It’s hard to believe that such a tiny thing can do so much. Just a few milligrams of these brain-helping chemicals have changed my thought processes.
I’ve never been one to take medicine. In fact, a year ago when I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, I was asked why I hadn’t sought medical help sooner. I had admitting to a long-time struggle with deep, dark depression and suicidal thoughts and also an awareness that there was medication to assist… the logical question was: “Why did you wait?”
The answer – the stigma. The stigma of being that guy. Of being a patient. Of being someone who is sick. Sick with a mental illness.
In the many weeks prior, I found myself crying uncontrollably in between reps while working out at the gym in the mornings. I was retreating and isolating myself from people who loved me. I was feeling more and more insecure. I was imagining myself steering into oncoming traffic or creating scenarios where my suicide would look like an accident. I couldn’t concentrate. My words came slower. My resolve against previous addictions were dissolving. Pressures mounted inside. the weight increased, and nobody really knew. To top it off, it felt like I couldn’t even pray – as if the One who I was supposed to talk to didn’t care. It zapped every bit of spiritual drive I had left. I was alone… or so I thought.
Last year, it came to head when I confessed to my wife, Joy, that I didn’t feel safe by myself. She immediately called out of work and we began calling around to find some help. It wasn’t as easy as it should be, really. Several hours later, we ended up in the lobby of a ‘mental health ER’ in Nashville. A small part of me was ready to be admitted and get some help but most of my thoughts were bucking this process hard: I am not a patient, I am a counselor. I am not weak, I am strong. I am not in need, I’m a need-meeter. Part of me actually wanted to be crazy enough to check in, but part of me also wanted to see this through and beat this the right way. Yes, I am weak, I am in need. And right then, I needed someone to listen.
In the small screening room, they asked me questions. Lots of questions. Embarrassing questions. Questions with long answers. Questions with answers that I had never spoken out loud. They dug deep to see my mental health for what it was, and thankfully, they released me under the supervision of my wife. If she had not been there, I would have been required to stay, but she stayed by my side through this entire process.
A few days later, Joy and I met with a licensed therapist – a fantastic Christian lady who knows how the spiritual battles and the struggles of mental health interlock. She asked many of the same questions and came to the same conclusion: anxiety, grief, compassion fatigue, and depression. She guided me to consider a two-pronged approach as I walk this journey: therapy and medication.
I was initially placed on two medications: a temporary booster that would start working within days and the other would build up in my system over a few weeks. After some follow up, we cut the second pill in half because it was having some small adverse side effects. The therapy would include several visits and some spiritual homework to get some areas of my life back on track and in check. The thought-changing therapy is just as important as the mind-altering meds.
It’s been 14 months and I’m still taking 1/2 pill every day (and still hating taking medicine every day!). The suicidal ideations are gone. The crying is gone. The deep despair is gone too. It’s still dark a lot of days, I’m still sad for no reason, I still feel the heavy weight of anxiety on my chest at least weekly, I still cry… but it’s different now. It’s not where I live, it’s just somewhere that I unwillingly visit. I’m so thankful for people who I’ve let in on my little secret – people who send encouraging texts, who are quietly praying, who are faithful to check in, and people who are willing to admit their struggles, too.
Joy has been there – faithfully – through this journey. Sometimes she is more ‘active’ in her role in my mental health, and sometimes her role is quiet support and prayer. I’m sure that this long, hard road of loving someone through depression and anxiety hasn’t been easy for her. Sometimes I try to talk to her and she doesn’t understand the things I feel but I do know that she tries. Sometimes I feel so alone, even when she’s wrapped up in my arms… just like I often feel distant even when I’m wrapped up my Father’s arms. But feelings shouldn’t be trusted – especially when it comes to these feelings. That’s been a hard lesson.
I don’t know how many of my kids know… I know my older kids know that I’m on medication because my teenage daughter asked me the other day if I had skipped taking them because she thought my mood was cranky! (I hadn’t; I was just hangry!) I also think that my three oldest sons know about how serious it got last year and I think they still worry about me. That’s kind of comforting and sad to me. I don’t want them thinking of me as weak or unstable, yet I appreciate them knowing how frail a person can be on the inside while still trying to stand tall on the outside. I guess it’s good that the stigma breaks a little so the cycle is broken in our family tree.
And now, after walking this path for several months, I’m beginning to put some of the pieces together. I don’t know how ‘hereditary’ mental health issues are, but both my parents struggled. Since my dad’s life ended in suicide, I guess you could say that he died from a mental health illness. My mom’s mental health battles led her into a 25+ year opioid addiction, and, at the time of her death, she was still in recovery [MAT]. Even though it was something that our family struggled with, we never talked about it until it was too late. Why? The stigma, I suppose. But maybe by hearing a little of my story, you won’t be so afraid to get help, to call someone, or to share your story with someone who needs it.
I grew up hearing so much about spiritual growth and Christian disciplines. I also knew the importance of good nutrition and exercise for physical wellbeing. But I never really understood – and still don’t – how mental health fits there, in the in-between. I’m just now beginning to learn, mostly by experience, and I’m curious your take on it, too.
If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, I’m here to listen. I can refer you to a therapist, counselor, or support group. We can get help together if you need it.