Eric lays in bed, hands shaking, heart racing, and emotionally devastated as it seems his entire world is falling apart in this very moment. Everything he’s worked so hard to build over the last five years is falling to pieces. All that time, effort, hard work, sweat, tears… It was all for nothing. He stares at his phone with the latest heart-break. An email from his last lender: We regret to inform you that a review of your credit has determined that we will be reducing your business credit.
All of his life dreams are coming to and end. That dream home. That dream car. Those dream vacations. Providing for his wife and three children. It’s all no longer possible. There is no way out of this. This is it.
Eric’s wife, Eva, enters the room. “Jenna is here, sweetheart. Do you want to go first?”
“What’s the point?”
“What happened? Is it the business? You’ll make it through. WE will make it through anything, sweetheart.” Eva knows how much Eric has put into his business. The long hours. The late nights working with his team to build their prototypes. The research. The constant failures, and the occasional success.
It has all taken its toll on Eric over the last five years. Eva has seen him deteriorate into deep states of depression, with each bout stronger and longer than the last. Jenna could not have arrived at a more perfect time!
“I don’t think I can do this anymore, Eva. No, I don’t want to do this anymore. I just don’t. I can’t. Just go out there and meet with Jenna, and come get me once you’re done.”
Eva knows that’s Eric’s cry for help. She’s seen it twice before when she had to call the paramedics to save Eric. First time was a belt wrapped around his neck. Second time was downing an entire bottle of his anti-depressant medication with a half bottle of sleep medication and as much Vodka as he could stomach without puking.
“There is no way that is happening, darling. Even if you meet her in you pajamas, you’re meeting with her now. You know this is going to help.”
Eric looks at Eva with tears in his eyes. “Sweetie, don’t you understand that I don’t want this anymore. I love you, but I just can’t do this anymore. You are better off without me.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 50 years on this planet it is that I am most certainly NOT better off without you. I will never believe that, no matter how hard you try to convince me. Now, I’m going to go out there and make her some coffee. I’ll see you out there soon. I love you so much.” Eva kisses Eric on the forehead.
Eric knows there’s no escaping. Eva has skillfully removed everything from the bedroom and bathroom that he could ever use to hurt himself. He contemplates tying the sheets together before Eva interrupts his daydream…
“Don’t even give that thought any attention.”
Eric feels like she can read his mind, but his desperation is written all over his face. Even their dog can sense it as she jumps up on the bed and start licking Eric’s face.
“The dog’s still got it!” Eric laughs.
“Eva told me about your episode this morning.” Jenna says kindly to Eric.
“Ya, well, you know how it goes. Can’t win ’em all”
“No, I don’t know, Eric, but help me understand. I want you to start from the beginning. Let’s start with your very first memory. Go as far back as you can remember, and tell me everything. I might jump around with questions, but by the end of today your entire story will be known.”
Eric begins telling Jenna everything. Starting from growing up in a trailer park, to his abusive father and mother, to his run-ins with the law, to his troubles with relationships and even friendships, to years of therapy, to his attempts at suicide, and now his business failures. Eric tells Jenna everything while she diligently takes notes and asks questions. Then, finally, Eric is done telling his story.
“Let’s take a dinner break, Eric. Then we’re going to get right down to it.”
Jenna pulls out a meal from her cooler bag and asks to use the microwave to heat it up. Eva comes out into the kitchen to make dinner for her and Eric. The three of them sit around the table talking about Eric and Eva’s marriage and how it and their three children have been the single source of happiness for Eric over the last ten years.
Eva can sense that something is opening up for Eric just by having shared his story with Jenna. She knows that Eric’s tough childhood lead to his drive to work so hard. She looks lovingly at him while he shares a rare happy story from childhood when his family pretended that they were camping in a tent in their living room. They passed around a flashlight and told each other ghost stories like they were sitting around a campfire in the woods.
“It was the only time I ever really remember being happy as a family.” Eric looks down at his empty plate. “We literally got evicted the next day, but in that moment I remember being filled with so much joy. I never felt that happy again until I met Eva.”
“Well, Eva, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to go so that I can get back to working with Eric.”
Eva gets up from the table, bends down to kiss Eric and then whispers in his ear, “I love you sweetheart. I’d be happy living in a tent with you.”
Jenna continues her inquiry. “Eric, do you know why your parents did what they did when you were younger?”
“I know my dad was abused. Not really sure about my mom.”
“That might very well be true that your dad was abused. We can’t truly know that because we weren’t there. What we do know is that he abused you in the worst ways possible. You were there for that. And he did that for the same reason that we all do what we do.”
“We all do what we do because that’s all we know to do. We don’t know any better. And when we do learn better, we do better. Which is why you are not like your father or your father’s father. Or even your mother.”
Eric looks down at the table while Jenna pauses.
“Eric, you are here today because your wife loves you and your children love you and your dog loves you and because deep down inside you really do love yourself. You are here today because you don’t want to be your father to yourself anymore. You don’t want to be your mother to yourself anymore. You don’t want to keep abusing yourself or hiding from yourself anymore. You are here because you saw your life unraveling before your very eyes. Your entire existence was coming to and end, and that is one thing you are right about!”
Jenna pauses again. Eric is looking puzzled.
“Eric, your life as you know it is ending today. This life where you continue to abuse yourself, where you have become your father inside your own mind. This life where you think so low of yourself that you’re willing to end it all just because your business failed is over.”
Jenna continues on with Eric, addressing his questions and concerns about how he’s going to recreate his past. She shares with him about psychological studies regarding memory recall and gives him physical, artistic, and mental exercises that he is to do every single day; provided he is not overexerting himself to the point of possible injury.
He needs to flood his life with anything and everything that makes him happy. All day long, he is to surround himself with positivity and people/things that make him happy. Everyday, a new list of things that made him happy that day needs to be written down and posted on the wall in his home office. Everyday, he is to read a cognitive reframing statement the two of them have come up with to rewrite his past. The list of daily activities is long but necessary to combat Eric’s darkness.
“You will push back. Your body will go through the equivalent to drug withdrawals because you are quite literally halting your use of drugs that your brain is producing when you are depressed.” Jenna warns Eric. “This is normal. Knowing that it’s coming won’t make any difference. Your body is still going to do what your body does. When that happens, read your reframing statement until you believe it. If it takes reading it 100 times in a row, you’re going to read that statement out loud, right?”
It’s been three months since Jenna visited a suicidal Eric. There have been scores of phone calls, panicking text messages, and desperate emails. Eric and Eva are eagerly awaiting Jenna’s arrival. Each week, Eric has improved. His happy jams playlist has grown to a 6 hour-long mix of rock, rap, country, classical, jazz, and pop music that would make anyone dance nonstop for 1/4 of a day! He’s meditating daily and has updated his reframing statement to include relationships in his life other than his parents.
Eric’s confidence is returned. His business bankruptcy is well underway, and it is not dragging him down. He still has frequent depressing thoughts, but he hasn’t had a suicide thought in more than a week.
“Often times, I’m finding myself just being happy for no reason, Jenna! I smile just because it’s today.” Eric shared with Jenna about how grateful he is to have the loving support of his wife for when Jenna isn’t instantly available to help, and how their kids can really see a difference in him as well.
Eva is beaming with joy about how Jenna has given her back the man she loved. “I always knew he had this in him. I always knew he could find happiness within, and I just didn’t know how to bring him to that place. I don’t know how you are able to do what you do, but it’s amazing, Jenna! I can’t thank you enough for giving me back my husband and my children’s father.”
“It’s all within you, Eric. I was merely a listening device to allow you to hear you story about your past for what it is; just a story.” Jenna begins going over how the remaining six months of Eric’s treatment is going to go. Much of the same work for Eric but with a greater focus on independence from contacting Jenna.
“We’re essentially weaning your off your reliance on me. We should have had enough interactions by now that you’ll know what I’m going to tell you no matter what comes your way. Let’s not pretend that tomorrow is going to be negative thought free or that a negative thought free day is even the goal. Negative thoughts can sometimes help you live a more fulfilling life. YOU just need to make sure you don’t get wrapped up and consumed in them. And you do that by sticking to your regiment of happiness.”
Jenna hands Eric a card. “And if it’s not working and I’m not around and neither is Eva. If you are all alone and can’t see the blue sky, I want you to read what’s on this card 10 times out loud with more enthusiasm with each time.”
Eric looks puzzled, “But the card is blank, Jenna.”
“Exactly. What do you want to put on it?”
Eric looks down at the card and smiles.
happiness happens here