When I was studying computer science in CEGEP, one of the required classes we had to take was a psychology course. Unlike a lot of our other classes this one was not just Comp. Sci. students, but pupils from other programs as well. A lot of the work we did in this class was group activities, and it was through this class that I met a young man named Mark.
Mark was not like me. Mark was tall, outgoing, good looking and made friends easily, but we did have a few things in common. Even though he was not in the Computer Science program, he was a giant nerd like me and even ran a private BBS (Bulletin Board Systems were like online forums, before the Internet was a thing)
Shortly after meeting him Mark informed me he was going to make it his mission to find me a date. He made a few quick phone calls and just like that, we had a group of about ten people going to the movies.
Mark failed in his mission, but I never really took his statement seriously. It was fun just chatting with him when I was logged into his bulletin board, and he was always planning get togethers (GTs as we called them back then). I attended one in his tiny one room basement apartment. A vampire movie marathon, with people dropping in and out all day and into the night. We tried making Jello shots, but they didn’t set and an attempt use the freezer to speed up the process just made a weird vodka infused slush. Mark was a lot of fun and everyone like being around him. He was the first person I knew who had his own place, and he had this VCR with a remote that had this awesome wheel on it for fast forward, reverse or frame by frame advance. I wanted one exactly like it. Truth be told, I wanted to be more like Mark. He had an awesome place, he had loads of friends and an easy self confidence that I envied.
I chatted with him as the Christmas break started and asked him what his plans were. He was going to New York to visit friends for New Years eve (which sounded amazing) but had no plans for Christmas. I told him to have fun and said we’d talk again in the new year. After our conversation I thought about inviting him over for Christmas diner. My parents would not have minded, my mother would have been thrilled. The more people the better they would have thought.
When school started back up in January, a friend who had been in the Psychology class with us asked if I had heard about Mark. He had been killed when he stepped in front of a train.
At the funeral I found out that there was no dispute it had been a suicide. Mark had been struggling with sever depression for years. He lived on his own because he did not get along with his family. All the friends I thought he had, the majority were like me, not actually very close to him.
No matter how together someone appears to be, we don’t really know what is going on inside their head unless we talk to them. I wish I had invited him to Christmas dinner. Realistically, I know now that when someone is in so much pain that they see suicide as their only way to end it, one diner with a strange family most likely would not have changed anything… but it might have.
It’s important to talk to the people we care about. It’s not all on them to reach out, because sometimes they can’t. Their illness just won’t let them. That’s something I’ve learned as I got older. You need to make sure people know they can talk to you. Not just about the things we have in common, or to complain about politics, but to let each other know they have someone they can turn to for help. Someone who won’t judge, and although they may not have the answers, will give them the support they need to help find them.
If you are in crisis, please reach out to someone who can help.
You can even contact me. Even if we’ve drifted apart, talk every day or are complete strangers. Sometimes it helps just to have a friendly person to unload on.