September 27, 2013

Depression:Wimp of a word for major illness

By Jack Smith

William Styron called the term “depression” a wimp of a word for such a major illness.

In “Darkness Visible,” Styron says the word “has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”

Put another way, depression is a hell of a lot worse than the word implies. Many have “felt depressed” at one time or another, usually from a negative event in life. Chronic clinical depression (called Major Depressive Disorder) is another matter, and a surprising number of people suffer from it. Most things I read suggest 1 in 10 battle depression.

Think about what that means. In a town of 50,000, some 5,000 people are suffering from depression.  It breaks my heart to think of those who suffer in silence as I did for too long.

I am one of a fortunate few, though. I am currently seeking treatment at a place called The Menninger Clinic in Houston. It is one of the best places in the world for complicated mental illness cases.

My case is a bit complicated because I’ve had several different diagnoses and I’ve abused alcohol most of my life since high school. Shortly after my recent overdose, one doctor confidently declared that I’ve needlessly suffered for years because I’ve been misdiagnosed all this time. He diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder (and the depression that goes with it) and put me on lithium.

The frustrating part came a week later when a second doctor declared with equal confidence and assurance that I was most certainly not bipolar. He said I suffer from major depressive disorder and anxiety issues that make it worse.

Already depressed and anxious for answers, I was now confused and frustrated.  That’s what led me to Menninger.

Part of the process here at Menninger is spending many hours a week with my treatment team. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about my tortured history. This exhausting process has given me a chance to read through my journals spread out over a decade. While flipping through it, I found a description of what depression feels like. I hope sharing it helps others who suffer know they are not alone.

It is hard to explain how much depression hurts.  I feel like I have descended into hell. I am mired in a pit of utter despair and hopelessness, and my body aches. My mental illness tortures my mind but it causes physical pain, too. My back aches, my stomach churns with anxiety and my head and face feel lifeless and heavy.

My disease lies to me. I don’t want to believe the lies, but my depression is cunning and ruthless. It waits until my body and spirit are weak because it is one cruel bastard. It tells me I can’t get out of the bed, shouldn’t bother going to work today and I may as well just shut the door and pull the covers over my head. It tells me there is no hope. Depression is misery.

That’s what one of my worst days felt like, but I don’t feel that way today. I awoke early, feeling rested, read from Romans and shed a happy tear after reading a stirring, quite remarkable letter of hope from my daughter. She and her brothers and their mom are my inspiration today.

I miss home but know this is where I need to be right now. God has put me here and I can feel his loving arms holding me up. His arms and the prayers, love and support of many who have reached out since I began sharing publicly for the first time the nature of my illness.

Thank you, family. Thank you, friends. And thank you, strangers who may not know me but do know my story all too well.

Regular access to my blog is not allowed, nor is access to Facebook, but I have conned the staff into letting me write this entry.  Maybe I can share some more as my journey here progresses.

If not, I will share more when I return home.

Grace and peace.

September 23, 2013

On wings of prayer, journey to hope takes flight

My problems look so small from up here. Maybe it takes 30,000 feet to get some perspective. Maybe it’s the comforting white noise of the engines. Maybe it’s seeing amber and red lights far below, moving as busy little ants in tidy lines.

Maybe it’s not any of those things at all. Maybe it’s the body of Christ and the prayers of so many family and friends at work.

That’s what I want to believe. That’s what I believe today more than I did yesterday, or maybe any other day in my life.

God’s world just seems so much more orderly up here. It just seems to make more sense. Only I know I can’t live up here in the clouds. I have to return to the valley of my despair to face my demons.

As much as I would rather live in the “fake world,” I know I have to return to the real world soon.

Tomorrow is a crossroads day for me. And by the grace of God, I don’t feel like I stand here waiting to get pummeled by a speeding train. I feel at peace.

Peace has been hard to come by for a long time. Mental illness does that to those who suffer from it. Depression is a liar, you see. And it is relentless, cunning and baffling. The black clouds come when they want to come, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to stop them.

Yet today, on the eve of my admission to a world-class clinic where I hope to get some answers, I feel peace and serenity.

I’m holding on to the serenity prayer…for the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.

I’m holding on to the promise that God will never forsake me. He might allow me to suffer, but he will never leave me.

He might not remove this thorn from my side as I have prayed so many times before. I’m okay with that. I’d at least like to know what species the damn thorn is, though. Maybe I’ll find out in the days ahead.

For the sake of my family, my awesome wife and my beautiful children, I pray my peace won’t be fleeting this time.

Tonight I pray for healing, spiritual and physical.

If healing doesn’t come, I will rejoice in my suffering. I will remember the countless prayers, calls, texts and acts of kindness that have been shown to my family. They have taught me the power of love in the storm of my life.

Even though I know struggles will come again, I will rest easy this beautiful night.

I will rest easy because I know how this movie ends. Mental illness might wreck my mind. 

It might spoil the good seasons of my life. It might even make my quite miserable again.

Whether it’s now or in the end, I will win and this illness will lose­­.

And that is all that matters.