Today, I watched as a friend of mine was lowered into the ground. As I stood in the direct light of the sun, in a full suit, I felt the countless beads of sweat falling down my back as I stared at a plain wooden casket descending. I just couldn’t believe I was standing there, watching as Adam Greenberg was buried. The sobs of his heartbroken wife cut through the prayers and the sounds of wind on the trees. Adam’s 6 year old son was waiting in the Limo, unaware of the severity of the situation at hand. And somewhere out there, Adam’s 1 year old daughter was being loved and held as the rest unfolded before us.
I’ve been to funerals before. My grandparents, parents of my friends, relatives, but I had never been to a funeral like this. We weren’t burying someone who had lived a long life, or a life that simply provided too much physical pain for that person to continue on. No, we were burying a 36 year old man who had suffered from severe depression for a very long time. We buried a man who suffered so severely that he said goodbye to his wife and kids and took his own life for reasons that remain unclear. More than that, we buried a friend of mine, one who kept his secret from me for as long as I knew him, and it pains me to know that I probably could have helped him had I known.
I knew Adam for years, but we really bonded when Adam became manager of Total Wine as their purchaser in 2015. He knew about wines, but knew very little about spirits. Once he learned of my heavy obsession with bourbon, we began to talk, almost on a daily basis. Adam would come over and try the products his store sold. He would bring bottles with him to get our opinion of them. A few days would not go by without a text or a call or a message regarding something with bourbon. He would visit the bourbon trail to pick out bourbons and send me pictures along the way. We would talk about our kids, about life in general. He was one of those genuinely nice guys who really cared about you and your family. There was nothing fake about Adam, and he always seemed content with life. I enjoyed the bond that we shared.
In all the times we talked, or drank together, I never knew he suffered. He had been depressed for years, but few people knew. Had he told me, I probably could have helped. On the surface, I am very similar to Adam. I am outgoing, I am friendly, and I am generally very calm. I am the life of a party, extremely extroverted, and I have no problems making friends.
I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. I have been on antidepressants, mood stabilizers, sleeping pills. I have a therapist and a psychiatrist. I have coping techniques, breathing techniques, relaxation techniques. No one but my wife and my therapists and a few close friends know the severity of what I have. I have been stable and happy for awhile now, but I know that could change easily with a major life shift or extreme stress. My friends know me as the guy who always goes to bed by 11. I know that not getting enough sleep raises my anxiety, so I sleep as much as I can to avoid that. You could know me for years and never know I have a mental illness, but I do.
There is a tremendous stigma around mental illness. We can have cancer, diseases, anything that is physical, and we get support. But we mention depression or anxiety and there are still far too many people that think it’s not a real condition. “Oh you just need to toughen up”, “you just need to pray it away”, “just take some meds and you’ll be fine”.
No, that’s not how it works.
Mental illness is real. It’s not imaginary. It’s not weakness. It is not a lack of faith. It is a physical condition where the proper amount of chemicals are not created in the brain for one reason or another. It exists with many, it is spoken with very few. You probably have friends or family who suffer, but you don’t know it. We all say we don’t know the demons people experience, but we still turn a blind eye to someone when we hear they have ‘mental issues’. Society still shuns the mentally weak, the mentally ill. We’ve come a long way, but we are no where near where we need to be.
I hope one day anyone who is suffering can speak freely. Until then do your part and don’t judge. Stand by your friends and your family, and don’t wait until they are being lowered into the ground to really offer help.
And Adam, thank you for all the memories. Rest in peace my dear friend.