stories of a failed holy man


on being a son of an S.O.B

i barely dodged the swing. my cousin ran around the car to my rescue, pushing him to the ground and standing between us to avoid an escalation in the conflict. to this day, i’m still not sure what i did. i stepped out of my car and this guy comes at me full steam. the same guy i had been laughing with earlier that week for using the phrase “son of an SOB.” it was funny because he essentially called me a “son of a son of a bitch.” i thought we were friends, and we were. but this came out of nowhere. he was an oddball and had am intensity about him. i liked him, but i knew he was strange, different from most. he usually wasn’t trying to be funny with his rants and comments, but he was, and we all laughed. i think we treated him as more than his mental illness, although i can’t be sure. i was a teenager and didn’t have any frame of reference at the time. to me, he was just a strange kid that made me laugh. it was probably a fine line we walked between laughing with him and at him, but i wasn’t tuned in enough to know the difference. so he took a swing at me, and i’m still not sure why. maybe it was because i was laughing at him. maybe because mental illness makes no sense.

mental health is a real son of a son of a bitch. i hate that word and how it’s used, but the phrase my friend coined makes sense of the repetitive frustration i feel about this subject. and if anything should be termed “son of an SOB,” mental illness fits the bill. i didn’t understand it at the time, but now i know why my friend had been so up and down. living with bipolar disorder and ADHD will do that to a guy. ecstatic and smiling ear to ear one minute…sulking and moody the next, ready to snap. meds balancing him out until he forget to take one, then everything came crashing down. i don’t claim to know what all mental illnesses feel like, but i know what my mental illness feels like. and it’ s a son of a son of a bitch. here’s some statistics.

1/5 people personally experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

1/4 of deaths age 15-24 happen because of suicide.

nearly HALF of people who experience depression/anxiety won’t see a doctor.

i was diagnosed with depression nearly 2 years ago. for years, i had been living in a fog, okay one day and falling into the depths of despair the next. as a youth pastor, i tried my best to put on a happy face, but the cracks kept getting larger the deeper my depression took hold of me. i didn’t want kids to feel as hopeless as i did. meanwhile, i told them all about the extravagant love God has for them, but believed the nagging voice in my head that told me i was the exception to that rule. every christian struggles with that on some level, the belief that God’s love and grace is really as good as he says it is for everyone but themselves. the difference in my case, i think, is i internalized the idea that if God hated me, i must be worthless. and if God hated me, i might as well hate myself. because i’ll never measure up anyway. and if God hated me and i hated me, then my family must hate me. i must suck at my job and be a failure at the rest of my life as well. these are the lies that went through my head every day. and it didn’t matter how much evidence was presented to contradict these lies, i woke up each day feeling worse than the one before, stuck in a perpetual cycle of feeling worthless. my depression didn’t start with a faith crisis. i felt hints of it as a teenager, but when the core of your theology says that you are loved by God and you feel anything but, you start to feel an unresolvable tension.

like most stubborn men, i refused to admit i had a problem. i kept fighting the emotions and despair and refused to admit things were bleak, even when my wife told me for years to go talk to someone. my doctor, a counselor, anyone. i wasn’t sleeping. i wasn’t functioning well with work or my family. for a while, i could pretend everything was okay when someone walked into my office or stopped by for a visit. but i slowly lost that ability. it was easier to just quit going out. so i ignored my friends because it was easier to sit at home. but i couldn’t avoid my family, so they watched me sink into myself, trying desperately to distract myself with movies and television, which in retrospect made the problem worse. i went through the motions and worked as hard as i possibly could to pull myself out, convinced it was a spiritual problem. often depression can be confused for spiritual struggle. i felt hopeless. i’d wake up one day and try, only to fall flat on my face. i was angry, losing my mind at the smallest things. it felt inside like a pot of boiling water, and each day was a battle to stop it from overflowing from the pot. but each day, i would lose it. i still remember going to get an oil change. the sign said $39.99. they started and were halfway done when they informed me there was an extra $15 charge because i had a unique oil filter. i rolled up the window and yelled and punched my steering wheel, as if the car door was a noise blocker. i’m pretty sure i scared some people. but the anger was overwhelming and for no reason. all i wanted to do was overeat and watch mindless entertainment. it got to the point where the distractions couldn’t do their job anymore, so i finally listened to my wife. i saw my doctor.

hearing the words, “you are clearly depressed, and i think you need help” felt surreal. the shame and stigma attached to mental health is everywhere. it’s better than it used to be, but the feelings of failure don’t go away with a diagnosis. the fear of what others might think is very real. to have a name for what i felt gave me my first glimmer of hope in some time. so i grabbed a hold of it, still struggling, but ready to do battle. and i still am. i take a pill every day that levels me out and helps keep the darkness at bay. i fought the embarrassment, feeling weak, but knowing i needed help. so i swallowed my pill and it helped. it hasn’t cured me, but it’s helped. it’s one step in what’s been a long process of waking up again. it took months to share this with my extended family. longer still to tell coworkers and friends.

even now, i don’t shout it from the rooftops. i casually mention it in a blog post and share links on twitter or facebook about mental health issues, but i still feel it lurking. even when i do mention it, it’s only for a passing moment, and i don’t linger. if i do, people will ask questions. and if people ask questions, that means i’d have to be honest about my darkness. and if i’m a pastor and a christian and a husband and a father, shouldn’t i be all put together and whole? even as i write that, i know it’s garbage. but that’s what depression does. it takes the lies our mind tells us and makes them real to us.

well, i’m not a pastor anymore. and the idea that they, or any christian for that matter, should be all put together and never struggle is a load of bullshit anyway. good thing i’m not a pastor anymore. i just said bullshit. the idea that anyone should have it all together is ridiculous. we all want to be healthy, and good for you if you are. but when we are pretending for the sake of a facade we want to present to the world, that’s where depression does its damage. it hides in our fake smiles and mindless distraction.

i’m tried of watching people i love struggle.

i’m tired of making excuses for my depression and letting it have control.

i’m done worrying about what people think, stressing constantly over “if only they knew…”

i’m fed up with feeling alone and watching others pretend they are okay when it’s clear they are not.

mental illness does not have the last word. and if all i do is sit and wallow and pretend all is well, then i’ve already lost. i don’t want that for my kids. if they are fighting a battle, whether it be mental, emotional or other, i want them to be open about it, brave and courageous. i don’t feel any of those things most days. but i’m tired of letting it own me. and i don’t want others fighting the same battles i am to feel as alone as i did. everyone knows someone fighting a mental health battle. it’s just a matter of whether they voice it and you are paying enough attention to see it.

so here’s a rant from one depressed guy to the world. whatever you struggle with, know that you aren’t alone. talk to a friend. talk to a doctor. talk to a counselor. if you aren’t struggling, great! but let people know you won’t judge them if they are. let them know you will walk with them and give them hope. we all are that someone or know that someone. practice compassion on yourself. practice compassion on others. it makes a world of difference to have people know your darkness and love you still.

 

one final statistic.

Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.

there is hope, no matter how hopeless it feels.



superman invented Canada
July 5, 2009, 5:43 am
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , , ,

Supermanpatriotism has always seemed like a strange concept to me. we paint lines on a map that dictate where we’re from, and we feel a strange sense of loyalty to this place within the imaginary lines christopher columbus and lewis & clark discovered (commonly confused with lois & clark, the superman and his mistress). i know that’s not how we came to be known as the country of Canada, but it was so much easier to make that up than to actually do the research. so superman invented Canada, and i never really understood why people feel so proud to be from here. or from any country, for that matter. i mean, at least Canada was invented by superman (which i hope i get credit from for that discovery in national geographic) so at least we have a bit more going for us than those other lousy countries. they were probably invented by the green goblin, or robin, who is pretty much as lame as a super villain. jk, usa.

it’s not that i don’t like Canada. i love living here, and i love that i am free to eat as much taco bell as i can in one sitting. without that, though, what makes us any different from afghanistan or zimbabwe? lots, i guess. so that’s kind of a stupid question. forget i said that. at any rate, i don’t think people of the world are all that different, and so it really confuses me when people are so proud of a flag, which is essentially a piece of fabric, and a song (not the hockey song by tom connors, but our anthem) which i remember most vividly for some Vegas lounge singer singing the wrong words during a CFL game during the dreaded expansion years when i was a kid. his beautiful flowing majestic hair couldn’t get him out of that firestorm. and so for a long time, i have told people i think it’s dumb to be proud of a place we randomly ended up at. we can be thankful. but pride just never made sense to me. but that was a while ago. and now i am seeing things in a different light.

when i look at our country, there are many things that i am proud of. i am proud that we are free. free to go to Roughriders games and get soaked in the sweat and beer of the greasy old man sitting next to us. free to let our lawns grow as long as our neighbors can tolerate it before they politely mow it for us (thanks, by the way). but seriously, just free. i know there are many places in this world that aren’t free. and with freedom comes great responsibility, and for the most part, Canada does well with being responsible at home and around the globe. and as much as our politicians might make us want to vomit our chicken pot pie while we’re watching the evening news, they love this country, and look out for our best interests (most of the time). all partisanship aside (because lord knows i am a partisan, or is it parmesan?), i think most politicians are really there because they care about people, and that says something about the country we live in. and they offer us this freedom. i don’t care if stephane dion couldn’t pronounce saskatchewan, there was no doubt in my mind that he loved people and was doing his job because of that love. and our military. i have always struggled with this. because i don’t approve of war. i don’t ever think there is a valid reason to raise a gun towards another human being. but i know they are fighting for something bigger than themselves. and i know that it’s complicated. and to trivialize it with slogans does a disservice to the men and women who give their lives to protect people. i find it humorous (and disgusting) that americans often make fun of canada for our lack of military prowess. but that is a source of pride for me. because i have no doubt we could defend ourselves. that is not why i’m proud. but i am proud for our role in peacekeeping and rebuilding missions. i am proud that we often support the downtrodden and offer protection for those who need it. and while i don’t always approve of the reasons behind a war, i will never look down upon someone who is giving a piece of their life so that i can live. that is noble. so go ahead and make fun of the peacekeepers. we are an accepting country, which is also a source of pride for me. and while there will always be bigots, racists and homophobes, Canadians generally do not put limits on who is accepted as a human being. for that i am grateful, especially with much of the world drowning in these issues. i am not naive. i know this stuff still happens on much too large a scale. i live in a city that is surrounded with racism and bigotry. and that must change. generally speaking, though, these are attitudes that most Canadians do not adopt. for that, i am extremely grateful. 

the older i get, the more i realize there is reason to be proud to be from Canada. but not because we live in these imaginary lines drawn on a map. but because of the people. the people who exemplify Canada. the soldiers and peacekeepers, the politicians (that almost made me barf to say, but i am thankful nonetheless), the people who give Canada the stereotype of being full of nice people, the people who believe in the dignity and worth of others, the people who offer and receive universal healthcare…those and many more are the reasons that i am proud. not a flag or a song. the people. the people are what makes a country, and so if you feel pride in anything, feel proud of the people that make your country beautiful.images-5 and know that other countries are full of beautiful people too. don’t let patriotism feed nationalism. the world is a beautiful place. and i am thankful and proud to be a citizen of the world.

i know this is a departure from my normal story telling structure, but this is what’s been on my heart lately and i felt i needed to say it. in my next blog, you will hear the amazing story of how i, kenneth blair roberts, made the incredible discovery that superman invented canada. it involves the da vinci code, tom hanks, and a giant garbage bin filled with old comics. that’s all i can say for now.