McCOOK, Neb. -- When Tyler Bieck wrapped up his story, the McCook High gym thundered in approval.
Parents, teachers and classmates stood and clapped -- some even cried -- after hearing Tyler's triumphant journey from deep depression to joyful faith.
What a finish.
He told them how he didn't take his mother's suicidal path, though he had wanted to. How he didn't end up on drugs or alcohol, though he had dabbled. Everyone knew the rest: Tyler didn't just survive high school. He thrived: homecoming king, class president, newspaper columnist.
Renewing faith in Jesus helped, Tyler told them.
"Jesus Christ, " he said at the 2003 baccalaureate, "has claimed me from the depths."
McCook, too, helped save Tyler. Helped raise Tyler. Watched out for him. Now, Tyler was leaving his southwest Nebraska community. He was off to Evangel University, a small Christian school in Springfield, Mo.
Dad worried the college wouldn't fit Tyler. Its restrictions would hem in his middle son. Tyler had a curious, sensitive spirit. He was the kind of kid who would strike up conversations with panhandlers and the homeless during the Bieck boys' annual trips to Denver.
Tyler thought his college choice made sense.
His faith had caught fire in high school. He could never forget the electric moment sophomore year when Husker football's passionate Christian crusader, coach Ron Brown, gave his altar call.
Tyler sat between Dad and coach Joel Hueser in the junior high gym. He was 16, but the tears started. Feet followed.
"Ran to the light, " he'd say later.
A few months at Evangel, though, and Tyler realized Dad had been right. The place was too restrictive. Nearly fined $50 for sneaking into a sports bar on a Husker game day, Tyler'd had enough.
He called the McCook Daily Gazette, asked for a writing job and moved at semester break. He covered sports part time; even wrote a few columns and attended McCook Community College.
That fall, he set his sights on Lincoln. He enrolled in journalism classes at UNL, bought an expensive camera and got on the Memorial Stadium sidelines. He took photos and wrote columns for the Gazette.
In McCook, Dad remarried. Bill Bieck had dated Sharla Hess since his 1995 divorce from Tyler's mom. Bill focused on raising the boys, waiting nearly 10 years before bringing Sharla into the family's house.
Tyler happily served as an usher. He liked Sharla, though he knew no one could take the place of his best friend, Mom.
Around the anniversary of Mom's death -- Jan. 18 marked seven years -- depression washed over him. Tyler fought it by staying busy, throwing himself into an odd chance to remake his end of high school prank for a TV show.
Thrilled that MTV wanted to re-enact the car in front of the principal's office, Tyler petitioned the school board.
McCook told him no. But Raymond Central High School, north of Lincoln, said yes.
For five days, Tyler and his friends relived the fun and showed MTV urbanites around small-town Nebraska.
But that passed, and the sadness crept back. Religion offered no help. Tyler still held Christianity dear. Yet he felt empty. He mined everything from the teachings of St. Augustine and the Bible to the God-is-dead concepts of Nietzsche.
When classes became too much, Tyler quit going. Mortifying for a good student used to success. Necessary, advised his new therapist -- the first he had seen.
Tyler also sought help from a psychiatrist, who prescribed the antidepressant Wellbutrin.
He withdrew, shrinking his world of 21, 000 students to a desk cloaked in blankets. He wrote in his journals, pouring out his heart and its hole to no one but himself.
"I feel like I am constantly dying, " Tyler wrote in March.
Four days later, he added: "I am a battle of extremes -- Love vs. Hate. I don't know who's winning ... I know I better not commit suicide, so I'm choosing the next-best thing and completely giving up on my life."
Tyler hates his brooding side. He thinks it's not the Bieck that everyone from McCook loves. He knows he worries his friends.
Dad worries, too.
Dad showed up on campus over spring break. Surprised Tyler. They watched March Madness on TV, loaded up on jeans at Dillard's, ate well.
Tyler traveled home for a weekend last month. He was dismayed to find his bedroom painted -- the wall of high school friends' autographs covered in fresh white. He felt dislocated.
But he cheered up when a waitress at the Coppermill restaurant recognized him. She told him she looked for his bylines in the Gazette.
Tyler returned to Lincoln with his golf clubs and a box of books. On top sat the devotional self-help best seller "The Purpose Driven Life." A graduation gift from coach Hueser.
Tyler also brought a shoebox of memories: Mom's bracelets, medals he won on the high school golf team and sheaves of letters and cards from coach Hueser, Aunt Lisa, Shannon Moore and others.
Perhaps he'll work on that golf handicap of 10. Perhaps he'll sign up for summer classes. Graduating from college, he said, is vital.
Or maybe he'll return to McCook. The newspaper is talking with him about a job. Tyler might work full time covering news and sports.
He wishes he could crack his persistent melancholy.
"Every couple of years it sneaks up on you, chops your feet out, " he said. "When I get depressed, (I fear) everyone won't like me. I tell myself I'm not worthy of living."
Last month, his therapist gave him an assignment: Write down a list of traits he likes about himself and read it aloud each day.
Tyler jotted down caring, open-minded, good listener -- 15 qualities in all.
Some days he can even bring himself to read the list.
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