A father’s story of depression and recovery
After driving aimlessly in the dawn, he pulled his car over to the side of the road, walked to the back of the car, crouched and put his mouth to the exhaust pipe of his car. That’s when he knew he’d reached a crisis point.
John Gallagher had always believed that his role was to be strong and successful – in his career and as a husband and father of four children. But, ten years ago, the stresses of his life began to overwhelm him. A financial analyst, he worried about his job as his company began making cuts. He’d had a successful career, but had always hidden his fear that he wasn’t good enough.
“‘Fake it ’til you make it,’ I’d tell myself, but doing so was very stressful to me,” John said. He worried about being fired. His job became more demanding, his confidence plummeted. His anxiety got worse and he often felt scared, irritated, angry and confused. It was becoming more difficult to function. He felt powerless.
Driving to work one day, he snapped. “The thought of inhaling gas fumes gave me a sense of peace,” he said. After a few minutes, he lifted his mouth from the pipe and got back in his car. “I reminded myself that my link with God, though thin and worn, was still intact… I knew—at least theoretically—that my life was to live, not to take. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted this pain to end.”
But, after he was taken to a hospital, he became more despondent.
“Alone in my room, I reflected on my loving family, thinking that the best of life was now in the past,” John remembers. “I arose from the chair, and approached the window. The raw throbbing in my head had dulled my thought process; I acted without much thought beyond the drive to escape. Numb from everything but pain, I looked down. I can do it, I thought. I will do it.
And then he jumped.
He fell almost 45 feet, and landed feet first on cement, his legs crushed and broken beneath him.
“Rage exploded inside me. ‘I’m still alive,’ I cried. I could not even kill myself. I lay on the asphalt, bleeding and cursing my survival.”
Before I slipped into unconsciousness, I saw Trish’s terrified face staring out from the window above me.
John spent five weeks in a psychiatric unit, with 24-hour security to prevent another suicide attempt. With the guidance of a psychiatrist, he began the process of healing his mind, while an orthopedic surgeon worked on healing his legs. His wife, Patricia, was by his side.
Cognitive therapy and medications helped and his friends and family supported him. But it was a difficult time, and it took a toll on his marriage. He and Patricia lived apart for five years before reconciling.
He and his family kept his illness and his suicide attempt a secret, telling people only that he had been in an accident. “I didn’t want anyone to know,” he said. “This, in retrospect, was somewhat selfish. I didn’t realize the burden this placed on my family.”
“I came to the conclusion that God spared me for two reasons, John says. “So that I could heal and be a father for my kids, and so that I could help other families deal with comparable experiences. I began thinking that sharing our story might help others break out of this pattern of self-imposed suffering.”
John, Patricia and their children are now reaching out to others, speaking to groups and on radio programs, and through his new book No More Secrets: A Family Speaks About Depression, Anxiety And Attempted Suicide.
“I never would have chosen the path of pain I have walked,” he says. “But now, I can see how that path served to strengthen our family bond and to deepen our appreciation of the spiritual side of life. … God indeed, works in mysterious ways! Our family’s journey is proof of that.”