Are we living lives of quiet desperation?

… who out there is truly feeling alone?

I’m not a big believer in coincidences.  I am however, a big believer in clues.

I think our lives are littered with clues… and usually we either dismiss them or are completely oblivious to them.  Who you think doles out those clues depends on your spiritual beliefs.  For me, I’ve often joked that  God starts with pebbles and it’s about the time He’s placed a boulder in my path that I finally notice.

Who leaves the clues isn’t my point.  It’s the fact that they are there that matters.   This is a post about clues and how often we miss them.  And maybe something we can do about it.

For me, clue one is that Henry David Thoreau‘s quote “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” has been weighing heavy on my heart for the past month or so. It keeps appearing in odd places like Google searches and I find my mind drifting to it and lingering on it, both in my head and in my deepest soul.

I think Thoreau was right.  And I think his statement is actually more true today than ever before.  What makes his words so haunting is how horribly isolated they sound.  A  heart filled with a loneliness and hopelessness that is cloaked in silence.

In a world where we are constantly reminded of how many friends, followers and fans we have — how can that be?  We’re busier than ever before.  We check our email 37 times a day and update our statuses around the clock.  The chatter is constant.   The sharing never ending.  And we like it that way.  We like getting to know each other.  But are we really?

For many of us, our financial/professional success is tied to all of these interactions and to the persona/brand we create.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that it’s fake.  But it is selective.  Just like there’s an inside and an outside voice when you’re a kid — we understand the social norms and most of us stay inside them.

But what if on the inside, surrounded by 2,000 friends, 10,000 followers and a bevy of fans — you feel all alone?  Maybe that constant buzz and busyness allows you to keep people at bay. What if that quiet desperation is slowly enveloping you to the point that you might suffocate — but you don’t dare let anyone see it.

It’s so much easier to hide today in the flurry of quips, 140 character chatter and the constant activity.  Which is also what makes it all the more lonely.  It’s like being at a huge party and needing to cry.  There’s no way you can pull that off — so you stuff those feelings down deeper and you become the life of the party to distract yourself and everyone else from how you’re really feeling.

Clue two came today with word of the tragic suicide of Trey Pennington, a very talented writer, speaker and a well known social media personality.  Trey was everyone’s friend.  One of the good guys.  He was always helping someone achieve a goal or try something new. I “knew” him but I didn’t know him. We’d never met in person. We shared some brief exchanges on Twitter and Facebook — but like many others who mourn his loss — I only saw the parts of his heart that he felt safe to expose in public.

I think there are a lot of Trey Pennington’s walking around out there — lifting up and supporting other people, partially because it’s who they are but also because it’s more comfortable than letting the attention turn their way.  And yet inside, they’re barely  making it through the day.  They are drowning in their own quiet desperation.

Clue three came in the form of an incredibly brave blog post called The Difference Between Trey Pennington and Me by Bridget Pilloud.  She tells of a time in her life when she had decided to commit suicide and the one thing that stopped her is that someone noticed her depression despite the mask and called her on it.  I believe that blog post will save a life.  Maybe many.  It made me cry.

Why in God’s name am I telling you all of this on a marketing blog?  Honestly, I have no idea why and maybe I never will.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  I’ve almost deleted it several times.  But somehow, the boulders are so big that I can’t.  So I’ve stopped fighting it.  If I lose some subscribers, so be it.

For some reason, I think you need to hear this. Or maybe I need to say it.

Trey’s friends, both casual and very close, are writing about him tonight as you can imagine.  They’re telling wonderful stories, talking about how he touched their lives and they are loving him well.  It’s a fitting tribute to a man who has earned the love and respect he’s being offered. The more casual of his friends are of course, saying that they wished they’d known.

Maybe that’s what’s driving this post for me.

I think we have this stereotypical idea of what a depressed person looks and behaves like.  The prescription drug commercials tell us that they can’t get out of bed or shower.  They sit on their couch in their robe, staring blankly into space.  They certainly aren’t successful.  They aren’t the life of the party.  They aren’t charismatic and busy serving others.

But they are.  And I think they are all around us.  But we’ve been fooled because they’re afraid for us to know.

Despite the suffocation of the desperation — they don’t want us to know.  It’s a shame-filled secret.  But they also desperately need our help.  They need us to ask because they have no idea how to tell us.  Or if they should.

If you’re a little worried about someone or you see hints of something going on underneath — ask.  And ask again.  If you know someone is going through a tough patch, don’t accept the quick “I’m fine” as they turn the conversation back to you.

Please pay attention and watch for the clues.  I’m hoping you’ll be more alert to them and brave enough to act on them.

Thanks for being patient while I moved the boulders off the path.  Some clues are too big to ignore.

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