If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going
I would’ve told him: “I’ve been there, man. I got better and so will you. Just hang on.”
By Bruce Goldstein
I recently found out some very upsetting news—my best friend Jake from the old neighborhood took his life. There was no note. Just unanswered questions: How did this happen? And why?
Jake was intelligent, funny, carefree, and resembled “rock legend” Jim Morrison.
He was a bit intense, but aren’t we all to some degree? The last time I saw him was 15 years ago, just after his house burned down. Back then, I never questioned Jake’s impulsivity. Even if he did spend the insurance money on a customized van and a purple gyroscope, and drove cross-country with his girlfriend and three-month-old son to do the carnival circuit. That was just Jake’s way.
Then, five years later, Jake called to tell me that after marrying his girlfriend by an Indian Chief in South Dakota, he had left his family and was on his way, with a girl he’d just met, to New Orleans to sell handmade Voodoo dolls. But he also said something a bit extreme, even for him. He said, “Bruce, I’m going to cut everybody off from my past.” I never would’ve thought I’d be one of them. Looking back, maybe he was trying to tell me something.
Years went by. I had always hoped I’d hear from him. Then last week I found out the horrible news from a friend who ran into Jake’s dad. It turns out that Jake had landed in California five years earlier and had sunk into a deep depression.
Shortly after came the mania. Then, before he knew it, his mood swings were in full swing. Jake’s friends were concerned so they dragged him to a psychiatrist where he was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. The doctor told him that it was imperative for him to take medicine to get better—I really wish my friend had listened.
I’m still in shock. I wish Jake would have contacted me to talk about whatever had been bothering him, whatever demons he had been wrestling. I would’ve helped him with anything. I would’ve given him money, a place to crash, or advice from one guy living with bipolar to another. I might not be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or any kind of “ist” for that matter, but I know I could have helped him deal with the loneliness, the hopelessness, the anxiety, and the mania. I would’ve told him: “I’ve been there, man. I got better and so will you. Just hang on.” I would’ve been there for him every step of the way until he found the right therapist and psychiatrist. Until he got his meds right. Until he got his mood swings under control—and now it’s too late.
Thank God it wasn’t too late for me. I never made any attempts on my life. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it.
There were many moments in the past when I lost my appetite for living. But each time, I fought the negative pull and used whatever energy and resources I had to get better. To keep me balanced, I enlisted my friends and family to be my 24/7 support lines. I saw my therapist three times a week. I worked closely with my psychiatrist to find the right medicine combinations to work for me. And when medicine wasn’t enough I got a dog. Ozzy provided me with love and structure. He gave me a reason to get up in the morning and another reason not to take my life—If anything happened to me, who would’ve taken care of Ozzy?
There were other ways I got through the days that would never end. I documented my mood swings in a journal and wrote notes to God, begging him to help me get better. I painted. I went to the gym. It helped to read books on spirituality and positive thinking and stories about other depressed people who defeated their demons. Of course, eating healthy food was good too, but a nice pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey was as good an antidepressant as any. But what really kept me going was that I just wanted to feel “normal” again. I didn’t want to miss out on all the great things in life that awaited me—I wanted to have a family one day.
Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister and heavyweight Manic Depressive, once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And that’s what I’ve done.
Printed as “New Yorker’s State of Mind: It’s Never Too Late to Live”, Winter 2011