith traditions, I am reluctant to comment on such a personal area. But even if you are not addicted to anything, reading books from Alcoholics Anonymous about the Twelve Steps might spur some positive and constructive thinking. Additionally, try to find ways within your power to brighten up your corner of the world. Literature from faith traditions that focuses on human relationships might be a good place to start.

I really believe that a time will come when you will find that your troubles have given you insight and compassion. Until then, it can be pretty rough. I wish I could have met the person I became at fifty when I was sixteen. Just meeting someone who survived and made it another twenty five years would have been profoundly reassuring. I sincerely believe that you will meet the person you will become. Have faith. Hang in there. Keep on keepin on.


Magdeburger Joe

P.S. To the girl who saved the boy's life three thousand miles away. Every day that you live, you can know that someone is alive because you cared. Thank you. You have changed the world.

No comments: