counting cars: my battle with suicide and depression

It started as a young teenager. My family had recently moved and I shared the corner bedroom with my younger brothers. Kenneth Road was busy. Not freeway busy. Not main street busy. But busy. The speed limit was 30mph. I remember countless nights in that bed, tucked up underneath the windows, watching the cars go by. I wasn’t a great sleeper. And when I was up at night, I spent my time counting cars. How many of them and the space between them. I mentally measured the distance from my bedroom to the street. Over, and over, and over again. 

15 years old. You’d assume I was thinking about girls or sports or school as I drifted off to sleep. But I wasn’t. I was wondering if I could open the window without waking my brothers. If I could make it to the street without waking my family. If I could time the jump just right to minimize my pain and the driver’s trauma. What clothes I would wear when I did it. If I should call the cops beforehand. If I should find another street to do it so my family wouldn’t see. I obsessed over it. And I never told anybody. 

From what I’ve said, you probably think I was that sad, disturbed kid in the back of the class, but you would be wrong. I got straight A’s, I sang in show choir, played tennis, played soccer, joined the swim team, laughed with my friends and got in to all the colleges I wanted to. If you had to pick one kid in the entire school who might be struggling with suicidal temptations and severe depression, you’d pick me close to last. I think about that a lot--about how if nobody would ever assume I was struggling, who is it in my life that I’m missing? Who is it in my life who has every duck in a row but might be counting cars when they fall asleep, wishing they could end it?

Obviously, I never went through with it. But I thought about it everyday, every night. Lying in bed, timing the cars, calculating the distances, tracking the speed. All while my brothers quietly slept. 

Now I am 31. I am married. I have my own family and a new street name outside my house with its own speed limit. My life has changed, but the invisible, silent, painful war rages on in my mind. 

A lot has happened in the last 16 years. I went to college. I lived in Cambodia and India. I got married. I had one baby, then two, now three. I started a shoe company with my wife. I won Forbes 30 Under 30 and Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. I have met dozens of friends and made a couple new best friends. I have nieces and nephews, a bachelor’s degree and a house.

None of those things fixed my depression or suicidal temptations, but I am glad I didn’t run in front of a car when I was 15. I would have missed some of my very best days. I wouldn’t know my children. I would never have met my wife. I wouldn’t have these friends I have. I would never have seen my life as it is in this moment. 

And so, when things get tough and I feel like I can’t make it another day, I remember that I’m glad I didn’t end it all when I was 15. Or when I was 20, or when I was 27, or when I was 30. And if I’m glad I didn’t already end it, then how will it feel to turn 40? Or 50? Or 60? What days would I miss if I ended it now? What if my new favorite memory becomes dancing with my daughter at her wedding? Or taking my kids to Hawaii when they graduate college? Would I miss my fourth child being born? Or maybe even my fifth? Would I miss my wife publishing her first book? Would I miss discovering a new hobby? Would I miss a cure? Would I miss the year I was going to get a job offer in France and move for a year? Or the year I accepted my dream job of being a professor? Would I miss selling my company? And then using the money to do humanitarian work across the world? Would I miss retiring, putting in a pool and swimming every day of summer with my kids? Would I miss teaching my son how to drive, my daughter what to expect from her husband? Would I miss endless laughter in my home and ordinary Friday nights that turn out to be magic? Bedtime cuddles? Would I miss becoming a Grandpa? Holding my sweetheart’s hand through all of it?

No matter how hard it feels now, I have to believe that if I knew all that was ahead, I’d do anything not to miss it. It’s easy to talk your way out of missing a hypothetical. But don’t. If you met and then had your child taken away, it would feel like losing a lung. So don’t take the opportunity to meet them away from yourself. Don’t take away the chance to fall in love. Don’t take away your chance to do what you were put on this earth to do.

Somehow, right in the middle of my hardest days, I’ve also had my most joyful ones. So all I can do is trust that if someday, when I’ve been lucky enough to make it to old age, and I die peacefully in my sleep, I’ll look back with gratitude. As much as I long to be done, as hard as it feels to stay alive, I know I’ll never regret it. I know I’ll never regret making it another day, another month, or another year. I’ll never regret hearing another “I love you” from my kids. I’ll never regret staying just one more day. And no matter how dark it gets, no matter how bleak it feels, I can do one more day.

I’m undefeated against my hard days. I’ve beat every single one of them. I’m an expert at beating hard days. And I know you are too. Keep holding on. Keep trying. This can be such a lonely path, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of the rose garden, all you can feel is the thorns. It’s not until you come out the other side that you see the beauty of the garden. There’s so much joy up ahead. Some of your very best days haven’t happened yet. Make sure you’re here to see them. 

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