The Season

Sunshine Skyway bridge

Above is the Sunshine Skyway, spanning 21, 877 feet and rising 430 feet in the air, connecting St Petersburg, FL with Pinellas county. It is both majestic and frightening with its thin lines and elegant style.

Today I drive this bridge almost daily on my way to and from the office. With sun shining and no traffic it stands as a highlight along the route. Though gorgeous in sunshine, when windy or raining it can be harrowing. Years ago I can recall crossing as we raced home before on oncoming storm. The moment sticks with me as any drive though a blizzard in years past.

While the sleek lines or visually appealing for the photographer in each of us, they also bring tight shoulders and cramped spaces. Not only is there no shoulder on the bridge, but there is no sidewalk, no place of refuge. In fact, this last spring was the first time since the 1987 the bridge was opened to foot traffic, a 10k run for charity. Otherwise, no pedestrians or bicycles are allowed on the bridge and stopping for any non-emergency reason is forbidden.

Thus, when a car is left empty at the top of the skyway in otherwise working condition it leads to a single depressing conclusion by us passing motorists. Suicide attempts from the bridge are high, with over 207 suicides recorded between 1987 and 2009. 34 additional attempts were made, but these individuals survived. While 24 hr monitoring and and crisis hotline is available, it does not seem to deter so many.

Throughout the year as I pass over the bridge typically on my way home, but sometimes in the early morning light, I will find an abandoned car often accompanied by an emergency vehicle. In those moments, as you watch heads peer over the edge and shake, your heart sinks. Last night was one of those times, and last week there was another.

I did not notice it the first year I made the daily crossing, but then I started seeing them. The cars, sitting solemnly to the side of the road as if waiting for their owners to return. Once I started seeing them you start taking notice. And it seems that at this time of year it happens more frequently.

I cannot pretend to understand. Each of us have our own demons and our own problems. Debt, drugs, or loss of a loved one. While I can sit here and say “there is always a way back”, for some they just don’t see it. Yet, it is not only for them my heart sinks. It is for the friends and family they leave behind.

It is almost ironic that at this time of year. At time which is often pronounced the be the “most wonderful time of the year”, is often that time filled with the most depression and despair. We put on so many masks hiding the pain, bottling it up and hoping for a better outcome in the new year. We smile for the cameras and sing christmas carols with coworkers and avoid looking past the ugly sweaters to see the person hiding underneath.

I know over the next few weeks I will cross paths with several more cars no longer with drivers. With each one there is a story. A story now lost to the waves below. A story of friends and family that did not see the suffering, or did not understand the depth of the pain. A story of inner turmoil.

I know I don’t understand. Yet, I do know that telling your story, even just to the empty pages of a small notebook, can help put them in context. Telling them to someone who can understand will help. This season, please tell us your story.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline


Taking the day off

rock wallIt is difficult being a single parent. Stressful to deal with with school schedules, extracurricular activities, and then attempting to manage your own life. So, co-parenting to lend a break in the schedule and allow you time to focus on you. Extended breaks due to vacations and holidays can be nice to, giving a parent that day-off to focus on themselves can be incredibly powerful. Christmas is more difficult emotionally, it is culturally defined as family time so when you are not with your family it can be incredibly hard.

Last year was just one of those years where I saw less of my kids over the Christmas break. It is how the parenting plan worked out. So when I got a call that I had the opportunity to take my boys while my wife had to work I jumped at the chance. This meant that I had to take the day off, something that is not typically in my nature. Yet, after not getting much of a holiday with them it was just “what was going to happen”. There was no question in my mind.

My past is littered with cases where I chose work over family. Vacations were spent with me checking emails, coordinating from my phone, or actually working the code remotely. At home I would often work into the evenings, be late or completely miss family events, and neglect the need and desire for both a father and a husband. I am now paying for many of those choices.

Today work remains important to me, but it no longer defines who I am. I define who I am – I do that through my actions. That action, was to take the day off and enjoy it with my boys. It was just a few hours, but it is about quality over quantity – it is about the experience.

Controlling Fear

Fear - Way of the Warrior KidFear is normal. It is a protective reaction to the unknown and uncertain. It is healthy. Yet, it can also hold us back. Both mentally and often physically it keeps us frozen in place, unable to move … to grow.

"Fear is normal. In fact, fear is good. Fear is what warns you when things are dangerous. Fear is what makes you prepare. Fear keeps us out of a lot of trouble. So there is nothing wrong with fear. But fear can also be overwhelming. It can be unreasonable. It can cause you to freeze up and make bad decisions or hesitate when you need to act. So you have to learn to control fear." - page 153, Way of the Warrior Kid.

Jocko Willink talks about preparation being the first step in controlling your fears, including training, studying, and planning. For me, part of that studying and planning revolves around the analysis of the worst things that could happen. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, in his book he discusses this mental preparation by always looking for “what could kill him next”. Often this alone puts your fears into perspective. What could happen? How would it be handled? and what (if anything) could be done about it? Then, as Jocko says in his book, you just need to “go” – in other words ‘take action’. You can continue or turn back. Enter the ring or leave the arena. This ends up being a choice you make. Control your fear, don’t let it control you!

"Once you go - once you start - you won't be afraid anymore. You overcome the fear by going - and it is the same in many aspects of life. Parachuting. Talking in front of a crowd. Taking a test. Running a race. Competing in jiu-jitsu. The fear is in the waiting. So. Once you have prepared and trained and studied and planned, there is only one thing left to do: go." - page 156, Way of the Warrior Kid.

Lessons from the nighttime family reading session of…
“Way of the Warrior Kid” by Jocko Willink