Recently, August 31, 2008, I was listing to a broadcast about a woman who took up rock climbing to help her with her suicidal depression issues. The title of the story was “Deciding to Live” and was written by Kij Johnson. Listing to this program in the car with my wife I could really relate and I almost felt a similar connection in her story and mine.
I know my depression is situational depression and maybe unlike so many people that suffer with depression and unable to determine when that first of many layers of depression was laid. I was a military officer and truly loved being in the service. I don’t think the general public knows this, but as an officer, you are available for promotion 3-4 years after your last promotion and you only have a total of only two looks to be promoted before you are forced out. This is called failed to select and my depression occurred right then.
I left the service in the late 1990’s and tried my hand in the civilian community. I am well educated with a MS in Information Technology from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey CA. I have a wife and a 9 year old son to try to care for. The pressure was on. I was unable to locate anything in the area I was living when I received my discharge papers and was promised a job in another state. We moved and when we got there the job disappeared. I tried to do everything I could to get work, but my specialized hospital administration skills were not in any demand at any of the local clinics or hospitals. Taking various contract jobs only made my depression worse. Start a job and it only last 4-6 months was hard on me and my family. To this day, I do not know how people can tolerate not knowing how long they have a job. I guess having over 18 years in the military gave me a false sense of security and it was something I needed. My wife, who is a Navy Reserve Officer, finally said enough was enough and she applied and was accepted to return to active duty. The pressure is now on to sell our home, move, put our son in a new school system; setup a new home…all was building more pressure. After 6-9 months in the new location without a job, feeling completely worthless and only a drain on my wife, having problems with my son…feeling totally worthless. I had received help with my depression in the past after a divorce and now currently in therapy again. Honestly, I was feeling I had to look up to see bottom. My thoughts were why does my wife still love me? I am such a failure. She would be better off if I was gone and she at least would have my insurance. I thought about how I could make my death look like an accident. Car accident would probably hurt to much. My son was being independent and my thoughts again were I am a failure and he doesn’t need me. I lost all interest in things I enjoyed to do…cooking, wood working, doing things.
I saw a flyer that offered a discount for learning to sky dive. I should have been hospitalized right then and there. I talked it over with my therapist and although she did not say very much about it, I saw a concern on her face. That Saturday, I went through the training to fall from a perfectly good airplane and what to do when the parachute opens.
I got suited up, climbed into a plane with all seats removed except for the pilot. I was the second person to jump. I saw the first person, climb out on the wing and with a thumb’s up from the jump master…he released and was gone. Now it was my turn. My heart is racing and I was more scared than I had ever been before. All of my pain and problems were going through my heart and soul. I was looking forward to the feeling of not hurting. The jump master hooked my static line in the plane. The plane was now at about 4,000 feet above the ground. I climbed through the door and onto the wing strut. I held on, looked over to the jump master as he gave me the thumbs up. I then closed my eyes and said good bye to the world I grew to not wanted to be part of again. I let go. I was falling and soon this would be all over. I could feel a body and spiritual separation occur. This feeling, even to this day never joined again. I felt a sharp pull on my shoulders as the parachute opened and would not allow me to fall anymore. I had so many feelings going through my body I can not describe them. The radio on my chest sounded with a voice instructing me to do a verity if maneuvers. Now my thoughts had changed to sitting in a parachute harness looking over the country side as the wind quietly and softly whistled in my ear. As I sat in the webbing seat, it was as if the hand of God was holding me and wasn’t going to let me do what I wanted to do. The jump master on the ground and who was instructing me on the radio on my landing was very matter of fact. I followed his instructions to the letter, I turned left, I turned right, I flared and I was down.
Could skydiving help or hurt me, I was wondering. I went back to my therapist and she was happy to see I was OK from my ventures. I continued to see her for several more months while I was still looking for a job and continued to skydive. After ten more jumps I finally landed a job and my depression was going away. As I mentioned earlier, I had situational depression and not having a job was and had played it toll on me. I stopped seeing my therapist and stopped taking anti-depression meds. I made my eleventh skydive jump. I went for the 12th jump and as I was suited up and waiting for the plane to land to take me up to, now 6,500 feet, I decided this was not for me. I still think back to my feelings of wanting to end my life and to know how only someone who is depressed would really know how much pain you are in being depressed and the no value to the world is overwhelming. I am well aware of the saying to people who commit suicide that it was the most selfish thing they ever did, but the individuals who say those things don’t know how much pain the person is in.
I now have a good job and I recently purchased a home with my wife. My son is in his second year of college. All is well as long as I have a job. I have developed a stronger fear of heights from my skydiving.
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