(Virginia Beach, Virginia; July 13, 20187) – This was not the column I had planned to write tonight. I’m back in Hampton Roads. Earlier today I was the master of ceremonies for a fellow Navy chief petty officer’s retirement ceremony. Currently I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble in Lynnhaven Mall. I’d hit up a young friend of mine in case he wanted to come hang out and chat.
I will call my young friend Brian.
He and I have known each other for a few years. Part of what drew us together despite the age difference (I’m 46, he’s 22) is that we are two of the only conservative/libertarian gay men we know in the Hampton Roads area. This particular oddity alienates us both from many in the local gay community because the gay community is shockingly intolerant of political differences. Brian and I are also sci-fi geeks and he is a very enthusiastic amateur photographer.
Tonight I came to Barns and Noble to write. I invited Brian to come hang out. He was in a major depression and didn’t want to…but did. Meaning, of course, he’s seeking help.
We talked a bit. I’ve wrestled with depression and anxiety enough to know there is no sugar-coating how bad it SUCKS. It HURTS. Period. I told him that I wasn’t going to try and play nice and pretend it was going to get better quickly. But it was worth it.
He asked me why shouldn’t he just drive off the bridge. My reply was the only one I could give him: “Because I’d miss you.”
He literally ran out of the store after I told him the only thing I could suggest was for him and I to go to the ER if he felt he was in imminent danger of hurting himself. I didn’t go after him. It’d be silly, me trying to run after him and restrain him. Sometimes you do have to just let people go and pray to Jesus (or whomever your personal deity is) that they will be safe.
Shortly after all that, he starts texting me over a chat app on Facebook that allows messages to self-destruct and auto-delete after a specified time. He was very aggressive and vulgar towards me. Thing is, he was not angry at me. I knew that. His anger, like the anger I’ve fought with in my own fight with depression and anxiety, was general, erupting like a volcano at the world from an untouchable magma chamber within him.
When he messaged me that he was going to “end this,” I finally got concerned. You see, when dealing with a person in the throes of depression, you need to be kind and be patient, even if they are somewhat vulgar and hitting out (verbally) at you. You aren’t their target, but you are the momentary vehicle allowing them to vent the heavy emotions.
The moment for concern comes when the person begins making statements (especially specific statements) about injuring themselves. The more specific the statement, the more you should be concerned.
If this happens, for Pete’s sake do not get impatient or frustrated and tell them to just do it, or challenge them by saying they’re being silly or irrational. That could lead them to act on the ideation simply out of anger at not being taken seriously.
Be kind. Be patient.
But, you must also be courageous. If they make specific threats, you need to act.
Four Virginia Beach police officers happened to be sitting near me on a break from their assigned patrol in the mall. I confess I hesitated a few seconds with the usual feelings of “maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill” that we all get hit with during these situations. However, I spent too long in the Navy battling my own depression and anxiety…and too long as a suicide prevention coordinator teaching mental health response and resources to my shipmates…for me not to act.
I headed over to those officers and got the Virginia Beach Police Department on the trail of Brian. As of this column he is fine, safe, and significantly abusing me verbally via text. Thing is, as I’ve said, he’s not angry at me. Right now it’s more important for him to have a person he can vent to—as ugly as it may be—because that means he’s safe.
People wrestling with depression and anxiety—we are people who have an emotional magma chamber that does not conform to reality. I myself ran out of a few conversations long ago and once did attempt suicide. When I was younger, like Brian, I was unable to keep from targeting the ugliness I was suffering at the person I was talking to. More often than not, they didn’t understand and were not patient enough to realize I wasn’t angry at them even if I was unable to keep from blasting them. I got enough “get over its!” to sink a super tanker. Now, at 46, I’m far enough along my own road that I can get pretty ugly with a kind, patient friend while not directing the ugliness at them.
The final upshot tonight is that I acted. Even if (God forbid, please!) Brian does injure or kill himself tonight, my mind and my soul are at peace. As soon as he moved from general anger at the universe and world to specific ideations of driving off a bridge or jumping off a parking garage, I acted. Yes, I risked embarrassment. Yes, I even risked Brian cutting me out of his life; there is a possibility a personal wrestling with mental health issues might take revenge on you for “spilling their beans” by cutting you off. However, come what may, I did all I could to care for a troubled young man.
People wrestling with depression and anxiety need friends and family who won’t judge, but will be kind, be patient, and, if the moment comes, be courageous and act. It’s not just for them; it’s for you too, so you can sleep peacefully knowing you did everything in your power to keep them safe.
Be kind. Be patient. But, if that moment comes, be courageous and act.
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