My Depression & Anxiety Journey
Yesterday, Tuesday, April 27, 2016, I went on my first run in almost 2-1/2 years. I would like to write it was easy, found my groove and old rhythms came naturally but honestly, my legs felt like sticks, my feet; cement blocks, my lungs burned and my head hurt. It was only 3 miles when years ago I could and did 10, 15, 20 milers regularly. I used to love running but that was before, this is now.
At the end of 2013 my life had several drastic changes. My ministry position in Pennsylvania was ending and I had decided to take an open-ended Sabbatical. I was tired, worn out and something inside me felt like it had died. Packing up our home of 7 years, saying goodbye to our church family, was physically and emotionally exhausting but I couldn’t feel much. It had been this way for a long time.
We moved to South Carolina and I started a one man lawn care business to make financial ends meet. I hadn’t run since we began to pack our things in Pennsylvania and doing yard work all day long sapped me of any energy to exercise. But something else was going on inside of me. I no longer cared about running or most other things. I was asked by family, friends and churches when I would end my Sabbatical and simply said; “I don’t know” while thinking; “I don’t care.” A dear lady, living in SC, whom I was extremely close to, passed away during my Sabbatical and I struggled to find the sadness and sense of loss I thought I should feel. Near the end of the year we moved to Tennessee to be near my wife’s family. I isolated myself more and more and just wanted to be alone. I am an introvert, always have been, but this growing shadow over my soul and emotions was a completely different sensation.
2014 was a blur of blackness and confusion. At the request of my wife I made an appointment with our primary care physician who recommended a therapist. It only took one appointment for the therapist to tell me I was suffering from Severe, Clinical Depression and needed to see a specialist as soon as possible. I had been diagnosed with a Severe, Clinical Anxiety Disorder a few years before when the stresses of life and work were at their peak but hadn’t considered depression, especially “severe” and “clinical”. A few weeks later I sat with one of the top specialists in the Mental Health field and he confirmed the diagnosis. “Your severe anxiety disorder is the ‘tip of the depression spear.’ It’s worn you down and out the last several years and now you have no strength left to fight, care, feel.” As he talked with me his words resonated with the emptiness within. I was prescribed meds and an action plan, part of which included exercise.
So, a year and a half later I am still trying to find my balance with this difficult disease. My best description of depression is; “that which steals.” In low times it robs me of emotional depth, I’m like a Zombie. It strips me of caring about almost everything. It takes things I enjoy doing and makes them seem like insurmountable obstacles that would take more strength and energy than I possess. Over the last 12 months, each time I met with the specialist, I was asked; “Have you started running again?” My answer has been; “I just can’t. It takes all I have to do my job well, be present with my wife, and not give up.”
The last few weeks, however, I began to think about running. I even mapped out a route. Yesterday evening I strapped on my old running shoes and headed to the door. I told Beth; “I’m not committing to anything. It may be another year before I go again.” She smiled and said; “That’s okay. I love you.” I walked out the door, down the driveway and onto the road. I took several deep breaths and began. It was hard and painful. The weight I’ve gained, in large part because of the meds I take, put extra pressure on my knees and feet. My stride was off, my gait not smooth and there was the thought, inclination to give up. Instead, I kept going and collapsed when I arrived back home. Sore and laying on the ground, I whispered a prayer: “Thank you God for letting me run again.” I don’t know if I’ll ever regain my love for running but doing it was good for my soul.
I thought my Anxiety Disorder was the hardest battle I’d ever fight until Depression came smashing its way into my life. I share my story today because May is #MentalHealth awareness month and too many people hide in the shadows because of #MentalHealthStigma. I didn’t ask for Anxiety and Depression but neither will I be defined by them.
I hope and pray this helps anyone struggling with #MentalHealth issues to remember you are not alone and to those who are not struggling to know we are your family members, partners, friends, co-workers and pastors.