Category Archives: depression

I’m not the man she married, but she loves me anyway

b on wedding dayA lot of things have been hard in my up and down battle with mental illness the past two decades.

I’ve been misunderstood and  misdiagnosed.  I’ve stayed in hospitals for what I hoped and prayed would be the last time. For years, I’ve taken meds that had no chance of helping.

I’ve been so down I forgot what I feels like to be up. I’ve been on top and even over the top only to come crashing down in a heaping mess.

I’ve had my faith tested, and I’ve tested my faith.

My mood has seldom been stable for years, but something far more  important has: My marriage.

I’ve heard stories you wouldn’t believe and seen statistics that are sad and sobering about mental illness and how it can wreck families.

The most troubling one? Ninety percent of marriages in which one person suffers from bipolar disorder end in divorce. That’s a staggering, heart-breaking number.

Most marriages just don’t survive mania or the depression that is the disorder’s evil twin.  I do not judge any who haven’t made it.

My heart aches for all of them, like the lady who recently sent me a direct message after reading this blog. She couldn’t keep her vows because the man she had married became someone she no longer knew and could no longer love.

I met another woman in treatment who never made it to the altar with the love of her life. She had debilitating depression and seizures that required brain surgery. When she woke up, everything she learned in pre-med and her feelings for her fiancee were gone.

It’s not my place to cast judgment, but it is my obligation to thank God for blessing our marriage. We’ve tried to live out our vows…and we’ve been tested on all of them. Richer. Poorer. Sickness. Health. We’ve been far from perfect and we have work to do yet, but we’ve endured, loved, prayed and hoped. It takes all of that—and more.

My wife is pretty awesome all the way around, and I’m not just talking about her hotness.

She is supportive but not enabling. She is patient but not a pushover. She has endured my antics and addictions, my foibles and  fallacies.

Never once has she threatened to leave me. Well, other than that one time—but that’s another blog.

Barclay, I’m writing this post because you need to know how much I love you. You need to know much I appreciate your love and devotion, your endurance and your understanding. I regret that you, too have had to suffer in your own way, ways I probably don’t even know about or understand.

You don’t always give me what I want or tell me what I need to hear.  That’s a good thing. If you did, we’d be broke and I might be dead.

It’s not easy being married to a bipolar man who isn’t what you really signed up for at all. It’s even harder, I can imagine, to love them like you did the day you said “I do.”

You do both, and that has made  mine a life worth living.

 

 

5 things not to say to folks dealing with depression

 

Words can help those suffering from depression. They can also hurt.

Words can help those suffering from depression. They can also hurt.

By Jack Smith

They stuffed my neighbor’s freezer full of casseroles. They cut our grass and brought candy to our kids. They said prayers, sent notes, posted Facebook messages and shot encouraging texts to my wife and to me.

They sent my wife and children on the trip of a lifetime—just as their dad had to leave them for a far-away clinic. But that wasn’t enough. They sent cash and gift cards and movies to watch on the way.

The extraordinary acts of kindness shown to us by our friends during my darkest hour renewed my faith in people.

Their generosity and my family’s support made it far easier to leave home for three weeks. It helped me focus on my illness and tackle my treatment like a determined linebacker.

Their encouragement made me realize I’m a lucky man. I’m from a great town and I live in a great town today. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

Yet as I learned in treatment from others who aren’t so fortunate, people can say the darndest things. Even our families. Continue reading

21 days and 1,000 nights: Journey to mental health

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By Jack Smith

We huddled on a small hill at the highest point of an otherwise flat campus just after sundown, our eyes fixed on the sky. It was a crisp and clear autumn night.

A distinctive amber light, brighter and different than all the other stars, soon painted the sky above and behind us. And then it was gone.

It was the International Space Station hurdling across the big Texas sky at 17,500 miles per hour. Somehow, it appeared to be going no faster than the trains that rumble by near the campus of the clinic I called home for 21 days.

Continue reading

A Love Letter to Depression

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m grateful to share my new friend’s “Love Letter to Depression.” I know many others can relate to her pain.

AJS

Dear Depression,

I hate it when you push me into my darkest waters and hold me there until I’m crying for three hours on my bathroom floor — or worse. I hate it when you take feelings from me, and I am left enjoying nothing. I sit and stare at the TV or the computer screen checking Facebook over and over for distractions — news, updates, whatever. Fake reality. Fake friendships. I can’t even respond to the messages on my phone or meet up with people because I am so empty and stuck in you like a pit of tar.

I don’t like it when your presence causes me to dwell on extreme ways to escape the pain. Nothing really works. TV distracts for a time, puts me in another life that is unreal, but sucks more time away from I don’t know what. The days pass by and I’m in a dark room, TV on, staring.

I finally got to the point where I could sit at my desk, still in the dark. I stopped trying to cook on the hotplate because I have no desire to clean after. I order food and stress that my neighbors will see me doing it again.

Continue reading

Living in the future creates anxious mind

By Jack Smith

I live in the future, not the present.

My mind is like a powerful radar, always sweeping the horizon for threats seen and unseen, problems known and unknown.

My eyes see through people like an airport scanner, sizing up their motives.  My emotional instincts are sensitive and sharp, able to gauge how others feel even before they can.

My anxious disposition is a blessing. It is also a curse.

Worry, an all-consuming art-form of mine, makes me good at my job. It also makes me insane.

I spent a good 90 minutes with an anxiety specialist today, and it took him less time to size me up than it did for me to realize he looks and acts just like Seymour Hoffman.

Seymour jarred me with real talk about my suicide attempt, apparently not convinced I understood the gravity of my selfish act. Speaking of my family, he termed it an attempted murder on a person they care deeply about. The problem, he said, is that the victim and the offender are the same person. He challenged me to reconcile that with all involved. I didn’t argue the point.

Continue reading

Genetic markers show his fight against depression uphill battle

By Jack Smith

Part of me was stoic. Part of me was sad. Part of me wanted to cry.

And part of me wanted to go all Eminem, untuck my shirt with a snatch, pull my denim jeans down to my hips and yell, “I told ya’ll somethin’ ain’t right!”

That’s how I felt when the doctor reviewed the results of my genetic profile, a “personalized medicine” test from Genomind.

The test looks at 10 genes related to psychiatric conditions. The results can give the doctors an idea of what’s going on with the patient’s brain chemistry and metabolism. It also tells doctors what drugs will and won’t work.

My results weren’t pretty. The average patient at this renowned clinic has 1 or 2 genetic mutations picked up by the test. I had five. Continue reading

Father, wrap your arms around those who hurt

By Jack Smith

Heavenly Father,

Tonight my heart is heavy. It is heavy with pain and angst for many who are hurting.

I pray you will comfort those who are suffering in silence from an insidious sickness, an invisible illness that turns the brightest of your days into the dark night of the soul.

Wrap your loving arms around the millions of mentally ill men who sit hopelessly in our jails, not because they are criminals but because they are homeless, because they are sick with mental illness and because they can’t find treatment anywhere else.

Bring peace to confused children who don’t understand why their father can’t get out of bed.

Shower serenity on the devoted wife who wonders if the man she married will ever come home.

Shine your light on the heart of the 19-year-old loner who tonight is planning his suicide, his bipolar disorder unknown even to him.

Comfort the mother who feels like a failure for feeling nothing but pain and emptiness when holding her newborn baby.

Quiet the fears of the elderly man whose failing health has brought on the black cloud of depression.

Bring hope to the teenage girl so desperate for the pain to go away that she cuts her arm again and again.

Strengthen and revive the families torn apart by the demons of addiction and illness.

Hearten and encourage the exhausted mother and father whose child has lost hope in her darkest hour of need.

Hear my prayer, Great Physician. Help me get stronger, Lord, so I might shed this selfish cloak and help others who suffer as I do.

Amen.

 

Houston, we have a problem

By Jack Smith

I suffered the indignity of having my bags searched without a peep. I turned the other cheek when my electric razor was confiscated.  I said nothing when my laptop was pulled from my bag and stored in a vault halfway across the clinic’s campus…as if it possesses the United States military’s nuclear codes.

But now I have a serious problem. And it comes just as my recovery was taking shape. It was announced today that Auburn will play Ole Miss on ESPNU. Only we don’t get ESPNU on the unit.

Houston, we have a very serious problem. And if you really want me to learn to live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and whatever else you diagnose me with, you damn well better fix it. Like today.

The game might be six days away, but I can’t wait that long to resolve this crisis. A crisis management truism I’ve learned in my job the past three or four years is it’s best to address the crisis right away. So what gives?

I can’t for the life of me understand the lack of urgency here. I’m trying to figure out when I can hack into the common area computer, which has more restrictions on it than ipads in Beijing, so I can at least watch the game online.

In the process, I’m learning to relate to all sorts of people I have nothing in common with except my illness. But all these people who don’t watch or care about college football confuse me more than six rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) did in 2012. I don’t get it.

The good news is I’m on the verge of getting pissed. Getting pissed is good. It’s good because it means I care again. Anyone who has suffered from Major Depressive Disorder can tell you that at its worst, severe depression sucks so much life and energy out of you that you lose the capacity to get angry about anything.

You feel nothing and care about nothing. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

I’m learning to feel all sorts of emotions again, too. I cried during “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” our “therapeutic movie” this evening.

I shared a belly laugh with a fraternity brother who came to see me today and even laughed out loud during a group “Catchphrase” session. It’s a game where you get participants to guess the word on the card by describing it in any way except saying it. The word was medicine. “You take this to feel better…” said the lady whose turn it was. “Heroin!” shouted a young skateboarder who talks just like Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Heroin use isn’t funny, but the whole room busted up. People with mental illness like to laugh just like anybody else. Only they don’t much feel like laughing a lot of the time. I think we need to learn to talk about mental illness the same way we can talk about cancer or heart disease or any other illness. It wouldn’t hurt to be a little less uptight about it, too.

Laughter may not be the best medicine for mental illness, but it’s better than most.