Like a lot of people, the recent suicide of Robin Williams came as quite a shock to me. You never expect someone to take their own life, but with someone like Williams who always seemed so happy and full of life, a tragedy like this is even harder to wrap your head around. This tragic loss brings to light the unfortunate truth that just because you cannot see someone’s pain – be it physical, mental, or emotional – does not mean they are not hurting. So many people, and I used to be one of them, hide their pain and suffer in silence. The fact that they don’t show how much they hurt does not make their agony any less real though, nor does it make the potential effects of their misery any less serious. In fact, the fact that they feel they must shoulder this burden alone can make this type of pain even more dangerous, which is something I unfortunately got to experience firsthand during my first few months living in Kansas.
After graduating from Notre Dame in May of 2009, I packed up my belongings and hit the road to move to Lawrence, Kansas, where I would be going to graduate school in the Fall. This meant starting a whole new life, as other than my brother who was living with me and also attending the University of Kansas, I knew no one within 600 miles. It was a lot of work getting my life organized, and it definitely was not the smoothest of transitions at times, but after a couple months or so I had pretty much gotten settled in to my new environment. I was doing well and enjoying my classes. The research I was doing with my advisor was going well, and it was something I was really interested in. I had met some cool, fun people and was starting to build a new social life. Everything was going better than I could have ever hoped, and life was good. At least, that is what it looked like on the surface and to everyone who knew me. In reality I was actually severely depressed and in a very dangerous place mentally and emotionally.
For anyone, moving away from everyone and everything you have ever known is a lot to deal with. The stress of finding an apartment, making new friends, starting a new job, and the countless other things you have to do is enough to knock anyone off their game. On top of all of these mental stressors that come with starting a life in a new place, I also had to set up all new doctors and nurses to keep me healthy and help me live my life. All of this mental pressure was just too much for me to handle, and my inability to deal with everything as well as I thought I should embarrassed me, so I kept it all to myself. I didn’t want to burden those around me with my mental issues, since I already needed so much help with everything physically. By bottling up my feelings however, they just grew stronger and more difficult to deal with, and they built up to the point that I was miserable all of the time. After several weeks of feeling this way, it was just too much to cope with and things started to bubble over.
My first apartment in Lawrence was actually on the University of Kansas campus, which meant that when the weather was nice I could walk to class. One morning I was going on the quarter mile journey to my first class of the day, and as I was making my way down the sidewalk I saw one of the campus shuttle buses heading towards me up the road in the opposite direction. This is nothing special in itself since there are tons of these shuttles for the students, but what was special was what went through my head as I watched the bus get closer and closer. I found myself thinking, “If I time it just right, I can drive my wheelchair off the curb, tip it over in front of the bus, and the driver won’t have time to stop before hitting me.” I was so depressed that I was actually planning ways to end my life, and once you get to the point that you are thinking about suicide, it is not long before you actually do it.
Thankfully, my suicidal thoughts scared me enough that I told my brother what had happened when I got home that evening. The maturity and caring with which he listened to me that night is something I will always remember. He loved me enough to make me get help. He looked at me and gently, yet forcefully, said, “Scott, whether you go in voluntarily or I push your wheelchair there myself, you are going to campus psychological services in the morning.” This was the last thing I wanted to do, as at this point in my life I thought counseling was a racket for the weak minded, but I knew I needed to do something, so I went. It took over a year of both private and group therapy, but I was eventually able to work through all of my issues, many of which I was not even aware of initially. I also never had another suicidal thought after that first session with my therapist. If not for my brother making me get help, and the amazing efforts of my counselors, there is a strong possibility that I would have ended my life, and this is something I will be forever grateful for.
This scary, unpleasant time in my life taught me a lot of valuable lessons, but one of the most important things I learned is that you never really know how someone is feeling. People are like ducks. On the surface we can appear to be serene and graceful, but under the surface we are going a mile a minute just to stay afloat. It is so important that you pay attention to your loved ones and look for signs that they may be suffering in silence. Even more importantly, it is critical to remember that your pain is nothing to be ashamed of, and that there are people in your life who care about you and will get you help. Take it from someone who who has learned to live in constant, chronic pain, your loved ones would much rather be there to comfort you through your anguish, than think everything is alright and end up losing you. If you or someone you know is hurting, please talk to someone and get help, because no one should suffer alone, and everyone deserves to be happy.