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Friends, family play crucial roles in keeping sanity

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2000

If I had been crossing the street and a vehicle had careened out of control toward me, it would not have been worth my effort to step out of its way.

The year was 1978, and things were not going well for me.

The details aren't important now. I was working and attending the university, which made for long, intense days. There had been a string of car troubles, job setbacks, soured romances, slumlords and roommate misadventures on the rocky road to adult independence and, worst of all, untimely deaths of people near and dear.

Misfortune piled up to the point that I began having terrible nightmares and could no longer sleep through a night. I would awake at 3 or 4 a.m. in a state of horror and despair and lie awake for hours. By day, I carried on like a zombie. I shut music out of my life; I could not listen to any songs because their sad or cheerful lines were torture to me. When my thoughts wandered, I found myself physically startling and in-voluntarily shouting "No!"

I realized I needed help.

So I walked in to the walk-in counseling center near the university and explained the situation. They told me I had the classic symptoms of clinical depression and referred me to a psychiatrist.

I began the slow climb out of the dark pit of mental illness.

My story had a happy ending. Time and talking things out worked wonders. Gradually I found I could laugh at jokes, listen to music and delight in nature's splendors again.

I was cured.

After a few months of therapy, the psychiatrist told me I was far too sane to take up his time any more. On the one hand, I felt a bit rejected. On the other hand, it was one of the most enormous compliments I've ever received. After all, how many people get checked out by a professional and certified sane?

I realized even then that my part in the recovery, and even the role of the psychiatrist, had been small. By far a larger role was played by the other wonderful people in my life who stood by me in those dark days.

No matter how ghastly life seemed, I never considered suicide an option. I had seen firsthand the emotional devastation suicide did to those around the perpetrator. A friend had once called it the most cowardly act imaginable, and his wise words stayed with me.

Even more importantly, I thought of my parents thousands of miles away. They already had buried one child, and I had seen them carry that burden of grief through the years. I knew they loved me unconditionally, and I could never inflict such cruelty on them.

My wonderful friends also gave me a hand up. They put up with my dismal company and my hours of complaining, going out of their way to draw me out of myself. They did some extraordinary things, like the birthday when they pooled their resources to buy me a plane ticket to visit my out-of-state grandparents.

I got better, ran off to Alaska with the nicest guy in the world and lived happily ever after.

And although I feel I understand what depressed people endure, I doubt that I will ever suffer that profound sadness again.

Every year, when Thanksgiving comes around, I try to look past the "food thing" to the deeper theme of gratitude.

What I like to do, time permitting, is use the week to send out "thank you" cards to the people who make our lives better. It's an excuse to give thanks to community volunteers, dedicated public servants, the neighbor who pulled your car out of the ditch, the teacher who stayed after on his own time to talk about junior's problems or the store clerk who always provides that special, personal service with a smile.

We have a lot to be grateful for in this wacky, wonderful world.

Personally, I give thanks to God for the loving family and great friends who pulled me back from the brink and still brighten my life every day.

Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Clarion.



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