Doug Demarest: A loss, a pledge

 

I won’t ever understand the catalyst that led to Doug’s death. The details are sensational. He stole a plane and flew into a building, leaving a wife, two kids, and countless friends. But how he died is a distraction from the bigger issue: that he didn’t ask for help.

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I sought Doug’s friendship as a way to learn from him; in awe of his kayak/packraft control, photography, and frugality. Doug is one of the only rivals I’ve met in terms of frugality. But where my frugality stands on the tape pyramid (Duct, Tyvek, Leuko), his approach involved meticulous research, patience, and do-it-yourself projects. Doug was generous with his expertise, and he was one of those guys that did everything well. Add his equally-capable wife and two kids, and the picture seemed complete.

For me, it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that physical activity and adventuring go hand-in-hand with mental health. This has been my personal experience. Learning to ski pulled me out of a serious depression, not suicidal, but morbid. I spent months imagining the different ways I could die. I never got serious about following through, but I enjoyed the fantasy. As I started learning to ski, something about the physical challenge and developing friendships pulled me out of that dark headspace.

For many of us, recreation is part of a healing path, or part of how we maintain our sanity, our mix of energy, humor, empathy, rationale, and patience. But I’ve been focussing on the solution, the recreation, and missing the problem– that something needs healing. I don’t question that recreation is part of the solution, but I think it can also be a distraction from the problem.

I think of my recreation partners as ideal candidates for good mental health. We are generally middle class, educated, fit, and have a group of friends to join for evenings or weekends. But it isn’t that simple. After Doug’s death, a few friends pointed out that being perceived as having everything together might actually make it harder to reach out when we need help. Doug was cool as ice, on and off the water. None of us saw it coming, not even a hint. When Doug paddled, it was with extreme confidence, second nature, pure control. That’s what drew me to him, I wanted that mastery. The Doug that he presented was, ‘All good, everything under control.’ He probably knew that that was how we thought of him, and if people place you on a pedestal, it must take more strength to step down, to reveal your vulnerability, and to ask for help. Doug didn’t.

This is the first part of my lesson from Doug: recognition that no one is immune to depression (or mental health issues), even if what they project is infallibility.

The second part of the lesson is how hard it is to reach out, especially when people admire you. If someone like Doug couldn’t reach out, how can the rest of us? All I can think to do is commit to reaching out, now, and ask my friends to make the same commitment. If things get that bad again, or even anywhere close to that bad, I promise to reach out, to sacrifice the competent/confident persona that I project. I’ll take this pledge vocally and with integrity, because clients tell the mental health pros that when you are there, in that headspace, it’s impossible to grasp that the situation can change. That must have been the case for Doug.

There are pledge-to-reach-out programs online; the one I like best is from a suicide prevention effort in the UK. I think a vocal pledge between friends is best, and will help promote conversation and accountability. Here is the UK pledge:

I pledge that I will:

  • tell someone if I need help;
  • be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
  • ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
  • listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe;

In Doug’s memory I make this pledge to my friends and family. Please join me.

Luc


Resources:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Alaska’s Careline, 877-266-HELP (4357).

Doug’s Obituary
Kate, Simon, and Silvia’s GoFundMe


 

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28 responses

  1. mkm

    I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;

    Thank you Luc.

    January 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

  2. Thank you for this gift, Luc. The 100Stone family of thousands across our state is with you.

    I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe.

    I make this pledge to my friends and family.

    Sarah Davies
    100stoneproject.com/what-we-do

    January 7, 2016 at 12:33 am

    • Thank you Sarah! I’ve been thinking about you and your incredible effort to reach out and raise awareness.

      January 7, 2016 at 8:50 am

  3. Molly

    Luc, thank you for your insightful post. Having been hit with a completely unexpected suicide with a former family member a few months ago I understand the total and utter confusion it leaves for those who are left behind . Connections with others is so important but apparently it is just part of the equation. It seems that Doug had lots of connections/friends and a life full of outdoor experiences but it wasn’t enough…..what is the answer? WHY?

    My heart goes out to his wife and kids.

    January 7, 2016 at 7:05 am

  4. Luther Ranheim

    In Memory of Doug, my High School Classmate, I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;

    Luther Ranheim

    January 7, 2016 at 7:40 am

  5. Ingrid

    I pledge that I will:
    Tell someone if I need help;
    Be aware of the Suicide warning sign in other;
    Ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    Listen without judgment and do what I can to keep them safe,

    January 7, 2016 at 8:13 am

  6. I like the specificity and comprehensiveness to that pledge. Here’s the Alaska one, developed by a mom in Tanana and her 4-H kids:

    I pledge to live, honor and protect myself from any harm, to love my life, my family, my friends and my village.

    If you need help keeping your pledge, Careline is there for all Alaskans, 24/7, 365 days a year: 877-266-HELP (4357). It’s designed to be both a crisis line and a helpline — call if you’re concerned about someone else and not sure how to reach out, or wondering if you should be concerned, or if you’re struggling with grief over a loss — if you just really need to talk and you’re not comfortable or able to reach out to someone else.

    https://www.facebook.com/carelinealaska/

    January 7, 2016 at 8:34 am

    • Thank you Sarana! I looked for an Alaska pledge but didn’t see this one. Thanks for the resources too.

      January 7, 2016 at 8:52 am

  7. Bruce Hamler

    Thanks for doing this Luc,

    Depression runs in my family and I have not been spared. Both my brother and my sister have attempted suicide and although I’ve never tried to kill myself, I have been very depressed and fantasized about it a number of times. I have a theory that my thirst for outdoor adventures and extreme sports is a a form of self-therapy and an escape from reality. The closer I am to death, the more I feel alive.

    I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe.

    January 7, 2016 at 11:07 am

  8. Robin

    Thank you Luc. This must have been a difficult post to write and it is not easy to read, but it’s extremely important. I appreciate the empathy and lack of judgement you show.

    January 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm

  9. Pete Tallman

    Good stuff Luc. A quick thought for folks from a mental health professional. Don’t give up if you don’t connect with the first therapist you see! If you don’t feel like it’s a good fit, for whatever reason, ask for a referral, its normal in this field- just like 2nd opinions are in physical medicine. It’s not uncommon to go through a couple before you find the right fit. Just like skis!

    January 7, 2016 at 2:42 pm

  10. Sue Iringel

    I would love to read this article but half of the text shows up on black and is very hard to read. If not intentional, can it be fixed?

    January 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    • Hi Sue- Fixed! Thanks.

      January 7, 2016 at 10:42 pm

  11. Tim Mitchell

    Love ya Luc.

    Like many, I too have lost dear friends who couldn’t see enough light at the end of the tunnel to carry on. Friends who didn’t reach out…for whatever reason. Friends who kept my life well-lit. Friends who I love and miss.

    I missed the signs.

    I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe;

    January 7, 2016 at 8:35 pm

  12. A very important message, in 2013 we lost my brother in law to suicide- he was the pillar of his family and over 150 people came to his funeral. Afterwards everyone agonized whether they should have reached out more, should they have been more involved? The answer is YES you must reach out. This is a valuable reminder.

    January 8, 2016 at 2:57 am

  13. Peggy Wilcox

    Thank you for this. I’m still trying to process that morning.

    I live one block away from the crash site, I heard the plane go overhead, and then the power went out. My husband and I put our shoes on and ran to help if we could. We got there before the fire department, and there was nothing we could do. I am a kayaker and pack rafter, I am pretty sure I had been around Demarest a couple of times. Your message of reaching out rings so very true. Again, thank you.

    January 8, 2016 at 7:45 am

  14. brooke heppinstall kroenung

    Powerful observation, Luc. Thank you. I am thrilled to still be alive today and thank my mother and our neighbor who got my teen-aged self to the ER on time. At 63, I hope to best mom and live to at least 91. As the mother of a 30 yr. old bipolar who insists on self-med, no med, and distrusts professionals, and has no money, I can only hope we will catch him in time if he finally goes to that dark place. Mental health has to become part of our general health expectations in this society. Then people will feel free to reach out, access to professional care may become affordable and more available than it currently is, and there will be less stigma affecting the sufferer. And less pain for those who live with them.

    January 8, 2016 at 10:33 am

  15. jon albright

    A very beautiful bunch of messages here. I worked with Doug at Outward Bound in Maine but didn’t know him well, still I am very saddened by his death. My love goes out to his wife and kids, may they find strength to keep finding a reason to get up each day.

    I pledge to tell someone if I need help;
    Be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    Ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    Listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe.

    January 8, 2016

    January 8, 2016 at 9:03 pm

  16. Luc – What a great conversation you have started about suicide and friends and the sometimes lifelong wondering that suicide loss survivors can undergo. I lost my son, Sam, 22, to suicide in spring of 2013. He dealt for years with what I knew was depression. I just didn’t know very much about depression. Here’s the thing about depression if it hits early, and by early I mean 7 or 8 years old – or younger still – or during the teen years: These children come to understand quickly that they are different from other children. And they quickly go to work hiding that difference. They manufacture an exterior mask – an outer persona – and hold their emotional pain inside. They often become quite good at this, so that most people – including their families – have no idea what is going on inside. The stress of this divided life only adds to their emotional pain. Still, they sometimes tolerate this for years and years. This explains at least some of the cases in which a young adult dies by suicide, while having behaved outwardly as a cheerful extrovert with the world by the tail. By now, the depth of emotional pain is so extreme, that they want it to end at all cost. That is why suicide becomes their solution. Someone with chronic severe depression is haunted by that emotional pain. I don’t know if this is what happened to Doug Demarest, but it is what happens with many.

    Sorry for this being so long. But I’d better keep going.

    How do we help prevent this? A lot of good work is going on these days. One of the most intriguing programs I’ve heard of is called Hope 4 Utah. Look it up. There’s also something promising called the national Zero Suicide Initiative. One of the basics that must change is that we all must become more savvy about mental health. It should never have taken me the last two years or so to learn how I might have kept Sam safe. I believe that in 20 or 30 years, the epidemic of suicide will be cooling down considerably. But all of us need to work at it. Schools, churches, sports teams – get educated in suicide prevention. Physicians, nurses, counselors, mental health professionals, educators, community leaders – get yourselves trained too. Suicide was a taboo in the days when you were in graduate school. Most of you never had good education about working with someone suicidal. The training is out there now, though. Preventing suicide is everyone’s business.

    January 8, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    • Wow, tons of valuable insight here, thank you for sharing.

      January 9, 2016 at 8:53 am

  17. I read this from a repost who is a friend of Doug’s. Those of us with depression become phenomenal actors. The key to living with these illnesses are to continue seeking the help we need and at times when it is necessary to “act happy,” realize we still need to deal with the illness afterward.

    I take your pledge, and am very sorry for your loss.

    January 9, 2016 at 6:42 am

  18. David Bloom

    Thank you, Luc, for your moving tribute to Doug and for the pledge. I have known Doug since he was a small child. I was a life-long friend of his late Dad, Larry. We met in junior high, went to Macalester together, and stayed in touch over the years until Larry died ten years ago. During that time I took my first trip to the Boundary Waters in 1987 with Larry, Doug, and Brad, which led to more than 20 subsequent trips. I also had the privilege of performing Doug and Katie’s wedding in St. Paul in 2010.

    I live with depression. I have learned to ask for help, and it makes a difference. I am so sad that apparently Doug could not ask for help, but your message and pledge, I am sure, will help many others.

    I gladly join the others in making the pledge:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe;

    January 9, 2016 at 12:05 pm

  19. Charlie Ballentine

    Luc: Thanks you very much for your post. It helped me a lot to come to some terms with Doug’s death.

    I pledge that I will:

    tell someone if I need help;
    be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe;

    In Doug’s memory I make this pledge to my friends and family.

    Charlie Ballentine

    January 11, 2016 at 6:09 am

  20. I just got a note from Southcentral Foundation about the suicide prevention trainings they’re going to offer in 2016 and posted it on the Careline Alaska FB page — there are lots of them!
    I know one Trooper active in suicide prevention who lost his best friend as a teenager, and he says in retrospect, his friend gave him coded messages that he didn’t recognize. Training’s worth getting because it can help with that decoding. As others have noted above, though, not everyone gives signs, or does so in a way that basic training will illuminate. It’s important to keep that in mind. ❤
    StopSuicideAlaska.org has more info on other trainings available from various agencies around the state. If you want to schedule a training for a group or business, that's often doable. James Gallanos, the statewide suicide prevention coordinator, is another resource — he and a network of trainers offer the Gatekeeper QPR training (Question, Persuade Refer). His number is 465-8356, email is james.gallanos@alaska.gov.

    January 12, 2016 at 4:29 pm

  21. Dan

    It was good talking with you tonight Luc, although too brief. Thank you again for your thougts. I worked with Doug at Outward Bound and skied with him in the backcountry. Though never close to him, I can admire the talents he brought forth. He was easily capable of re-inventing himself, but chose not to.

    I won’t understand, but I will pledge.

    I pledge to tell someone if I need help;
    Be aware of the suicide warning signs in others;
    Ask directly about suicide if I’m worried about someone;
    Listen without judgement and do what I can to keep them safe.

    January 13, 2016 at 12:50 am

  22. South america

    Beautifull words to remember him.

    February 2, 2016 at 1:23 pm

  23. Tricia

    Difficult….I guess we all have our snap and break point no matter how competent, invincible, capable we appear and seem to others and believe for ourselves.
    He had a really intense moment, emotional experience, reaction…. but that clearly was not all he was and Also does not fully define him in the end…..we all have that possibility and we are also all so much and a lot more and many things……sorry you lost your friend.
    I hope we all have the ability to reach out for help when needed…..and truly we all need help in the end….so ask and be willing to help…. All of that makes us human.

    May 24, 2016 at 8:14 pm

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