I am sharing my story so that I can help someone who is living with or knows someone with depression or who has depression themselves. Rick was a very private person but I feel strongly that sharing his story publicly will help to end the stigma associated with mental illness.
In March, 2016 my husband Rick took his life. This is the first time that I am writing these words. It has been very painful and difficult to articulate. But I wanted to take this opportunity as it is #BellLetsTalk Day to have his/our story heard. If this can save one life, then sharing this very personal story will be worth it. #BellLetsTalk Day is an annual initiative where every text, mobile and long distance call made by a Bell customer; and every hashtag used on social media raises money towards mental illness.
I met Rick in October 1995 through a "matchmaker" – yes, a matchmaker. This was before online dating and this wasn't those dating services where you complete a form and then are matched up with someone. This was one person that came to my home and then went to Rick's home and thought that we would make a perfect match. And she was right. He had just moved here the year before from New York state to take on a new position. We had similar values, dreams and backgrounds (both Catholic and university educated for example.) Rick was quiet, reserved, maybe even a little shy but I liked that about him. But I think his very nature played a major role in his depression.
Never in a million years would I, or any one that knew Rick, think that he would do this. But he didn't do it, the disease known as depression did. That day on Saturday, March 26, 2016 started off as a normal day. Maya (my 14 year old daughter) and I spent the day in Toronto as I was picking up products for a photo shoot on Monday. We were having friends over for a light dinner and Rick offered to do groceries and cook while we were out, like he usually liked to do on Saturdays. When we came home, we called out hello with no answer. That's when the nightmare began. Without going into too much detail as it is still traumatic for all of us, including my friend who found Rick, depression took over, and he ended his life sometime in those five hours we were gone. I know people are curious as to how Rick ended his life but that's inconsequential to our story. He did leave a note on his phone but it didn't explain why he did this. Part of it read "This is no one's fault but my own. Life got too hard and I couldn't go on."
Rick wasn't diagnosed with depression. In fact, I called his physician after he passed away he never mentioned anything to her. Rick hid it from everyone. Even his boss kept saying over and over on the phone when he was told what happened "But Rick was such a jovial guy." He wore a mask and even those close to him like his family and friends, had no idea what he was going through.
Looking back, he wasn't the same person in the months (perhaps year) leading up to this. If I had just taken the time to look in his eyes, I would have seen that what I mistook for tiredness and apathy was pain. These are some of the reasons I believe he felt life was too hard.
Work/life imbalance, not getting enough sleep
Rick was always tired. Even his Mom said that as a child and even a teenager, he would go to bed without prompting at an early hour. He needed a lot of sleep. Since Rick worked in downtown Toronto, one hour from us if there was no traffic, he would get up at 5:00 am to beat the morning rush hour. However, most days he would awaken at 4:30 am and couldn't fall back asleep once he was up. And then he would leave the office late in the evening so as not to be in traffic on the return trip home. We wouldn't see him until 7 pm at the earliest so that's a 12-hour work day not including travel time. He never complained though and always walked in the door smiling.
I always suggested that he work from home a couple of days a week and he did work the occasional day from home but it wasn't enough. There were options.
Unhappy with his work situation
With the utmost respect to his employer, I say these next few words as I believe them to be true. Commuting time aside, I don't think Rick was happy with his employment situation. Rick never came out and said this to me but I gathered that he was overwhelmed and stressed because of all of the varied tasks he juggled as a senior finance person in a small company. Even if Rick wanted to quit his job, I think this was probably too much for him to consider. In Rick's almost 30-year career, he had been downsized from a position and then had quit another. Both times, it took him several months to find a new position and I knew that was hard on him. Now, being older (he was 52), I don't think Rick had the fight in him to quit if he wanted to and look for a new position. I do know that when he did work closer to home in previous positions, he was much happier, had more energy and could actually be home to have dinner with us. There were options.
Disinterest in real life connections
As mentioned, Rick was always tired and during the week, he basically came home from work late, ate dinner and retreated to his "man cave." He didn't really want to do anything with us during the week – not a bike ride or walk in the summer or even just coming downstairs to the family room to watch movies with us. On the weekends, it was difficult to get him to go out for dinner or see a movie or anything. We were short with each other more often than not. The depression made him irritable and angry which made me irritable and angry. A vicious cycle. I can't help but wonder if I had shown him more kindness and support, would that have made a difference. But depression, specifically undiagnosed depression, is like that – an invasive weed that manages to take over all aspects of your life if left untreated. Even when I first met Rick, his way of dealing with conflict or disagreement was always by walking away – he really didn't like conflict. Add his negative view on things to this and it was really difficult to engage in any sort of dialogue about our marriage and what was happening to us. Even through all of this, I remember saying to him the week before he passed away, that we were going to grow old together. I believed that this blip we were having would subside and we would be the happy couple that we were for the first 16-17 years of marriage.
After Rick passed away, I discovered that he was a member of an online chat group where the nature of the conversations were all negative. I think this was a place for Rick to express his depressive thoughts without having anyone call him out on anything because he was anonymous. I believe the negativity on the site likely fueled his depression and created a downward spiral.
Loss of interest in activities that brought pleasure/lack of exercise
Rick was a runner for about ten years, completing about fifteen half marathons, 30K's and some 10K runs. He was so happy when he ran and was so proud of his running accomplishments and so was I. He always said he wasn't fast but it didn't matter to him. But in 2013, he gave up running. I think that was the beginning of the end for him. I constantly suggested he join another running group, maybe something local, but he dismissed my suggestions. I encouraged him to go to the gym on weekends as he was just too tired during the week. He would try and make it at least once, but it didn't give him the same happiness that running did. Eating late and not exercising caused him to gain weight, that I knew he wasn't happy with.
He had some OCD tendencies such as making detailed lists for everything. One such list was of every book he read, when he started reading it and when he finished for the last 25 years. His cellphone would chime several times a day with reminders (for work and home) with things even as inane as "change the Brita water filter." But that's the other thing. Rick felt like he had to do these tasks and had guilt if he didn't. For example, when I made dinner during the week he insisted that he wash up the dishes as "that's the least he could do." I would say you just worked all day with a long commute, you don't need to wash the dishes. It was as if there were these deep feelings of irresponsibility if there weren't lists or tasks he couldn't complete himself. This even applied to our finances. He thought about it constantly to the point of being obsessive. Like most families, we had a mortgage and a credit line and I knew he would have been happier if these were paid off. Even though he knew that we had significant equity in our home and had way more in our RRSP's than the average Canadian, it wasn't good enough for him. Even though we were fine, I mentioned to Rick that we could downsize our house if he was that concerned and overwhelmed. There were options.
And lastly, his Dad took his life in 1998, just after we were married. He had been recently diagnosed with depression but was not taking any medication or seeing a therapist. He was just a few days into retirement. Of course Rick took this very hard at the time but over the years he didn't really talk about his Dad or what happened. I think it was just too painful for him. Plus, he wasn't one to talk about his feelings. He kept a lot bottled up inside.
All of the factors above left him feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. I'm sure he knew that things had to change but the thought of making changes must have been so daunting. He didn't have the capacity or energy to do so.
It's been ten months since that devastating day and I honestly can't say that it has gotten any easier. I think in the beginning I was on auto pilot and in shock plus overwhelmed with selling our house, buying a new house, going through all of Rick's belongings, packing and moving. It was a lot to take on all the while grieving. Maya still can't talk about him and doesn't like when I recall a memory or mention his name. It's too painful for her. They were the best of friends and I loved watching them together – all their inside jokes that I knew nothing of.
When someone you love takes their life, it is different than losing them to an illness like cancer. You don't have a chance to say goodbye as it is sudden and unexpected and you are left with many questions that you will never know the answers to. It is heartbreaking, I miss him so much and you go through a wave of many emotions. I was so angry (still am somewhat) that he deliberately ended his life when he had Maya and I, especially Maya who he loved unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Angry that he didn't reach out to me, family, friends, or anyone and seek help. Guilty that I didn't see the signs and ask the right questions. And overwhelming sadness and grief that he felt that ending his life was the only way out. What must he have been feeling/thinking in those last few months, last few days and those last few hours?
Looking back, these are the factors that I think contributed to Rick taking his life. However, in most cases like this, there are many questions left unanswered and I will truly never know why he did this. What I do know is that we all love and miss him terribly and he meant the world to us. Unfortunately, his view of himself must have been that he was inadequate, unimportant, unlovable and a burden to others. That couldn't have been farther from the truth and I only wish he knew that.
If our story resonates with you in any way, please go and talk to someone. Even when you feel there is no hope, there are options. Or if you see any of these signs in people you know, please ask them "Are you ok?" They most likely will say they are but be persistent. Life always has challenges, big and small, for everyone. Talking about them with a trusted family member, friend or therapist is key. Thanks for listening. I wish you all well.
Republished with permission from Décor Happy.
Vanessa Francis is the principal and founder of Vanessa Francis Design based in Milton, Ont. Her work has been featured in various publications, including Canadian Living, Style at Home, House & Home, Luxe Interiors, Design and the National Post. She writes the popular blog Décor Happy where she shares her design advice and inspiration. She lives in Milton, ON with her daughter Maya.