I haven’t written anything in quite some time. Call it a loss of motivation or inconsistency in my habits. I wrote because it made me feel better. It was a way for me to manifest what I had buried deep inside. If someone found it useful, great!
Then one day I stopped. Oh, it wasn’t an immediate decision. I didn’t wake up one day and think to myself, “I’m done.” As I look back it was a gradual slide. I used to write daily, then weekly. Finally, it ended with me saying, “This week can wait. Maybe I’ll just write when I feel like it.” Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. My last post, which in itself was a random thought after many months of inactivity was devoted to my wife Jacqueline. Then nothing.
I blamed it on trying to be a better husband and father. I was going to use that extra time to be with my family, but I didn’t. I’d find reasons to stay later at the office, and when I did come home I’d immediately just lay down and nap. I’d wake up after the kids were in bed, watch a little Netflix, eat something unhealthy, then go back to sleep. The next day, the cycle would continue on repeat. Weekends were spent with me waking up with the kids. That wasn’t too bad, but I’d let them “veg” out watching YouTube, something on Netflix, or whatever the Disney app had to offer. I’d conk back out in the recliner thinking beforehand that I’d read. It was usually just mindless Facebook scrolling.
Eventually, I started to find reasons to not leave the house. If I did, I would be met with crippling anxiety. I dreaded conflict. This wasn’t every day. I’d shake it off as some type of underlying stress or random peculiarity with my personality.
I started to doubt myself. “Am I as good as I thought I was?” I’d ask. “Why am I trying to give advice on life, when I don’t even have mine together? I’m a fraud!” I stopped trying to excel. I just wanted to maintain what I had. “Don’t rock the boat.”
Doubt turned to anger towards myself. Anger turned to self-hatred. “I don’t deserve anything. The way I feel about myself is a product of me.” I wasn’t blaming society, work, or economics. I was blaming me. I’m glad I didn’t allow myself to blame others for my perceived problems. Looking back that’s one thing I’m glad I stuck to. I never like it when people claim “The world is out to get me.” The world has its self to worry about.
That’s not to say blaming myself was my saving grace either. The problem was, I blamed myself, and failed to work on a plan to get out of it. My wife told me my personality had changed. I was becoming more irritable about thigs. I’d snap more frequently. I’d become angry faster at pointless issues.
Since I was a teenager I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. At 15 I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don’t mean I was particular about things, or a neat freak. I hear people say, “I’m so clean and organized. I’m OCD about certain things.” No, you’re not. Picky maybe, but I don’t think you’re “OCD”. Do you wash your hands until they bleed? Are you met with a crippling compulsion to check every doorknob in the house to make sure it’s locked 15 times? If you feel a slight bump on the road, do you turn around four times retracing your path because you’re terrified that you’ve hit someone? That is OCD, not being a neat freak.
I look back to my dominant OCD days and even then I can’t really pinpoint when I realized something was wrong. I knew something was off, but it too wasn’t an overnight transformation. I say dominant because I was able to receive counseling and medication to treat it. OCD is tied to depression and anxiety. They’re interrelated. The common type of medications prescribed are antidepressants like Luvox, Paxil, and Prozac. There are many others, but I was prescribed Luvox. It helped, that and the counseling. I learned ways to delay the compulsions and how to spot something OCD related vs. just normal everyday anxiety.
Eventually, I had a way to manage it. As I grew older I’m sure my then teenage brain chemistry also matured and helped to even off the big issues. It would never go away, but it became easier to deal with. I mentioned OCD is interrelated to depression and anxiety. My compulsions were coming under control, but my two other “friends” were still there.
When you burn your hand on the stove it’s very apparent there’s a problem. You can see and feel it. If someone asks you “What’s wrong?” you can easily show and tell them “I burned my hand. See?” Depression and anxiety don’t work like that. Stress is normal. Short durations of depressive symptoms are normal. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, and a major setback will result in some symptoms of depression. It’s when the cycle remains, preventing you from living your life is when it becomes an issue. It’s an issue when what the average person would consider to be an inconvenience sends another into a panic of not wanting to deal with it. Depression is gradual.
How do you boil a frog? Do you boil up the water and toss him in? No. He’ll immediately jump out. I have no personal experience with boiling frogs, but I’m told that you put the frog in room temperature water and slowly bring the water temperature up to let him acclimate. Eventually, the poor frog is cooked. This is what my personal experiences have taught me about depression. It’s gradual. You slowly fall into the spiral. I’ve been on antidepressants for years because I’ve always battled some form of anxiety. The problem with antidepressants is that your brain also begins to acclimate to the meds. They lose their effectiveness over time. Unfortunately, it’s not apparent. You’re unaware of the changes. You may just notice subtle issues. Maybe you lose interest in something. You want to stay in bed a little longer. Take a nap after work. Not read your favorite book. Once in a while is fine, but now it’s the second day. The third day. It’s now in your routine. Over time, and it may take up to a year, you start to notice you’ve lost your cutting edge. Feelings of worthlessness begin to creep in.
I’ve allowed suicidal thoughts to creep in. I can’t speak on behalf of others. I can only speak to how I felt. I knew I was loved. I knew people cared for me. That was never a doubt I had. I just wanted the pain to stop. My mind felt like it was on fire, but not the sharp pain of a fire, more like the pulsating sensation in your nerves. I felt numb inside. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint what. I was so nearsighted with my own thoughts that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. What has kept me from actually doing anything are the thoughts of my boys asking “Where’s daddy?” I’ve also been on this roller coaster many times before. I’ve learned what to look for, but it’s still not easy. The story below has been a cornerstone of how I try to see things now.
On February 23rd, 2014, our youngest son, John David Miller, was born. It was an uneventful pregnancy and everything seemed fine. It wasn’t until after he had been out for a few hours that we started noticing the hospital staff acting oddly. Nurses and doctors kept coming in and taking him away for scans. It wasn’t until they were going to take him away for an ultrasound on his head that we finally said “No”, and refused to let them leave with him. This got the doctor’s attention and a meeting was scheduled for later in the day for us all to meet. As it turned out John had multiple oddities. His index fingers were bent at an angle. He had a high arch in his pallet and an oddly shaped chin. The medical team was concerned he had a genetic abnormality and were trying to find out what it was before they told us. For the purposes of expediency, I’ll cut to the chase. After his release about two weeks later his pediatrician started noticing his weight drop. He was eating, but it wasn’t enough. He was finally admitted to McLane Children’s Medical Center in Temple, TX in May of 2014.
We were living in College Station at the time, and Temple was about an hour and a half away. My two older sons were involved in school and I still needed to work. It was decided Jacqueline would stay with him. So now, my wife and new son were in one part of the state and I was in another. I thought, “Well, he’s in the hospital so they’ll have this issue worked out in a few days. Then we’ll all be home.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. My mother-in-law was able to get off work to stay with us and help with getting the boys to school and be there when they were released. This allowed me some flexibility in being able to stay in the hospital with Jacqueline a few days each week. My employer was also gracious to let me work remotely. Even with all the support, I was still feeling the stress.
One week turned into two, then three. I began to get angry at God for our “misfortune”. I remember on one drive in particular yelling at Him at the top of my lungs. “Why!? What have I done wrong?”. I’ve been frustrated with Him before, but I hadn’t yelled. Shortly afterward, I felt ashamed of losing control and apologized. I can’t say everyone will receive a response like this, but the route I took went through an area just south of Cameron, TX. The road is dotted with fence posts and shrubs along the side. It’s mostly ranch and farmland. On this drive, and at the right time I happened to glance to my left. A rancher had taken a piece of wood and painted the words “The Lord will Provide” referring to Genesis 22:14 in the Old Testament of the Bible. I immediately had a sense of peace and calm. I knew at that moment, no matter what happened, everything would eventually be ok.
John had a surgery on his throat to further open up his windpipe. The medical team thought he was burning too many calories trying to breathe. No change. We made the tough decision for the team to implant a g-button where his food could be delivered directly to his stomach in controlled amounts. It took a few days to find the magic number of ounces of milk vs. feeding length, but it worked! In total, John spent a little under four weeks in the hospital.
Months later he would require a tracheostomy because he was still struggling to breathe, especially at night. This resulted in another long hospital stay, but fortunately, it was closer to three weeks. It was an inconvenience, but we had dealt with something similar before and we “knew the drill”. Eventually, his condition would be given a name, “Catel-Manzke syndrome“. It’s a very rare genetic condition which affects the body’s musculature and skeletal development. To what end, we really don’t know.
How did the above help me? It made me realize things could always be worse, and somehow, some way things will get better. The suicidal thoughts are still there on occasions, but I’m able to better control my reactions to negative situations. My problems won’t go away, and actually, they may increase from time to time, but it’s a matter of perspective. If you want to see the negative, you will. I can’t say I’ll always look for the silver lining in every situation. I may lose my cool, but having been down the dark path before, I’m more confident I’m better equipped to deal with it in the future.
You see, in the professional world, it’s taboo to discuss such things. We’re to be at our best all the time. We can’t place doubt in people’s minds because they might think you’re unstable. Depression is the “elephant in the conference room”. Likely, most people at the table have, will, or are dealing with some form of major anxiety. We become fearful to say anything.
I’ll never completely defeat depression. You can’t. It becomes a part of you. You may be able to keep it in the corner, but it’s going to remind you it’s still there. It’s been my experience you’ll exhaust yourself if you try to make everyday depression-free. Instead, I focus on trying to have more good days than bad. I look at what I have now, and the things I’ve accomplished that I didn’t think I’d ever been able to. I try to keep myself active physically with exercise, and I’m working on building my personal support group. These are the people I can go to and say “Today was really cruddy.” I’m not looking for a solution, just someone to acknowledge the situation.
I can’t predict what the rest of the year and 2018 will look like. I do know I want our family to focus on growing closer together through our faith. Things may be better or worse, but at the end of the day, we can can’t lose sight of our faith in God and each other.
I hope and pray you won’t find yourself in a situation to use this, but here’s a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website in case you ever feel in over your head. I, personally, have not utilized this type of service before.