Since I’ve begun sharing how I went from a being a pastor to being hospitalized in a psych ward, people often ask about my recovery. Everyone wants to know, is there a single solution? Where does the magic lie? How do they get their own lives (or their loved ones’) back? Or, as others have said, “What is the one thing that made you want to start living again?”
I used to live in an I-have-it-together illusion. But waking up in ICU after a failed suicide attempt left me with no choice but to admit that I suffer from mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety.
These days, I am grateful for my mental illness, personal growth, and improvement in my family since I faced my illness. It has allowed me to become more open and honest about who I am.
It’s been a long four years, but instead of living in shame, I am now embracing the life I have been given. In doing so, I have found several surprising gifts.
I was fourteen when my Aunt Missy killed herself. It was the last day of June in Alabama when a police car pulled up to our new house, which was still under construction. I remember how hot those 2×4’s were, as they baked in the sun. Per the officer’s instructions, we loaded up in the minivan and drove down the hill to the fire station where my dad worked, so Mom could call her parents. Very few people had cell phones yet, and my Momma wasn’t one of them. I’ll never forget the way she screamed, “My sister!” as she dropped the grey receiver and it swung out and slammed back against the concrete wall, there in the lobby of Fire Station #1.
I’ve always thought of myself as a Tigger, and so has everyone else. But being Tigger all the time comes with a lot of pressure. (Because he’s the only one.) So what do you do when you are typically a Tigger, but are having a down day like Eeyore or a grumpy day like Rabbit?
My clients were concerned. When they couldn’t reach me, they called first my wife, and then the hotel. I was lying on my back, unconscious, covered in vomit, when the police and EMT’s found me. They thought it was a murder scene. Vomit covered the bed and the floor. It had projected up the wall behind me, and coated a massive picture that hung over the bed. Apparently the pink Benadryl pills, along with the tens of thousands of milligrams of other medication I took, created the effect of blood. I had been unconscious for a solid ten hours by then.
It seems that sucky days are a universal experience. We can’t survive on an island. Isolation is miserable, especially for someone who struggles with depression or anxiety or self-esteem issues. Finding the guts to say, “Today sucks. Can we talk?” sometimes changes everything.
I hate when I feel this way. I hate the semi-permanent knot in the back of my throat, the avoiding eye contact with co-workers and the constant urge to go home. But the feelings persist. I hate the shame that comes along with it, whispering, “What a loser. Get your shit together. What’s wrong with you?” I hate the shame that comes from years of being raised as a religious kid, the lies that tell me I’m not a real Christian or I wouldn’t have these struggles.
But then I remember the words our pastor spoke Sunday…
This talk on discouragement, disappointment, and depression is the very best teaching on mental health I have EVER heard from a local church.