A few years back I bumped into someone I knew in the waiting room at the chiropractor’s office. He was a friend, although I would not say we were close. We mostly saw him in the pub. He was one of The Lads. One that I was particularly fond of. Despite being The Funny Guy in the group, he and I had had some startlingly serious conversations in the past.
When I saw him that day he was waiting for his appointment. I had just come out of mine. I almost didn’t see him but he called out hello to catch my attention as I passed by. We exchanged pleasantries. It was always good to see him. But something was off. In the few minutes that we chatted something pinged in the back of my mind. He looked dreadful. Not physically, but he seemed ravaged, haunted. I very nearly blurted out an invitation to join me for coffee but then my doubts kicked in. How weird would I look if I was wrong? What if someone saw us together and drew the wrong conclusion? We were married to other people. It seemed inappropriate.
And I did not trust my judgement. I was somewhat unbalanced myself, at that time.
So I did nothing. Instead I simply took him at face value when he replied to my concerned, “Are you okay?” with a nod.
That was the last time I saw him. Within months I heard that he was being treated for severe depression. Less than a year went by before the news shattered our small community that he had taken his own life.
I was distraught. So many things fell into place, going all the way back to a conversation we had had years before. I had not given it too much thought but I realised that even then he had already had death on his mind. What got me worst of all was knowing that I had seen that he was in trouble but had done nothing about it. Even though he had suffered with something that I, myself, had been through. The question tore at my soul: Could I have helped?
I told myself that the answer was No, that there was nothing anyone could have done.
I still do.
The alternative is unbearable.
But now I find myself faced with a new situation. A friend confided in me some time ago that she was struggling to cope with certain circumstances in her life. She asked if I knew anything about anti-depressants. We talked. At the time she did not appear to be in really bad shape. Yes, she was battling, but she seemed to be in the stage where you can pull out of it without resorting to drastic measures. This morning I heard that this might not be the case, that she is seeing doctors and is on medication. I have tried to contact her to no avail. Hopefully she will return my call soon, though.
Is this my chance to put things right?
I tell myself that this is not about me. Logically, I know that I am not responsible for other people, but at the same time I know how she feels right now. I have been there. Therefore, surely I can help.
Deep inside I am suddenly very worried about her. I let one friend down. I cannot do it again.