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.

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on running out of time

If ever there was a time waster, I am he. The one people look to for an example of what it means to waste away into nothingness while you check twitter for the 20th time in the hour.

Wasting time is my forte. If awards were given, I’d be number one. Most likely I wouldn’t show up for the ceremony, though. That would require getting off the couch. No time for that business.

I’m only 30 years old. That can be taken two ways. One says, “there’s still plenty of time, Blair.” The other says, “your life is 1/3 over, chump.” I listen to a different voice depending on the day. I have big dreams. Maybe ‘had’ would be more accurate. Past tense feels a little more honest. But as a 30 year old with lots of time left, yet 1/3 over, I want to be more, and the big dreams of my youth have flown the coop.

To be super Christian. To grow in my faith; to sainthood status by 30 years old (and I’m not even catholic. This new pope makes me want to be). I want to be this ideal picture I have in my head of what a Jesus follower looks like. Humble. Forgiving. Wise. Spends time with God daily. Giving. Patient. All those things.

Also, healthy. Washboard abs and glutes that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger weep. Believe it or not, I am currently not there. Close, but not quite. I want to want to go for a jog or a bike ride. Heck, I’ll even settle for walking up the stairs without sweating.

I want to be the people I admire. The Brennan Manning. The Brian McLaren. The Pope Francis. My grandmas, both living and deceased.

I want to be all this without putting any effort in. Because CandyCrush won’t play itself and my daily 2 hour nap is essential to my routine of getting more ready for bed. I can’t make time to become the person I want to be. I’m much too busy wallowing like a pig in his own filth to move forward.

My glass is either half full or half empty. Most days it feels like the latter, as I’m a raging pessimist on steroids. There’s still time, though. Each day is new, and I can’t become the man I should be overnight.

Speaking of steroids, people like to take shortcuts. Those people being me. To be unnaturally strong with half the work. And that’s my problem, minus the real steroids. I want to be what I cannot be unless I choose to be a better user of my time. Shortcuts will leave me sitting in the couch sucking back Doritos watching TSN highlights for the 10th time in a row (just in case they are different this time).

Time to step up and get it done. I may or may not, though, depending on how I feel in the morning. Sometimes wasting time is the best use of time. I just get those times confused often .