He describes his journey…
I began my working life in the field of biochemical engineering. My life was not glamorous. I spent my days sealed away in a laboratory, slicing rats. I felt isolated. I soon switched to the more dashing field of aviation. For five years I trained charter aircraft pilots and bush pilots. That experience led me into the business and corporate world.
Nothing in my background foreshadowed my eventual career switch into the world of counseling. But I had crashed and burned. Stress had caught up with me. Early in my 30s, with two suicide attempts to my credit and a happy marriage disintegrated, I was forced to reconsider my path in life. I studied psychotherapy – first and foremost, so I could work on myself. To keep me out of an early grave. Like the scientist I was trained to be, I took my life apart and examined it piece by piece. Events over the years had accumulated to the point that I’d become a fragile, vulnerable soul. I was defenseless; my life had descended into a perpetual state of crisis.
Once I’d unburdened myself of many of my demons, I felt ready to enroll in a psychotherapist’s course. I had no intention of saving the world. But I wanted to stay true to my principles, my values, my new way of life. Working with the distressed was a selfish act – a personal life insurance policy tucked into my back pocket, there in case the black dog of depression showed up at my door once more. Trained in crisis intervention, I could build my own private lighthouse and watch for the telltale signs of turbulent seas before the tsunami. I built a personal and professional support system. It was, I hoped, sufficiently large for any cries for help to be heard before it was too late.
To realize you need help takes a lot of humility. I apprenticed as an aide to my own personal psychotherapist; then I spread my wings and took flight myself. I felt oddly at ease as those in distress came to see me with their problems. It gave me an air of calm. For better or for worse, I fed off the misery of others. Helping them with their dilemmas gave me strength.
Was I right to draw strength from the weaknesses of my patients? When I wrestled with this question, I tumbled back into that dark place I’d crawled out from. Perhaps it is best to accept the contradictory nature of human existence. The world is not black and white. Joy and sadness, strength and weakness, are not mutually exclusive: accepting that the world is a rainbow makes life a wonderful thing.
Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT
Suicide Prevention Hotlines:
Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553). CLSCs can also help you.
Canada: Canada Suicide Prevention Service 833-456-4566
U.S.: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).