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Are we living lives of quiet desperation?

September 4th, 2011 · 34 Comments · Life

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… who out there is truly feeling alone?

I’m not a big believer in coincidences.  I am however, a big believer in clues.

I think our lives are littered with clues… and usually we either dismiss them or are completely oblivious to them.  Who you think doles out those clues depends on your spiritual beliefs.  For me, I’ve often joked that  God starts with pebbles and it’s about the time He’s placed a boulder in my path that I finally notice.

Who leaves the clues isn’t my point.  It’s the fact that they are there that matters.   This is a post about clues and how often we miss them.  And maybe something we can do about it.

For me, clue one is that Henry David Thoreau‘s quote “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” has been weighing heavy on my heart for the past month or so. It keeps appearing in odd places like Google searches and I find my mind drifting to it and lingering on it, both in my head and in my deepest soul.

I think Thoreau was right.  And I think his statement is actually more true today than ever before.  What makes his words so haunting is how horribly isolated they sound.  A  heart filled with a loneliness and hopelessness that is cloaked in silence.

In a world where we are constantly reminded of how many friends, followers and fans we have — how can that be?  We’re busier than ever before.  We check our email 37 times a day and update our statuses around the clock.  The chatter is constant.   The sharing never ending.  And we like it that way.  We like getting to know each other.  But are we really?

For many of us, our financial/professional success is tied to all of these interactions and to the persona/brand we create.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that it’s fake.  But it is selective.  Just like there’s an inside and an outside voice when you’re a kid — we understand the social norms and most of us stay inside them.

But what if on the inside, surrounded by 2,000 friends, 10,000 followers and a bevy of fans — you feel all alone?  Maybe that constant buzz and busyness allows you to keep people at bay. What if that quiet desperation is slowly enveloping you to the point that you might suffocate — but you don’t dare let anyone see it.

It’s so much easier to hide today in the flurry of quips, 140 character chatter and the constant activity.  Which is also what makes it all the more lonely.  It’s like being at a huge party and needing to cry.  There’s no way you can pull that off — so you stuff those feelings down deeper and you become the life of the party to distract yourself and everyone else from how you’re really feeling.

Clue two came today with word of the tragic suicide of Trey Pennington, a very talented writer, speaker and a well known social media personality.  Trey was everyone’s friend.  One of the good guys.  He was always helping someone achieve a goal or try something new. I “knew” him but I didn’t know him. We’d never met in person. We shared some brief exchanges on Twitter and Facebook — but like many others who mourn his loss — I only saw the parts of his heart that he felt safe to expose in public.

I think there are a lot of Trey Pennington’s walking around out there — lifting up and supporting other people, partially because it’s who they are but also because it’s more comfortable than letting the attention turn their way.  And yet inside, they’re barely  making it through the day.  They are drowning in their own quiet desperation.

Clue three came in the form of an incredibly brave blog post called The Difference Between Trey Pennington and Me by Bridget Pilloud.  She tells of a time in her life when she had decided to commit suicide and the one thing that stopped her is that someone noticed her depression despite the mask and called her on it.  I believe that blog post will save a life.  Maybe many.  It made me cry.

Why in God’s name am I telling you all of this on a marketing blog?  Honestly, I have no idea why and maybe I never will.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  I’ve almost deleted it several times.  But somehow, the boulders are so big that I can’t.  So I’ve stopped fighting it.  If I lose some subscribers, so be it.

For some reason, I think you need to hear this. Or maybe I need to say it.

Trey’s friends, both casual and very close, are writing about him tonight as you can imagine.  They’re telling wonderful stories, talking about how he touched their lives and they are loving him well.  It’s a fitting tribute to a man who has earned the love and respect he’s being offered. The more casual of his friends are of course, saying that they wished they’d known.

Maybe that’s what’s driving this post for me.

I think we have this stereotypical idea of what a depressed person looks and behaves like.  The prescription drug commercials tell us that they can’t get out of bed or shower.  They sit on their couch in their robe, staring blankly into space.  They certainly aren’t successful.  They aren’t the life of the party.  They aren’t charismatic and busy serving others.

But they are.  And I think they are all around us.  But we’ve been fooled because they’re afraid for us to know.

Despite the suffocation of the desperation — they don’t want us to know.  It’s a shame-filled secret.  But they also desperately need our help.  They need us to ask because they have no idea how to tell us.  Or if they should.

If you’re a little worried about someone or you see hints of something going on underneath — ask.  And ask again.  If you know someone is going through a tough patch, don’t accept the quick “I’m fine” as they turn the conversation back to you.

Please pay attention and watch for the clues.  I’m hoping you’ll be more alert to them and brave enough to act on them.

Thanks for being patient while I moved the boulders off the path.  Some clues are too big to ignore.

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34 Comments so far ↓

  • David Sneen

    I can relate; I think most of us can. I look back at one of my particularly ill-advised and idiotic decisions-and there are consequences felt now more than ever.

    As humans, we have a choice. Find a goal and focus on it, or live in regret. I have a goal….I am also trying to forget the past-but its hard.

    What causes a person to take his life? Just acting on the same feelings we all have. We all could go take the step off that cliff.

    What prevents it? For me, it is a belief in God, and knowing that whatever life brings to you, He has the best plan for our lives. It is up to us to seek and follow that plan!

  • Drew McLellan

    David,

    Yes, I think we can all relate. As you say, there but for the grace of God, on any given day, is one of us making the same choice.

    I think depression can rob someone of options. It’s not that the options aren’t there but that they can’t see them. It’s like being blinded.

    I think all of us carry some consequences around with us that we regret. Whether it was of our own doing or circumstance that gave them to us. All we can do is take that one step forward every day.

    I’m glad to hear you are making peace with your own consequences through your faith.

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Best,

    Drew

  • Andy @ FirstFound

    That’s an incredibly touching and powerful piece Drew.

    I wasn’t lucky enough to have met Trey, even in an online capacity, but I know all too well how depression affects people and their relationships. By talking to each other, communicating and pulling together, we can try and avoid events like this in the future.

    And it’s important to remember that an arm around the shoulder can mean more than thousands of tweets or text messages.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Drew McLellan

    Andy,

    Thank you…and I think you make a key observation. Depression thrives in solitude. The more we can reach out and touch (emotionally, physically etc.) someone who is fighting it, the better shot they have.

    Thanks for jumping in on this.

    Drew

  • Deb

    Drew -
    I only knew Trey online, yet this sad news has shaken me more than I care to admit. It also prompts me to continue making online friends my in real life friends. We can make a difference. Depression is an ugly beast – and hard to kill. Steve Woodruff reached out to me – and made a difference. I hope to do the same for someone(s).

    • Drew McLellan

      Deb,

      Living our lives online is a wonderful thing. But in most cases, it’s a surface thing. Going deeper takes time and risk. But the pay off sure works.

      I think Steve has made a difference in many people’s lives because he was willing to share his story and his support. I’m sure you will do the same! Who knows — maybe you already have!

      Drew

  • Claire Celsi

    Great post, Drew. There are days when I can relate to the “I have xxxx number of friends, and yet I feel so alone.” It’s the old existential truth.

    AND, I see you’re still under the illusion that personal posts don’t belong on a professional blog. I say…people run businesses. People and personal is all that really matters at the end of the day. Period. I’ll bet nobody would quit following you after this post. If anything, more people would follow you!! People write blogs, not businesses! Not machines!

    Thanks for being you, in all your complexity.

    Claire

    • Drew McLellan

      Claire,

      I think that’s the ironic part. People suffering from depression believe they’re all alone. And in reality, there are lots of people who may not be clinically depressed — but they are experiencing many of the same doubts, fears and emotions.

      I agree with you about it’s the person behind the blog that matters. And I try to infuse who I am into every blog post. But this one was waaaay off topic!

      Thanks for sharing it with your network as well this morning!

      Drew

  • Phil Gerbyshak

    Strong reminders, ahem, clues Drew. I agree that though this doesn’t “fit” a marketing blog, it is an excellent reminder that there’s much more to life than the score on someone else’s scoreboard.

    Thanks for sharing the clues. For whomever needs to read this.

    • Drew McLellan

      Thanks Phil,

      I think all too often we wait for someone who is hurting to reach out to us. But we don’t make the first gesture. We don’t want to embarrass them or put them in a weird place.

      But the truth of it and the reason I finally pulled the trigger on the post is that they need us to be assertive and persistent. I’m hoping the post inspired that in someone.

      Drew

  • chris brown

    Thanks for going off topic today.

    Ironically, this is suicide prevention week.

    link to sprc.org

    Thanks for your post.
    Chris

    • Drew McLellan

      Chris,

      That is sadly ironic, isn’t it? Well maybe Trey’s death is the ultimate reinforcement of that message.

      It certainly has put the topic on the trending lists for a brief while. I guess we all have to work a little harder to keep it there.

      Hope all is well with you!

      Drew

  • Lisa Diomede

    Thank you for sharing this Drew. This is really the stuff that matters most and I appreciate that you took a step outside of what might seem comfortable or acceptable to discuss it here.

  • Romelle Slaughter

    It’s unfortunate that I don’t have access to the blog I wrote in 2006 for Juice about the suicide of Dr. Stephen Gleason, because it would resonate to your post today, Drew.

    I didn’t know Trey Pennington. I never knew what he does or followed him on social media.

    That’s besides the point. The point is that all of us are wearing masks to hide our “shadows”, whatever that is.

    Yes, we are living in quiet desperation and internal hell, while on the outside everything is “fine.” I have blogged about my battle with depression and suicidial tendencies in the past, as well as the sensitive nature of suicide.

    It’s like walking through a fog in your own mind. Uncontrolled “controlled” chaos.

    You can’t “shake it off” like a leaf on your shoulder, and get on with your life. It doesn’t always work that way.

  • Drew McLellan

    Romelle,

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had to battle those demons. I wish I could read your post — I’m sure it informed and inspired a lot of people.

    I know how easy and comfortable it is to stay behind the mask. I hope you’re finding ways to take peeks out more often.

    I think it takes incredible courage to share your own true story and I am grateful that you are doing so on your blog and here in our conversation. Thank you.

    Drew

    • Romelle Slaughter

      Battling those demons was the easy part. Being open about it was the hardest part. I felt it was important to do it, not only to encourage others to seek help, but as therapy for myself.

      Finding light through a dark cave is a journey. You have to continue having faith and hope that you get to the end of the tunnel.

      • Drew McLellan

        Romelle,

        Isn’t it an odd truth about us humans that it is harder to admit we have a problem then it is to beat the problem?

        I’m glad you found the courage and the help you needed.

        Drew

  • Jill J. Jensen

    Thanks so much, Drew.

    Nothing is really off-topic. As Claire says, it’s all about the people. Your willingness to be real online and off helps everyone.

    Clue, coincidence, or something else, today’s e-mail also brought this quotation from Sydney J. Harris: “Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

    Your light is most welcome. Keep shining.
    Jill

  • Lynn Lekander

    He has left an empty place in your life and your heart, this is a beautiful post. I have read several posts about Trey Pennington, everyone thinks ‘if only I had known’. Signs are not always there.

    I would like to think that this is something we can take to heart with others, even strangers, perhaps being kinder & gentler.

    • Drew McLellan

      Lynn,

      I’m sure to his family and close friends, the signs were there. Including a previous attempt.

      But….to the people who knew him from his business dealings, online activity etc. — the clues were probably much less evident, if there at all.

      I’m all for kinder and gentler. We can all use a little bit of that!

      Drew

  • Judy Dunn

    Drew,

    I echo the sentiment: Thanks for going off topic. I mean, if we can’t talk about the important things, the things that really matter, why have a blog?

    I think our society creates people who have to “put their happy face on.” When we ask, “How are you?”, we want to hear, “Fine.” Because that lets us off the hook.

    And so we never know what’s really going on w/friends and colleagues. I am reminded of Edwin Robinson’s powerful poem “Richard Cory” (published in 1921!)”

    Whenever Richard Cory went down town
    We people on the pavement looked at him:
    He was a gentleman from head to crown,
    Clean favored and imperially slim.

    And he was always quietly arrayed
    And he was always human when he talked;
    But he still fluttered pulses when he said,
    “Good morning.” and he glittered when he walked.

    And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
    and admirably schooled in every grace:
    In fine, we thought that he was everything
    To make us wish that we were in his place.

    So on we worked, and waited for the light
    And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
    And Richard Cory, one calm summer night
    Went home and put a bullet through his head.

    I read that in a high school lit class and have never forgotten its point: that we don’t know what another person is struggling with inside. We just never know. God bless Trey and his family. And thanks for this eloquent post, Drew.

    • Drew McLellan

      Judy,

      I can understand why you still remember that poem. I certainly won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

      You make such a good point. We want to hear “fine” because it lets us off the hook. That’s such an insight into human beings. On the one hand, we want to help/support but the truth of it is — it feels like a heavy burden and we have no idea how to help, so the idea terrifies us at the same time.

      It’s not just the person struggling with depression who has to find some courage, is it?

      Drew

  • Roberta Rosenberg

    Whether or not you were off-topic, and I’m not quite sure you were, I deeply appreciate you sharing this, Drew.

    I didn’t know Trey, but I lived with close family members and friends who’ve struggled with depression. Most survived to face another day, one did not.

    And even when we know and reach out more than a few times – and are desperate to get beyond the ‘fine’ tossed back at us, we can’t always crack the sadness and isolation of our friend and loved one. Sometimes we lose them and like petals from a fading rose, all that’s left is their fragrance and our own sadness.

    But still we must continue to try.

    • Drew McLellan

      Roberta,

      You’re right — ultimately the responsibility must be in the hands of the person struggling with depression. But I fear that often times….no one asks.

      We make assumptions about each other based on the public persona we see. And you know what they say about assumptions…

      I just want everyone to at least try. No doubt they may be rebuffed…but at least they tried. And in the end, even if the depression wins, they will know they tried.

      Drew

  • Theresa Southern

    As a sister to someone who committed suicide many years ago, I can completely understand why you felt a need to share your thoughts on this subject – even on a marketing blog. It’s a good thing to remember that we are not machines, but actual living beings. In a world of Facebook posts that make most people wonder why their life isn’t more interesting and awesome, it has become even more important to present ourselves in an authentic and compassionate way as much as possible. I am sorry for your loss.

    Theresa.

    • Drew McLellan

      Theresa,

      I’m very sorry about your sister. I suspect that is a wound that never fully heals, no matter how many years ago it happened.

      While social media does an amazing job of connecting us to more people in more ways, it can also serve as a pretty good mask, if we want it to. I’m hoping my post will encourage people to look past the masks.

      Hear hear to more compassion. We can also stand to offer and receive more of that.

      Drew

  • Karen@MicroSourcing

    I’ve been reading a lot of posts on his suicide, which only shows how well-loved this person was. It’s quite possible for a depressed person to be highly functional, and this makes it harder to see if something’s wrong. If anything this post makes us reconsider how we’re using social media, to add more compassion to our online transactions.
    Karen@MicroSourcing recently posted..PH BPO Urged to Go Beyond Voice ServicesMy Profile

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  • Kathy Henderson

    This touched me deeply. So few people “get it.” Thank you for your compassion and insight. You may have just saved a life or given someone a reason to live another day.

    • Drew McLellan

      Thanks Kathy. We’re all so busy, it’s easy to forget that someone right next to you might be in a spiral they can’t slow down but maybe you can.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Best,

      Drew

  • Chris Stark

    Thoreau’s quote that “Most of us live lives of quiet desperation…” is a favorite of mine. Another one is from The Bard’s Macbeth wherein Macbeth laments life, characterizing it as “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Macbeth goes on to further lament “Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time.”

    Finally in this vein, I will quote Plato to those who seem ready to hear it. “The examined life is not worth living.” (Particularly, when that examination does not embed itself in a divine and hopeful context).

    I fully agree with you that our contemporary culture is getting busier and busier, and that that is a unfortunate.

    The vast majority of people now too often favor the quantitative, deliberative, and logical thinking of tasks and activities, while ignoring the qualitative thinking which requires us to use all of our faculties to reflects on our calling in life, and our god-given talents to serve others.

    I might say it this way. We live in a world of noise which distracts us from reflecting on the divine purpose of life.

    For those who are caught up in living only the busy life, it is no wonder that even in a crowd of colleagues and acquaintances that they can feel lonely. As such, is it any surprise that this often manifests itself in depression, despair, and even suicidal thoughts?

    For me, overexposure to busy people results in sadness. An answer might that we must all put our daily lives in the context of our greater purpose.

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