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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son of a preacher man
November 5, 2009, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , , ,

ace-ventura04i’m not the preaching type. i tend to ramble. get confused. make fart jokes.
i preached one time a few months back, and after a lady told me i should take public speaking lessons. in the famous words of ace ventura: pet detective…ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLRRRRIGHTY THEN! picture me talking with my bum cheeks (wait…did i really just tell you to do that? i’m sorry for those that actually got a mental picture) and you have a clear picture of ace ventura. funny fact, i also do that during sermons. another reason i need public speaking lessons. but even though i enjoy speaking about things that i care about to other people, i often feel the need to perfect it. to polish it. make it squeaky clean.

i remember my first chapel talk. i was in grade 11. i was a drugged up stoner. but for some reason they gave me a date and time and handed me the microphone. i wasn’t sure what to say because i didn’t really know anything about God, and what i did know i wasn’t sure i believed. so i talked about racism. i had just heard of this band called “PROPAGANDHI”, which would be the antichrist of bands. they dislike christianity intensely. but they taught me that racism was bad. so i shared that message. and when thinking about that talk, i’ve always said that it wasn’t really a chapel talk because it didn’t have anything to do with God. but i think i was closer to the heart of God there then in some more recent talks i’ve done. here’s what i mean.

lately, with a crazy schedule and deadlines bearing down on me, there is some class to teach or bible lesson to give where i feel pressed for time. and i’ve gotten pretty good at just winging it. i go in, ask a few questions, make a couple confessions. badda bing, badda boom. done and done. i don’t know about that. i feel like i am using God to make a living when i do that. because i work in a church, and it’s very simple when your in church culture to just say the right things. make the right hand gestures. stand at the right times. and so i’ve grown accustomed to cheating on God in this way. because i’m not really there. i’m somewhere else. i’m already thinking days ahead. and that isn’t okay. because people deserve more than that. God deserves more than that. and so i think back to that chapel talk about racism. i wasn’t really a christian at the time, but i do believe God was more supportive of that sloppy bit of honesty than he is with my smooth and polished bull. and i do believe that God loves truth. even when spoken by bands like PROPAGANDHI, more than he loves someone professing his name with a phony grin and fake interior who knows how to say the right words. and i am learning that as someone who is passionate about social justice. sometimes i don’t want to talk about it because, honestly, i feel as if that’s all i really talk about. and i don’t want to be preachy. i don’t want to step on toes. so it’s easier to just let opportunities slide. it’s easy to just sit on the sidelines while injustice speeds past you. but i’m tired of that. i have lost my passion that i once held so close to my heart. part of the reason is because i have become so accustomed to saying the right words, polished talk, with no heart behind it. and i’ve lost what i once loved. but i won’t let that happen. not this time. because that is God. a guy named Jim Wallis once cut out all the passages in the bible that dealt with poverty and serving the poor and oppressed. it left a pretty empty bible. and he accused Christians of doing this on a regular basis. that was 30 years ago. not much has changed. small steps have been taken. but not enough. and i need my passion back. i need to preach with everything i have, regardless of how messy it is.

there’s something about being raw and honest that makes you feel more alive. when we fake it, a piece of ourselves die. i have faked a lot over the years. my parents didn’t know i did drugs until i was in grade 11, 2 years after i had started. every once in a while you meet someone who is just so brutally honest about who they are that we take a step back and freak out a bit. “i didn’t want you to be THAT honest.” it’s foreign to us. like my little girl telling me she doesn’t want me to tuck her in, she wants mommy. if she knew adult speak, she would let me down gently with an excuse for needing to talk to mommy about her income tax return. something like that. i’m getting tired of being phony.

so forget about polished appearances and be honest for once. follow your heart and be true to what you know. yes, i’m talking to myself.