Monthly Archives: October 2013

A little Halloween fun is good for all of us

Happy Halloween, blog friends!

For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to this zany holiday.

Something about being somebody I’m not for a day appeals to me. Maybe others can relate. I’m still learning to be happy with who I am.

I think that’s why Halloween is so popular: We can all dress up and act silly while we celebrate our differences.

Candy bomb kids

“Candy bombed” by some awesome friends of the family.


A big part of recovery is learning to have sober fun, which I’ve never been great at doing. I did it tonight though, if only for a little bit.

The local CrossFit gym where I’m the newest newbie had a “Halloween WOD (Workout of the Day.” I almost did what I often do during sober social situations and punted. But I went for it on fourth and short anyway. And I had a great time with good friends. I even made some new ones who I will always remember by the super hero names instead of their real ones.

You followers who aren’t crazy in Alabama might have a more difficult time guessing my costume…so check out the photos  and leave your reply!


My hope is those who are struggling who might read this will have fun on Halloween Day.

If it’s a full day, an evening or even a good hour, I hope you find a way to have some fun.

War Damn Halloween!



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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.



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Anxiety attack like jumping out of plane without parachute

By Jack Smith

I felt it coming like a freight train barreling down on me and  I was hopelessly strapped to the tracks.

My mouth dried out within seconds. My pulse quickened.  My hands started to tremble. Even my legs shook as though it were the dead of winter and I were standing naked in the snow.

My wife realized what was happening, so she looked me in the eye and said go where you need to go. I scanned the area looking for an escape, which I usually plan out in advance for times like these.

Anxiety attacks can feel like freefalling. Hard to stop once they start.

Anxiety attacks can feel like free falling. Hard to stop once they start.

You would have thought I were in a war and the enemy was after me.

I was really just attending a football game with 80-something thousands of my closest friends, as the t-shirt goes, when I had an anxiety attack.

I did what my wife and my instincts told me to do when it got out of hand. I got as far away from that huge mass of people as I could.

The best way I can describe a panic attack is that it feels like jumping out of an airplane…and then realizing you aren’t wearing a parachute. I feel fine one minute. Then all of a sudden I’m in free fall, the ground getting bigger and bigger by the second.

When panic attacks hit, I’m suddenly overcome with angst. It leaves me with  two choices: fight or flight. Sometimes I stay and fight. Other times I get the hell out of there to gather myself.

When it happened yesterday, I walked away from the crowd to the safety of open space and a lonely bench. I tried a mindfulness exercise that I learned in treatment. It worked more or less.

I closed my eyes for a moment, took some deep breaths and focused on my senses. I listened to the roll of drums from the band playing in the distance. I felt the weight and the coolness of the wrought iron bench on my thighs and back. I drank in the smell of meat sizzling on the grill.  I inhaled deep breaths through my nose and exhaled them through my mouth.

I soon felt sane again, relaxed enough to enjoy the game and the time with my family.

I’m not sure if what I experienced Saturday afternoon was a full-blown panic attack or just social anxiety I sometimes get when I’m surrounded by too many people.

I once coped with these episodes by working or drinking. Neither was an option on Saturday, so I had to fight through it.

My guess is a lot of you reading this blog have had similar meltdowns. I’ve been having them for years.

I remember another time maybe 10 years ago when I bailed on a newspaper banquet before it even started. It was one of those times when I had quit drinking cold turkey with no support group. I didn’t know how to handle being sober and being one of only a handful of people not drinking.

I was holding a glass of water when my usual hand tremor turned into the full-blown shakes. It was like Ted Striker’s “drinking problem.” I couldn’t raise the glass to my mouth without spilling water everywhere. So I just got the hell out of there.

I jumped in my car and drove over two hours to my home without telling anyone I was leaving, including the hotel. I avoided phone calls from my mother because I was too embarrassed to admit the truth.

I have it easy compared to others. Some have unrelenting anxiety so severe it makes daily living a nightmare. God bless them.

Instead of asking why in the hell a grown man can’t just suck it up and deal with it, my wife is usually patient and compassionate.

I’m harder on myself than she or anyone else is. I  get mad at myself and wonder why I can’t just be normal.

I don’t have many answers, except that I was born with an anxious disposition. That’s what one one anxiety specialist told me anyway. He said I’ve developed some maladaptive coping mechanisms over 40 years-plus years, and I won’t be able to fix them overnight.

I’m sure going to try, though. Life isn’t supposed to be lived this way. 



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The right words offer hope in battle with depression

By Jack Smith

Bridgette never has a bad day. Her sweet and soothing voice is well known to customers at the Chick-fil-A drive thru in my hometown.  Bridgette always makes me feel better—even when I feel guilty for ordering yet another chocolate milkshake.

Her secret? Bridgette adjusts her emotional level based on her customers’ first words into the drive thru microphone. If they sound grumpy, she dials down the sunshine. If they sound perky, she matches their emotions.


It works. I’ve never once had a bad experience in the Chick-fil-A drive thru thanks to Bridgette’s sweet voice.

I think we can all take a cue from Chick-fil-A when it comes to saying the right thing in the right way to those suffering from depression and other mental illness.

Words can help or they can hurt. They can heal or they can harm..

I’ve found almost all people have good intentions, but I’ve also had some tell me they didn’t know what to say to me or someone else struggling with mental illness. Maybe this list will help.

5 good things to say to those with mental illness Continue reading

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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

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Ambien makes for strange bedfellow


By Jack Smith

I got lost at about 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, and I don’t remember any of it.

It wasn’t a relapse or anxiety that prompted me to get out of bed and wander around aimlessly. It was another foggy moment sponsored by Ambien.

We were staying at a friend’s house out of town, and I took an Ambien to help me fall asleep. I’ve taken an Ambien most nights for probably 10 years for insomnia.

Like some football teams, I don’t play well on the road when it comes to sleep. Been that way as long as I can remember.

Apparently, my poor sense of direction didn’t help the matter either. My wife, startled by the empty warm spot in our bed, had to get up, find me and point me toward the bathroom. I’m told I ran into the sofa on the way back, but  I don’t remember one bit of it.

The good news is  I didn’t go in the closet. I actually did that once or twice in college, but I can’t blame those episodes on  Ambien. Anheuser-Busch was likely the culprit. Continue reading

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It’s a war on bipolar now, too

By Jack Smith

If someone had just told me about Starburst jellybeans, this whole thing might’ve been avoided.

At some point during my stay at The Menninger Clinic in Houston, my wife bought a sack of the colorful confections. That really isn’t a good idea—not when an addict’s around. I’ve eaten about 327 since lunch.

Other than too many Starbursts and a few sporadic squirelly moments, things have gone swimmingly since I got home Wednesday.

That was the day of my so-called “Diagnostic Conference” at Menninger. It’s sort of like that moment in a trial when the jury foreman stands up and reads out the verdict.

The verdict for me?

Bipolar Disorder (Type I), Generalized Anxiety Disorder and alcohol dependency. None of it was a big s
urprise,as my Menninger team and I worked through most of the issues before the big reveal. The only item the jury was still deliberating the last week was whether the diagnosis was Type I (one percent of the population suffers from it) or Type II.

Continue reading

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


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

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