He was a Damn Good Dawg who spent many Saturdays wearing his vocal cords out in support of the Silver Britches. He loved Gamedays. His voice was as Georgia as roadside boiled peanuts, and fortunately for me, he took an interest in a lost Freshman from North Carolina.
He was a Senior, and he didn’t have anything to gain by being my friend. I was struggling mightily with the adjustment to college life, and trying to find a place for a series of recent deaths and tragedies that had confused my belief systems in a way that felt irreparable at the time. He and I were never best friends, but he took the time to talk to me. He listened intently when I spoke, and he made me feel safe when I was in his presence. He was kind to me and everyone else he met.
I always envied the serenity that seemed to emanate from him, and I watched his life blossom through social media over the last decade. As I criss-crossed the country for much of my mid-twenties trying to figure “it” out, he married his college sweetheart and had two beautiful children.
Last week at just 34 years-old he took his own life. Death is not something I’m unfamiliar with, but because of all the things I knew about him, his seems unfathomable to me.
It is my belief that it’s harder to know people in the year 2020 than it has been in any other time in human history. We keep up with people through text messages that rarely betray tone. We watch one another’s lives through social media and assume that the good things we see on one another’s feeds are the only one’s that are happening. We have become accustomed to seeing each other without actually ever seeing each other.
This lulls us to sleep, and instead of having the thought of, “ I haven’t talked to that friend in a long time, I should call them,” if you’re like me, you often think, “I saw that friend was at the beach with his family last week. It looks like life is going well.” At 31, I know I’m younger than a lot of people who will read this, but I think we spend less time catching up with people on the phone than we used to.
It was already hard to stay in touch with one another on a real genuine level, but on top of all that, we have now spent the last six-months separated and isolated by necessity due to Covid-19.
There have been times when I’ve struggled with different things in life. I have been in a good place for a handful of years now, but I dealt with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at times in the past. Sometimes I dealt with all of them at once. When those things were happening a crack of sunlight would suddenly appear in late July or early August. The body clock would realize that football season was coming, and with it came a ton of things to occupy a troubled mind.
Football season brings contact for many of us. It’s when we message with old friends and families about what’s happening on and off the field. It’s when we go to tailgates and run into people that remind us we have a place. We yell in unison with 90,000 people and hug strangers after touchdowns and interceptions. We connect with something greater than ourselves.
I suppose it’s important that I take a moment to say that I understand those feelings can all be found without a football season. As someone who has been employed as a mental health professional, I can confidently say that a College Football season isn’t the best thing to lean on. I can also confidently say that many people have and do lean on the rituals that come with a football season to get them to the other side of a tough year.
I don’t know if we will have College Football this season. One day the outlook seems positive, and I think we might have something resembling a season to watch. The next morning news of another cluster of positives near a college campus makes me believe there’s no way it will happen.
This has been a tough year. A lot of us have been hit hard as Covid-19 has caused deaths and financial crashes. Many people have lost their jobs. More have been unable to work for the majority of the year.
Many people need a football season, and there’s a better than good chance that they won’t have one. For some, it could feel like the last straw. Even if we do have a season, many of us will still be struggling with the effects of all that 2020 has brought our way.
Since hearing the news of my friend’s death on Friday morning, I have found myself wondering why so much time had passed since we talked. I wish greatly that I had been able to return the kindness that he showed me in my time of struggle. I wish we had gotten around to football season and run into each other on North Campus and exchanged a hug.
Dawg Sports and SB Nation as a whole is a unique place on the internet. Many of you have been swapping thoughts for over a decade now. For many of you, those interactions are as much a part of football season as falling leaves and the smell of the grill. No matter what happens this Fall, I hope that continues.
I know how hard it is to ask for help. It is the hardest thing many of us will ever do, but I can assure you that it’s worth it. If it feels too scary to talk to a professional right now, then talk to someone else. I know sometimes it can be easier to share a problem with a stranger than a loved one. If any of you need to do that, my email is on the masthead and my direct messages on Twitter are open. You can find me @ProfessorSEC.
Bulldog Nation is a family as real as any other. It is filled with all types. Some members of that family are struggling right now, and if football season is cancelled some are going to struggle even more.
Saturdays in Sanford Stadium always remind us that there is strength in numbers. Let’s take care of each other this fall. Call your old college buddies even if you don’t have a tailgate to coordinate. Text your friends even if there’s not a bad call from a referee to discuss. Make it known that you’re available. Make someone get on the line with you.
I didn’t realize at 18 years-old what a difference simple acts of kindness can make. I look back now and wonder where I’d be if I hadn’t been shown kindness by people who had nothing to gain from showing it. To be frank, it scares me to think how things might have turned out.
If nothing else, be kind to each other.
If you are struggling with depression, alcoholism, addiction or thoughts of self-harm there is help available to you. Please reach out to one of the numbers below.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663