Tommy Maloney failed in a big way, a good way, and a way that taught him everything he needed to know to be a successful father.
I failed. I blew it. And that’s life.
I try not to look back, but there are those rare occasions when I will reflect back to the dark times in my young life and analyze the “why” of doing what I thought could be a quick fix. I’d like to proclaim that I am a failure … and proud of it. I failed in a very good way, a way that if I had been more ambitious, these words would not have hit the page. When you go back into your past and try to put a finger on the root cause of wanting to end your life with pills and knives, it can get pretty dramatic—and traumatic. You don’t want to go back there, but you have to ask—and answer—the “why.” In my primitive psychology 101 beliefs, the reasons go back to the profound effect that my parents divorce had on me, and it took many years for me to realize their breakup’s roll in making such a messed up kid— and troubled adult.
The first time you try to kill yourself is sort like the first time you have sex—an experience you never forget. The first time I tried to take my life, I was torn, because I could not make a simple choice between two field trips. I got stuck in the morass of doubt and fear. What would happen if I made the wrong decision? I am not a psychologist, but looking back now, it’s clear to me that my parents’ divorce made me not want to disappoint others and therefore afraid of making the wrong choice. So instead of deciding one way or the other, I downed a whole bottle of children’s aspirin. Nothing much happened to me as a result, but I did not go to school the next day, as I told my mom I was too sick. I was in 6th grade and had just switched to a new school. So change was another variable I couldn’t handle. I joke now that as a result of my aspirin overdose, I may never have a heart attack—that’s my weird sense of humor. But a suicide attempt—albeit a failed one—and the despair and hopelessness that prompted it—are never funny, ever. Later I moved on from kids stuff to trying to cut my wrists. Fortunately, my mom caught me in the act when I was about 18. Then came counseling.
The first time I went to therapy was with my parents in the same room. I did not want to be there, and I sat defiantly with my sunglasses on and arms folded declaring I was fine and did not need to be there or ever come back. Looking back with what I know now, I wonder if maybe I should have been committed. Clearly I was mentally unstable—though not necessarily in need of in-patient therapy. I did go back on Saturdays for a while on my own to the same therapist, and I tried to get something out of the hour-long sessions, but I was a teenager, and I thought I knew it all.
While the two attempts I’ve described were the closest calls and the last ones I made, I never stopped thinking about wanting to end my life—until one particular day I’m going to tell you about. This day was one of “those” days when everything went wrong and I was wondering, what’s next? I remember sitting in one of those low-to-the-floor chairs with cut up tennis balls on the legs for a parent-teacher conference. There I was all hunched over and scrunched into the seat, and I just lost it. It was September of 2008, and I was in the beginning stages of my divorce. I started crying uncontrollably, mostly because I had held in my feelings about the divorce for so long. I was so emotional I had to leave the school, after I begged my son’s teacher to please keep an eye on him and make sure he was OK. My first priority was not my mental health but the health and well being of my son. After leaving the school, I walked home, and when I got inside my door, I just wanted to end it all. I had been almost on the floor in the kids’ chair, and now I dropped down flat on my carpet and cried as if I had never cried before.
I remember hearing motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that if you are down, set a time frame to be down. That advice that I had read in his books and heard him say live or on video went in one ear and out the other. I did pick myself up, but not before I spent at least eight months living every day as a pity party. I knew I had to get help, or my son was not going to have his dad. My first step to restoring my mental health was to go back to counseling, but this time voluntarily on my terms. The second step was developing healthy pursuits to keep my mind occupied, so I started to write my first blog called “yesyoucanmotivation.” With these two new pieces to my life, I began to see there could be reasons to live and be the best dad I could be. The dark days were slowly beginning to fade behind me.
My mental health was tested at an early age, and today I still have the occasional dark moment. Fortunately, I have found outlets such writing or even basic yard work that keep my spirits up and allow me to express myself. If you are a woman reading this, please help the men in your life get help. We men can be stubborn and defensive, especially when it comes to seeking help such as asking for directions. Please do not give up on your men or ever let them give up. And guys, you do not need to keep your feelings inside of you! Stifling your emotions doesn’t make you a hero. I am blessed today to have a great family and to know that my wife is my greatest support. Guys, if you do not have support from your partner, ask for it. When you ask for help, you will see that not only is your purpose in life beginning to show but also you understand the lesson that took me a long time to figure out—that asking is not begging. Find your life’s purpose and—trust me—you will live on. My life’s purpose is to be a dad.