09/30/2014 05:45 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

The Loss of Panda

I sat for 20 minutes attempting to find the best title for this post and couldn't find one. Recently a woman I had been involved with in my past took her own life, and my thoughts are strong, but difficult to fully put into words.

Of course, they center on "Why?"

She was young and beautiful and strong and well spoken.  From a small farming town, she carried herself all the way to a master's degree at a top-level university, and started her own private practice bringing therapy to those who had eating disorders and family issues.

We were together during the summer of 2005, the summer of the Blue Lagoon.  My friend's grandfather had turned his ranch home in a wealthy community over to my friend to watch for the summer while he was away.  My friend was required to get the pool painted (blue), and was told that he and his friends could have the use of it all summer.  So we did.  And she was there, with her smile and her Rolling Rock beer.

She had since moved to Louisville.  She had a Maine Coon cat named Jack, and a Pomeranian dog named Reggie, and most importantly, a man she loved and lived with.

We were still friends, but we would bicker too much on Facebook, so we weren't linked there. Really, it was my sarcastic view of the world and her serious belief of my impact on too many.  

Not that I have any impact on anyone really, just my attitude and the example it was of society, I think.  But we still talked via text or email and would see each other's posts on Instagram -- mainly of our pets. She loved to see my Rottweiler, Max.

And recently, I had been helping her to send her resume out while she looked for jobs back here in St. Louis.

Two nights ago, she changed her Facebook picture to one of Reggie supporting her St. Louis Cardinals, and a few hours later on Instagram, I posted a picture of Max and Cat having a stare down. She 'liked it' just after I posted it.

Then a few hours later, she took her own life.

And now, we are back to "Why?" To my knowledge, there was no note, there was no explanation. And even if there was -- no matter what it could have been said -- the 'why' is really never enough to justify it.

It seems that it's impossible for some people to be happy with what they have these days. They act happy of course, but we live in a world where the season finale about the Kardashians featured Kim marrying her soul mate Kanye, the love of her life, to live on forever in wealth and beauty and happiness is all important.

Wait, what?  Didn't she do that three seasons ago?

And so many follow suit. We all trudge on with our bullshit. While we believe we are far from Kardashians, we don't realize the impact we have on others or how quickly we move on.  We have become a society of disposable people. We don't play by the rules anymore.  We don't hold ourselves or each other accountable.

But then there are the few, the good-natured few, who dedicate their lives to helping those who can't handle the burden of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And eventually, they can't handle the burden themselves.

People corrupt themselves every day; they cheat, they lie, they try to have the right attitude and speak in Kardashian-like extremes where everything is SO this and SO that, and the extremes impact others. People feel like they are in a competition for love and attention, when in reality they are only competing with their own issues.

"Well, you don't understand my life," and "Why do you care what I do?" is the general attitude. They don't realize that while people may not care, they still notice.  They like to think they are getting away with things, but they aren't.  

They have terrible impact on their kids or family or friends. They treat others like shit and don't even realize it. Then the friends are gone and kids are a mess and the parents just enable it and reinforce anything the kids say so they can feel that the kids love them no matter what.  The kids then think their parent is their best friend, because they never have any conflict, while each is on a self-destructive crash course and they can't figure out what their problems are.

And my friend dealt with this every day.

There are some basics in life. Be a good person and be upfront, honest and true. She was all of those good things, and she called it like it was. She was caring, and she knew how to handle people, without letting them live the lies, and without letting them fall to the pressures put on them by family or society.

She knew the truth would set them free.

If she were here to read this, she would tell me I'm honest, but I'm just as much a part of the problem with my picky sexist views and lack of flexibility toward those who have genuine troubles.  She would tell me that people who are caught up in alcoholism or a bad marriage or self-esteem issues need help.  She would tell me that men who cheat have narcissism issues, and women -- oof -- she would tell me that so many women are a mess, but that I needed to get them help because I just could never understand the pressure from fathers, or worse, divorced parents. And on top of all of that, how society beats down on women and is so much harder on them, and how strong a woman has to be to get around all that.

Okay, there. In my private eulogy, I said everything like I think she would have... not that I completely agree. But I secretly always did know her thoughts were valid, on some level. Ha.

Most people in my world end up with a nickname of some kind (oddly, I haven't), and she loved animals so much.  Her favorite for a while were pandas.  She loved to watch the panda-cam from the zoos around the world, especially the baby pandas.  And in that, some of us started to call her Panda.

She loved all the animals, even the human ones. One of my lifelong friends is a big, tall, out of shape, loud, obnoxious animal.  He has literally been shot in the head and lived to talk about it.  
Imagine the guy who was a hockey goon all through high school and his short span in college, who now owns a business and spends every night drinking hard in a bar trying to figure out why he can't lose weight as he loudly bellows crass commentary at whatever factory secretary happens to stumble in.  He's an animal.

And yet, she loved him. She once told me that of all my guy friends, he was her favorite.  And I would ask, why? He's loud and obnoxious and rude. She would reply, "He's just a loud, obnoxious teddy bear." She could wrap him around her finger, and in turn, the goon was beside himself all day after he heard the news of her death.

Panda wasn't perfect. The unhappy side of her (Amanda) cost her a wonderful life and us a great soul, because the good side of Panda was one of the greatest people you could hope to know.

And it was because Panda was genuine and she genuinely cared.  You knew how she felt, you didn't catch her in lies, and she didn't do anything she would be embarrassed by.  She fought past her insecurities and didn't do things people could gossip about, and you always knew where you stood. You always knew she would be there when she said she would. There was no chance that something would "come up" or that she could let you down.  When she cared about you, you knew it.  And really, she cared about everyone.

She was so good it frustrated me at times.  Our differences didn't end our relationship years ago. That ended purely because I wasn't ready to let the relationship progress. And after, in our friendship, there were times when we disagreed on things so strongly, I couldn't talk to her.

Then, the night after I found out she died, I got a voicemail from a friend of ours: "I know she was very fond of you, it just saddens me... she adored you. She would always talk about how much she loved you.  I never conveyed that to you, but she did."

And, she's gone, and we are left with a world quickly filling with people who find others disposable, and think that ease and comfort are relationship qualities, but bail when truth surfaces and life gets hard. I guess she bailed, too... following the trend I guess.

Except, she's one that was worth keeping around, and we didn't know she needed help.

So people, from now on, be a Panda.  Stop competing, stop trying to live the way society does, don't live a life you have to hide, stop living in fear of other people's judgment.  Trust me, if you need drama in your life, there's enough drama in the truth if you rub it in each other's faces.

And really, if your truth is so awesome that you can't find drama in it, you should probably grow up and be happy with it.

Find your happiness. If you are not strong enough, reach out to people, and if you are strong enough, be someone that others can reach out to. And ask, ask others how they are, and be a lifeline... even if it's just long enough to hand them off to someone else.

Be a panda.

Stop hiding your life. Someone will accept it.  And stop hiding things from others so that others know you will accept them.


And don't let yourself be burdened by society and family and the bullshit of life.  Learn to let go; dragging up old drama for attention is only hurting you.  Everyone sees through the bullshit, even you. Stop playing the game.  We all need to stop playing the game, because some people are just giving up.

I've lost two friends to suicide in the last year. Two. One was a businessman with a beautiful wife and home and two beautiful kids. And now, I've lost panda. Why?

Find your happiness. And if you can't, find help.

Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

And if you just need a break and some happiness, click here for the Panda-Cam.