Menu

Luke Sklar: A Walk to Remember

By Michael Landsberg

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

On May 12th, 2018 I lost a dear friend to my greatest enemy.

Everyone who knew Luke Sklar knew he was an amazing guy.  Everyone. He and I bonded a few years ago over depression (his and mine). Bonds like that can instantly become deep and meaningful and precious. Luke had been suffering horribly and found comfort in me and #SickNotWeak (as I did in him).

I met him face to face for the first time a block from each of our homes. The Landsbergs and the Sklars live less than 100 meters apart, yet until that day we had never noticed each other. Well, to be honest, if I was saying that to Luke- I would point out to him that he likely would have noticed me because of my massive celebrity.

On that day about two years ago, I saw Luke from a block away.

Luke Sklar had a truthful walk.

You could be fooled by his words, by his handshake, by his mouth, even by his eyes, but his walk seldom lied.

You can’t get four people to carry a secret without exposing the truth and it’s the same thing with body parts. One of them will rat you out. Usually it’s the walk.

Luke and his wife Lise

Lying becomes a way of life for those of us with depression. We learn to deceive the people around us the way a con-artist learns to spin a tale. For many of us the walk is the equivalent of the single strand of long blond hair on our jackets.

I noticed Luke’s honest walk the first time I met him. He walked like he didn’t care about getting where he was going or when he was going to get there. We get that way when we know ‘where we are’ doesn’t make a difference. Here or there- its all the same. Its not that you don’t want to get to where you’re going- its that you don’t care. I saw that walk many times. I assume I have walked it as well. With depression- you can often talk the talk but it’s tough to walk the walk at the same time.

Immediately I could tell that he felt at ease with me – because when you have a common enemy – you also have a common bond. I felt the same ease with him.

I knew how bad it was for him, but I could see his awesomeness- even through the dark clouds that hung over him.

E-mail was our chosen means of communication. We began e-mailing each other on a regular basis shortly after we met. I want to share a few of those messages with you because I think it’s the best way to learn about a side of Luke that you might not have seen.

Between September 2016 and May 2018 we exchanged more than 500 messages. Luke was my secret “text affair.” It was a totally mutual romance built on a shared need. This was a need we couldn’t have filled at home. This was the need to feel understood.

September 2017:

ME: Dude. How are you?
LUKE: Anxious. You?
ME: A bit of that for sure. But manageable.
LUKE: Manageable is good. Always appreciate your messages.

This was typical in both length and content. Hey, we’re guys. We don’t waste words. These were exchanges over a few days in October 2017:

ME: How’s today?
LUKE: Bad
ME: Oh no. I’m so sorry buddy. so, so sorry.
LUKE: Thank you for reaching out
ME: How’s my boy?
LUKE: Lousy. Sorry

I tried my best to give him hope when he felt hopeless. That was much of the time. Depression does that to you. But I knew I was failing. My heart broke for Luke almost every time he responded to one of my messages. He never ignored me, he never complained, but he didn’t lie to me. I knew it was bad. Worse than bad. Terrible.

ME: Update me!
LUKE: Poor. Maybe a 3? Unable to focus on conversations
ME: Still feeling dread?
LUKE: No. Just an overall sadness and inability to focus.
ME: I hear you. It WILL pass. Remember- its raining. You can’t stop it from raining but you can put on a jacket and stop it from soaking you.
Its ON you. Not IN you.

And it did pass several times over the course of our friendship. It was beautiful when it happened. It was as if he had been given the greatest gift imaginable- one that most of us take for granted and that was the feeling of just being normal. For me, those times of remission for Luke were a respite as well. In our conversations I often felt guilt. In my mind it was as if we had both been soldiers fighting a war together. I had been removed from the front to work at a cushy desk job, while he remained fighting. Now, briefly, he was at the desk beside me.

ME: Hey Bud. Just checking in. How are you?
LUKE: I am doing quite well. On a different med that makes me dizzy (had a stumble Friday night) but I’ll surely take that over the agony.
Is that a red line on my arm? (red lines indicated having a good day, black lines indicated a bad day)
ME: Quite well? Sklar! Sklar! That’s amazing!

And so it went. I can’t call them ups and downs because that would imply an even split. This was downs, downs with brief ups. I can tell you as a person whose ridden that coaster- the brief ups can mess you up as much as the downs. When one feels relief and is reminded that just “feeling normal” is an exquisite joy- the fear of losing it becomes overwhelming. I hear the time between torture sessions can be almost as bad as the torture itself.

ME: How are you feeling?
LUKE: Very good. And you gave me good advice yesterday
ME: How is my buddy? I’m worried asking that. Because I so badly wanna hear “doing well!”
LUKE: Doing well. 6.5.
ME: Woooohoooooo!

But, it didn’t last:

ME: How’s my boy?
LUKE: Some slippage. Anxiety
ME: How’s my boyfriend?
LUKE: I am at Sunnybrook inpatient care right now. Almost made a terrible mistake but have come through ok. Here at least until early Feb.
ME: Oh buddy. That just makes me so sad for you.
Can I come visit?
LUKE: Am reluctant right now. Maybe coordinate a future visit with my wife.
ME: Love ya.
LUKE: Deeply luvya back

And this, was life for Luke. He fought exhaustingly every day to find the elusive treatment that would help, but even more taxing was his fight to find the elusive hope that would help him persevere for the treatment that might return Luke to Luke.

Luke taught me so much about that. I have often spoken about how depression robs me of me. At a certain point all you want is the old “me” back. In fact- all the things you hated about yourself before- now don’t seem so bad. The feeling of “losing who you are” is one of depression’s most effective weapons.

Luke with his girls Rebecca, Naomi and Kira

Luke was able to put into words the devastation he felt from losing who he was and in his eyes what made him special. These are words that in every way represent my own feelings.

LUKE: Either the sickness itself and/ or the meds has made me slower, less sharp and more forgetful. When I try to force returning to “my old self” the rumination sets in.
I’ve spent 60 years defining myself by my brain and am finding it very difficult – but I have to- accept this current state. Clear?
ME: Very clear. Too clear. Too relatable. I find my biggest challenge when I’m struggling is my frustration over not being able to be me. And the person I am- I don’t know. So yes- I get it. Wish I could help.
LUKE: Thanks Michael

It was clear to me that the fear of living life as a changed person (in his mind inferior) was devastating to Luke.

Don’t think that Luke was devastated because he couldn’t do his job or anything else like that. Luke was devastated because he couldn’t do Luke. He had ceased to be the Luke that he wanted to be and while his family, friends, all of us would gladly have accepted the lesser Luke to keep him alive- he couldn’t accept it. And then there was the added torture of being in constant pain- something he seldom mentioned to me but I knew was there.

There were times when our talks were normal.

ME: Buddy. What’s up?
Who do you like today? (Super bowl day- Eagles and Patriots)
Next year you come to my house for the game!
LUKE: So nice. Calling for an Eagles upset.

Luke was correct about the Eagles. I was wrong about next year.

I hope you’re getting a better idea of what Luke’s struggle was like. Like I have said- his illness is impossible to understand if you haven’t felt it.

As to why I believe #SickNotWeak represented Luke’s feelings- there’s this:

ME: hey buddy. What’s up?
LUKE: Have been thinking of you. When I get out of here would you be open to my volunteer help for snw? Starting small; just an advisory role with limited expectations. Would really like to help.
ME: We are 2100% in for you helping. Big or small. Notice the 2100%. I thought it was more clever than 1000%. How are you feeling depression wise?
LUKE: Thank you. A little low (4) tracing primarily to fatigue. Hope you are good

Luke knew the power of sharing and he also knew the devastating effect of the stigma. He told me many times that he feared sharing his struggles with the marketing community that loved and respected him so much. He was afraid how he would be seen if he bared all. Because of that he wanted to use his own struggles and his fear of sharing to change how people view this awful illness.

Luke and his dog Boomer. Tough times for both.

One of the purposes of my letter to you is to give you a better idea why a person can become so hopeless, that they only see one way out. Suicide- yes I say the word frequently- is not about getting away from the people you love and who love you, but rather about getting away from yourself. When the fear of living with the pain for another day is greater than the fear of dying- suicide becomes an option.

ME: Dude! How are you? I’m gonna be at Sunnybrook Thursday for a speech to staff at noon. Looking for a date! Would you come hear me speak?
LUKE: Tell me where and I’ll see if I can go. Noon right?
ME: How are you, my friend?
LUKE: Pretty poor my friend. Today was my wife’s birthday – the whole family went out to dinner and now I am back in hospital
ME: Ugh. UGH! I’m so sorry. That’s so rough and so deflating I’m sure. Come Thursday! I’m a guaranteed serotonin booster!
LUKE: Will do my best. Have a good morning show tomorrow.
ME: thanks! I’m so, so hoping to see you!

LUKE: I have received permission to leave the unit for 2 hours to attend your presentation. Hope to make it.
ME: that’s great!

ME: How are you buddy?
LUKE: The same. Anxious and depressed.
Had a weekend pass. Nice but I am not ready to assume normal life.
Frustrated and discouraged but will soldier on.

ME: Hey buddy. How are you?
LUKE: Hey. Poor. Going to push myself to go to a class at Ryerson (roll over Beethoven: the history of rock & roll).

ME: Hey buddy. I’m off to Saskatchewan for 2 days of speeches.
LUKE: Walk when you are back from Saskatchewan? Would love that.
ME: Me too!

ME: Hey sunshine. Any sunshine?
LUKE: No. Didn’t sleep.

April 2018:

ME: Hey Bud.
LUKE: Hi dear friend. Tough day
ME: Hey buddy. Any progress?
LUKE: Not yet. Thanks for checking in.

ME: Hey Bud. How are you? Any progress?
LUKE: Back in Sunnybrook. Checked myself in.
ME: Oh damn. Oh darn. Oh shit. I’m sorry. Really sorry.
LUKE: Thanks

ME: Update me buddy. My mom’s in Sunnybrook- if you want a visitor – I’m your man.
LUKE: Thanks. Not now. Hope your mom is as ok as possible

This was April. A month before Luke died. This was roughly day 1,000 of his struggle. When the struggle begins we value extending our lives almost more than anything. After 1,000 days of fighting- our lives and the thought of living another 1,000 starts to mean less.

On May 10th I was scheduled to speak again at Sunnybrook.

On May 6th Luke had read it on a poster on the hospital wall:

LUKE: I saw that you are moderating the Out of Darkness showing at Sunnybrook.
ME: I would love it if you could make it.

On May 8th I was still hopeful:

ME: How are things, my buddy?
LUKE: Not good. Sorry

On May 10th I wrote:

ME: Bud! I know you can’t come and hear me speak- but I want to let you know I will be thinking of you tonight.

On May 11th Luke wrote:

LUKE: Hope all went well last night
ME: Missed you buddy.

The next day, on the morning of May 12th I woke up to this e mail:

LISE SKLAR: Hi Michael. This is Luke’s wife Lise with some really sad news. Luke took his life while at Sunnybrook last night.

Michael, he was so impressed with everything you were doing around mental illness and I would like to ask that donations in his memory be made to Sick Not Weak.
-Lise

Was I shocked? Yes. Was it inexplicable? No. Not to me and I hope, at least in a small way, not to you. We lost Luke because no person can tolerate excruciating pain forever. We lost Luke on May 12th, but Luke lost Luke a long time before. In one way his death was just him giving us a chance to catch up to him.

We walked together six times. One of the last times we met by chance as he was coming back from his therapist. I said “Walk with me.” He said “I won’t be much fun since I can’t find much to say.” I told him I would do all the talking. I think about that a lot. Luke wanted to be the guy who talked and made life fun for others. To have to give that up was crushing to him.

Luke and his wife Lise

So we walked. I talked and Luke listened. We walked at the same pace but with entirely different intent. I walked with purpose while he walked aimlessly, knowing the next step would be no better than the last. He smiled at my smartass commentary which I thought was bringing him some relief. But now, as I write to you, I realize I was being the person he wanted to be but couldn’t be. Was I being thoughtless waiving my Lukeness in his face? Was I the thoughtless woman waving my engagement ring in front of a friend who desperately wanted to get married? I think about that. A lot.

Luke loved his life, but he didn’t love the life he felt destined to live.

There is one more thing you need to know about Luke’s death. More than anything – depression is the loss of the ability to experience joy. So when you wonder – how could a person – who had so much joy to live for – end his life? The answer is this: When you can’t ever experience joy – then you can’t see all the things you have to live for.

Luke adored his family and at the end of his life his love for them was used by his illness against him. Depression shows up as a voice in our heads that constantly lies to us. It is our own voice. It knows our vulnerabilities and tells us all the things that can destroy us. It told Luke that he was a burden and that somehow the people he loved the most would be better off without him. The absurd becomes believable when you hear it in your own voice. That is depression in its most raw, cruelest form.

Luke loved life. But he didn’t love the life he had been forced to live. Luke loved his life, but he didn’t love the life he felt destined to live.

If I could have one more conversation with Luke I bet it might go like this:

ME: Dude. How are you?
LUKE: Better than before.
ME: What does that mean?
LUKE: I’m pain free.
ME: Love ya.
LUKE: love ya too. And the Eagles won’t repeat.

Join the #SickNotWeak family.  On Facebook :@WeRSickNotWeak. On Instagram SickNotWeak.  On twitter: @sicknotweak and @heylandsberg

Comments

Seanlo
Report

I am just blown away! May 12 is my birthday. I so know that walk. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this. There are so many great things out there recently and you are a major influencer about getting the message out. Thank you from all of us struggling.

justin
Report

that’s tough. I can’t believe he was able to take his life at the hospital. Good on you for reaching out to him.

wizzo0003
Report

Thank you for sharing this story Michael! There’s a lot, to take away from it. I lost someone I loved very deeply, pretty much the same way! The only thing is? Too this day, I still feel this guilt inside of me. It triggers my own depression, and puts me on the defensive, most days ! But I fight the fight for those that I love, and who love me! Thanks for all you do!😊

Temmie
Report

Fight.every.single.day..the anger,confusion, guilt, struggle and sheer terror of depression…i am a unique, worthwhile person but i am tired..oh so tired..treading water in the darkness..my head dipping below the waterline unexpectantly..survival mode switches from barely coping to could be the end of me?…weariness..how much fight do i still have…battling my own thoughts…trying to survive me..Fighting.every.single.day

Scott
Report

Hey Michael. This was very poignant and also relatable for me. I have been off work suffering from anxiety and depression since March. My wife finally convinced me to go get help. I have started watching your daily vlog and follow you on Twitter. Thank you for making me feel less alone while I search for the right alchemy to help give me some more relief. Luke sounds like he was a great guy and someone worth knowing. I am sorry his brain wouldn’t let him believe that.

Positivemom
Report

Michael. I am so very sorry for the loss of your friend. I can honestly say that I understand your pain. My son took his life on April 25. He had chronic pain and mental health issues. He was an addict. He was a victim of the opioid crises. He was 2 weeks shy of 24 years old. He came to live with us in January. I thought we were making progress. We had no idea how much he was suffering. We never will.

AJ
Report

Thanks for sharing Michael. I feel like I knew Luke. Hell, I think part of me is just like him. You are lucky to have experienced that bromance of support. While I share my struggles with people who also suffer I don’t have a go to guy, well at least not face to face go to guy. What an amazing thing to have shared. Take care.

Joe
Report

Thank you Michael for sharing this. It cut too deep, too close. Cried alone in the car by the end of it. I’m so glad Michael had you and all the other people into a life th st loved him right to the end. So much of his story and pain feel like some is talking about me. The agony is so real, so constant all the time, I’m sure it was the same for him. It’s such a precious gift to give someone the hope and will to fight for even one more day. I feel like so many people see it as cowardess and weakness when someone give a up and takes their life, but do not account for the constant pain they are in. When all that keeps you here is the guilt and shame of leaving those that love you, having someone to encourage you is priceless. Thank you so much for all that you do. And thank you again for sharing this.

Grampa
Report

Thank you for all your words, Michael. I flip back and forth from number 1 to number 10. Sometimes when the days turn into nights, and the nights turn into days, I wonder how I can continue to do this FOREVER!! I get through these times because I have a wife who is beside me every second. When I’m in bad shape she waits and when I get back to a 9 or a 10 we celebrate. I love her to death. A note to others who are suffering….. Try to find SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON. You need to fight. It will get better.

Nana
Report

Crying tearless.
That’s it! Luke could not be Luke.
That’s my pain, my struggle. I cannot be me. I lost me and do not love the new me.
That’s it! No joy.
I have so much to be greatful for and so much that brings me joy. Why can’t I feel it,than? This story is my story.
This story is story of so many of us.
I can feel Luke’s pain while reading this.
I am him.

Mike
Report

Lost my son may 24/18 never expected it didn’t see it still in shock the planning that he did to do it still kills me

Ali
Report

Wow. That was sooo sad. Heartwrenching. Well written. Thank you for all you do…

King
Report

Your great with words Mike. Reminds me of your post regarding wade Belak. The Belak post as well as your message on OTR inspired me to seek help and not be ashamed in doing so. I fought my anxiety very hard. I fought with excersise, nutrition, proper sleep patterns, meditating and medication and other tools. I won!! It took about 5-6 months but I found my way. I stayed the course and it is a daily battle but I am ok with it. You helped me lift the shame. Thx Mike. Keep up the youtube. I watch.
Sorry your friend didnt make it back to the light.

JeanLazure
Report

Thank you so much for this Michael. I have been lucky to have myself been spared by depression but I’ve seen it all around me, and though the illness is impossible to understand if you haven’t felt it, your words go a long way and provide much insight. I applaud your important work.

Lost Sibling
Report

Thankyou for helping me understand my brothers suicide a little more.one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced

Scott
Report

A valuable 15mins to read this. Thankyou

Foxconn
Report

Luke’s silence leading up to that day was a warning sign. He obviously wasn’t himself. You should have alerted his family or medical staff.

HockeyJock
Report

First, my condolences to Luke’s family and his friends including yourself, his brother from another mother. I also suffer from anxiety and depression. I worked my ass off to find a way to shut my brain off to be able to sleep and think with clarity. It never goes away, but I have learned to smile again and to allow laughter back into my life. Fear is an awful thing to deal with, especially when you are seen as such a big and strong person…you shouldn’t fear anything. But when the fear is inside of you and you are the battleground, there are no body to fight or shout at…it’s you and that’s the battle. You do a lot of self talking and you struggle to not talk down to yourself or think that you are weak. Admitting that I indeed had an illness and a problem I needed help with was a big part of my healing process. By admitting to my parents, siblings and friends that I was dealing with and battling anxiety and depression, it left a weird feeling inside. Would I be seen as weak and would they make fun of me…? I underestimated my friends…they were so supportive and wanted to help me in any way and were always checking in with me to see how I was. I can only hope people try and share their feelings and thoughts on mental illness. Never underestimate your family and friends and even strangers. The power people have inside them to help is amazing and I truly feel that the strongest people are the ones who admit they need help, but not all have this within them. If you feel your family member or friend is/has changed, life is too precious and short to not ask questions about how they are feeling. Some need that extra
push to want help and to admit that they need help. I also understand that some cannot and some good people lose this battle every day even with help. Please do not say they are cowards and they took the easy way out. If you haven’t even walked a step or two in their shoes, so some research and see what it does to people. I had some good friends who lost their daughter to depression and anxiety at the tender age of 15…she desperately wanted to get better and be “normal” again just like Luke. She finally gave in to the voices that told her that the pain would be over if she ended her pain and took her own life. She felt shame and disgust that she couldn’t get better…when the only shame is that a beautiful, bright and loving young girl felt her only option was to end her own life…I openly weep for my friends and their loss…no parent should ever have to bury a child. As for myself…the daily battle goes on!! But wanna know something? I’m winning that battle and I am winning in my battle against Cancer as well…I’m going to a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game tonight…it’s supposed to be another hot day on the prairies. It’s also date night with my wife…I find myself smiling, today is gonna be a good day…to everyone battling anxiety, depression or even Cancer, I wish you all the best my friends, have a great weekend. Look in the mirror and smile, make goofy faces and say it’s gonna be a good day…you gotta start somewhere and it all starts within you!! If I have three wishes…no mental illnesses, no poverty anymore, and no horrific illnesses, especially to children…sharing love to all!! ❤️

Michael Landsberg
Report

Thanks for your comment. I think you may have missed the purpose for the story, which was to give you, and anyone who reads it, a better idea what someone is thinking when they contemplate suicide. You may have also missed the fact that Luke was actually in Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto at the time of his death. He was actually on suicide watch because of a close call a few days before. As for his silence- his short and infrequent replies at the end were the norm for him- as you can see from the dialogue throughout the story. I hope this gives you a better idea why your suggestion that I fell short of my responsibility is likely both inappropriate and insensitive.

William Graham
Report

Michael thank you for giving me some insight on depression and suicide. My wife and I lost her brother Thanksgiving weekend of 2012 due to suicide. We have both received many hours of counselling to overcome our feelings of helplessness (why didn’t we see the signs), sadness (he was only 43 and had his whole life to live), anger (how could he be so selfish), pain, and for my wife, her own battle with high anxiety that soon followed. We have far more understanding of what our brother/brother-in-law) was going through now and as the years have passed we are at peace with it.

I’ll close by wishing you well Michael. Take care.

Add Comment