Mental Health Awareness Month/Homage to Duane and the People We’ve Lost to Suicide

May is Mental Health Awareness Month
At the risk of stating the obvious, though, our attention to mental health has to persist because the cost of struggling with mental illness, especially those with symptoms of depression, can be so high.

Duane just months before he died

Homage to Duane Who Killed Himself 9 Years Ago
We close out this month with an homage to Rebecca’s good friend, Duane, who sadly killed himself 9 years ago after fighting depression.  We inherently include in this commemoration all of the loved ones that we and you have lost to suicide and depression.

Signs of Suicide
Although suicide can sometimes come as a surprise, the signs for Duane were visible to those of us who knew him well.  Before he finally “succeeded”, he had already tried to end his life a couple of times.  He and Rebecca often spoke frankly about the relief he imagined ending his life might provide.

Duane Was Precocious
Rebecca and Duane met when they were teenagers.  They went to the same high school–Duane a year behind Rebecca–and worked at Booeymongers, a popular local DC deli, together becoming part of band of friends many of whom have stayed close to this day.  Duane was 15 but looked older—tall, handsome, and a quick study, he was able to fool the restaurant owners that he was 18 and quickly became a manager.  We kept his secret safe.

Duane’s infectious smile

Duane Was Well Loved By Everyone
Ronnie, one of the Booey’s owners liked Duane so much that he would loan him his BMW, which Duane cruised around NW DC in with style and grace.  Needless to say he was popular with the ladies, again most of whom thought he was older.  He was also a great buddy to us, his friends—not just playful and fun-loving with a great sense of humor but also a lot of depth, sensitivity, and insight about himself and the world.

Disparity Between People’s Expectations of Him and His True Self
Duane’s charm, quick wits, and social intelligence led people to advance him almost immediately into positions of authority.  Although that was definitely an asset, it also created high expectations and made it hard for him to ask for help when he got in over his head.  And most importantly, it created a disparity between how others saw him—the striking good looks, the early successes, and the witty charm—and his true self.  Without going into the details of his childhood, this echoed patterns that had formed in his family of origin.

First Suicide Attempt
This really became a struggle for him when he ran into some serious setbacks.  He got into an accident that left him in a lot of pain.  That started a downward spiral when he became hooked on pain meds and lost his job.  This then set the stage for his first suicide attempt.

The Downward Spiral
He thankfully got help and found work in the IT sector where he met his wife Colleen (slightly visible in the picture at the top,  just behind the bride and next to Duane).   But he never fully recovered from the chronic pain and his underlying depression and he continued to fall back to opiates and alcohol to cope.  Of course when he wasn’t struggling with those bouts, he could still rally the fun-loving and mischievous character he had been, like the photo at the top of the post in which he had playfully served as a “bridesmaid” at one of his friend’s wedding. But over time the depression began to dim that part of him.  Toward the end of his life, he was in so much pain that he couldn’t work anymore,  he and Colleen had divorced,  and he was in danger of losing his house.

Duane (third to the right) with Rebecca (on the left) and a bunch of our buddies from way back at the funeral of Ida Jones, the mother of our friends Ron (next to Rebecca) and Al (second to the left).

Finally Succumbing
Ron, one of our good friends (at Rebecca’s left in this group picture) went to help him out during that time but he couldn’t reverse the course of Duane’s downward spiral.  Although Ron was able to give Duane some comfort, for Duane changing the path he was on felt like too much of an uphill battle  Sadly, he finally succumbed to what to him seemed like the only way to get some relief from his physical and emotional pain.

He’s in a Better Place
So now, as you have probably experienced if you lost someone to suicide or drug addiction (sometimes a slow form of suicide), Rebecca frequently has the impulse to call Duane just to check in and say “Hi!” like she always did.  Then she realizes with a pang that that isn’t an option anymore.  Sometimes she thinks “He was in so much pain, he’s in a better place now.”

We Just Miss Him
But then she thinks of Colleen who, despite the problems they were having, still loves and misses Duane terribly.  We’d like to say there is a tidy resolution to this, but there isn’t.  Duane was in so much emotional and physical distress that he’d lost hope.  But, although he might have found relief, those of us left behind have none.  We just miss him.

Art Therapist Eileen’s image of why she became a therapist–to be a light in the darkness

Reach Out If Someone Is Struggling
If you know someone who is struggling, reach out to them.  It can make a difference, even if it’s a brief reprieve.  People need a sense of connection when they’re trapped in loneliness and emptiness.  It’s often why therapists do what they do, just to give a moment of hopeful light in the darkness of despair.

With love and support to everyone, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive
Make a card for someone you know who is having a hard time.  If you can, send it through the postal service.  Even if it’s easier to hand deliver it, people’s spirits get lifted by receiving physical mail.  It’s small little moments like that that can keep people tethered to this world just a little bit longer when they are ready to give up on it.