by John Gallagher
Ed. Note: Nine years ago John Gallagher of Worcester tried to kill himself — not once, but twice. Today, he is dedicating his life (“with God’s help,” he says) to helping others cope with depression and its impact on families. John and his wife, Patricia, are authors of the book, “No More Secrets,” about their harrowing experiences. Here is part two of John’s story:
We were a nice suburban family. We didn’t want any negative vibes showing on us. I didn’t even tell my father what had really happened. So there was a lot of pressure on the kids because they weren’t allowed to tell the truth. And everybody was asking them questions. “What happened? What happened? What happened?”
“Oh, he fell down the steps.” Or “He was in a car accident.” We tried to conceal everything because we wanted to save face. Plus, I didn’t want to talk about it at home. I didn’t want to have to relive it. But my wife wanted to keep going through it to try to heal as a family.
I wanted to get on with my life. My family wanted to talk about it and work things out. They felt that by talking about it, things would heal. I didn’t agree with that at all. I felt that trying to put it in the past would be a lot better for me.
That was a burden on the kids, especially the three girls, Robin, Katelyn and Kristen. Two of them were in high school when I tried to leap to my death, and one of them was in the sixth grade. They were difficult at times. Not big trouble, but they wanted to move out, be with their friends, live independently. Then last January, I saw an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a 17-year-old boy who jumped from the ninth floor of an apartment building in the town right next to ours. And survived. After reading that article, I felt it was my time to help people who were depressed, suicidal. It was time for me to try to give back what I had learned from what I’ve been through.
I feel that my purpose now is to help other people be aware of the terrible symptoms of depression. I want to save people and families from going through the turmoil that I put my family through. I don’t want to see anyone commit suicide or try to. I want to help them.
So I have been speaking — at churches, Rotary clubs, synagogues. I tell them the whole story of going from having a great lifestyle with my wife and kids in a suburban home to disaster striking and having to climb up the mountain again. And then I give them my symptoms: heart palpitations, a pressurized headache that wouldn’t go away, clammy hands, mood changes, behavioral changes.
I didn’t have any energy. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I didn’t want to spend time with the kids. And I tell them my biggest problem was I didn’t know how to cope with depression. I didn’t know how to exercise my mind and my body every day, eat properly and “self talk” so I would feel better about things.
Everything that I looked at was a major catastrophe. I didn’t know how to not sweat the small stuff. Also, I advise them to seek professional help but to go to a psychiatrist rather than a family practitioner. Psychiatrists will try different antidepressants on you until they find one that works. Mine tried several on me and learned that Celexa relieved most of my symptoms.
I still take 40 milligrams every day, and over the years, I’ve learned to not take things so seriously. And that’s it. That’s all that you can do. At the end, members of the audience come up, and some of them hold me and embrace me and thank me for having the guts to speak freely about my suicide attempts. And I say, “It’s taken me nine years to be able to get up and speak about it. I think it is God that’s helped me to get the courage.”
I’m not a speaker; I hate speaking. But I’ll speak all day long if I feel like I’m going to help somebody. And Trish has put together a Website (speakingaboutdepression.com). I think I’ve helped people. When I speak, they tell me they feel like they have hope and direction. And I’ve also helped my family because after I went public with my problems, my own kids were finally able to talk about what really happened. And I think that is where the real healing started.
We have a purpose now. We go to church all the time, and we pray as a family. We’re so thankful that our marriage is restored. We have that “attitude of gratitude.” We’re thankful that I’m able to function, able to work, able to be a father once again. We’ve come such a long way. But it’s not us who did it.
It’s God helping us to make the right decisions. It’s God helping us to go to the right therapists. It’s God helping me to say the right words to my children. People who jump 35 to 40 feet out of a building don’t live. And if they do live, they’re normally paralyzed or severely hurt for life. I wasn’t. My wife said to me one time, “God gave you a second chance for a reason. God works in mysterious ways.” I hope we can be the husband and wife who can go to churches and speak to help other families.