By Joe Dibert
On February 17, 2020, I was at a crossroads, deciding whether I wanted to live or die. After contemplating suicide for two days, it seemed like that was the only answer. I had battled depression for years, but I never told anyone how I was feeling.
I was raised to believe that discussing mental health — or any feelings at all — was a sign of weakness. I was told that the only way to address emotional issues was to “get over it.” So that is what I did. But burying the pain and ignoring my feelings, I would come to learn, was not the answer to my recovery or inner peace.
I internalized my pain and “got by” for years. I got married, raised a beautiful daughter and began work as a probation officer, which I loved. But in the Fall of 2019, I began to feel different, both physically and emotionally. I withdrew from everyone around me, becoming visibly distant, but always pretending that nothing was wrong.
My wife would ask me if I was all right, and I would say yes and come up with an excuse about work or something else. My symptoms, however, continued to intensify; I could feel something was going on in my brain, but I just couldn’t explain it. I was profoundly sad, and I had recurring thoughts of worthlessness. I experienced a constant internal monologue of negative self-talk affirming my low opinion of myself.
About two weeks prior to reaching my crisis point, I told my wife for the first time that I wasn't feeling “right,” and I had made an appointment with a counselor. Due to the counselor’s schedule, I would have to wait for weeks for my appointment.
I told myself I would hold on — but, again, I was lying to myself. The thoughts of suicide became more intense as the days went by, and I waited for the “miracle” of seeing a counselor. The weekend before my appointment, I became so consumed by thoughts of ending my life that I developed a plan to harm myself.
On February 17, 2020, my wife left for work. It was a government holiday, so I stayed home. My daughter was leaving to return to college after visiting home for the weekend. As I watched her drive down the street, I believed that this was going to be the last time I saw her. I started to cry and begged God to help me. I struggled with both wanting and not wanting everything to end.
As I grappled with this inner conflict, a voice told me to call someone. I picked up the phone and called the Indiana University Health psychiatric floor. I told the person on the other line that I was in trouble, and he responded by telling me they did not have any beds and to call outpatient services.
I followed his instructions, but my call to outpatient services went to voicemail. I called the psychiatric floor back and insisted that I desperately needed help, only to be referred to the local emergency room. Finally, I called my wife and told her that I was suicidal. She came home and took me to the hospital.
At the hospital, I completed an evaluation and was admitted to a psychiatric care facility for four days. I was ashamed and humiliated at first. But after the hospitalization and participating in a month-long outpatient treatment program for my depression, I gained a whole new perspective.
Being in a support group with others struggling with the same issue was eye-opening — and, frankly, a relief. With the help of this new community, I was able to cope with my symptoms and learn to pay attention to my feelings. For the first time, I truly understood that I had resources and people who cared about me who were willing to help.
This new perspective, and my subsequent recovery, would not have been possible if I had chosen to end my life. I took a chance on asking for help, and, as a result, I am still here today. I did more than survive — my life has become enjoyable and fulfilling.
Being vulnerable and asking for help is scary, but with the help from the right people, that feeling is short-lived. I hope that by sharing my story of recovery, anyone experiencing symptoms of depression will feel empowered to seek help. I found a way back, and so can you.
Joe Dibert is a probation officer, a proud husband to Beth and a proud father to Lauren. After learning to manage his mental health condition with medication and help from others, he hopes to share his story — as a part of his own recovery and as a tool for helping others in a similar situation.
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