My Battle With Post-Traumatic Stress Rages On

29 Jul

“Day after day, I’m more confused,

Yet I look for the light through the pouring rain,

You know, that’s a game that I hate to lose,

And I’m feeling the strain,

Ain’t it a shame?”

             –Dobie Gray, “Drift Away”, 1973

 _______________________________________________________

On September 8th, 2010, 8 days after Jeff took his first Celexa tablet, I was placing the key in my San Francisco hotel room door when Carey called with the news that Jeff had just told her he felt hopeless and was having “bad thoughts.” And to take those thoughts one step further, he had Googled information on the Bear Mountain Bridge. I spoke with Jeff, reminded him that he was the one who made me a father for the first time, and pleaded with him to chill out until I got home the next day.

2015-07-27_0

Since then, I’ve tried to keep my number of business trips to San Francisco to a minimum, but I haven’t been able to avoid it completely. With memories of that 2010 trip still fresh, my visits over the last four years have been anxiety-filled yet thankfully uneventful. Until April of this year.

On April 29th, I was sitting alone in San Francisco having dinner in my hotel’s restaurant, reflecting on the previous evening’s panel discussion on suicide prevention in which I participated, when I noticed it was about 11 pm back home. Drew was scheduled to work until 10 that night, and so I impulsively texted Carey just to confirm he was home. She replied that he wasn’t so I assumed he had to work late or had gone out with the other coaches. With an early start time at work the next day, I figured he wouldn’t be out much longer.

As an EMT, Carey gets texts every time there’s an ambulance call in our area, even if she’s not on call at the time. The next message I received from her at about 11:30 pm informed me that there had been an accident on the Saw Mill Parkway southbound at the Chappaqua exit, which is precisely where Drew would have been driving to get home, and there had also been a “rock slide” onto the parkway. There are rock walls in certain spots alongside that parkway, and if there was a slide, these weren’t little rocks. They would have been more like boulders.

I immediately called Drew, and the call went straight to voicemail. His phone battery was dead.The temperature in San Francisco was in the mid-60s that evening, but at that moment, my body started to shiver uncontrollably. I was freezing. I paid the check and ran outside the hotel searching for warmth, but I couldn’t stop shivering. I texted Carey to let me know immediately when she learned anything, but she was already pulling out of our driveway, clad in her bathrobe, to make the short drive to the accident scene to look for him.

When I didn’t hear from her between 11:30 and 11:45 pm, I became certain that the worst had happened. Any parent would have been concerned if their son was scheduled to work until 10:00, was 25 minutes from home, wasn’t home by almost midnight, and they knew there was a terrible accident on the road he’d be taking. The nuance in my case, though, was that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had me convinced that I had lost another son. Carey then called from the car to tell me that the top story on CBS radio was that the Saw Mill Parkway had been shut down due to the rock slide/car accident in Chappaqua. She realized she couldn’t get on the parkway and thus would not be able to locate Drew.

saw mill rock slide 2

The common sense reaction to that update would have been to breathe a sigh of relief that Drew had most likely been just stuck on the closed road with a dead phone. My reaction, the PTSD reaction, was to assume he was the one in the accident. I waited for further word.

But there was no word. Just dead silence. By midnight, I pictured Carey on the side of the road sobbing over what she had discovered and trying to gather herself before calling me. Again. I was 2,500 miles from home, and I literally couldn’t take it anymore. I texted Carey that I was ready for the truth. And I braced myself.

Please say something text

The higher probability outcome had occurred. Drew had been stuck on the closed parkway and was only able to get home by following other drivers who backed up onto an entrance ramp to exit the Saw Mill.

I wish I could say that this incident was a random, infrequent occurrence, but unfortunately it’s not. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Carey gets these ambulance texts all the time, and there are often instances when accidents occur in the general vicinity of where one of our kids could possibly be. Though Carey is not prone to assuming the worst when being notified of accidents, she understandably tries to account for her flock.

Carey text everyone accounted for

My bouts with PTSD symptoms can occur at any time and any place. The most recent example was both unexpected and terrifying. I was at my desk at work searching for an old document to which I needed to refer, and while reviewing the document list, my eyes locked in on one that I saved on November 9th 2010 at 3:42 pm.

Dear God.

On Jeff’s death certificate, the time of death on that day was estimated to be between 3:45 and 4:00. Not only did I begin to experience shortness of breath, but my mind went into an absolute frenzy at the mere sight of that date and time.

nov. 9th document

As I was clicking the mouse on November 9th, 2010 to save that document, where was my precious son? Was he driving over the Bear Mountain Bridge at that second? Had he already parked, and was he still in the car psyching himself up to take the plunge? Was he taking his last precious breaths? Was he in the air? Was he already dead? Was he thinking about aborting the plan? Why was I at work saving a document and not with him?

So much pain. So many questions. No definitive answers.

And of course, I continue to suffer from what I know is irrational nervousness when I can’t reach one of the boys. Drew recently had a storage issue with his phone and as a result was not receiving every text that was sent to him. That resulted in several PTSD-driven anxious moments (separate from the Saw Mill Parkway incident) when I made terrible and misguided assumptions. Both he and Brett have been quite tolerant and understanding, though earlier this year, Brett pointed out that I need to be more realistic in my expectations for their response time:

Brett just texted me

Brett cab text

__________________________________________________________________________

I’ve had a few recent conversations with people who either suffer from depression or are close to people who suffer. They’ve shared with me that many people who have suicidal thoughts truly believe that they would be lifting a huge burden from their loved ones by killing themselves.

Such thinking is terribly misguided and has excruciating consequences. Instead of relieving a burden, those who commit suicide are inflicting extreme and everlasting pain on the people who love them the most. Dozens have thanked me for writing about suicide’s collateral damage in my recent Journal News article, because they felt it was crucial for that side of the story to be told.

I’m certain that Jeff’s horrific decision wasn’t driven by a feeling that he had become a burden to us. He never indicated that, either verbally during his final two months, or in the notes he left behind. Jeff actually began the last paragraph of his final note to our family by apologizing. He wrote:

“Mom and Dad, Drew and Brett, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry. Ultimately, I succumbed. I was too weak to forge ahead, too hopeless to keep on dreaming. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel…I have prayed to God for forgiveness, and I hope that He will answer my prayers. I too have prayed for each of you, and in spite of this decision, I care about you all deeply. I hope to see you all in Heaven, reunited, one big happy family for all eternity. Until then, may peace be with you all.

All My Love,

Jeffrey”

Jeff final note closing

A young man who literally had it all was too hopeless to keep dreaming and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t get more baffling or tragic than that.

Jeff’s apology clearly indicates an understanding that he was about to inflict pain on his family. I don’t, however, think that in his weakest moments at the end, he had the ability to imagine the depth and lasting nature of that pain. I’ve wondered if he was able to watch me from Heaven as I gasped for breath in front of my computer screen at the sight of the November 9th, 3:42 pm saved document, or if he saw me shivering in San Francisco as I awaited news about Drew. I’m quite certain that if he did witness those things, he was devastated, because I know how much Jeff loved us. He was simply not of sound mind on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010.

________________________________________________________________________________________

My war against PTSD rages on. I’m not sure what set of circumstances needs to exist for me to one day declare victory, but consistent with my belief that it is harmful to create artificial deadlines for achieving goals, I will not do so here. But I will win.

I’ll win because I’m strong and because, like Jeff, I too have it all. I have an amazing wife and two precious sons here on earth, and they are all working with me on this. Their constant expressions of support, like Brett’s text after my Journal News article had been published and Drew’s beautiful words in his cards, mean more than they can ever know.

brett your article is great

Carey and I have been married nearly 30 years now, and we continue to lift each other up every day. How can I not feel confident of victory when I receive texts like this:

carey strength text

Millions of people fight various levels of adversity every day, and unlike Jeff, most of them don’t succumb. Along with my enormous love for Jeff, I’m sad to say that I harbor anger toward him for not trying harder to find his personal reservoir of strength deep inside him. He didn’t fight hard enough for himself or for those who are now left behind mourning him, and he deprived us of a lifetime of incredible times together.

And he left me with PTSD.

After all those November 9th calls that went straight to voicemail, all the unanswered texts, and the slow realization that it was all over, how could it be any other way?

Jeff I'm so scared

Literally begging text

Jeff may have wished for peace to be with us all, but that is not to be. By executing on his deeply flawed view as to how to achieve peace for himself, he took it away from the rest of us. Those who contemplate suicide must understand this. Suicide is irrevocable and has long lasting consequences for loved ones who still have a life to live. It obliterates their peace.

Thus, I will continue to fight a war that I never signed up for, and to answer Dobie Gray’s question—yes, it is a damn shame.

–Rich Klein

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5 Responses to “My Battle With Post-Traumatic Stress Rages On”

  1. Allie July 29, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Rich,

    I have read your blog for a few years now and have wanted to comment for a while. In a way, you have helped me cope with my PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I could write a novel, but i will keep it short. Thank you for sharing your, your family’s, and Jeff’s story.

    A

  2. jodeenovakcm July 29, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    god, rich. i am trembling. you ARE winning it, as each and every single day that you forge ahead (no need to look any further ahead that that) is a victory in and of itself. you are living the mantra expressed so beautifully and unforgettably by the irrepressible jimmy v, who fought a different war, but gave everyone who fights a personal enemy a battle cry to remember … “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” yep, you got this, my friend.

  3. anne July 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Everybody carries things with them. Sometimes it is a pebble and sometimes it is a boulder. When I bumped into you yesterday we talked a little about the boys, where they were headed and what they are doing. What I should have told you is that you are making a difference. That people like me and my husband are reading about your thoughts and they have influenced the way we are thinking about situations and the important things in our lives.
    I did not see the boulder of PTSD that you have been lugging around with you. Please know that if we can help you lift that weight in any way –we are here. By telling the story and being open, you are helping others carry their own. I only hope you realize how important this is.
    As I write this I also remember I said that no one should ever underestimate your amazing wife. You were talking about how she can lift up major weight in her role helping people as an EMT and how proud you are of her. I am smiling thinking of how strong you both are.

  4. Jean July 30, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    You are an amazing man and I want you to know that you have any army of friends behind you. Your strength is a guiding light for so many, including me.

  5. rob reuben September 2, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    there are not too many people that know what kind of a terrific person you are. I say a prayer for you all the time. they say everything happens for a reason-im not sure I believe that but in the end,the good guys always win I love you

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