Remembering Paul: A Reflection on Depression and Mental Illness
It has been awhile. As you can see in my title, a lot has happened since my hammock camping trip on the Superior Hiking Trail. I’d love to say that it was all good things, such as…
But, sadly there was a terrible and traumatic thing that happened. On May 19th, my roommate Paul made the choice to take his own life and it was his father and I who discovered him the following morning.
As the days went by, I learned a lot about Paul through his family and friends. I learned that he had been battling with depression and anxiety for most of his life. He left a note, which explained how he saw himself as an individual, as well as describing his inner torment and self loathing. His note brought a little clarity to the situation, but it still left me (and everyone else) with so many questions.
One tear-jerker for me was (and still is) that Paul didn’t realize how wonderful he was. Paul was beautiful inside and out. He read weekly for the blind, he was a huge advocate for bicyclist rights, and he has helped countless friends through their own troubles. He was a selfless man, and very humble. Due to his depression, instead of understanding his worth as a friend and human being, his mind told him constantly that he was ugly, dumb, incapable, and worthless.
I’ve been reading a lot about depression and anxiety lately, hoping it will help me better understand Paul and my other friends who I know have depression. I’ve been reading The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons, which is a self-help book for people with depression. I’ve also read a few articles about the science behind anxiety. But, what has been most helpful to me is hearing personal stories from my friends. Since Paul’s death, people have reached out and have shared with me their personal struggles with depression and even attempts of suicide. They shared with me their perspective of life, the side effects of medication, and how depression and anxiety are a daily struggle for many people. It’s their stories that have brought me better understanding.
It’s hard to see a bright side to something so tragic, but I have learned to be grateful for a few things.
Photo cred: Pizza Luce Trivia Mafia
1. Paul had wonderful friends who have been so helpful to me and Paul’s family. I’m lucky to know them and I now consider a handful of them as new friends. I look forward to sharing new experiences with them. <3
2. Through this experience, I believe I gained a whole new level of empathy, especially for people with mental illness. I know I will be much more patient and gentle with people who are prone to anxiety and depression.
3. I have realized that even during a very traumatic situation, I am capable of being a responsible first responder. I called 911, I took care of Paul’s father, and a slew of other things. Though it was mostly adrenaline that kept me on my two feet, I’m still astounded at how I dealt with the situation.
I’m grateful for all the training I had as a Resident Assistant, as well as for the First Responder course I took in college, and let’s not forget the countless CPR/First Aid trainings I’ve been through. I remember sitting through my first responder class and my RA trainings, thinking that everything I learned was interesting, but also thinking that it’ll never happen to me. But, when it does, it’s crazy how all the training floods back to your brain.
4. I’m also grateful to have met Paul. Though I didn’t know him for too long, I’m glad to have had the chance to get to know him the little that I did. Some good memories include: spending an afternoon looking for skeleton keys and eating cupcakes, cooking and eating Japanese food together, going to trivia, and sharing travel stories over tea.
A friend joked with me that I am supernatural. That I have an inhuman amount of inner resilience. And maybe I am. Maybe I’m actually an alien. But from reading The Chemistry of Joy, I’ve come to learn that some people are born with a higher capacity to deal with hard situations, while others don’t have that natural “container full of magical resilience potion.” The people that don’t have inner resilience are often the people prone to depression and anxiety. I’m lucky and very grateful to have the capability to deal with stress and sadness (though, I promise you, it still isn’t easy.) Also, I think practicing zen meditation has been a key factor to my self healing. Not to mention that being able to calm your mind is huge for trauma therapy. So, I’m also grateful to my sensei, Lin-san, who gave me the opportunity to study zen meditation at Tokurinji Temple.
Lin-san and I
So yeah, it sounds weird to be grateful for things, but as a grieving person, I think it’s good to find a silver lining, even in the worst situations.
Well, now you guys are up to speed with my life (for better or for worse). As of now, I’m still in Minneapolis, but I plan on traveling to Oregon in July. I believe I’ll be going on a road trip across the USA with my co-workers at RootsRated starting July 28th.
I’ll tell you details in my next post.