You Don’t Have to Swallow Your Gun

An Exerpt

There I was on a dark, cloudy morning in my dingy gray office in California. I had just taken a sales manager position with a company that ended up being very short-lived. One might say that “I had a cup of coffee” with them. The office was right out of the seventies or eighties. I was assigned a small, dark office with high-ceilings and a steel gray desk with three drawers on the left. Heck, we’re in the 21st century already! I thought ownership would have sunk a few more bucks into creating a much more exciting atmosphere to promote productivity, but it was not to be.

 My hip, slick and cool iPhone rings and it is my short, but muscular business partner, Kirk. We started an online sports educational gaming website for children. It was a great concept at the time, but the economy did not agree. Right across the street from my office, was the office of Darnell Langston, a successful businessman whom I met while making funding pitches for our gaming website. Kirk and I would meet with Darnell once or twice a week to put together a proposal for potential business partners that were looking for a financial investment.

 Mild-mannered Darnell was as vanilla as one can get. Average height, maybe a little shorter, average weight, not thin, not fat and wore glasses. He was a regular guy, spoke slowly, a nice guy from Texas who had been involved in financial investments for ten years. He was very enthusiastic about our project because it was targeted at children and Darnell and his wife had a three-year old daughter. I answered my iPhone and Kirk is talking about 90 mph. “Tim, did you hear about Darnell”? I told Kirk that I had not, expecting some good news about our project. “Darnell was found in his bedroom after he had hung himself with a tie. He is dead”. I shook my head wondering if what I just heard was accurate. “How could that be?”, I asked Kirk. I told him that I just saw Darnell last Friday walking around the block between the two offices. I wondered what had happened.

 That’s all Kirk knew at the time but we both were in a state of shock. I walked across the street to Darnell’s ultra-modern office decorated with outrageous artwork and sculptures that would make Pablo Picasso rollover in his grave. Only one person was at the office and he was in shock as well. I was dazed and confused like Led Zeppelin sang. I took the rest of the day off, barely able to maintain mentally and emotionally. Kirk and I had lunch later in the day and that helped a bit, but I was frozen in thought and numb emotionally.

 It turned out that Darnell was being treated for depression and stopped taking the medicine prescribed by his doctor. That is when I realized how serious it was to suddenly stop taking prescribed meds. I always wondered what if I had stopped my sparkling silver, ultra-modern Mazda, to have a cup of “joe” with Darnell when I saw him walking around the block on the day before he took his life. That thought haunted me for weeks, because I did not stop to say hello and ask how he was doing. That was a learning experience for me that I do not want to repeat because men hold their cards (emotions) close to their vest. There’s no harm asking if everything is OK, when you see someone that just isn’t their usual self. In fact, it’s most important today with so many keeping their frightening pain to themselves. People must help other people to create a peaceful world.

 Gary Speed, a former successful (football) soccer player and then manager of the Welsh National team, also hung himself in his home in 2012. His sister later regretted that she did not ask him about his depression, after he died. “If someone asked me at the time of his death if she thought he was depressed, she would have said, absolutely not”. Now, from what she has learned about the painful depth of depression, she thinks “of course, he was depressed”.

 Speed’s wife, Lesley said that “the nature of his career as a footballer (soccer player) and Wales’ manager, meant that he could not confide in anyone about his depression”. There is a stigma attached to having depression. Most men hide it and it stops them from asking for help within his job. Most people believe it is a sign of weakness and one must “tough it out and man up”. That’s out-of-date reasoning, I believe, when it comes to what masculinity really is about for men and our society. Lesley Speed said that “trust had a lot to do with it, that he could not trust anyone with the knowledge of his malady. What if the word got out to the team and the public”?

 Depression is perceived as a weakness in a man by most. Depression’s stigma includes the myth that depression takes away from a man’s masculinity, which could not be further from the truth. Masculinity is widely misunderstood by both men and women.

It takes more courage to ask for help than to not to.

 After Speed’s death, ten professional footballers contacted the Sporting Chance Rehab Center in the UK, seeking help with their depression. It took the death of a friend or colleague for these men to realize that they can ask for help with their own mental and emotional illness.

 In November of 2009, Robert Enke, then the German National Team Goalkeeper, left his house, and said goodbye to his wife and ten-month old daughter. He left saying that he was going to train with his soccer (football) club. But, that was a lie. There was no training scheduled that day. Instead Enke drove around for eight hours, stopping at a railroad crossing and stepped in front of an express train. He was thirty-two years old.