Business travel has its ups and downs. The location may change but the script does not change much. In my case, I spend my days in meeting rooms. My lunches and evenings are spent hanging out with the same people with whom I am meeting. Not surprisingly over time, I learn much more about the people I am traveling with than I expected. Familiarity and much conversation yield intimate insights into someone you would never otherwise have. Perhaps the mere fact that we see each other so rarely yields a safe space where we feel freer to disclose intimate facts about ourselves.
Because I have not done a great job of it, I tend to admire people who overcome great adversity. Hearing how they surmounted their problems puts my own personal challenges in perspective. I have occasionally written an intimate entry or two about other people’s personal hells that I have stumbled across during my life’s journey. This story involves a woman with two daughters. Her husband was an alcoholic, deeply depressed and very suicidal. As you might expect his behavior was deeply toxic. Her two daughters were deeply affected by their father’s behaviors. I was not surprised to learn that as a result both her girls developed suicidal feelings too. The job of straightening out this situation fell squarely on her lap because no one else would deal with it.
As a result, she and her husband are now separated, likely forever. Her husband as well as her daughters are now in a much better space. Her husband is no longer suicidal but because his behavior was so toxic, she will not allow him to live with the girls again. Both girls have been in therapy. They are currently enmeshed in their chaotic and hormone laden teenage years. However, they both still have suicidal impulses from time to time. To cope she has spent years working part time to make sure she was around for her daughters when she was needed. Much of her free time is involved not just in making sure they successfully navigate through middle and high schools, but tending to their complex physical, emotional and mental needs. In short, she is a mother in the best sense of the world dealing adroitly with a complex situation for which she had no training.
I can relate. Mental health issues are out of the closet these days. I have had to deal with mental health issues in my family too, and I was often clueless about what to do in these circumstances too. I felt like I was probably the least capable person on the planet to deal with them. Fortunately, no one in my family has ever seriously considered suicide, let alone tried to act on them. This was fortunate for all of us because dealing with their issues I found extremely challenging. The effort largely consumed me. I was barely keeping up with their issues as they came forward.
Perhaps, like this woman, had my family had suicidal issues I too would have risen to the occasion. I like to think so. The reality for me was that hanging in there during challenging years exacted a heavy personal toll. At one point, I became depressed too. I had many days when I felt like I could just not deal with it for yet another day. Thoughts of escape became omnipresent. It no longer sounded so bad to be married to a Stepford wife. Humans tend to be such complex and multifaceted creatures. Moreover, each person that I knew intimately seemed to be a Pandora’s box of complex problems. I coped with by projecting a calm demeanor and a lot of bravado. On the inside, I was eaten up by these problems. Underlying it all was a heaping dose of guilt. I had promised in my marriage vows to support my wife. As a father, I was legally and morally bound to care for my daughter too.
The reality is that those with mental illnesses rarely recover completely. Fortunately, my family and I are in a better mental and emotional state now. I take some pride in hanging in there for them when they needed me. I hope my doggedness resulted in their recoveries. Seeing your intimates in a better space becomes the only reward. No one comes by to award medals for personal valor or to place a gold star on your forehead.
Therefore, I coped, as did the woman with whom I am traveling. There is one crucial difference between us though. She is resilient. While I hung in there because I had to, my life flirted with mental and physical exhaustion. She hung in there too but like a thoroughbred, she seems not quite so winded or exhausted by her experiences as I was by mine. And this makes me wonder where this inner strength comes from. It also makes me one of her secret admirers.
If you have seen pictures of the Dalia Lama, the spiritual head of Buddhism, you can get some idea of what it is like to see someone wholly at peace with themselves. The cares and concerns of the world buffet them too. Yet, the Dalia Lama is filled with a sense of peace, happiness and inner serenity that is unmistakable. The same is true with this woman. Her fundamental nature has not changed. She radiates an inner contentment and a serene joy in simply being alive. Life has both changed her yet somehow left her fundamentally the same. She exudes serenity, an inner personal happiness and a joy of living that is intoxicating. Being around her you cannot help but feel in the presence of a wholly positive spirit. Her smiles are genuinely beatific.
I wonder about the wellspring for this uncorrupted joy of life. Wherever it comes from, I need to drink from that well.