I intended to write part 2 of my last article about being a paid tourist until my Christmas party. While ‘tis the season for merriment and joy, others and I descended into a conversation regarding friends we had lost around this time. It was rather shocking to me how many people we knew had taken their own lives around the holidays. More frightening still was the common thread of none of us seeing it coming. Mental health is always a hot-button topic I am admittedly not an expert in, and as I listened to the stories my colleagues told, it became painfully clear I wasn’t alone.
Some of us had friends who had been through painful divorces, some had bad childhoods, and others led seemingly “normal” lives. We all noticed there were no signs saying this guy was a ticking timebomb. How was this possible? Why could we not see it coming? As a rule, most had talked with us in the last days/weeks before their demise and had seen normal posts on social media recently - no clues.
I think back to the funerals of the friends I know who took that step and picture the kids and the parents and loved ones and the ruin left behind. Even when a note was left to explain, there were more questions than answers. Tears were shed in drinks as we shared memories, pondered signs we might have missed, and kicked ourselves for not making that one extra call or dropping by. The theme is always the same, sadness and a feeling we could have done something more.
As noted earlier, I am no expert, no psychologist. I don’t even play one on TV. I am just a guy who wants to help and believes my actions will do just that. My first step was thinking about my own mental health. Not my current happy state of mind, but back where I’ve been in the past. No one goes through life without low points, especially not in Trucking, so I tried to reflect on those times. I tried to dig into what got me through it, what picked me up, what made things worse. For me, the key to it all was communication.
At the lowest points in my life, things got lower when I thought I was alone. Not physically alone but alone in the problems I was facing. I felt that no one would identify with what I was going through and that it was something too shameful to share. I was embarrassed to share it and worried about burdening my family and friends. I am lucky to have the parents I do; they were able to see I was struggling and draw it out to get me talking. So, how do we make sure people start talking?
That is the question I think is at the heart of men’s mental health. It is the key to it all, and I’m sure you all have answers to it as well. My answer is to share stories and let other men know it's okay to talk about something deeper. It is okay to have thoughts of doom and gloom. Thoughts are just something that runs through our heads, and we can choose which ones to pay attention to. I think of them as rolling on a conveyor belt in a factory, and if I am constantly getting bad ones, I need to slow down production. Maybe get a second opinion on the lousy quality!
It used to be a real issue for me to be alone with those thoughts, which was nearly all the time when I was first on the road. As truckers, we have a lot of alone time watching the miles pass and thinking. As my good friend Luke said on our podcast, “Trucking is my therapy. It’s also why I need therapy!” There is a lot of truth in that statement. Hitting the road tunes cranked or listening to the rumble of the pipes and the highway can make you lose yourself in the journey. At the same time, it can be hours of beating yourself up over some bad decision or replaying an argument over and over.
Maybe I am oversimplifying here, but I’m no expert. I would hazard a guess if you are reading this in the pages of our magazine, you aren’t either. I want people to let their friends, co-workers and family know that it’s good to talk. Start conversations with one another before there’s a problem. For me, the biggest help was knowing that I wasn’t the only one who had faced what I was going through. While no two situations are the same, there is solace in knowing someone else has survived what you’re going through.
While I am not proud of it, I had financial problems some years back. Long story short, I considered going bankrupt, and it was killing me. I couldn’t talk about it; I didn’t want to admit it, and for a short time, I felt like the people I loved would be better off without me. Coming from a family that had done well in business and having been proud to be an entrepreneur myself, it felt like a failure worse than anything. It felt like something I wouldn’t come back from. It was pure chance that I talked to someone who had been bankrupt. The guy was a success when he told his story. That changed my life.
Having proof that his life went on let me talk to my family about it. I was soon able to own up to what was happening. Financially, it was terrible, but what I learned was priceless. Don’t get me wrong, those were some incredibly tough years, but through the process, I found that people who truly liked and loved me still did. I also found that the ones who no longer were around weren’t needed anyway.
I now am always ready to share some of these “shameful” experiences because it’s part of who I am. I’m fallible, I make mistakes, I have successes, I am human. When I say just talk, be willing to share some of your failures; you may inadvertently talk someone off the ledge. You may find therapy in sharing it as well.