Julien: Dave’s story and the harrowing dilemma of mental illness

Did my friend ever realize he was in trouble? Most likely not. But if Dave never thought he needed help, how could he be offered help?

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Mental illness is devastating. I think most people understand that. However, there is a conundrum here: What if someone needs help but doesn’t think they need it? What if they are not even aware that they are in trouble?

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On the night of May 2, 2022, I received a visit from two officers from the Ottawa Police Service. They came to tell me that my dear old friend, David Thomas Foohey, had been found dead in his house. He had been dead for quite some time, about three months. I still don’t know the cause of death, but since the police don’t suspect foul play, some form of “natural cause” is likely to be declared. That is very difficult to write.

Dave and I met when I was eight years old and developed a friendship that survived our childhood and deepened as we both grew into adults. His friendship meant the world to me; I was a lonely, isolated and shy child. Dave was also shy and we bonded over a lot of different things: comics, RPGs, and pro wrestling in particular, but also pop culture and, as we got older, life in general.

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Dave’s shyness wasn’t justified. His parents had him quite late in life. His father was in his 50s when Dave was born. Dave’s father, David Edmund Foohey, and his mother, Mary-Anne Coughlan, eventually had marital problems and their marriage broke up. Both of his parents were also legally blind; Dave’s dad had been blind since he was born and his mom lost his sight when he was 11 years old.

Dave’s mom died in 2004. Then in 2008, his dad died. Given the age of his father, this death really wasn’t a surprise, but, although Dave seemed “fine” after his mother’s death, I don’t think he was prepared for his father’s death. Although Dave was clearly hurt, he couldn’t easily talk about that pain.

To his credit, Dave sought help from his doctor, who referred him to a psychiatrist. Dave ended up trying a prescription antidepressant to cope, but the problem with a drug like this is that it can often take a long time to “get it right.” In Dave’s case, the medication “weakened” him emotionally. He put it this way: all of his emotions, not just the sad ones, were diverted. Not sad, not full of loss, but equally losing happiness and joy. There was just nothing at all. As a result, Dave gave up medication. He never tried another.

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Once his father’s inheritance was settled, he quit his job and moved into his father’s house, living as best he could on his inheritance. That house, in an old and quiet neighborhood, became his prison.

Over time, getting to him became impossible. I left phone messages and emails that were never returned. I would try to send postcards and letters, sometimes even with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, but they wouldn’t come back.

Dave Foohey and Eric (Von Allan) Julien in 1995.
Dave Foohey and Eric (Von Allan) Julien in 1995. Photo by Eric ‘Von Allan’ Julien /Illustrated by Von Allan

Eventually, I got desperate and contacted the police to arrange a wellness check. They told me that I would have to try to visit him in person before the police intervened. I still vividly remember getting off the bus and walking about 15 minutes to his house. As I got closer, I could see a stack of mail in the mailbox. With a lump in my throat, I walked over to the door and started banging on it. After a while, I heard a commotion inside… and then Dave opened the door.

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I almost cried with relief. He was fine, but he was also bewildered, gently dismissing my concerns. The phone? I was having trouble with the phone company. Email? Too much spam, so he gave up. Self-addressed and stamped postcards and letters? I never got to answer them. What’s the fuss?

It’s hard to put into words how shocking this was. I was hoping that my angst over whether he was alive or dead might have an impact. Perhaps things would change for the better? But no, my little intervention made no difference. He continued to live alone in that dilapidated house, on that quiet street.

Did Dave ever realize he was in trouble? I don’t know. Most likely not. If Dave never thought he needed help, how could he be offered help? But if he never offers help, how does someone heal?

At the end of the day, all she could do was be there for him, no questions asked, as long as he chose to reach out. He never did. And now, of course, it’s too late.

I’m glad I told him, more than once, that I loved him.

One of the last times I saw him, he told me back.

eric julian, who goes by the pseudonym “Von Allan,” is an Ottawa-based writer, artist, and graphic novelist. His website is at https://www.vonallan.com. Contact him at: [email protected].

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