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Landsberg: His depression and his friend, Wade Belak

I was going to write a post on depression -- not just in the NHL, but the disease itself. I have been gathering my research and planning my article. I discovered today that I don't need to do that post. Michael Landsberg of TSN already wrote it for me.

I've yet to see a better article about depression since this horrific string of deaths began back in May. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find a more poignant description of the disease and its effects anywhere. It's an honest, hard look at what it is, what it does to you, and why those who don't understand are very, very lucky.

Rather than simply linking to it, I would love to reproduce the whole thing here. Unfortunately, copyright laws do not technically allow that. Therefore, I am including the intro to the piece, as well as excerpts from other sections (and yes, these are excerpts...there's a ton more to the article), in the hopes that you will go to TSN via the link and continue reading it. I also hope you find it as provocative as I did.

Landsberg: His depression and his friend, Wade Belak


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.

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.

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 5-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 11th felt like on American Airlines flight 175 as it roared towards the World Trade Centre, 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.

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.