Note: This Christmas day, I can’t help but think about my friend Joe Nowakowski. Joe, who took his life this summer, was simply one of the finest people I ever knew. I miss him every single day. Following is a column posted on Butte Sports on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Depression can be magnified during the holiday season. If you are struggling, you are not alone. Talk to someone. Talk to anyone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.
Lagoon is my family’s happy place.
Since 1886, Lagoon has been an amusement park in Farmington, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. For my money, it beats the heck out of Disney Land, and that isn’t just because I can’t afford to take my family of five to Anaheim.
Two weeks ago, we made our yearly trip, and, as always, we went to the water park to cool off for a couple of hours.
After a few minutes in the water, I suddenly felt like I needed to get out.
I don’t know why, but something made me feel like I couldn’t be in the water any longer. So, I got dressed and sat in the shade while my kids played in the pool and on the water slides.
There, surrounded by the sounds of pure happiness, I sat at Lagoon A Beach picnic table and fought off the urge to cry my eyes out.
I had no reason to be even remotely sad. I was at an awesome park with my beautiful wife, who is also my best friend, and our three great children. They were having a blast as they played in the water and planned their next big rides when they were done swimming.
Instead of counting my blessings and enjoying a trip we will always remember, I sat there in a fog of unbelievable sadness.
That was before I heard the news that one of my good friends had just committed suicide in Helena, too.
That Joe took his own life was shocking, especially since he had sole custody of his young son.
So many people must wonder how in the world my friend could have done such a thing when he had a boy who counted on him for everything.
I struggle with that, too, and there is no way to possibly explain how he could have done it. But I know I can certainly understand.
Depression can take you to such a dark, nasty place that there is just no way you can see out.
It really is no different than if my friend would have died from cancer. Like so many others before him, Joe simply succumbed to a disease.
If you are dealing with the same illness, and you are not alone, you have to tell someone. You have to get help because even the loved ones who know you best probably have no idea just how dark you can get.
Whether it is calling a professional or just talking to a friend, you have to find a way to snap out of it before you give into the beast. It only takes a second of weakness to lose this battle forever.
I know because I have been fighting the demon of depression since I was in junior high school.
From time to time — and sometimes without any provocation or reason — I still sometimes find myself just getting really, really sad.
Most people probably deal with some kind of depression, at least once in a while. Most find a way to deal with it. Others do not.
Luckily, I have learned to identify these bouts with the beast of depression, and I can usually snap myself out fairly quickly when I do.
I have never gone to counseling for depression, and I’m not sure if it would help. Writing is usually my best medicine. When that doesn’t work, my running shoes sure do.
I lace up the shoes, press shuffle in my Bruce Springsteen play list and hit the streets. Then I am usually good to go.
Running is my way of taking a wet eraser to the blackboard I have filled up with negative thoughts, so I try to get in 100 to 120 miles a month. A 7-mile run is worth more than $1,000 in therapy.
Others have different outlets to deal with depression. They might go walking, lifting, golfing, hiking, hunting, fishing or anything else. I run.
Never do I do anything with a gun because I know I would no longer be here if I would have had a firearm readily available all those years.
When I was younger, I had contemplated suicide many times. The only reason I probably never followed through with it was because I wasn’t sure how to do it without a gun.
Today, Google is more than willing to help a person come up with a way. It’s a good thing we didn’t have the internet so easily available when he was 15. Or 20.
I would have been dead, and people would have scratched their heads because they never would have figured me for someone who would commit suicide. It would have been so shocking.
You just never know who will do it because depression is a battle we tend to fight by ourselves, and we can usually be our own worst enemies.
That is why I am bringing it up today. I hope just one person will identify and reach out for the help he or she needs.
We will never fully come to terms with Joe’s death, but hopefully his suicide will open some eyes and help at least one person avoid doing the same. Hopefully some good can come out of this unimaginable sadness.
At Lagoon, I fought back the tears long enough to realize what was up. I asked myself why I was so sad, and I could not come up with one answer.
I realized I was giving into the beast of depression.
Then, I thought about my buddy Steve Vezina and how the Dillon coach fought so hard to live every single day. Because of his will to live and his positive attitude, it took stage 4 cancer four years to do what it should have done in four months.
Vez, who passed away almost a year ago, would have loved to have been sitting at Lagoon or anywhere else in the world. He would have smacked me for being such a knucklehead.
With that thought, I started to smile, and I finally saw what I was missing out on in that waterpark.
I went back to the changing room, put on my trunks and got back in the pool. I found my family and we finished off a wonderful day at our happy place.
This time, I conquer that dark beast.
Unfortunately, Joe was not so lucky.
— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays.
Donate to a memorial account set up for Joe’s son, Bridger Nowakowski, at Valley Bank, P.O. Box 5269, Helena, MT 59604. 1 comment