A Summit and Suicide

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inally, the sun was coming up. It was time to get going. I hoped that the mice I had heard throughout the night hadn’t gotten into my pack and munched on my food bars. How gross would that be? I was going to need those to get to the top. My hiking partner Jayne and I checked and repacked our packs from the trip up. We refilled our CamelBaks with water, and Jayne decided to tuck in an extra one. We left Barr Camp at 7:30, with plans to be on the summit of Pikes Peak by 1:00 p.m., at the latest.

What a perfect day to hike and summit. There had been no rain the night before, and the sun was shining through the trees, with some of the aspen leaves just beginning to turn yellow. I couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. The day before I had been unusually slow. I’m sure it was because of my thyroid, which I was seeing a doctor for. Just walking up a flight of stairs made me winded, and here I was hiking a 14,000-foot mountain. How smart was that?

I had planned to hike it, and by gosh, I wasn’t going to not do something that I had set out to do.

About 45 minutes into our hike on our second day, Jayne decided to switch out her water bladder for her extra one. After she made the switch, she realized that the hose wasn’t tight, and out poured her water – all of it. So she had none, and the amount that I had, which I knew was enough to get me to the top, was now going to be shared by both of us. Staying hydrated is key to summiting. You could say it’s your lifeline.

I struggled all day. My pack was so heavy, I was sure it felt heavier as we went along. I never caught my breath; it was as if I had just run around the block, no matter if I moved or stood still. I just wanted it to be over. I knew I wouldn’t quit, but I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. Then I began to get nauseous. I wasn’t going to whine about it, because Jayne couldn’t help.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other, when in reality, I wanted to put my head down and sleep.

At one point, we were just half a mile from the summit when I had to stop. I pulled off my pack, grabbed a food bar, ate half of it, and drank a lot of water. I didn’t care if we ran out. If this was altitude sickness, so what. I knew we were close enough that we weren’t going back down. I had no idea how I was going to continue. Just leave me, I thought. Let me sleep. I sat back on a rock and closed my eyes.

This is why dentists commit suicide. They don’t plan on their first marriage not working. They wish they could go back to it, but their first wife gets remarried. They have a child in college, with tuition payments due. Their beautiful daughter is getting married and she deserves an amazing wedding. There just doesn’t seem to be enough money. The economy is killing the practice. They can’t make patients come in or commit to treatment plans. They just don’t want to go on. He has a good life insurance policy.

That’s when it hit me. I didn’t plan on struggling and not wanting to finish.

Dentists don’t ever set out to end their lives, but they simply can’t go on. I couldn’t find the strength to summit. So that’s why I struggled. I needed to know what it felt like to not to WANT to go on. All of a sudden, I felt a surge of adrenaline go through my body, and I bounded up the last half mile. Somehow I no longer labored for air. I knew why this summit was so difficult. I needed to feel what it felt like to not care any more. This mountain had a message for me. I wasn’t above not caring. Inside everyone of us, there can come a time when we can’t go on, yet we do…most of us.

Yes, I summited Pikes Peak. No, not every dentist commits suicide, yet they do have the second highest rate. It’s personal for each one that makes that choice, a choice they never saw coming when they decided to become a dentist. They did have a choice to go on, but they just couldn’t see it.

Here is how strength, dignity, and grace show up. 

Strength – This is what is required when life gets difficult. Ask for help. Talk to someone. Don’t keep it to yourself. Put systems in place so that you don’t get to the point of not wanting to go on.

Dignity – Take full responsibility for your situation without blaming others. No blaming or complaining.

Grace – Forgive yourself for not being perfect and making mistakes. If you have yet to do the same for someone else, forgive them too.