This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
It’s been a while since I posted one of these “Snapshots.” I thought maybe it was time to dust off this series, and keep it going. This post is the story of how I got into regular therapy with my first long-term counselor. I’ve already written about how my depression got to the point of suicide, and I’ve already written about the amazing experience I had at First Hospital Wyoming Valley in the aftermath of that attempt. But that wasn’t when I started seeing a counselor regularly. Sure, I did see somebody for a month or two after my hospital stay, but it was actually about ten years later that I finally saw the need for ongoing therapy.
It started with a wedding, a wedding that was making me upset.
But it actually started at a different wedding, about a year earlier, a beautiful wedding on the Jersey shore. A college friend of mine was married that day, and so a lot of Muhlenberg grads were there. Among them were me, my wife Heather, and Pete and Jean, who were engaged to be married the following year. Pete was (and is) one of my closest friends, and Jean was (and is) one of Heather’s closest friends. All four of us met at Muhlenberg, and it was a remarkable and wonderful coincidence that we ended up in two couples like this. Being at this beach wedding just a few months before their own wedding, Pete and Jean certainly had their own nuptials in mind. Unfortunately, I had their wedding in mind as well. Particularly the makeup of their wedding party.
Ah, yes. The wedding party. My wife Heather was to be matron of honor. And I…was to be just an ordinary groomsman. Because another college friend, Eric, was to be the best man. Not me. Eric would walk down the aisle with Heather, not me. Eric would be next to Pete in the photos, not me. And it’s because it was Eric that I was upset. If it had been anyone else, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. Here’s the thing – Eric, Pete, and I were inseparable in college. We called ourselves the “triumvirate.” We argued and fought, but we were brothers. We were equals. There was something holy about the three of us, something special beyond any combination of two of us, a trust that couldn’t be broken. But now it felt to me that Pete had broken that trust. It didn’t matter to me what role Eric and I had in Pete’s wedding, so long as they were equivalent. But they weren’t. To me, best man was a higher level of honor than groomsman. And I was pissed.
I tried to be calm about it. It didn’t matter, right? It was just one of those things, right? I kept telling myself that in truth, Eric would be far better at all the best-man functions than I (which is true). I kept telling myself that this isn’t a statement about our relative worth. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t feel this way. I tried to pretend I didn’t. I tried to play it off as a joke for a while. But as time went on, the jokes got less and less funny, and more and more awkward. By the day of the wedding on the shore, my passive-aggressive behavior had been going on for a few months. And the last straw happened that day. During the reception, with perhaps too much alcohol running through my veins, I said something that went way too far.
And Pete called me out on it. He took me outside, and told me I had to stop this. He told me how upset he was. He told me that he needed me to figure out how to get over this. I cried. I apologized. I told him that I didn’t know why I was so upset about this. I didn’t know why I was so angry. And I promised him that I would get some help.
And within a week, I called Council for Relationships, a counseling center in the Delaware Valley. My counseling relationship with Lucy began with trying to work out what my anger was all about. She helped me with that, and we kept meeting for about five years. Thanks to her, I was able to unearth all kinds of things from my past, and start the process of working through them.
I’m so grateful to Pete for forgiving me for my behavior, and also for having the courage and the compassion to call me out on this. That was the catalyst that started me on a journey of lifelong healing.