Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pearl 36: Depression is a Disease, Not Just a State of Mind

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Well, it is Saturday, February 26th and we are still in Cabo San Lucas and basking in the memory of your visit to see us in Mexico.  I don’t know too many four year olds who are such accomplished world travelers as you two.  We had so much fun and miss you terribly.
Since you left we had a very sad event occur.  “Uncle” Jake and “Aunt” Pat lost their son, Ryan, to a drug overdose and we took three days to fly from Cabo to Florida to attend his funeral service.  Ryan was my godson and was only 27 years old.  It is a real tragedy and we grieve his loss.

Ryan suffered from severe clinical depression since he was 13 years old.  In his early years he was a happy, seemingly well adjusted young boy and a joy to be around.  He had a tremendous sense of humor, was extremely intelligent, made top grades in school and was a stellar athlete; competing in soccer and downhill ski racing, where he won multiple team and individual trophies. One grade school teacher once told Pat that her son reminded her of what Jesus must have been like as a boy.  What higher compliment could one pay to a young man?  He was very popular in school and had many close friends.
Then, as he reached puberty, things changed.  As Ryan’s hormones kicked in, so did a dark force that fell over him?  Ryan withdrew from those things he loved….his sports, his friends, his parents and brother and sister.  He changed his clothes to all black and his continence went dark as well.  He had fits of severe depression and would lash out at anyone who challenged him or tried to help. 

Ryan started struggling in school, but not from lack of intelligence just a lack of desire.  He read extensively; philosophy, existential tomes, every intellectual thing he could find, some dark and brooding subjects and his writings reflected that.  There were times when he could be bright and gay and enjoy being with his family, but there was always the depression that came back to consume him. Relationships were difficult.

Ryan went to Burke Mountain Academy, a highly respected prep school in the northeast, and, if not for that, probably would have dropped out of high school.  His parents, sensing his special needs, wanted to provide every advantage.  They spared no expense to send him to Sarah Lawrence University in NYC, an exclusive college for only the brightest and best students.  Ryan continued his writing and tried to press on through life, but he was not happy.  Then there were the drugs.

At first, it was just marijuana as far as I know.  Having had some experience with it I knew that Ryan came stoned to his brother’s wedding.  It seemed to take the edge off, I guess.  But, apparently later, abuse of cocaine and alcohol came into the picture.  Granny and I did not see much of Ryan between college and today, just an occasional function which he attended, like Jessica’s wedding.  Jake and Pat kind of kept us up to speed on Ryan’s situation, his relationship with Andie, his girlfriend, where he was living, but we really knew very little else.  We knew, in the months before Ryan’s death, he had agreed to drug and alcohol treatment and had committed himself to intense therapy in an attempt to deal with his demons.  But we knew even less about the condition which was controlling and had controlled his life for so many years….depression.  This kind of brings me to my next Pearl:

Thirty-Sixth Pearl:  "Depression Is a Disease,  Not Just a State Of Mind"   

I have rarely, if ever, been depressed.  Those times when I have been a little down because of circumstances, mostly beyond my control, the feeling has only lasted an hour or two and never lasted past a good night’s sleep.  Feelings of dread or feelings of hopelessness are unknown to me.  I have never been in a dark place in my mind.  

Recently, when asked by one of Ryan’s therapists if he was happy, Ryan told him that he could not even remember what happiness was and he was struggling to get back to that place in his youth when he was happy.  This is so foreign to me it is very difficult to imagine how anyone could be so down for so long to not remember what happiness is.  But people like me who have never suffered depression just don’t get it.

I spoke with several people who attended Ryan’s funeral.  One of them told me of his own bouts with depression and how he was controlling it with therapy and medication.  He explained to me that depression is a disease.  I had never thought of it that way before.  I had always associated it with mental illness or just a negative state of mind.  It is not just a state of mind.  People with depression are sick and, like any incurable disease, only the symptoms can be treated. In Ryan’s case, the treatment came too late to help.  And only our faith in God’s benevolent grace and compassion assure us that Ryan in finally now in a happier place.

My heart aches for Jake and Pat, Jake, Jr., Jessica and their families at the loss of their precious Ryan. Depression does not just affect the depressed person.  It affects everyone around them too.  My heart also aches now for all those people who suffer with depression and battle daily to find the staircase up out of the dark places in their minds and into the light.  My hope and fervent prayer is that you and no one you know ever has to deal with the kind of depression Ryan lived with for most of his adult life.  Ryan’s passing has motivated me to not only learn more but to do more about the ravages of depression in our society because inaction is a disease and compassion is imperative, not just a state of mind.

I love you both, bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

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