Tony Vagneur: Living through depression, but others aren’t so fortunate | AspenTimes.com

Tony Vagneur: Living through depression, but others aren’t so fortunate

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

"Well, I think I finally found me a sure-fire way to forget

It's so simple, I'm surprised I hadn't done thought of it before yet

It's foolproof, well, it's foolhardy, maybe, but who knows

Anyway, here I am walking toward where the cold dark water flows

'Cos all it takes is

One dying and a burying

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One dying and a burying

Some crying, six carrying me

I wanna be free."

Roger Miller 1997

Depression is behind a lot of suicides, so the experts say, although suicide is so complicated, no one can really say for sure. Like the man who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, remembering that as soon as he was airborne, he felt the regret of his actions.

Depression nabbed me from the age of 11, but no one knew it. My grandfather, the beacon who kept me engaged in so much of ranch life, died in the spring, and no one ever talked to me about it. Maybe they thought I was too young. It could have been so simple.

As a straight-A student, one of the all-time highest scorers on the achievement tests the school threw our way every once in a while, I was a kid with a predicted bright future, whatever that might have been. As I entered seventh-grade the next fall, it all fell apart.

I was a terror to the teachers, was flunking almost every subject I had and didn't give a damn. The principal's office was my second home for much of junior and senior high school. Fortunately, it seemed I was smart enough to redeem myself just before the axe of expulsion fell. The connection was never made between my behavior and granddad's death.

My dad sold the original family ranch as I graduated from high school, which became the crowning execution of all the dreams I'd had for myself, all the decisions I had made for my future. That, coupled with the simmering depression over the death of Gramps, turned me into a kind of a wild man, partying and living the night life all I could stand.

Somehow, I never could land, could never put it all together. A college professor offered me a partnership in his successful public relations firm, but I wasn't interested. Graduation day, after the fall semester and I was right back in Aspen, living the '70s life, with some bad days and nights thrown in.

Black depression would sometimes overtake me, especially when I'd been drinking. I didn't even know how to describe it. There was the night, all alone, I took the lever-action .30-.30 off the wall and toyed with the idea. Too tired, too drunk, was my excuse for not doing it. The next day, the memory scared the living hell out of me, but it never occurred to me to get help. Never told my wife, never told anyone, until today.

In 1977, the dark cloud of my brother's recent suicide hung over me like an impending storm. One night, after downing my fair share of alcohol, I called a suicide hotline, reaching out about my depression and trying to get a clue of what might have happened if my brother had called for help. I was told to sleep it off and get help the next day.

It became crystal clear, at least to me, that my brother had been in it alone, a cold, chilling spot I suspect most potential suicides feel they are in.

When my brother died, I thankfully was past the idea of suicide, but not past the depression, which I tried to beat back by myself. I built an electric train set-up on our indoor back porch and spent countless hours and dollars working on that. For a time, I was afraid, scared to do much of anything, the specter of unfounded, sudden death staring me in the face.

Thankfully, work was a safe place for me. My evenings were spent building models for my train set and drinking. I went through it alone, never told anyone, but I got to experience first-hand the devastating effects suicide can have on the survivors. It likely cost me my first marriage.

An old accordion that had belonged to a great-aunt somehow helped to get my mind turned around. Learning to play it gave me something else to do, and my friends Buck and Chris let me play with them on various gigs around the valley. Life began to look much better from that point on — even the divorce was survivable. A couple of years of therapy didn't hurt, either.

Sharon Raggio, leader of Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital, said in a recent letter to the editor that sharing such stories may be helpful in preventing some people from looking to suicide for relief. It's worth a try.

For the past 30-some years, my life has been good, few regrets, no depression and wonderful family and friends to share it with. I might have missed that.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.

SEEKING HELP

If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, there are resources available locally and nationally.

Aspen Hope Center provides a free, 24-hour confidential Hopeline for anyone who needs help or is in a crisis. Reach the crisis line at 970-925-5858.

Mind Springs Health has A 24/7 crisis service line at 888-207-4004.

Colorado Crisis Services is a free, 24-hour organization that helps with mental health, substance abuse or emotional help. Confidential services are available at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a 24/7 support line available by calling 1-800-273-8255.