Op/ed: Depression and suicide - a survivor's story

By Britton Barthold

Darien High Class of ‘16

The following deeply personal account of a struggle with depression and suicide was shared with The Darien Times by Darien High grad Britton Barthold. Britton wrote it in response to last week’s story about Lily Genovese’s efforts to raise suicide awareness after the loss of her cousin. Britton was on the football team and editor of the Neirad. He also coaches. Here is his story.

It doesn't just go away. After battling with depression for over half a decade, I had finally come to the point where I knew I could not go on. Sitting in a car outside the stadium that I worked in for the Indiana Hoosiers football team, I decided it was time to end it.

I first encountered depression as an 11 year old sixth grader at Middlesex Middle School. I had my first suicidal thoughts a year later. As a middle schooler, I was quiet and as some people put it, “odd”. I played sports like the majority of my classmates, but didn't quite fit in with everyone else. Was it the glasses that I wore for two years before I begged my parents to let me get contacts, or was it the fact that I wasn't the best athlete on the field?

It didn’t matter to me, I just wasn't like the rest. 12 years old, I thought about killing myself for the first time, but couldn't figure out if my brothers pellet gun had the power to kill me. I paced back and forth on the idea, but eventually decided against it. So I battled on, trying to rid myself of my demons while keeping quiet the entire way.

• Break the Silence — it's time to remove the suicide stigma

The main issue of those who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses is just that. The fear of being judged by those around us is incredible, so we stay tucked away in a sheet of darkness figuring that it’ll eventually go away.  But that's the thing. It doesn’t just go away. When we think we have climbed over the wall of terror that had blocked out the sun for so long, we encounter another one, just as big. Eventually, as in my case too, we grow tired of climbing and battling, and finally lose hope all together.

Through high school, my problems only got worse. Academic pressure, athletic pressure along with social pressure weighed down so hard that it nearly pushed me to my breaking point. I seemed normal on the outside, as I was a member of the football team and had plenty of friends. In my mind though, along with probably everyone else, I had to be like my classmates to fit in  and be accepted. So I did. But I wasn’t me, which only added to my self-hatred and disdain for myself.

Like many before me, my problems grew to the point where I only could find way to fix them. I turned to the bottle, and didn't look back for nearly two years. From my senior year of high school into my one semester at Indiana University, I drank my sorrows away. It started with only a couple of beers a night, but by the summer going into college I was drinking 10-12 beers in two hours, and then going home to drown in my pain.

It didn't stop when I got to college, even though I thought it would. I had gotten my dream job of working for a Division I football program, but threw the opportunity away because of my abuse and battles. Two weeks into school, I decided I couldn't go on. My drinking and depression had reached its boiling point, and I knew I had to get help. Yet I didn't, due to the terror of admitting my imperfections. I lied to my parents, telling them that everything was going fine and that my classes were great. They weren't great, because I stopped going all together. For the final months of my fall semester, I worked for the football team, got home, and drank, completely ignoring the classes I was required to go to. By November, I was going through two to three bottles of vodka in a five day stretch by myself, and continued to trek towards rock bottom.

When I did, I ended up in that car on that December evening. Sitting in the driver's seat, I had accepted myself as a complete failure. A failure of a son, a failure of a brother… a failure as a human being. I lifted the gun I had stolen from a friend to my head, and took a deep breath. With one final yell of defiance, I went to pull the trigger.

Eight months later, I quit drinking, and began to take steps against the beasts that had haunted my mind for years.

In the end, I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’m still alive today. Unfortunately, we live in a society where mental illness is considered a burden, and those who suffer from it are just people with “issues.”

My brother made a great point the other day, saying “When you break your wrist, people rush to come sign your cast. If you admit to being depressed, everyone runs away.

Suffering from depression is like no other pain, and is far more painful than that of a broken bone. The sheer loneliness that comes with it is unbearable, especially when you feel like those around you just don’t care. We go out in public and act like everything is okay, but inside we are a broken song set on repeat for months, even years. We stare at ourselves in the mirror, telling ourselves over and over again to “get over it”, like it’s something temporary that can be fixed with a snap of our fingers. I wish, but it doesn’t just go away.

I think about that December night almost every single day. Something stopped me that night from taking my own life. I thank God everyday for whatever it was, because I wouldn’t be alive to spread this message. Now, I dedicate my days to working with  and coaching kids in order to make sure nobody suffers the way I suffered, and hoping that kids today are willing to be more open about the issues that we face on a daily basis.

For the parents reading, you can’t physically see depression in your child's eyes. Just like I did, it is hidden inside of them in order to create the illusion that everything is okay, when in reality nothing is. I encourage you to talk to your child everyday, and encourage them to be more open about what is going on in their lives too.

We are put on this Earth to change it for good, no matter what people say. We all have the ability to do something amazing. But if we go on to shy away from those who suffer on a daily basis, we will continue to lose amazing people every single day.

“We are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on some highway. And if in some way we are, don't worry, we only got out to walk and get gas. We are graduating members of the class of ‘We Made It’.” - Shane Koyczan