‘And how are you?”, “Fine.”

I am honoured that Michael Landsberg has joined the Collateral Damage Project and will be sharing his story in the book and exhibits.

Michael Ladnsberg’s article, “Landsberg: His Depression and his Friend, Wade Belak” is a must read, especially for men. Michael share’s his experience of being friends with Wade and all the questions that we are left with in wondering ‘why’. Michael challenges us all to be open in talking about depression and that we need to find ways to talk with those that are close to us about what bothers us most.

Here’s a photo of Michael Landsberg sporting a Collateral Damage project t-shirt.

Michael Landsberg; TSN 'Off the Record'.

Michael Landsberg; TSN ‘Off the Record’ sporting a Collateral Damage project t-shirt.

LANDSBERG: HIS DEPRESSION AND HIS FRIEND, WADE BELAK
By Michael Landsberg. September 13, 2011

E-mail, texting and instant messaging all have places in our lives. But I believe I have relied too much on them, often replacing personal contact with letters and words and symbols that are like the Buckingham Palace Grenadier Guards – conveying no emotion, revealing no subtlety. They are zombies devoid of anything meaningful outside of the obvious.

How many times have you wondered while reading a text whether someone was serious or joking, sarcastic or straight? Have you ever wondered when you ask someone how they are, whether fine really means fine?

Fine written in text always looks the same, but in person, on the phone, fine can reveal so much more. I am having a tough time forgiving myself for texting Wade Belak seven days before he died and accepting his fine.

Wade was my buddy. That didn’t make me unique. Wade was everyone’s buddy. Even guys he fought with on the ice liked him. Even guys he scored on liked him, even if that list is pretty short. He was the definition of the big fat jolly guy without the fat. Honestly, I don’t know a soul who met Wade who didn’t immediately like him. He made friends the way most people pick up germs — gathering more every time he touched someone.

I knew Wade walked with a limp. I knew it because he spoke to me about it. I have the same limp. It’s how I refer to depression that doesn’t disable us – even though we feel it every step of our lives.

Wade’s limp, however, was worse than I knew. Seven days before he died, we chatted on e-mail. He had heard an interview I did for TSN Radio about my own depression and he had written, It was good.

I wrote back jokingly, Did you feel sorry for me, that’s what I was looking for.

He responded, I thought you were a big pussy. Ha ha. Who am I to say? I’ve been on happy pills for 4-5 years now.

I wrote back, And how are you?

And Wade wrote back, Fine.

Fine. Ugh.

Fine. It’s four letters, one word. One simple word. No means no we’re told, but fine doesn’t always mean fine. He wasn’t fine. Seven days later he was gone.

I’m looking at my hands. I don’t see any blood, but it’s there. Luminol won’t show it, but my conscience does.

Out, damned spot; Out I say. It’s not that easy.

A Common Bond

Wade came into my life eight years ago when he first appeared on Off the Record. He and I together looked like a photo from World War II. Wade, with his huge size, chiseled features, pale skin and blond hair. And me – eight inches shorter, a million shades darker and with a large, slightly hooked nose. Well, you get the picture.

Despite our many differences, we bonded right away, a friendship based on a mutual ability to make the other laugh. Men show contempt with insults and affection with harsher insults. Wade and I had a no limit, no safe area, no boundaries and never hurt feelings. I loved him for that. And I know he felt the same way.

I’m not sure why Wade confided in me about his depression. I assume it was because I have spoken publicly about mine. Or perhaps, in the code of us depression sufferers, I was a veteran depressive and he was a rookie.

Whatever the reason or reasons, I felt blessed that he shared with me. Sharing something personal with another person is one of the greatest compliments you can give them. It says, I trust you and I feel safe with you. It also says, I know you won’t judge me. Can you truly call someone a friend if you’re afraid they may see you as weak?

This all made me like Wade so much more. I think we end up liking people because of their good traits. Sometimes we end up loving them because of their flaws.

I felt that I knew Wade in a different way than almost anyone else. I knew that his perma-smile was at least partially manufactured. I knew that his constant cheeriness was at least partially faked. It felt good to know this because I too, have done the same things. In that way Wade was the guy I related to perhaps better than anyone in my life. We were both good at fooling people. Like most depression sufferers we are counterfeiters in human emotion. We create fake happiness and for that reason sometimes people can’t spot what’s truly happening inside.

Obviously.

Tragically.

When I close my eyes and think of Wade the only memories I have are of him smiling. I can’t remember anything else. Even knowing that he wasn’t always smiling inwardly, doesn’t change how I see him.

I see him now smiling in my hallway with his daughter Andie on his shoulders. Together they seemed to be 15 feet tall. Wade was one of those dads who couldn’t put his kids down. He was always embracing them as if telling them he loved them wasn’t enough.

I see him smiling and crying having eaten Armageddon chicken wings. I think I called him a big suck.

I see him smiling after my son had whipped him in NHL ‘11 (Not even Wade picked Wade).

I see his huge smile after we won a summer roller hockey championship with him in goal. He took it incredibly seriously. Who takes a pre-game nap for roller hockey?

And I see him smiling — the last time I saw him at our kitchen table eating more pancakes than all of us combined.

When Wade and I were texting on August 24th, he inquired about the documentary I am working on, which is about celebrities with depression. He said, Are you gonna put me on?

I asked, Would you consider sharing your illness with the public. His exact words were, I don’t think I would have a problem going public with it.

He added, I don’t even think my parents really know.

Wade had no idea just how public he would go with his depression.

Trying to Understand

We don’t know what happened to Wade a week later that saw his flame go from brilliant to extinguished in just a few hours, but we know why people usually take their own lives. People kill themselves when the fear of living another moment outweighs the fear of dying at that moment. With Wade, I believe he was struck by a tsunami of depression. In an instant he somehow went from calm to calamitous. Love for family and for life no longer made sense. Instantly one and one was no longer two.

I know what you’ve wondered. And don’t feel bad, we’ve all asked the question. You’re thinking it right now. Well, I will ask it for you; how does any parent choose to leave his kids? How does a guy share with me the joy of hearing his five-year old at violin lessons, and then eight days later plug his ears forever?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know this; I pray that you and I won’t ever figure it out. Some things you don’t want to know. And some things you can’t ever judge.

You don’t think you know what Sept. 11 felt like on American Airlines flight 175 as it roared towards the World Trade Center, do you? So can you really say what you would have done?

You don’t know what it was like to be marched to your death in Auschwitz, so can you really say what you would have done?

And you don’t know what my buddy Wade Belak was thinking when it made sense to him to leave all that he loved. So can you really say what you would have done?

I sure as hell don’t know, but I know this; when you’re severely depressed, logic can become fallacy and fallacy can become reality.

If you know me, you know that I am a confident person. I can hear you thinking, No, he’s arrogant. Fine, think what you want, but when I’ve been depressed that confidence is replaced by insecurity. When I’ve been depressed, ‘me’ no longer exists. I am replaced by my own Slim Shady, and he’s a guy I don’t know or particularly like. He hosted 60 shows in 2008. He sucked.

So if as you read this, you’re thinking, I have no idea what any of that feels like, then you’re blessed. Have you ever thought, man, am I lucky not to be mentally ill? Likely not, because we seldom celebrate our normality. I’m the same. I don’t celebrate having two arms and two legs but an amputee would suggest I should.

But in your mental health arrogance do not ever think for a second you can understand why Wade made the choice he did. I can’t understand it, but I know this; Wade loved life as much as anyone I have ever met. His love for his wife Jen and their girls, Andie and Alex, was every bit as strong as anything any of us have ever felt. So, if depression could make him give that up – how bad must it be? And would you or I be any different?

The damn tsunami washed away all the joy and replaced it with something else. The devoted father and husband and friend who had everything to live for drowned in a sea of sadness.

Vincent Van Gogh, the genius Dutch painter whose sophisticated works changed art forever, had these simple last words explaining why he took his own life; the sadness will last forever. In general, Wade didn’t believe that. But somehow, for some reason, for one moment he did.

At that horrible moment Wade, we can assume, had two rival instincts battling inside him. On one side was the survival instinct. On the other was the instinct to end his suffering. We’ve all felt the first; many fewer have felt the second. In Wade’s case its clear which side won. Think of it this way. Suicide is what happens when the angel of death and the angel of mercy start working together.

Has Wade gone to a better place? Who knows? You may believe in the afterlife, but you don’t know it exists. No one knows. But my guess is that Wade wasn’t betting on heading to a better place. He just knew at that one moment there is no worse place than where he was.

Depression is not a Demon

I don’t expect you to understand why Wade made the choice he made. It’s tough for me to understand. But I do expect you to accept the seriousness of his disease. If you were saddened by Wade’s death then here’s what you owe him; you owe him the belief in his pain.

We can’t see depression. We cant biopsy it. Blood tests don’t show it. Neither do x-rays. Believing in depression takes faith, and surveys show that more than half of us are depressive atheists still believing somehow that depression is not a disease, but a sign of weakness. Wade wasn’t weak. Neither was Churchill or Lincoln or Hemingway or your cousin or your neighbor or your son.

Depression is a disease. It’s not an issue or a demon, although it may act like one. And if you want to honor Wade’s memory, do it this way; never ever tell someone to snap out of it. And never ask anyone, what do you have to be depressed about? Start accepting depression as a serious and sometimes fatal illness.

Waiting for the R

My last message still sits on his smart phone and mine. After hearing a crazy rumor that my boy Wade had died, I called his cell immediately, assuming I would hear his voice and I would greet him with, So I guess this means you’re not dead!

But I got no answer. My heart fell as I heard his voice mail, This is Wade — leave a message. I didn’t. What would I say? Please don’t be dead? Please call me and I will come there and help you through anything.

One more hope – I texted him these words and waited.

Are you OK?

The D appeared right away. My heart began to race waiting for the R. If you don’t speak the language of messenger, the D appears when the message is delivered. The R appears when the person has read it or seen it. Most of us use that to decide whether we are being ignored. But, on this day the stakes were far different. I knew that D meant death and R meant life.

Please change. Please change, I prayed. I waited. And I’m still waiting in disbelief. It never changed. The D sits there for eternity, ironically speaking volumes to me. Ironic because I began by saying text usually fails to communicate true meaning. In this case it says everything I feel.

The D sits there, a solitary symbol to me of one of the great tragedies I have felt.

D for depression.

D for the death it brought.

And D for Dear Wade, I hope now you really are fine.

Out damn spot, out I say. Not yet I fear. Maybe not ever.

Your Turn

 

Click here to go to TSN – Michael Landsberg’s article.

“For over a decade, Off The Record has brought fans the best in sports jock talk. Never one to pull punches, host Michael Landsberg – who has been with TSN since the network launched in 1984 – is considered Canada’s king of in-your-face debate and one of the best interviewers in the country.”

Not talking about it isn’t working.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Landsberg: His Depression and His Friend, Wade Belak

  1. My depression has progressed to having more sad and feeling lonely days than good ones. I feel so tired of fighting every day to be happy and hiding my true feelings. I feel that my family and friends would be happier if I was no longer in their lives. The only three reasons I keep going are my 3 children. They are the only joy in my life at this time.

  2. Thank you, Michael. Wade was my much loved son-in-law, and I miss him every day. He was the father of two of my granddaughters, Andie & Alex, and my daughter’s one true love. Had I know just how depressed he was, I would have flown to Toronto, gathered him up in my arms and held him safe, for as long as it took! Jenn had a couple of very difficult years with the aftermath and her and the girls’ pain. She has, finally, moved on in her life and found love with an old friend she and Wade both knew in California. They just had a beautiful little girl and Andi & Alex are thrilled to be big sisters. Our whole family is more aware of depression and it’s repercussions, and how sometimes the very drugs taken to lessen the pain cause a break with reality and cause people to do things they would never do if they were not on these drugs. We need more studies of this horrible disease and need better help for those that suffer from it. I hope you are doing better, and realize that, while Wade did what he felt compelled to do, that you stay with us and help educate others about this disease.

  3. I was already planning to talk about this on Sunday at church.
    Thank you Michael and all others for sharing your painful stories.
    I will mention them with respect and honour: it seems central to our journeys as sufferers and supporters
    to be aware of the variety of experiences that are abounding and coming out of the “closet”

  4. I too know what it is like to feel so tired of being alive that death seems like a solution. The depth of despair I can feel in the matter of an instant it seems is unbelievable . Unrelenting. I have decided, my life must be lived to spare others pain, but I am looking forward to the end. Please do not judge.

  5. What a well written story. I work for a community mental health program. I would like to tell Mr. Lansberg and others like him how important it is to tell their story. The more people talk about it, the easier it is for others to seek support when needed. Take the taboo out of mental health. Just as abuse and sexual abuse/assault was once a very taboo subject, it is more reported and talked about which gives victims a chance and a climate to make it safe to disclose and get help needed. Unfortunately like Mr Landsbrg pointed out, the illness sometimes encircles the depressive person with a dark cloud making it very difficult to see any positives. Sharing with someone about depression allows the people you trust see when things are not ok or “fine”. Getting professional help is the first step to healing. Unfortunately, asking if someone is suicidal or thinking of suicide is not an easy question to ask, It does give the opportunity for the person to talk and share what they are feeling.
    Thanks again for such a beautiful brave story
    Ghislain

  6. Great article Michael.
    I also suffer from depression and I’m glad that people like you are brave enough to come forward and talk about it. It’s weird that it’s so hard to bring it up and feel ashamed about it. But people do. I was shocked when I heard about Wade, I’d heard him on the radio and he seemed like such a fun, funny and great guy.

  7. I don’t usually respond to articles or blogs, but this one touched me tremendously perhaps because my family has a pro hockey player in it and it has also been touched profoundly by this illness. My husband like you Michael and Wade always was th e life of the party, larger then life all charming and friendly in public, highly successful at work, but in private battled depression and alcohol abuse to deal with demons from a dysfunctional upbringing with a cold, narcissistic mother and an emotionally absent father. Being what is termed a high functioning alcoholic, he was able to hide this from the world. In the end, more than 3 decades, without any warning, he just walked away from his life and family, leaving us devastated. It was like a death and in some ways worse because one does not receive the support one would get when a family has lost one of it’s members. He tried twice 3 decades ago to ask for help and counselling from the medical profession but was turned down, being told by a young resident that he didn’t think “he needed that.” So, a window of opportunity that could have saved him from decades of alcohol abuse and an increasing depression as middle age set in , was lost. Now that reflect back to that time, it floors me that the medical profession knowing how rarely men admit this and/or ask for help, did not help him when he asked for it. I would only hope that the medical system’s consciousness about depression and people’s battles with personal demons has been raised since that time in the 80’s and that no other patient who asks not once, but twice for psychological or psychiatric help is told that he doesn’t need it and then sent on his way.

    • Dear hockey mom
      A sad shame your husband asked for the help but never received it in the ’80s. A travesty really. Same here. I suffered from an indescribable post partum depression. I was scared for my baby & I so drove to the hospital Emerg and they ~ yup ~ sent me home. Again, back in the ’80s.
      Depression is slowly being destigmatized. Important for sure. Sufferers are told to feel no shame and to ask for help. Help? Unfortunately similar to your husband, I have relied on what I know to help the hurt. Alcohol.

  8. Well written article that brought a tear to my eye. Im glad you shared and its the reason im writing back. It’s Not really my m.o to reply to an article or for that matter any cause or story . Im a 25 year old man that feels this limp many of us share (unwillingly). Decent hockey player, good grades, girls , grest friends and an amazing family. The years since ive felt depressed have had the same stories as years of happiness. Its crazy, unable to explain to myself why i feel upset, unhappy, scared . Always wondering why and never having answers to the same repeating questions. Its almost a sick feeling isn’t it? Cancelling plans or making excuses as to why you cant attend this or that or that word you used -fine-. Nothing of the sorts is true but its that word that shields questions you dont have answers for. Answers you crave and would die for. Some people are unfortunate that the answers never come and something as terrible as suicide takes over the non answers and seems like the only answer. Wade belak sounds like a man we all should strive to be like and even such a good man can be gripped by such troubling thoughts it really shows this could be anyone you know and love. May we all find peace in our internal struggles and by sharing or stories maybe one more person will read this article and realize we’re not alone and people will understand if you let them. Thanks again Mr. Landsberg and i know belak just smiled in heaven.

  9. Dear Michael

    Thank you for being brave. I am a fellow limper and it is really hard to be brave. I have battled depression and anxiety and suicide for 25 years. I have three teenaged daughters and a husband (a sports fanatic). Two of my daughters show signs that they have the depression gene. On ditch days (those where I just can’t get out of the ditch) I want to whack my head against the wall until it bursts open and the world goes dark. Being an incredible mother was all I wanted to be and depression sometimes takes that away from me. I feel like I am responsible for passing this on to at least 2 out of 3 of them.

    Today Bell Canada is sponsoring “Let’s Talk”. Bravo for them. Seriously.

    My kid sister commented on this article and used the words “We really need to start talking.” Yet she has never raised the issue of depression with me. What do those words mean? I hope, really hope, that people move from paying lip service to really talking and caring.

    Thank you for your incredible candidness and the humour you show when you talk about depression. Perhaps that is a great way to get people to really talk. Make them comfortable. Make them laugh so they can accept that sometimes we cry.

    Thanks again.

    Dana

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