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Depression’s dark place hard for others to imagine

Sometime during the night of Wednesday, Dec. 17, Ben gave up and ended his life.

In his early 30s, Ben left behind a young wife and their week-old infant. Ben’s brother called my son, Sean, the morning of Dec. 18 to relay the news. He said Ben had been battling depression for some time. Ben was my son’s boss.

“I’d known the guy for four years,” Sean told me, “and I had no idea.”

I also had met Ben. He presented as cool, calm and collected. He never seemed particularly stressed. I remember he spoke fondly of his wife and the impending birth of their child. And yet that baby is now fatherless and its mother faces a future that doesn’t look like anything she envisioned.

In giving the rest of the world no clue about the demons he battled, it strikes me that Ben was like a bird. I once heard a veterinarian say that birds were the hardest creatures to treat because they did not give any sign they were ill until they dropped dead.

You see, in a bird’s world, to be weak is to be preyed upon. They hide their illnesses so a predator doesn't target them as an easy meal. The vet said the only way to know if your bird was sick was to know it very well and watch for small signs that there is a problem – because it won’t show you.

I don’t know how to prevent someone in the throes of depression from killing themselves because – like that bird – people in that dark place aren’t going to tell you, either.

Once in a while, we run into suicide at the jail, where I work. The people who are successful don’t give any sign they plan to take their lives. Sometimes I wonder if they just don’t want to hear the platitudes, the “buck up” messages, platitudes like “Don’t give in to hopelessness” and “Tomorrow’s a new day.”

From someplace inside there must be a voice screaming, “If that worked for me, don’t you think I would have done it already!?”

We who remain alive are left wondering what happened: We are sad, shocked, angry . . . so angry, because if we only had known what was going on, we would have done something. There must have been some way we could have helped.

But the truth is, “normal” people really cannot wrap their heads around the darkness and despair that leads someone down the path of no return.

I’ve heard the brain compared to a Formula One race car, which runs on high-performance premium gas. If you put unleaded fuel in that car, it’s not going to run well and eventually will break down. The brain’s high-performance fuel is a proper mix of various neurotransmitters and hormones. Without them, thinking processes do not work well. It’s the equivalent of putting unleaded gas in a Formula One race car.

Dear Reader: If you are fighting the same battle that Ben lost, remember that you are a human being, not a car or a bird. Don’t give up. So many things can affect the way the brain works, like illness, head injuries, food allergies, chemical imbalances, systemic inflammation.

Depression is a medical condition, not a personal weakness. You don’t have to die for the rest of us to know that something is very wrong in your world. You deserve to live.

Deborah Morton is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a corrections deputy at Pierce County Jail. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at tntwriter12@gmail.com.