DAVE BLAUSER is back.
The mail carrier from Holme Circle is exhausted, mentally fragile and has been undergoing intense medical evaluation since he called his wife, Denise, to say he was ready to come home.
Readers will recall that Dave had gone missing on April 23, following a period of mental decline that culminated with the public revelation that he'd stashed 20,000 pieces of mail in his garage instead of delivering them.
Denise asked me to write about Dave, an avid reader of this paper, to let him know she loved him, wasn't angry and wanted only for him to come home and get help.
The day after the column ran, Dave contacted Denise and was admitted to the hospital. While Denise now asks for privacy, she wants to thank readers for their expressions of support.
Reader Lee Gronikowski felt particular compassion for Dave.
"I've suffered from clinical depression and complicated the issue by self-medicating it," e-mailed Gronikowski, a lawyer in the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (which investigates and prosecutes crooked lawyers for the N.J. Supreme Court).
"I can attest that if that poor man has it, he's in a very dark, lonely, isolated place.
"I have a beautiful wife, home, dogs, job, health, hobbies. I could see none of that when I was sick. When I pulled into the driveway, I may as well have been parking in Siberia."
Gronikowski closed by offering to speak publicly about his struggle.
"I figure if one afflicted person looks at me now and sees the benefit of treatment," he said, "they may seek treatment, too."
So I gave him a call.
Gronikowski , 52, is one of those "right stuff" guys, the kind you meet and think, "This dude has it all."
A bad-ass job. Strong marriage to a lovely wife. Nice house in Mount Laurel. Cool side career as a lawyer in the Air Force Reserves. A private pilot's license. Certification as an EMT. A fun hobby - woodworking - and a decent golf game.
And a terrible depression that he once medicated with booze to escape feelings of dread that felt as normal as breathing.
"Depression gives you these nameless fears and anxieties," says Gronikowski, who's worked for the New Jersey judiciary for 17 years. "You can be afraid of anything - the light, the dark, people, friends. You can't put a reason on why. You're just afraid."
Gronikowski was afraid of death - a normal fear. But in his case, "it hung over me like a pall."
His drinking exacerbated his depression, which made him drink more.
They were dual ends of a deadly stick that was
beating the life out of him -
although he was never suicidal.
"I wanted to get better," he says.
But nothing worked - not intense exercise, not over-the-counter mood aids - until he sought medical help in 1999 and got on anti-depressants.
It took his doctor a few tries to calibrate the right chemical cocktail to relieve Gronikowski 's suffering. Eventually, they hit on a combination of four drugs - two in the morning, two at night - that pulled Gronikowski out of the abyss.
He found new energy in his job and relationships and reveled in the simple joys of a life free of dread.
"Once I felt better, I realized that I never could've fixed my depression by myself," he says. "Most people who don't accept it as a disease tell the victim 'to snap out of it.' It does not work that way any more than telling a cancer patient to 'get well now.'"
Two years ago, he relapsed.
His mother fell into a late-life depression so confounding, nothing relieved her suffering. Finally, reduced to a despairing, shuffling bag of skin and bones, she took her own life with a gun.
She was just 69.
"I used her death as an excuse to drink again," says Gronikow-ski.
And with that, his demons returned - more dangerous this time, since the alcohol was now mixing with the antidepressants, a lethal combo.
For more than a year, as his life spiraled downward, he actually imagined that no one noticed. His concentration was shot, his work suffered and his poor wife, he says, "Never knew who she'd find when she came home from work at night: The enraged husband or the depressed husband."
Finally, eight months ago, when he showed up for work with slurred speech, his boss confronted him and he entered an alcohol detox program. He's been sober and sane ever since.
"My bosses saved my life," he says, but admits it has taken a while to rebuild the trust of friends, family and co-workers. "I'm lucky to work at a place that has been very supportive. The 'open secret' around here is that I'm an alcoholic and I have clinical depression."
And he doesn't care who knows.
Both diseases need to be brought out in the open, he says, and that's what he'd tell mailman Dave Blauser if he were ever to meet him face to face.
"I'd tell him to forgive himself," he says. "No kid, when
they're 12, says, 'When I grow up, I want to be a depressed guy who can't get out of bed, who pushes people away.' Who would choose that for themselves, if they really had a choice?"
However, with medication, therapy and acceptance of his alcoholism, he says, he's able to feel something he didn't feel for so much of his life - something he thinks is possible for Dave to feel one day, too:
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