Earlier this week we discussed the difficulties that men have when it comes to asking for help. If you read the blog then you know one of the examples we looked at was Junior Seau. At the time I wrote the post I had yet to pick up my copy of the GQ this month. I was surprised to find an article about Junior in its pages. If you are a man there might be a lot of emotions that run through your body as you read it. Two of the most prominent should be sadness and anger.
I was sad and angry for several reasons. First, the man died way too young and still had so much to offer people. Up until the point when he passed away he was an inspiring man. Someone who had made it out of the slums of San Diego to an ocean front view and a lively foundation to help kids just like him escape poverty. Second, there were people (especially men) who thought something wasn’t right and suspected something bad might or could happen. I wouldn’t say they did nothing but at least from the article it certainly sounds like they could have done more. If you ask your friend if they are okay and they say yes, but you know they are lying why would you just drop it? Why wouldn’t you follow-up with them? Organize other friends to intervene and talk openly with him about what is going on.
I would be the first to agree that Junior had to want help. According to the story he asked for it but it doesn’t seem his friends offered any solutions. When a person’s life is on the line sometimes we have to be more concerned about their health and safety than fearing we might offend them or lose their friendship. Maybe they were afraid Junior would stop paying for things when they went out? Who knows. Regardless of the reasons more should have been done (again at least based on what was in the magazine.)
“He made terrible business decisions. He abused pills. He drank. He gambled away terrifying sums. It was clear to those who knew him well that he was struggling, but no one foresaw his suicide on the morning of May 2, 2012.”
A real friend doesn’t let that other bullshit stand in the way of getting things done and trying to help his friends. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 A true friend will accept whatever adversity comes his way if it means he is looking out for a friend. The challenge is trying to decide when a friend needs help, even more as men because we aren’t likely to come out and say “Bro I am really having a hard time and need help.”
I am not a professional when it comes to dealing with issues such as depression, suicidal thoughts and similar afflictions. Anyone who is dealing with those and similar issues is strongly encouraged to seek professional help. However, as a caring and compassionate person it is important we try to figure out what are some of the indicators that a person (especially a guy) is in trouble without him telling us. As a lawyer, lay pastor and friend I have had plenty of opportunities to minister to and give counsel to many men over the course of my life. While I haven’t seen it all, I have seen a lot. I can say without a doubt what follows are the key things I have missed, overlooked or caught just in time when men I have cared about were in a bad spot.
1. Withdraws From Life or Activity
“But after retiring as a very wealthy man in 2010—he earned more than $50 million over the course of his long career—he began to behave uncharacteristically. He withdrew from family and friends.”
It is human nature that we live our life in certain patterns. Back in high school I used to work at Tom Thumb (which we lovingly called “The Finger”.) After only a short time working there it was easy to see that my “regulars” always came in and bought the same thing every day. It got to the point when I would see them pull up and I would have their lottery ticket and pack of smokes ready for them. They always acted surprised that I knew what they would be purchasing, as if they had no idea they had bought the same thing every day for the last 6 months. The truth is we often don’t realize the patterns we create in our daily lives. It is done subconsciously because despite a desire for spontaneity we also find comfort in doing the same thing, the same way day in and day out.
Perhaps one of the most, if not THE most obvious signs that a guy is struggling with something in his life is when he withdraws from his normal patterns in life. If he regularly attends church (other examples, softball, bowling, poker night or golfing) and then suddenly he hasn’t shown up in two or three weeks in a row something is almost guaranteed to not be right. It might not be as serious as depression or suicide but it is a safe bet something is has gone haywire in his life.
We as men withdraw because we don’t want other men to know we are struggling and sure as hell don’t want to let them think we have a weakness or aren’t perfect. Also, we have the idea in our heads if we show up to softball every guy is going to just figure out what happened or where we screwed up and then we have to add being embarrassed to the list.
One of my mentors as a young man was Joe Warfield who we loving referred to as “Pops.” Sadly he passed away a few years ago after losing a long time battle with cancer. Pops used to always refer to this as “going off into the weeds” and it is an abt description. The idea being once a man gets too far into the weeds you can’t see him anymore as the weeds completely hide him. I have seen it happen so many times and I am telling you the first sign is ALWAYS a withdrawal from normal activities but especially withdrawing from doing things with his guys friends. This is why it is essential a man has guy friends he can hang out with. Guys will hold other guys accountable in a way that women just can’t.
2. Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse – Other Addictive Behaviors
There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying some beer or having a scotch and cigar. Nor is there much harm in heading to the track to bet on the ponies. That isn’t what I am trying to say. However, many people (not just men) try to use alcohol, drugs and other addictive behavior (i.e. gambling) as a way to escape the pressure they feel in their heads. Men chase that high from those activities as a brief and enjoyable break from the stress, depression or other problems plaguing us. However, most of the times those very things that give us a “break” come back and haunt us making our complicated situation now untenable and usually with few alternatives for a way out.
“We landed in Vegas one time and immediately, within hours, he won 800-something thousand dollars. I said, “Let’s go home, surf, chill, pay some bills.” But after dinner a whale-watcher [a casino handler charged with roping in big-money gamblers] comes up to the room. Not even two hours later, he comes back up and hits the table with a glass and starts cussing. He had lost it all. He’s lying on his bed looking at the ceiling, and I go, “Buddy, you gotta stop this, man.” He goes, “We got this. We’ll get ’em tomorrow.” The next morning the whale-watchers show up. June got another half-million dollars, and he goes back down and loses the whole thing.”
You don’t need to blow that kind of money that quickly for your friends to be concerned. Clearly this is an unlikely situation for most anyone who reads this blog. It just illustrates not only a potential addiction problem but also that your friend has quit caring what happens to him (i.e. his money.) I doubt you have many friends that make the kind of cheddar where they can walk away from dropping $1000 (or whatever amount) and NOT care. Which leads into our third point.
3. Careless or Reckless Behavior
Granted drug and alcohol abuse could fit into this section but there are other signs your friend might be in trouble even without the drug and alcohol abuse or gambling. I am not talking about a friend suddenly deciding he wants to go skydiving when he has never done so in the past. Unless of course he wants to go alone and without a parachute. That should probably tell you something is not quite kosher.
Several months before he ultimately killed himself Seau drove off a seaside cliff and somehow managed to survive the crash. He claimed he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off by accident but to do so without cranking the wheel intentionally is just not possible at that part on the highway.
I have had several friends who, when struggling with depression and other things have behaved in extremely careless ways. One friend in particular purposely would drive recklessly just hoping he would get into an accident whereby he would be killed. He purposely didn’t wear a seatbelt while doing so and often had been drinking too much. How he never died in a crash and rarely even managed to get into an accident is a miracle (and I don’t use that phrase lightly.) Another friend started picking fights with the wrong kind of guys when we would be out somewhere. Eventually one night while out alone he finally picked the right guy and almost had his head caved in. He was in a coma for two days, broke an arm, a few ribs and a lot of brain cells. When his friends (including me) found out we got him help – once he finally was released from the hospital. He didn’t like it and cursed us out like a sailor for forcing him to get help but it was the right call. He managed to pull his life together, got married and even has a few kids and has stayed on the straight and narrow ever since. Fortunately, both of those stories have a happy ending but many more do not.
4. Sometimes You Just Know
Sometimes you just know that something isn’t right. You might not be able to point at any particular set of circumstances or activity but there is just something in your gut that tells a person their friend is in some kind of trouble. Don’t ignore that feeling. If you have it, it likely means you are on to something, especially if that feeling doesn’t go away.
So if you have that feeling what should you do? First, be sure you are taking time to really observe your friend’s behavior. I don’t mean stalking them I simply mean try to be more observant about the things they say and what they do when you hang out. If they are the kind of person who returns calls or texts, are they doing that? Or have they stopped? Or has it been infrequent with no real reason for the delays. Second, you have to discuss your concern with them and don’t simply take “everything is fine” for an answer right away. Finally, I know I mentioned it before but you can’t be afraid to upset your friend with your concern. If you have to be a jack ass and really force them to open up to you about their life than do that. True friendships with deep roots can survive any storm and getting in a friends face about their behavior is the kind of thing that a friend is supposed to do.
We are our brother’s keeper and it is important we take that role seriously. Everyone needs a hand up at some point in their life even if they never realize it.
Here is hoping you have a great weekend! Until Monday make it a better day!