Monthly Archives: September 2013

Depression:Wimp of a word for major illness

By Jack Smith

William Styron called the term “depression” a wimp of a word for such a major illness.

In “Darkness Visible,” Styron says the word “has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”
Put another way, depression is a hell of a lot worse than the word implies. Many have “felt depressed” at one time or another, usually from a negative event in life. Chronic clinical depression (called Major Depressive Disorder) is another matter, and a surprising number of people suffer from it. Most things I read suggest 1 in 10 battle depression.
Think about what that means. In a town of 50,000, some 5,000 people are suffering from depression.  It breaks my heart to think of those who suffer in silence as I did for too long.
I am one of a fortunate few, though. I am currently seeking treatment at a place called The Menninger Clinic in Houston. It is one of the best places in the world for complicated mental illness cases.
My case is a bit complicated because I’ve had several different diagnoses and I’ve abused alcohol most of my life since high school. Shortly after my recent overdose, one doctor confidently declared that I’ve needlessly suffered for years because I’ve been misdiagnosed all this time. He diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder (and the depression that goes with it) and put me on lithium.
The frustrating part came a week later when a second doctor declared with equal confidence and assurance that I was most certainly not bipolar. He said I suffer from major depressive disorder and anxiety issues that make it worse.
Already depressed and anxious for answers, I was now confused and frustrated.  That’s what led me to Menninger.
Part of the process here at Menninger is spending many hours a week with my treatment team. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about my tortured history. This exhausting process has given me a chance to read through my journals spread out over a decade. While flipping through it, I found a description of what depression feels like. I hope sharing it helps others who suffer know they are not alone.
It is hard to explain how much depression hurts.  I feel like I have descended into hell. I am mired in a pit of utter despair and hopelessness, and my body aches. My mental illness tortures my mind but it causes physical pain, too. My back aches, my stomach churns with anxiety and my head and face feel lifeless and heavy.
My disease lies to me. I don’t want to believe the lies, but my depression is cunning and ruthless. It waits until my body and spirit are weak because it is one cruel bastard. It tells me I can’t get out of the bed, shouldn’t bother going to work today and I may as well just shut the door and pull the covers over my head. It tells me there is no hope. Depression is misery.
That’s what one of my worst days felt like, but I don’t feel that way today. I awoke early, feeling rested, read from Romans and shed a happy tear after reading a stirring, quite remarkable letter of hope from my daughter. She and her brothers and their mom are my inspiration today.
I miss home but know this is where I need to be right now. God has put me here and I can feel his loving arms holding me up. His arms and the prayers, love and support of many who have reached out since I began sharing publicly for the first time the nature of my illness.
Thank you, family. Thank you, friends. And thank you, strangers who may not know me but do know my story all too well.
Regular access to my blog is not allowed, nor is access to Facebook, but I have conned the staff into letting me write this entry.  Maybe I can share some more as my journey here progresses.
If not, I will share more when I return home.
Grace and peace.
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On wings of prayer, journey to hope takes flight

My problems look so small from up here. Maybe it takes 30,000 feet to get some perspective. Maybe it’s the comforting white noise of the engines. Maybe it’s seeing amber and red lights far below, moving as busy little ants in tidy lines.

Maybe it’s not any of those things at all. Maybe it’s the body of Christ and the prayers of so many family and friends at work.

That’s what I want to believe. That’s what I believe today more than I did yesterday, or maybe any other day in my life.

God’s world just seems so much more orderly up here. It just seems to make more sense. Only I know I can’t live up here in the clouds. I have to return to the valley of my despair to face my demons.

As much as I would rather live in the “fake world,” I know I have to return to the real world soon.

Tomorrow is a crossroads day for me. And by the grace of God, I don’t feel like I stand here waiting to get pummeled by a speeding train. I feel at peace.

Peace has been hard to come by for a long time. Mental illness does that to those who suffer from it. Depression is a liar, you see. And it is relentless, cunning and baffling. The black clouds come when they want to come, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to stop them.

Yet today, on the eve of my admission to a world-class clinic where I hope to get some answers, I feel peace and serenity.

I’m holding on to the serenity prayer…for the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.

I’m holding on to the promise that God will never forsake me. He might allow me to suffer, but he will never leave me.

He might not remove this thorn from my side as I have prayed so many times before. I’m okay with that. I’d at least like to know what species the damn thorn is, though. Maybe I’ll find out in the days ahead.

For the sake of my family, my awesome wife and my beautiful children, I pray my peace won’t be fleeting this time.

Tonight I pray for healing, spiritual and physical.

If healing doesn’t come, I will rejoice in my suffering. I will remember the countless prayers, calls, texts and acts of kindness that have been shown to my family. They have taught me the power of love in the storm of my life.

Even though I know struggles will come again, I will rest easy this beautiful night.

I will rest easy because I know how this movie ends. Mental illness might wreck my mind. 

It might spoil the good seasons of my life. It might even make my quite miserable again.

Whether it’s now or in the end, I will win and this illness will lose­­.

And that is all that matters.

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"The pain is too much. Please forgive me."

By Jack Smith

The desperate message scribbled on my wife’s bathroom mirror explains it as well as I can explain it, which isn’t very well at all.

“The pain is too much,” it read. “Please forgive me. I love ya’ll.”

More words were found on the facing mirror—the one a desperate man had stared into with sad eyes many times before that awful night of agony.

“Forgive me,” it read.  “I know not what I do.”

I’m told the police took photos before the friend who found me wiped the messages away. They also took my ipad, on which I somehow managed to type up a more personal note for my wife and three young children. It is too personal to share.

When I was found, I had been out for at least 12 hours. I had swallowed every sleeping pill in the house. Fists full of valium and every other drug I could get down, too. I even chugged a bottle of liquid pain medicine just to be sure. The psychiatrist told me it was a “lethal dose” of pills and alcohol, exactly the kind of mix that had killed many people.

Only it didn’t kill me.

The fact that I drank a bottle of pain reliever is both pitiful and ironic. Ironic because suicide wouldn’t have made my pain go away. It would have only multiplied it by 1,000 and given it to my loved ones—those who didn’t ask for their son, their brother, their husband or their dad to suffer from depression.

That’s how my friend who found me put it. He knows. Tears streaming down his face on our first visit after four days in the hospital, he told me that’s how he felt when his brother put a .357 magnum in his mouth and ended his pain 11 years earlier. He found him, too. And he’ll never get over it.

My friend thought I was dead when he finally got in the house. Pills were scattered on the bed and on the floor. A leg had broken off the coffee table, and the house looked like it had been robbed.

“Jack,” he recalls shouting at me as he shook my shoulders. “Jack! Jack!”

One eye opened, but my tongue was so thick he could barely make out my words. There were only mumbles as I drifted in and out of consciousness with an ambulance en route.

My friend had to slap me violently to try and keep me awake, which the paramedics recommended.

When they finally arrived, I’m told my vitals were strong but my heart rate was racing.
My breathing was compromised, though not stopped. The doctors said that explains the pneumonia that set it in soon after I left the hospital, a condition that only added to my misery.

Maybe pneumonia was a blessing. It made me rest and recover from the lowest point of my life, and I’ve had a lot of them battling depression.

Being bed ridden also restored my hope in people, all kinds of people who reached out with loving arms to my wife and my children, and to me.

I want to be clear here—I did not try to kill myself for attention. I tried to kill myself because I suffer from a mental illness that sucks the life of out me and, on my worst days, causes me to forget I have a lot to live for. On that night, it caused me to make some really bad choices that reason can’t explain.

I share this painful blog in hopes that it touches someone. I hope it causes one person to think twice or just ask for help, which I didn’t do as I had many times before. I hope it reminds all of us who suffer from depression that we can’t make our pain go away by giving it to someone else.

I’ve learned people don’t know how to talk about depression or mental illness, especially with those who most need a safe place to talk about it, whether at church or at work or even among friends.

That’s why I hope this is being read by a mother or wife, a sister or a friend of someone who suffers from mental illness, especially depression. You can help them just by telling them you love them and you are always there to talk. It doesn’t have to be preachy or perfect—just offer words of encouragement.

Sadly, even that might not be enough for those whose pain is too great.  I hope and pray that a loved one reading this who did lose their child can find peace again.

I also pray that God will forgive me for giving up hope.

I will soon be going to a treatment center in a desperate search for the right help, which has been all too elusive.

I hope to return to my family stronger and healthier, and I look forward to sharing more later.


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