“Depression, that’s why”.
Whatever question you may have about my lack of social media interaction, lack of podcasting, lack of artistic expression, and more recently, lack of job, can be answered by that sentence.
Depression is a broad term that people like me say so they don’t have to talk about anxiety, mood swings, physical pain, hopelessness and more. Especially when talking to people who don’t know much about it. Which is most people. Not that I’m actually talking to that many people.
I’ve struggled with depression in general for a few years now. It started as a general feeling of doom. I went through every day just feeling like everything I did was bound to fail. A friend suggested I see my doctor for this, which blew my mind that you could (or would) see a doctor about such a thing. So I did and I was given a series of meds. Some worked for a while, some didn’t work at all, others brought out anger, and another made me want to sit on the floor all the time. Eventually through months of trial and error we found a drug that managed my serotonin levels and things were just dandy. They stayed that way for about three years.
In those three years I had left my children’s ministry position at a large church in Kansas City for a church in St. Petersburg. Florida was where my wife wanted to raise our kids. Closer to family… and the beach. I was convinced that the high-stress of my former job was the cause of my depression. I didn’t even think to mention it to my new employer and pastor. It was something in my past that we had gotten through and over. The new job surely would make taking any pills unnecessary.
Which was good because what I was taking was beginning to be more and more ineffective. The dread was gone… but it was now replaced with a general sadness and lack of motivation. I started to blame the meds. I also had a friend who gave me the impression that meds were wrong and that my goal should be to get off them. So I went cold-turkey. Bad plan. I didn’t realize there would be withdrawal symptoms. For three solid months I had a strong ringing in my head combined with something I’ve come to call “brain zaps” that felt like waves of static or electricity coursing through my brain. In place of the prescription meds I read up on natural cures for depression. I tried every supplemental combination known to man… with no effect on my mood.
I started to get panic-attacks at night. I didn’t even know what it was for a long time. I just suddenly felt worse than anything along with chest pain and drastic sadness and despair. I blamed caffeine… so I gave it up. Seemed to help… for a while.
Meanwhile I was holding down a job, doing podcasting as a hobby, artwork for spare cash, and being a husband and father. I enjoyed creating things, watching movies, Doctor Who, collecting Buzz Lightyear stuff, blogging and social networks, and ministering to children. As my general feeling of sadness grew the joy or motivation to do these things started slipping away. Even talking to people in the course of a day started to be something I would try to avoid. I should mention that the depression would come and go during this period of about a 2 years. I would get a rush off doing some big project or traveling to some big event only to crash hard afterword. The more successful an event was, the harder and longer I crashed. I would wake up and not be able to get out of bed. Even trying to take a shower seemed like the worst series of events I could imagine. I was so ashamed that I wouldn’t even call-in to work after a while.
My wife and I felt like we needed to come forward about my situation to my boss (pastor), rather than wait for him to have to call us to the carpet. He was very understanding and gracious. Even though I knew he didn’t understand what was going on with me, he still was in full support and would have done anything for us.
Then the bottom fell out of my entire life. Deep, dark, horrible sadness stole me away from everything good in my life. Almost constant anxiety pains in my chest. All I could do for most of my day was lay in bed and hold my breath and ball up around the pain. I cried almost constantly. A part of me knew nothing at all in the world was wrong… but no amount of logic could save me from these feelings.
The word “Feelings” is so inappropriate when describing that I went through. Feelings are what we’re not supposed to make decisions on. Feelings are something that can be controlled or changed easily. The feelings of a depressed person are more like that fear that gets you in the night sometimes. When you just know someone is outside the window… and you can’t move. You know it’s stupid… but your feelings have control.
When trying to describe my feelings during this time the only comparison I could make would be for you to imagine someone telling you your spouse has died, that initial jolt of pain, loss, grief and sadness you would feel… then the jolt doesn’t end. How could you do anything, work or play, when you feel that way? You can’t. At least I couldn’t.
My doctor suggested a professional… a psychologist. He was hesitant to mention it, but I was to desperate to care about my pride. The new doctor tells me I’m bi-polar, that I have depression and an anxiety disorder and starts prescribing medicines that would hopefully manage these three issues. It’s been the better part of 10 months since that first meeting… and we’re only just now finding a medicine combination that seems to halfway work. Meds are a mixed bag. You want them so that you can be normal… but every one seems to bring it’s own set of weird side effects and changes to my moods and feelings. The worst part was finding something that worked… only to generate an allergy to it… in some cases life threatening allergies. It was like a dirty trick. I’d feel so much better, like a miracle had happened only to be shoved back into despair and pain all over again later on.
The last time something worked was a few months ago around Christmas. The doc warned me that I might get over stimulated… and from the first day I knew it was having that effect, but it felt so good. I wasn’t high or anything… I just felt like the best of my old self! Suddenly everything that was such a chore just wasn’t. My passions for art, creativity, podcasting and ministry came back. I even signed up for the church’s Christmas play. My body started freaking out. My skin felt like every pore needed to be rubbed or poked. Only a shower could satisfy the millions of little cravings for stimulation that my skin had become. My arms started losing strength. It felt like I’d been hanging sheet rock all day. I didn’t want to but I had to tell my doctor. He took me off it and I went right back to being curled up in the bed, holding my breath and crying. Two days before the Christmas play I finally got the nerve up to tell my pastor co-worker that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Something that I’d been looking forward to had suddenly become on of the worst ideas of my life. She was so gracious even though I know it must have caused her to struggle.
I couldn’t think of a good reason why I couldn’t perform as I wrote the email. So I told her the truth… well, a lightweight version of it. See I was horrified of my own condition. It was and is embarrassing. I had put every ounce of effort I could into minimizing my exposure… to putting on a happy pastor face for everyone. Even my own personality worked against me at this point. Normally I was the fun-loving guy who was quick with a joke. Eternally optimistic and eager to take on the world. Now I was the very opposite of that… but I had to keep up the illusion or people would know. So when I told my co-worker about what was going on… although I just told her I was dealing with some depression, it was a huge deal.
So suddenly all at once everything I was just died, again. Thanks meds! Even now I’m in a place where some new meds seem to be working. I’ve learned not to trust good feelings. They just make it worse later on when failure comes.
I was taking more and more time away from the office. On the days I did go in all I could do was sit in my office, door closed, and cry. Praying to God that no one came to the door to see. I was useless. My duties started to pile up as I was not doing them. Phone calls that weren’t made, forms that were not filled out, questions that went unanswered, and input that I so often gave went unoffered. Things weren’t getting better. Eventually someone was going to call me out. So I called myself out.
I went back to my boss and laid it all out. Tried to the best of my ability to explain how things were… and that he deserved someone in this position who could do the job. I offered my resignation. He wouldn’t hear of it and offered several options to my current work week that might help me to get through this period. For different reasons those options didn’t work out and I insisted on resigning. He reluctantly accepted. Two weeks later it was time to tell the church I was leaving that very Sunday. We told them I was leaving due to medical reasons.
So that was a month ago now. It’s been nice to have a stress-free environment where I’m not letting people down constantly. Naturally other stresses come. I now feel like an unemployed loser who is failing his wife and kids. I once was a somewhat respected children’s pastor… now it’s a good day if I can say I’ve showered and stayed awake for more than 8 hours. The meds I’m on now seem to be working somewhat… but I’m getting little muscle spasms here an there that I’m worried are going to cause me to have to ditch this stuff as well.
So where is God in all of this? He’s been pretty quite as of late. I’ve prayed and begged and nothing changes. Apparently this is just something I’m going to have to go through. Like what happened to Job. He wasn’t going to feel better after what happened to him… he just had to stay faithful. That’s what I’m trying to do. I am generally optimistic that this period in my life will end. Either by the meds or by time passing. I look forward, with a little fear, to what my life will look like after. I’m not high on becoming a children’s pastor again any time soon… but at the end of the day I’m going to do whatever God leads me to do. Does any of this have a purpose? I don’t know… but is it going to ruin the rest of my life? No.
So I’m done hiding this thing. I’m a freaking mess and I’m just going to have to deal with how people respond to that. That’s why I tried to keep it secret by the way… people’s reactions and/or judgments. There’s this thing about mental health issues that make people forget common sense. First off most people think taking medicine for depression is a bad idea or outright wrong. That’s stupid. Any other disease in the world you can take meds for without risk of judgement… but pop a pill for depression and you’re accepting defeat or something. Then there are those in the church who think that depression is a judgement or a demon. So it’s either God punishing me for secret sin or the devil has taken over my soul. That’s fun. Lastly there are those (and I was once one of them) who think that depression is just an excuse for some people to do nothing with their lives. I’m sure someone could look at me right now and mistake that for the truth… but nothing is further. I long for the day when I can enjoy things again. When I can be in public without trying to avoid everyone. When I can work to help provide for my family. Most of my anxiety came from worrying about letting people down and losing my job.
Hopefully this reaches the right people. I’m sure some of you out there can relate on some level. I’m sure some of you have it much worse than I do and have a much longer tale to tell. And I’m sure that some of you will roll your eyes and move on to something less…. depressing. I just felt like I owed my Internet peeps an explanation and I’m finally able to type it all out.
Articles like this are supposed to end with advice for others going through the same thing. I don’t have any except to say just stay alive and don’t give up.
Update: General Well Being Update