DISCLAIMER: This episode discusses depression, suicide, and details a suicide attempt. Discretion is advised.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal ideation, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
In today's episode, Billy and Brian talk to brothers Lee and Scott about Lee's struggles with depression and his attempt at suicide and how our podcast opened up Scott's eyes to Lee's struggles and how it opened up a dialogue between the two of them.
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Lee: The first really big thing was, the day my daughter started kindergarten, I had a nervous breakdown. It had nothing to do with it. I went to work, and I felt super worthless. I felt like I was going to ruin my daughter's life because I was this way, and I was going to make her life terrible for the rest of her life. I think her going to kindergarten just clicked that. She's only in kindergarten. She's going to have a dad that's broken for the rest of his life and isn't going to be watching as a dad.
I went to work. I texted my wife at the time, and I said, "You guys need to live." She's like, "What?" I said you, "You need to leave and never come back to me again. Because I can't handle — I can't do this. I can't do this to you anymore."
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how are you doing over there, man?
Brian: I'm groovy, man. Groovy.
Billy: Oh, just groovy. Just breezy?
Brian: Yeah, you got to tone it down when you say groovy. You can't be like, "I'm groovy."
Billy: You're just breezy groovy over there. Are you feeling groovy? Are you feeling laid back because you're at home in a more comfortable environment?
Brian: Yeah, we're doing a remote session today. So, I just stumbled out of bed. I threw a waffle in my mouth. And, here I am.
Billy: What did you put on your waffle?
Brian: Nothing. Butter.
Brian: Straight butter, man. I take my waffles straight like a man. None of that fluffy stuff on it.
Billy: That's ridiculous. That fluffy stuff is what makes it taste delicious.
Brian: We can't even taste the waffle then.
Billy: I'm currently taking open requests for new hosts on the show, because that is preposterous that you would do such a thing. Okay. So, I'm going to give a shout out to—
Brian: You don't like the taste of your waffle?
Billy: No, I want to taste—
Brian: Why don't you just eat whipped cream and strawberries?
Billy: Well, I'll do that, too. Here's what I want. I want the crunch in the waffle. That's really what it's all about.
Brian: Okay. So, what do you put on your waffle?
Billy: I'm a syrup guy. I do like syrup, and I like fruit on there. But Famous Dave's brunch has this pecan praline syrup, that I would fight anybody to get to because it is that amazing. I would lose that fight, but it would still be worth it as long as I got to taste that pecan praline syrup. It's unbelievable.
Brian: Well, maybe I'm turning around on this. I've never tried that particular syrup. So, maybe this would change my seat. See, dude, when I eat food, I got to taste the food I'm eating. I don't use condiments. When I eat burgers, maybe I throw a little mustard on it. That's it.
Billy: Okay. Alright. I guess, I like sauces. I'm all about the sauces. So, that's how I roll. Well, the reason why we're doing a remote here is because we actually have a special episode. We're recording on a Saturday morning. We know that we said last week was our last episode of Season 1. But we are actually doing two special episodes. We are talking to three of our listeners these next two episodes.
Today we are talking to brothers, Scott and Lee, who reached out to us and said, "Hey, your podcast has really had meaning, and it's resonated with us." We reached out to them and said, "Well, do you want to talk about why that's the case? Because we think other listeners may appreciate that. They have agreed to be here. So, Scott and Lee, thank you guys so much for joining us today.
Scott: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Billy: You guys described yourselves as just normal middle-aged guys. Scott has a wife. He's got two teenage kids, just trying to live his best life. Scott works in commercial landscape construction in the Twin Cities area, and enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Lee describes himself as an IT guy in Sioux, Falls, a divorced, single dad with an eight-year-old daughter and a golden retriever who enjoys sports. They're here to promote healthy, emotional communication for men. So, guys, we really thank you for being here. We know that it's difficult to put yourself in a vulnerable position like this and share your stories. But we are eternally grateful for it.
Billy: So, if you guys are listeners — obviously, we checked to verify that you knew what was going on, so we know that your actual legit listeners. Thank you for being two out of dozens of listeners that we have out there. Could you guys talk about your roles in your life? It sounds like you guys combined them here. So, what are the 10 roles that the two of you play in your lives?
Scott: For me, father, husband, son, brother, active adult, professional leader, community leader, sports fan. That's kind of both for me, I guess.
Billy: Yeah, you said lake lover. You said lake lover as well. If you're in Minnesota, that's how that goes.
Billy: Yeah, I mean, there's 10,000 of it. You might as well enjoy them over here. Scott, can you talk about what are the three of those roles that you are looking most forward to in the second half of your life?
Scott: Yeah, I think husband, lake Lover, and traveler actually. For me, the roles are starting to shift a little bit. My kids are teenagers. But looking five years in the future, it's going to be an empty nest. So, husband is a big part of that. Then the cabin up north and traveling — two things that I'm really looking forward to in the next phase.
Billy: So, how do you anticipate your role as a husband is shifting once you become empty nesters? How old are your kids?
Scott: 16 and 13.
Billy: Okay. So, you've got some time left. You got five years to transition in here. But how do you see your role as a husband adjusting once you guys become empty nesters?
Scott: It's still evolving, but we're seeing it already. Our kids, they have their own things. They have their own lives, and they have their own interests. Our roles with them are definitely less and less every year. So, my wife and I have to really look at how our relationship works when it's not just about where you're going, who's getting fed where, and who's got hockey, and who's got dance. You actually have to start dating again, hanging out and enjoying each other's company. What are we going to do? We can't just always go to the bar and drink a whole bunch of beer, whatever. So, what are our interests? I think that's something that we're really looking forward to.
Billy: I like that you talked about started dating again. Brian, I'm curious. Do you and Kathleen date? Do you guys still continue to go on dates?
Brian: 100%, and I think your outlook on this, just the fact that you said dating, shows that you're looking at it as an opportunity to rekindle the romance with your wife. Absolutely, yes. To answer your question, we absolutely do that. We set aside time specifically, and call them dates just to make sure that connection is still there.
Billy: Very cool. So, you talked about traveler. I'm curious. Are you guys looking at more intensive trips as your kids get older, and as you guys look to be empty nesters?
Scott: Yeah, definitely. We enjoy it. That's definitely something that the two of us enjoy doing together. It's something that I think we don't know exactly what that looks like or how frequent or where. But we are open-minded about it. We would like to see as much as we can, so whatever that looks like. Not necessarily just in retirement. We want to start that process as soon as the kids are out, and we don't have the schedule of dance and hockey and regimented things, and we can get away.
Billy: Excellent. So, where's your guys' cabin?
Scott: Leech Lake.
Billy: Leech Lake. So, up north from where we are. For people who are not familiar with Minnesota, can you describe that area, and where it is in the state that they were looking for in the map?
Scott: Yeah, it's about 35 miles south of Bemidji and about an hour north of Brainerd, right in the heart of Cabin Country up north. It's lots of trees and lots of scenery. Lots of fishing and hunting and all of the bears. That sort of thing. It's fun.
Billy: It's a big lake, too.
Scott: Big lake, yep.
Billy: It's huge. If you look on a map of Minnesota and look at the middle of the state, and you see a big, blue dot that's Leech Lake right there. It's a big, big lake. Not as big as Lake Superior, obviously. But it's one of the largest lakes in the state, if I'm correct.
Scott: Yeah, I think it's like up north maybe, behind the Lax and Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Billy: How long have you guys had a cabin there?
Scott: This will be our fifth season.
Billy: Very nice. Then do you guys have boats up there? Do you have snowmobiles up there?
Scott: Boats, yeah. We share the cabin with my brother and sister-in-law, Tara's sister and her husband. So, it's a family compound. We try to get as many people up and have a good time as we can. It's been fun.
Billy: One thing I forgot to mention here is I actually know Scott, because I went to high school with his wife. So, that's how we have that connection right here. Scott said that he was listening to the podcast, and he shared it with his brother, Lee.
So, Lee, let's get you into the mix here. You said that you're an IT guy. But what are the three roles that you were looking forward to in the second half of your life?
Lee: I'm in a little different spot. I think father is number one. Because my daughter's like — she's blossoming and opening up and becoming like — not that she wasn't a cool kid. She's so much fun to hang out with. You can see the maturity. So, I look forward to that every day. Then just brother and son, like reconnecting. I'm going through divorce and everything. Everything gets all messed up. So then, it'd be nice to just reconnect even more and rebuild the bonds that we had before everything else came in.
Scott: Spend some quality time.
Lee: Yeah, exactly. Go back to how it should be and that sort of thing.
Billy: We were joking about this before. But you guys have a pretty close-knit family, because Scott drove all the way out to Sioux Falls. Your sister is there as well. Where does she live?
Scott: Watertown. So, it's a couple of hours north of here.
Billy: Got you. So, I'll tell you that our family won't drive five minutes to see each other. My sisters, I don't think they would drive five minutes to see me or vice versa. I love my sisters. I hope that they love me, too. It's just a different bond that we have with them. So, that's very cool that you guys still have that family bond, that family connection.
Lee, I know part of your story is that you had mentioned the divorce shifted some things for you. The fact that the divorce took place when it did added significant impact. So, what we're going to do is we're going to take a quick break. Then when we come back, Lee and Scott are going to share their story around why it's so important for us to talk about emotional mental health. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. If you're enjoying what you've heard so far, please do us a favor and hit the subscribe button. Also, giving our show a quick five-star review with a few kind words helps us on our quest to reach the top of the podcast charts. Finally, since you can't make a mixtape for your friends and loved ones like you used to do, share this podcast with them instead. We hope our experiences resonate with others and inspire people to live their best lives. Thanks again.
And now, let's take a minute to be present with our breath. If you're listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let's do that one more time. Inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. Brian and I are on a remote call here with Lee and Scott. Brian, we're probably going to have to post this at some point, so you guys can see just how I have set up this recording tent that I have. So, if I can give you all a visual, I have three stools around the outside of a comforter. Then I have a mop broom propping up the center. I'm in this recording tent here in order to dampen the sound. Otherwise, it just echoes the whole time.
We are here joined with Lee and Scott, who are brothers. They are listeners of our show, proof that we actually have listeners to this show. So, thank you guys for listening. Our goal has been that we hope that what we talked about resonates with our listeners. Lee, you actually reached out to us, and you shared that what we talked about in Episode 3 — where I shared my own personal struggles with anxiety and depression and suicidal ideation — resonated with you. I'm just curious. Can you walk us through your own personal struggles with mental health?
Lee: Sure. When you get a diagnosis or you start to understand it as an adult, then you start looking back and going, "Okay. When did this start?" I can go back and say I felt the way I felt since I was probably 8 years old. The way my depression works is it's a self-loathing type of depression, where I just hate myself. Everything I do is wrong. Then it makes it worse. I just spiral and go down and down and down.
So, I can go back to being in school. We went to a private church school. There was just something about one of the lessons to where like if you do this wrong, you're going to go to hell type of thing. That hit me different. Both my brother and sister went to the same school. I have friends to this day that went to that same school. I've talked to them about it. Nobody else thought like, "Well, you better not ever make a mistake for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you're going to go to hell. Your family is going to go to hell." That whole thing. But that's where it started.
I put pressure on myself. That was just unrelenting. I felt that way for a long time. The reason that Scott sent me the episode or the podcast was because he said that I was very much like you, to where I was the guy that walked in and was always fun. I could put on a face of happiness and fun — the fun guy, the jokey guy forever. No one would ever know. So, I got very good at living that way.
But as I got older, as you get married, as you have kids, and you get mortgages and jobs, and the stress of all of it, it got to a point where I couldn't just put that face on anymore. At that point, I still didn't know I had depression, or I had anxiety. I just thought like many people do. I'm the only one that feels this way. I just got to swallow it and figure it out. Make sure everybody else is okay, and I can handle it. But it just got to a point where I couldn't handle it.
The thing that really changed the way I was thinking or realizing was — I don't know if you listen to Power Trip morning show on KFAN in the cities. Chris Hawky did an interview. He literally is sitting there saying stuff that was in my brain. Like, I'm driving down the road. I would never want to take my life, but I hope that every car would cross maybe and then come hit me. Or every morning I woke up, I was mad that I woke up. I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted it to be over. I didn't see a way out. I didn't see anything along those lines.
Then that clicked. I talked to my wife at the time. She was like, "Well, that's great. Let's start to work on this." Then the first really big thing was, the day my daughter started kindergarten, I had a nervous breakdown. It had nothing to do with it. I went to work, and I felt super worthless. I felt like I was going to ruin my daughter's life because I was this way, and I was going to make her life terrible for the rest of her life. I think her going to kindergarten just clicked that. She's only in kindergarten. She's going to have a dad that's broken for the rest of his life and isn't going to be watching as a dad.
I went to work. I texted my wife at the time, and I said, "You guys need to live." She's like, "What?" I said you, "You need to leave and never come back to me again. Because I can't handle — I can't do this. I can't do this to you anymore." Her credit — she left work, came, and took me to the hospital. went into an in-patient facility for a few days. I would say, that first time that I went in, I went in voluntarily. Because I was like, "There's something wrong. I need to figure something." But I went in there thinking, "Give me a pill. Give me something. Give me an answer I can have that's going to take it all away. Make me never feel this way." That's not how it works.
As you do it, as you realize it, as you go through it, that's not how it works. A lot of what triggers my bad episodes is not sleeping. I slept probably 3 hours in a 14-day piece. Because I just couldn't — you can't turn your brain off. It just eats at you and eats at you. I just lay there and cry. I'd go sleep on the couch and just cry because I was like, "I can't ruin people's lives anymore. I can't bother them anymore."
I got there and they're like, "You look tired." So, they gave me a shot so I can sleep. I woke up, and I felt great. I'm like, I don't want to be in here anymore. I get it. I understand it. I just didn't sleep. I need to do this stuff. I was in there for two or three days. I checked myself out because I got this under control. They gave me some meds, and I thought we got this. Put the meds and I hated it because I didn't feel feelings then. Because I know you guys talked about in some of those. I know in Brian's episode, too. The medication isn't the only answer all the time. Because it doesn't change it. It just makes you not feel anything. I wasn't ever excited. Sure. I was never depressed, but I was never excited about anything. So, then—
Billy: It treats the symptoms and not the problem.
Lee: Yes, it wasn't how I wanted to live. I was like, I'd rather have depression and still get to be excited when my daughter does something than to never feel anything again. That was probably 2017. Then I was doing okay. But it was one of those where it's an up and down. I went to counseling. It was a battle, and it was a fight
Then in August of 2019, it was my birthday, actually. It's a stupid, stupid reason to do it. I'm not a person that on Facebook, I'm going to go share everything to everyone. I was watching the Hall of Fame induction speech of Brian Dawkins — the safety for the Eagles — which is super weird. He had depression, and he started talking about it. He started saying like, "Hey, if you have this, you need to let people know. Because when somebody told me once that they had it, I didn't feel alone anymore. I got help." So then, I just wrote this long thing saying, "Hey, this is how I feel. This is what I feel. I'm not asking you to do anything. I'm not. I don't expect anything from you. But this is what I'm dealing with. If you're dealing with this, I'll talk to you if you want me to. I don't have all the answers, blah, blah, blah." All that stuff.
I thought, okay, I'm going to feel better now because I'm not hiding this thing. It's not a secret. I'm going to feel awesome. This will fix it. It felt great for a day, because people were like, "We're with you, blah, blah, blah." But then, anytime I went anywhere and walked into a room, I was the guy that was broken. I was the guy who is, there was something wrong. I was the guy that everybody walked on eggshells. I was the guy that people wanted to help but didn't know how. Me, personally, I hate that. I don't like being the center of attention. I don't like people pitying me or anything like that. So, it backfired huge. It made me feel like, look at you. You're just a piece of garbage. Look, these people feel sorry for you because there's something wrong with you. It slowly started to spiral.
With my family, I became more and more isolated. They would have stuff and I'd be like, "No, we have stuff to do here. We're not going to come." Because I didn't want to be the guy that walked in the room anymore. I didn't want to be the guy that was pitied or felt sorry for. So, I started to really distance myself from everyone. Even my ex-wife and my daughter, there's days where I would just be like, "I need to go to sleep." That was my answer to everything. I'm going to go to sleep. Because I just thought I can just skip it through this day. I'll be fine. But that doesn't work. Going to sleep is great until you wake up, and it sucks all over again.
Billy: It sounds like then that strain on your relationship is what led to the falling out with your now ex-wife. So, if you're comfortable, do you want to talk about that?
Lee: Yeah, absolutely. I gave her tons of credit. Because she tried, and she was there for me. She did a lot, put up with a lot of stuff. The reason we're divorced is not really because of her. It was because you become co-dependent, and my whole thing was I don't want myself — I don't ever want to be a bother to anyone. So, I would just hold it all inside all the time, as much as I could.
Looking back, I probably didn't do a very good job. But I thought I was doing a good job of hiding it. My whole thing was, I'm going to take care of those — my daughter and my wife. I'll make sure they have everything. So, I would do everything. I would do the cooking and the cleaning. I would do everything, thinking that would make me feel better because she was happy.
Well, I just neglected myself, and I just hate it and hate it and hate it. She wasn't asking for that. I was doing that on my own because I was thinking that's what I should do. It just came to a head where I was like, "I'm never going to get better if my whole thing is, I have to take care of this other person." Because I knew I couldn't turn it off. There's no way I could stop being that person. Even if I was doing a shitty job of being that person, in my mind, I'd always think she has to come first. She has to come first.
Us getting divorced, largely, it's just because I need to not have anyone, besides my daughter, depend on me. I can't physically have someone. Because I know that I'm going to slip back into that pattern of "Okay, they're more important. They are what matters. You just deal with it. You can handle it. Just take the burden on you. You handle it. Make sure everybody else is okay." I've told that 100 times. This isn't even about her.
Everybody has their issues. There are frustrations and there's stuff that happened that you just, at some point, you look back, that was — but at the core of it, it was just I knew I could never completely get better. The real thing that got me to that point was in December 3, 2019. I took my daughter to school, because I was off work that day. I took her to school, and she would look down. She was in first grade. She just looked at me. I said, "What's wrong, Belle? She said, "Oh, nothing." Because she does the same stuff I do.
I said, "No, what's wrong sweetheart?" She said, "I just don't want my dad to be sad anymore." It was the same thing as the day we dropped her off at kindergarten where I thought I'm effing my kid's life. My daughter is going to grow up with a piece of garbage father. She's going to have to worry about this guy for the rest of her life.
So, I went home that day. I took every pill that we have in that house. I laid them out. I laid them out in piles, with the bottle next to them. Because I don't ever want to be a bother. That's why I didn't shoot myself. That's why I didn't do anything that was messy. Because I didn't want anybody to clean up after me.
I put the pills in piles and lined them up all around the counter. I sat there. I'm just crying against the counter knowing I was going to do this. My dog — the craziest thing in the world. My dog bit my hand, grabbed me by the shirtsleeve, and pulled me away. I pushed him away. He got up and started barking at me — he's never barked at me before — and pulled me away again. I just fell down to the ground crying. I look up, and there's a picture of my daughter on the wall. I instantly snapped out. Thank God that that dog was there. He gets everything he ever wants for the rest of his life now.
After that, I called my wife and I said, This is what just happened." She said, "Okay. Call the helpline." So, I called the helpline. Unbeknownst to me, she called 911 and said, "You need to go do a wellness check on this person." Well, I talked to the helpline. They were like, "Well, let's see if we can get you in, blah, blah, blah." Well, the police came, and they just took me right to the hospital. They said, "We hear this going on." I was just like, "Yep, let's go. I'm done. I can't do this anymore." This time I walked into the hospital. It was another situation where I hadn't slept before it happened. I walked into the hospital, and I get to do the intake stuff.
There's a doctor that is there. That's one of the head doctors. I saw him the first time. We sit down. He looks at me and he said, "Alright, are you here to do this, or is this just more bullshit?" I was like, what? He's like, "You aren't going to fix this. We're going to get rid of this. We're not going to cure this. You have to accept that this is something that you're going to live with. We got to teach you how to live with this, and how to deal with this, cope with it. It changed everything. It completely changed everything. Because I took the time to learn, and I took the time to talk to counselors. They put me through tests upon tests. I did all of these personality tests and all this stuff to understand where it was coming from. It has just completely changed everything about how I do life. That's what got into that.
Billy: Can you talk a little bit about what they had you do once you went back to the hospital the second time? What were some of the tools that they equipped you with, in order to manage when you were feeling low, so that you could pull yourself back up?
Lee: We did a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy or training. A lot of it was coping mechanism. Because you're going to have a day where you think, gosh, you're an idiot. It's stopping that thought before it gets to the point where you can't pull yourself back out of it again. The mindfulness stuff, that was part of it, too. People would probably laugh at me. I do positive affirmations every morning. I list three things I did good at night. I list three things I'm looking forward to during the day.
There will be times where something will happen, and it will start to set me off. I will talk to myself out loud. I'm like, "Dude, that person's actions, that's not about you. You didn't do anything wrong. That's just the way that they're feeling. They might be having a bad day." In the beginning of March, I left. My company laid off 30%. I was one of the 30%. Before, that would have just made me go like, "Look at you, you’re a worthless pile of garbage." Of course, they did. You didn't deserve to stay there. Now I'm like they didn't have the money. I had been there one of the least amount of times. I'd only been there a year. I had this conversation out loud to myself or with my dog. It seems silly. It seems like hippie-ish. It seems like—
Scott: Especially where we grew up — when you grow up in rural areas, that stuff is hippie.
Billy: Absolutely. Oh, man. I talked about it before. I told my dad that at one time, I thought I needed to go to therapy. He was like, "That's not for nut jobs." You don't talk about your feelings. What? Not talking about your feelings? That's what women do. It plays into that toxic masculinity that, unfortunately, we see in rural areas.
Listen, if you live in a rural area, and you're listening to this and you're like, "What are you talking about, I grew up in a rural area. We grew up in rural areas. It's real. It really is this undue pressure to be a man and that sort of thing. I'm the first one to admit that I am not very manly. I am a beta male to the nth degree. I don't know how to drive a stick shift. I've probably just lost 10% of our listeners right there.
You're right. It's difficult to express when you're feeling that way. Then I think that bubbles over for 30, 40, 50 years. Then you find yourself in a situation where you feel like the only solution is a final solution. We're seeing that. You can take a look at statistics, especially out in the West areas like Idaho and Montana — which are extremely isolating areas just because of the mountains. You're actually finding really, really high rates of middle-aged men committing a suicide out that way because there's so little in the way of mental health support.
Brian: Access is probably a big thing, even not to mention the stigma. Finding a good therapist in these small towns is probably not easy.
Lee: Right. Absolutely. It's tricky. Well, one thing I was going to say was, when you were talking about the guilt, we had parents that were supportive and were always there. You can't really have a much of a better childhood. I don't remember. I rarely remember our parents fighting. I don't remember. There was just nothing like that. We were a Midwestern family where not a lot was talked about either, like you didn't—
Lee: Lutherans, yes. Everything's like hush, hush. But we never had anything we didn't want. None of that stuff. My ex-wife, she had a tough childhood. Stuff happened in her childhood that I felt awful. So then, when I'm feeling this way, I'm going, "You don't have a right to feel this way. She's the one that should be this way." It made my guilt 10 times more. I don't know like. You feel like you're letting everyone else down.
I had a conversation with someone — the same lady that cuts my hair all the time. We're talking about issues. She was talking about someone who committed suicide in her family. She's like, "I just don't understand it. I don't know how you can be so selfish. I don't understand all this stuff." She didn't know that I had suicide stuff. I told her the story. Then I said, "To me, I thought me being gone — for everybody, but my daughter — was going to make their life better because they didn't have to worry about me. I was going to not cause problems anymore; my issues were no longer going to be there. So, they didn't have to worry about it." It had nothing to do with getting attention or being selfish. I don't want other people — that's why I didn't do it in a violent way. That's why if I laid out all the pills with the bottles next to them, if I took a portion of them and it knocked me out before I got to take all of them, it was easier to clean up. Shit like that, that goes on into your brain as somebody who all they care about is other people. Like, you don't care about yourself at all.
When people say it's a selfish thing, I'm sure for some people it is. But for me, and a lot of people I talked and have talked to you, it's not a selfish thing. It's like, I don't want people to worry about me.
Billy: We had an amazing conversation with Dr. Yvette Erasmus. That episode is going to air later on down the road. She talks about the importance of self-love. Rally, that's where our healing starts. It's through self-love. Lee, I'm curious who initiated then the conversation between you and your wife to divorce, if you don't mind talking about that.
Lee: It was one of those when we fight, it always got brought up. After counseling sessions, my counselor never said get divorced. But he was almost like, "Something needs to change. I don't know what that is. If that pressure is always there, you're never going to get past what's going on. So, you guys either need to change."
We've done marriage counseling. We've done couples counseling. We've done all that stuff. In my brain, I just was like, I like self-love. I cannot love myself when I'm worrying about making someone else happy at this point, especially when it's not your child. A child and a spouse are two different things. Spouses and adults should be able to handle their own stuff. A child is dependent on you.
I can make my child happy and still make myself happy. When it's a spouse — because there's so much history behind it too. We've been married for 10 years, then together for 13. There was so much stuff that would have had to have been undone. For me, I just didn't see that it was possible. I didn't feel like I could ever not feel that way. So, it was me that basically said I can't do this anymore. I got to be done. If I'm going to be happy and be the best that I can be, I can't do it this way. Ultimately, being a dad is the number one thing I got.
Billy: It sounds like you guys still have an amicable relationship.
Billy: I think I've talked about this before or I'm talking about it in a later episode. I always respect divorced couples that still manage to have an amicable relationship, especially when there are children involved. Because really, you're setting a course of behavior and modeling, of course, behavior for your children that you can respect somebody with whom you have disagreements. This is how you treat people. You treat people with respect. So, I applaud both of you for handling it that way. Lee, I want to say thank you for sharing that story.
Brian: Lee, if you could say anything to someone in the position that you were in, what would it be?
Lee: First thing I'd tell everybody is, give it one more day. If you think that it's not good enough, you can kill yourself tomorrow. But don't kill yourself today. Wait till tomorrow. Then tomorrow, give yourself one more day. Just sleep on it. Just sleep. That's what the first thing I'd tell them.
But the main thing I always tell people is, you aren't alone. You are not by yourself. Because that's how it feels. It feels like you're the only one that's ever gone through this struggle with this, but you're not alone. When people ask me, when I talk to Scott, I'm trying to explain to him. Because one thing you really want is you want someone to understand it. I can never make anybody else understand that that doesn't have that.
I said take the saddest you've ever been. Somebody died tragically, whatever. That grief that you feel, that you feel like you can never overcome. Then take that and angle all that grief towards yourself and how much you hate yourself. Then think and then know. Well, this has been going on for a year. There is no hope that this will ever go away. Because that's how I felt. Then when I started looking back, I felt this way for 30 years inside. It just continually builds up to where you're like "Well, how could it possibly get better?" I just want to say it does. It does. You just have to not only ask for help.
One thing — not only admit that you have a problem, but accept that you have a problem. That was my biggest thing. In the beginning, I was like, "Yep, I have depression." But I didn't accept the fact that this was going to be part of my life forever. Once you accept the fact that this is not going to go away but you can manage it, that's the biggest key to all of it. It's setting your expectations of "I can handle this. There are going to be shitty days, but I can get through those days," as opposed to, "I've taken this medicine. Why do I have a day like this? Why am I still depressed today? I went to counseling yesterday. Why am I feeling this way again?" Well, everybody has bad days.
My thing would be jus, know you're not alone. Admit it and accept the fact that you need help, and that it's going to be a work for the rest of your life.
Billy: I think it's so important to understand that you're not alone. I know. Even for me, to start this podcast with Brian, a big roadblock for me was coming to grips with who wants to listen to a privileged straight, white male talk about their mental health issue? Get over yourself, dude.
In the research, what we're finding is it's middle-aged men and a predominantly white men who are committing suicide. I just don't understand that. I look at so much of the social inequities that exist in this world. Why am I feeling this way?" I'm like, oh my gosh, if I had to endure the racism and the homophobia and whatever else, the hatred that people endure, man, how would I even carry on when I can barely carry on as this privileged straight, white male.
I talked to somebody about that. They said, that's exactly why you need to talk about it. It's because all these other things that are happening, they're horrible. They are a burden in people's lives, but mental health affects every human being, regardless of your age, your race, your gender, your privilege. It affects every human being. So, you need to talk about this. So, I'm very happy that you're taking the time as well to talk about this and that you've been open about it.
I think this is a great time for us to take a break. Then when we come back, Scott, you're going to share your side from what it was like as a bystander, as an outsider, as a brother, witnessing your brother go through this. Thank you everybody for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact us, or if you have suggestions about what you'd like us to discuss, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Instagram @mindful_midlife_crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. Oh, and don't forget to show yourself some love every now and then, too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. Brian and I are talking to listeners, Scott and Lee. They are brothers. Lee just told an amazing story here. We really appreciate you taking the time to be vulnerable and tell that story.
Brian: And incredibly brave for that matter. So, thank you.
Billy: Absolutely. Scott, we just wanted to ask you here. As his brother, as Lee's brother, you're witnessing him going through this. It sounds like you were listening to my story from Episode 3. You were making connections between my story and Lee’s story. You were actually the one who shared the podcast with him?
Scott: That's correct.
Billy: Okay. I'm just curious. As you were listening to it, what resonated with you as someone from the outside looking in?
Scott: A little, I guess, history. I'm five years older than my brother. He's the little brother, and he was always of falling around, tagging along. I'm type A all the way, very regimented. Lee was always the fun, loving guy, the fun, loving kid. He always made us laugh, and my friends laugh. That's how we got to take along. That's how I associated with him. I was always a bit more socially awkward. I had a hard time cracking up. I had a hard time having fun. He was always just on. I envied that,
So, my opinion of him was framed around that.
Billy, being around you, meeting you a few different times, you're that character. You're on. You walk into a room, you're on. Then when you were telling your story. There was just so much crossover between what he had relayed to me through his experience and what you were saying. I know that he has said that to me before. I just want someone to feel what I feel. I can't. He's tried, but I can't know what he's feeling.
I thought if Billy feels this way, maybe there's something there. Maybe it will help Lee just see some similarity and some strength. I'm super excited that this has come out of that. Because it I think it's been cathartic for him. I think it's been really a cool experience for you, and Brian to feel like this is important. It's also been really eye-opening for me, just to see how this matters, how this is bigger than maybe I thought it was.
Billy: Can you talk about maybe some of the stigmas that you had around mental health or around what Lee was experiencing, and why that was so difficult for you to understand?
Scott: Yeah, I think as we talked about it, rural areas, small town. I had a dad who was hardworking, just worked head down, go to work. He don't call in sick. He don't show much emotion. We had grandparents. Our father figures or male figures in our life are awesome, but they are emotionless characters in a sense. I think we've seen that knees up over years. But when we were little, there was no tears. You didn't cry. You didn't cry at those things.
I think I've been that way. Lee is definitely more sentimental. That's another thing that you guys shared a little bit. When he got married, I gave the best man's speech. I told him that. Me, and dad, and our wives are convinced that this was it. This is the best you got. There's no emotion here. Now you have to come along and do all this tormented shit and give them hope that we are capable of it. I think that was hard. I'm more wired like that just naturally. Not that it was a stigma, not that I felt that he was weak in any way. Not at all. I didn't. I just didn't know how—
Lee: To say the right thing.
Scott: What to do. My first reaction is, did I make this worse? Was I a part of it? I knew. I was very aware of being five years older than him and being a Type A. We went to a small Lutheran School like he's mentioned. Being good in athletics and getting good grades and doing all that stuff, that was my role. That was what I cared about. He was different. He had his own mode of hitting through that. I think I was aware that he looked up to me.
When he started telling this story and he started telling me how he was feeling, my first reaction was, "Did I cause this?" That sounds really selfish. Maybe it is, but it was a fear that I didn't want to lose him. I didn't want to lose him from my life. I didn't want me to give something that made him not wanting to be around. So, it was hard. I didn't know how to deal with that emotion. I didn't know how to express it to him. I didn't know how to talk to my parents about it, my wife about it. So, it was a lonely spot, too, for us on this side. I want to help, but I can't fix it. I don't know what to do.
Billy: I'm curious. Did you guys talk to your parents about this then? It doesn't sound like — for you, Scott, at least any way — that there was we'll just get over it sort of approach. It was like, did I cause this? I'm wondering, was there a, "Just get over it," from anybody else? Were people listening but maybe not understanding?
Lee: I don't know if there was a, "Just get over this." It was almost like, I don't know if we ever sat down all as a family. I talked to my sister. I talked to my brother. I talked to my mom. I talked to my dad. But it was more like one-on-one. I explained the story four times. I told them all how I was feeling, but I don't think we ever sat down together. I didn't know what to do or where I messed up. I told them all this stuff, but I didn't give them any idea of what I expected or what I needed from them.
I wrote that long post. In that post, it says like, "give me some —" Whatever. I gave some instruction, but I didn't say it to them. What Scott would always tell me is, "I just don't want to say the wrong thing to make it worse." The only thing that you're going to tell me that's going to make it worse is to go, "You're a pussy. Wake up. Get over it. It isn't real. It's all in your head." Unless you say that, everything else I can't— like he said, I always wanted someone to understand. I had to get over that as well. I could tell him every day how I felt. But you don't know how it feels until it's been a year of feeling that way. If you haven't experienced that, you can't fully grasp it.
I don't know what it's like to have cancer. Not that I'm comparing the two, but I don't have that shared experience. He can see my personality changed, and he can see. Because they always knew. We went to his cabin one summer. We were there for two days. I was awesome for most of the day. But then, I get this sinking feeling, like, I'm going to eff this up. I'm going to screw up. I'm going to wreck the whole weekend because I'm going to get down. Then you automatically get down, and I can see everybody else's stuff thing. But I didn't give them instructions or say it's okay. I'll get over it. But when people then start saying, "Are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay," that's when it gets tough.
Scott: I think my immediate family, it's been a struggle that I think my sister wouldn't acknowledge it, too. Sometimes it has made a distance between all of us for the last few years. When we started out here, you asked us if we get along and stuff, we do. The three of us get along really well. But when you have Lee and his experience and what he's gone through with depression and anxiety, you also have the complications of marriage that's in the middle of that. I have a wife and two kids that depend on me. My sister has a son and a husband. My mom and dad have a life. You got all of those things working together. It complicates things.
Sometimes I think Lee was pulling away, but we were also all pulling away at certain times. It was frustrating at Christmas time or Easter thanksgiving to have that hanging over you, because it was there. There was a little bit of a cloud this last year, Christmas. This last year was fun. It was fun. It was awesome. We laughed. We played card games and board games like our family used to do. We haven't done that for a few years. So, it was pretty cool.
I don't think anybody ever said — both my grandparents had passed away now. But I don't think even them would have said that. But I do think that there's just a lack of understanding of this stuff. Even if you want to know, you want to do the right thing, and you want to say the right thing, you just don't know how. That's how I felt. I think that's how my dad felt. I think that's how a lot of men feel, and women for that matter. That's something that's not been talked about as a family.
Lee: I think a lot of it, too, is everybody's human nature of wanting to fix somebody else's problem. That's one thing I tell everybody. Nobody else can fix this. There's not something he's going to come up with in his head that's going to make me go, "You're right. I shouldn't be depressed. Thank you. Great." So, don't try. You don't have to die.
I did a poor job. I was just laying all this out there like, "I damn near killed myself, and I am struggling. Okay. Figure it out." I didn't give them any instructions, because I probably didn't know what I fully expected from them. Our dad, he never, once in my life, told me really suck it up or be tougher, or whatever. If I would have said it, and I did. I said it and talked to him on the phone about it. But it's not something that's offered. It's not like he just would call. That's not how we grew up. That's not how any of the people were. They figured, "Well, if he needs help, he'll reach out." That was something Scott said, too. If you need anything, let me know.
Well, the last thing I'm going to do is reach out and say, "I know you have this whole life. You have kids, and a wife, and a job, and stuff stressful. But here's my problems," like you said, like privilege. We have the same childhood, basically. We have the same parents. But I'm way broken because of something in my brain. So, please listen to me complain about how tough my life is. That just wasn't in my brain at all.
Billy: Scott, can you think of things that you didn't want to say to Lee when the two of you would talk?
Scott: I don't know if there was something that — I really did sometimes feel like avoided asking the real question. Because I didn't know if I was prepared for the real answer, or I was afraid that the answer might be not what I wanted to hear. As he was pulling away, I know that — my sister and I had these conversations, too — we were just so afraid of losing him. Losing him suicide or losing him like he just wasn't going to be in our life. He was going to completely isolate himself.
I just was so fearful that for some reason I was a part of that, I contributed to that. I think because of that, because I didn't ask the right questions or even ask the honest questions or the hard questions, it made it harder for him and us to make that connection sometimes.
Brian: This question is for both of you. From opposite sides of the spectrum, what do you think is the best thing family members can do to support somebody who's having mental health issues? I mean, from your perspectives?
Billy: I was going to ask that, too. I was actually curious if Lee, did they provide you with tools to share with your family and friends that you could communicate to them and say, "Hey, here's how we can talk about it?"
Lee: My counselor has — it just goes against everything inside of me to do them, which is what a lot of counselors are there for. It's to not let you stay in your comfort zone. It's basically saying — because there were so many times. My ex-wife and basically everyone, nobody wanted to hear how bad it was. They wanted to be like, "Oh, he had a scare. He was feeling really down. This might have been the reason." I want to say no, I felt like this for 10 years to where I wish I would die. I was sad the days that I woke up.
I would say to other people, ask the tough questions. Because my ex-wife had a family member passed away from suicide. So, it was really hard for her to listen to it. I relate to music and shows, and podcasts, obviously. A lot. There's a show on Netflix by Ricky Gervais called After Life. I shit you not. The last episode of the Last season is, he's taking pills. His dog is barking at him and stops him from taking pills. I was telling my ex-wife, please watch this. It took a long time. Because she's like, "Well, it's too tough for me to do that." I'm like, "It's way tougher for me to feel it. I need you to try to experience it. Even if you don't completely understand it, you don't want to assume that, "He's okay now. That has passed. I don't want to hear the hard parts." Because it's invalidating how I felt.
Brian: I wonder if it was hard for her because she had that family experience. She might not have wanted to watch that either, because now she's had two experiences in her life. I can empathize with that.
Lee: Yeah, I totally understand. I understand that completely. But that's what me, personally — I can't speak for every person that's been in that situation. I tried. I had a blog about songs that I wrote, and what each line meant to me. Because that was one thing that the counselor said. It's to blog about it. Just all this stuff, share it with other people saying, like, "This is how I feel. This is what it means."
I was expecting them to just be like, "I could get it now." That's not the case. But for people just to say, or to sweep it under the rug, or not want to hear it, that's an invalidation of how bad it was. Like, " I know you had a tough time, but I don't think it was as bad as you're telling me."
Scott: Yeah, I second that sentiment. I will say this. Me and Lee had conversations throughout this process. My sister and I have, too. We talked about things, texted a lot. They're pretty open. But I will say that sometimes they weren't specific. There was surface level stuff there. Like I said, to your point, people ask. "Hey, Lee, how are you doing?" You're hoping that he says good. Because if he says I'm really shitty, I don't really want to hear that story right now. I'm at Easter. I'm at Thanksgiving.
This podcast, guys, opened that line a little bit more for us. Because it gave us an icebreaker topic. Like, "Hey, dude, did you listen to the new podcast? There's a topic there." Guys, I've shared it even with my wife. She doesn't always listen to the podcast. Too male-centric, maybe it doesn't apply.
Scott: Once I talked about the concepts, she's been like, it's really cool. You were talking about the male brain, why I'm, at 40 years old, feeling a different way than I did at 20 years old, and how that affects her, and how we have conversations. It spurred conversations on that way. I think that's really an interesting way to look at this for families, members like myself. You can find something like that to start the conversation. So, it doesn't have to be so awkward. It doesn't have to be like, "Hey, nice to see you at Thanksgiving. How's your depression?"
It's just a bit easier to ease into it if you're having these conversations offline, not at the holidays, not at those times, and you can go grab coffee, or a weekend like this. I think that's our purpose even for this weekend. It's to reconnect without kids, wives, mom, and dad. We can vent to each other about all of those things. We can be honest and real with the three of us. We did better when we were younger. Sometimes the last few years, we have it. That would be, I guess, my suggestion. Just find a way to break that ice. Find a way to make it less awkward, because it really is an awkward conversation. It's not the one that you hope to have, but it's important to have.
Billy: If the two of you are our only two listeners till the end of this podcast, I just feel like that is reason enough for us to continue recording episodes so that you guys can have that dialogue. I sincerely hope that people who are listening, maybe this podcast is an opportunity to open up a dialogue with others. Hearing you guys talk about hanging out with your family and stuff like that, it's hitting me a little bit, too. Because I've pulled away from that for a variety of reasons. It has reconnected a dialogue with one sister but not with the other.
I'm glad that what we're sharing with you guys is resonating with you, but just know that what you're sharing here today is also resonating with us. So, we just really want to thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us today and share your stories. We really hope that others who are listening — like you said, Lee — recognize that you're not alone, that this is something that people feel. It's okay to feel it. We just need to get recognized that we need to get support for it, so that we can move on and not feel like this all the time. I imagine that you have highs and lows, still.
Lee: Oh, absolutely.
Billy: It's not a magic bullet. It's not something that — therapy doesn't fix everything. I've talked about before how mindfulness doesn't solve all the world's problems. It just makes the world's problems a little bit easier to manage, or it makes your problems a little bit easier to manage. It's wonderful to hear that you have taken steps to learn how to manage these ups and downs emotionally as you feel them.
We're really happy that this podcast has been a part of that dialogue in your family's life. So, thank you so much for sharing your time with us. We will let you get back to enjoying each other's time as a family.
Lee: Alright. Thank you, guys, so much for everything you do.
Billy: For Scott, for Lee, for Brian, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care friends.
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