Clues were there, but they were so shrouded by his display of public anger that I, and his closest friends, didn’t see it.
I’ve been dwelling over this post for several days. I’ve tried to make it short, but I can’t. There is no TL;DR, not sorry about that, because this topic is important enough not to glaze over.
I don’t believe the decision for suicide happens because of one incident. There’s a buildup, over time, of several small things that make someone feel worthless, feel unneeded, a bother to others, feel without direction, and the feeling that there’s nothing good that will ever happen in their future.
What are the clues that can trigger these feelings?
Here are a few I can think of from my own experiences:
- Told they are a family disappointment
- Relationship Rejection
- Loss of a job
- Long term unemployment
- Struggles with sexual identity
- Pressure to succeed at school
- Religious rejection
- Health issues
- Late night drinking while feeling lonely
Each of these can lead to feeling of being blue and then depression. Compounded issues over time lead to feelings of worthlessness and consideration of suicide.
My friend Mike Hopper was someone who lashed out all the time. With me, he always came off as an angry person who dwelt on the negative. In private, many times he told me he didn’t approve of what I was doing, and in turn I would ask what I could do better. I always look for the positive in every situation whereas Mike always approached things from the negative side.
Back in June 2018, he made a few accusations about me which lead to friends of mine having some public and private arguments with him. I told my friends to ignore what he said because I knew Mike liked to make incendiary comments when he was drunk. I shrugged off is accusations and incendiary comments.
On September 13, 2018, Mike did something very uncharacteristic. He contacted me and apologized for his June behavior. He admitted that he knew what he said was untrue. His clear and genuine apology surprised me, and I told him not to let it bother him, and that I had already forgotten it. He responded with “thank you for being so cool about it.”
Looking back over my chat with him I realize that his apology was so unusual for our friendship that, I should have realized it was a classic "mending-bridges suicide behavioral clue." He had already made his decision and he was the one being very cool hoping not to leave me feeling bad.
Days before his suicide, he posted a selfie in front of a Confederate Flag to his Facebook account, and he even made it his profile header photo... As soon as I saw it, I knew the community was going to blow up. Within hours, he was a subject of many types negative comments and attacks on Facebook and Instagram. Some pups even went so far as to make statements that no one should be friends with Mike, others even started unfriending all mutual friends who refused to unfriend Mike. Meanwhile,
There are few things that can trigger the U.S. community, and that flag is certainly one of them. He posted the flag 3 times this week. Look back over his comments from Monday and Tuesday and you’ll see he didn’t defend his photos and he didn’t stir the argument. He didn’t have to. He pulled a pin on a grenade and watched everyone react.
Here’s the kicker, that flag was NOT even his, as he lead everyone to believe. That flag was hung in his fiancé’s bedroom. Thinking back over this single photo, I now believe that he intentionally kindled a flame war with other pups in the community as a way to further distance himself from others. From the friendship I had with him, I knew a post like that was normal for his typical personality.
Knowing all this doesn’t making his behavior correct, it just shows us that he was dealing with emotional issues that could not be noticed, or helped, by his best friend, his fiancé, or his sister.
In the wake of his suicide, many in the community shifted their comments to towards taking a stance against cyber bullying. Those people cited all of the cyber bullying against Mike (because of the flag) as a reason for his suicide. Meanwhile, others shrugged off his death with claims that Mike was a horrible person because he believed in what the Confederate Flag stood for.
Truthfully, instead of jumping on a cyber bullying wagon, or the horrible person wagon, everyone should have asked themselves how we missed the clues of suicidal ideology.
Although cyber bullying is real, and should be addressed, we all need to re-evaluate how we treat people who:
- Are always grumpy
- Always depressed
- Always claiming to give up their gear because everyone hates them
- Always claim they are worthless
- Always angry
- Always starting arguments
This list can go on and on, but I’m sure you already have a few people in mind who fit into this infamous group.
Heck, I know several pups who “cry depressed wolf” so often that it’s hard to keep trying to send them uplifting support. I admit that after a while it’s hard to take their claims of depression seriously because they don’t take action to make life better.
These are the questions we should be asking:
- Are you thinking of harming yourself?
- Have you worried about suicide?
- Do you wish you could end it all?
- Do you feel you would be better off dead?
As I said, Mike posted 3 flag photos this week. Before posting the 2nd one, he taunted the community with a question if he should “be petty today,” and he said he was on a countdown to being the “most hated pup.” His actions were intentional to fire everyone up. He hid his depression behind a mask of anger.
I believe the flag thing was his icing on the cake. Maybe he was planning on suicide this week. Maybe not. Remember that he took that strange moment last week to make amends with me. Who else did he do that too?
The fact is that, he purposely changed his cover photo to a selfie with the flag as an ultimate FU to all the bullies. He didn’t do it in support of racism. He took his life a short time later. Did he think ahead that his account would be memorialized by FB policy, and that a Confederate Flag selfie cover photo would never be changed? This is now a lasting monument to his final act.
That lasting monument should help people come together to understand more about depression and bullying as serious issues. But the cynic in me says that it won't.
We don’t have to become mental health experts; we just need more awareness and to point those in need to professional help.
Mike’s best friend is also a good friend of mine. He’s been a wreck all week because he was talking to Mike just minutes before he took his life. Like so many times before, Mike told him that he was going to kill himself, but that statement had become so common that my friend didn't consider him serious.
For me, I do not support the symbolism of that flag. I do not support any public display of the flag. I have mixed feelings regarding those who want to display that flag on the basis that it is part of their heritage. I also disagree with those who say we need to keep that flag around so we don’t make the same mistakes. Shouldn't we be learning from history and museums rather than having archaic symbols flying in public, as if they still matter? I sure hope that flag doesn't matter any more, yet, every time someone waves that flag it almost seems like a call to arms for another civil war.
On a personal level, I avoid (sometime even run from) anyone who flies that flag outside their house, or who attaches it to their truck. Although I don’t want to whitewash anything, when it comes to this flag, I think it’s better to leave it off social media.
His final days were intentionally controversial, which is exactly how he liked it, and what he probably wanted to be remembered for. But I won't remember him that way. Instead, I've written all of this out to honor Mike's memory, and to help others better recognize the seriousness of depression.
It’s okay for everyone to be mixed up and confused over this. After several days of deep thought of my own, everything I’ve said here is how I have reconciled Mike’s actions.
In closing, Mike had wanted to come to one of my monthly fetish parties, but always had some depression or "no one wants me" type excuse for never coming. Yet, he left his red pup hood to his best friend so that his hood could attend a party without him.
Originally published to Tumblr on September 22, 2018