Mental Health

A little background – I’ve always kept a primary job since I don’t make enough income from my expert witness and writing work to support my household.  I’ve also witnessed some colossal meltdowns where towing company owners or managers have thrown tools, equipment, slammed truck doors, or berated an employee or two.  Never, though, have I witnessed, first-hand, where a company owner made a half-hearted attempt (I’ll explain later) to commit suicide, and then ended up in an argument with me over whether I would help him die to put himself out of his misery.  That happened last week, and truly, I still haven’t recovered from the ordeal, and likely won’t for quite some time.

We need to talk about mental health, and more importantly, be man enough or woman enough to ask for help.  The stresses of running a small business fluctuate daily in intensity, and how we deal with those issues dictates the condition of both our mental and physical health.  I realize that there are egos involved, and usually a lot of pride, and asking for help may seem weak to some – like you’ve failed in life and in business.  Please look at it another way – if you continue to go down whatever rabbit hole you’re in and your business fails because of it, isn’t it the same thing?  To prevent further damage makes a ton of sense – saving your life, health, and business?

In the towing industry, just like any other field in the first responder world, we see some awful stuff.  We see mangled bodies, injured children, injured pets, and of course, thousands of dollars in property and equipment damage.  Military combat troops, police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, doctors, and nurses have all made the realization that it’s ok to NOT be ok after seeing some of the things we’ve seen and dealt with what we do.  Putting up that façade of being ok and tough is great and all when you want to impress your buddies, but I think you’re foolish for thinking that all those experiences don’t impact you significantly.  

Our industry, like the others, has a few people who get help, talk it out, and use wholesome outlets to get rid of the stress, anxiety, and shock of the daily job.  Others, though, hide in a bottle.  Some use drugs.  Some use drugs to excess after being prescribed something fairly normal for a routine injury.  Some people have affairs.  Some gamble.  Some just buy more toys, thinking that having toys makes them appear successful and they can go play on their boat or bike and “get away.”

Let’s talk about that bike.  I have a friend in Texas who owns a towing company.  He was always worked up and pissed off and decided one day to buy his dream bike – a Harley Davidson CVO Street Glide.  $42,000.  Dude was beaming when he got it, and he rode it regularly for a few weeks.  Get that – a few weeks.  I talked to him after the bike had sat collecting dust in the shop for about six months, asking him why he didn’t ride it more often.  He said he felt guilty.  His crew was out working.  He was playing.  He had a $700 bike payment to make, and he worried that if he didn’t take quite a few calls himself that he’d come up short.  His toy – his purchase – had made things worse for him.  He had added a bill, felt guilty about riding it, and worked more hours than he did before he bought it.  All in the name of stress relief.  It didn’t work.

A guy I worked with for almost a year drank to excess.  He’d show up for a call and I’d have to make him sit in the truck so he didn’t get busted by the police on scene.  His recent bitter divorce had him losing sleep, staying up until all hours, sleeping late, and not doing anything with the business.  He wanted his son to take over the business, but he was damaged, too, by his parent’s divorce and the horrible business battle involving two towing locations – and the son was part-time, at best.  The son came around and started doing more with the business but drank and smoked pot while he was on-duty.  He had his girlfriend with him on a long-distance tow, both were drinking, and the son crossed the center line and hit a big truck head-on.  He and his girlfriend were killed.  His dad all but vanished, let the business go downhill, and ended up taking his own life.  I look back at that scenario that I first encountered quite a few years before and wonder how I could have helped.  I pushed, made suggestions, even had a few screaming matches – but nothing worked, and I moved on.

The half-hearted suicide attempt?  Two months earlier, this guy had been arguing with his wife on the phone while he was 2,500 miles from home, on Facetime, and pulled out his gun and stuck it to his head.  He pulled the trigger, but missed, because he “pulled” the shot. In my unfortunate experience of being on-scene at several suicides, the common thread is that the person didn’t say anything to anyone.  They didn’t threaten suicide, have a screaming match, or try to make some kind of show out of it.  What a significantly awful thing to do to your wife or other loved one.  I got the rest of that story the night I decided to grab a rental car and get away from the guy.  He had actually asked me to kill him, knowing that I have a gun on me most of the time.  I felt like I was in a hostage negotiation situation…I was driving a loaded truck down the road, he was in the passenger seat, and he knew my gun was in my bag.  Never again do I want to be in a similar scenario.

We’ve all had to deal with our own “demons.”  I’ve certainly had mine.  It wasn’t until this guy showed me his “demons” this past week that I realized how prevalent mental health issues are, and you just never know what someone is going through.  

I’m going to ask you to put your pride on the shelf.  Ask for help.  It’s really ok.  You don’t have to make anything public.  Talk to a counselor, a friend, a pastor, or just someone who will lend an ear.  By the time you’re knee-deep in a bottle or doing drugs, or buying your fifth boat or bike, it may be too late to save your business – and more importantly, may be too late to save your health or your life.  

Here’s another idea – reaching out and helping someone else by talking things out has a really cool way of letting you help yourself.  You may see your own issues in the person you’re talking to – and as a result, solve your own problems.  It surely has worked with me on several occasions.