Beating Depression, Round 1

27 Dec

Depression can drive you. It’s hard to tell whether you’re being rational or not. I’d been raised to believe I had to this huge purpose, to carry out the work of Christ on earth: What could be bigger than that? I enjoyed working in my brother’s church as the music pastor, and although he seemed to enjoy the “music” part of my job, I didn’t meet expectations when it came to the “pastor” part. Frankly, as much as I need people, they wear me out. I don’t draw energy from them like a type A personality would. And I was starting to be disillusioned by the church in general. I loved Jesus, but I was tired of the roles that religion seems to put us in.
I left Josh’s church to be a music pastor in Florida. It was my first full time job in a church, and I had only been married a few months. With a baby on the way, I started to unravel. It hit the fan so hard that within a month of starting I had given notice to the church that I was leaving. I was changing, and although I understood where the people in the church were at, I wasn’t there. Going back wasn’t an option – my psyche had made that very obvious.
But now I had no purpose. I was a stranger to the normal world – my world was hymns and sermons and theology, and none of that had any merit outside of the church. And I was outside, alone and afraid. Desperately trying to find purpose, I put out an album of original songs. But I expected too much too soon, and gave it up as unachievable.
Now my dad was starting a church in California, and maybe this was the light at the end of this long and very dark tunnel I had been in. It was hope, and so we went to California. It only took one service for me to realize I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a church leader. I left, found another job, quit within a month, and was ready to give up on everything. Nothing was working, not my brain, not my marriage, not my life. Of course I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with me.
One morning I woke up in my usual deep and dark funk and my wife said, “Maybe you should get professional help.” I felt betrayed. How could she possibly think the problem was me? It’s laughable in retrospect of course, but for me the possibility was inconceivable. I did agree to go for marriage counseling, but I was convinced that most of the problem was my marriage, and that if I just got out of it, everything would be okay. I was trying to escape, again and again, believing that one more escape would bring me back into the sunshine.
At our very first counseling session it became apparent to the counselors that I had mental issues. They offered to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist at no cost to me. I was reluctant, afraid to believe I had a problem that could be fixed with a little pill. It just blew my mind. I never actually believed it would work until I sat down in the office.
The very first thing the doctor gave me was a fast acting form of Xanax. Eight years later I can almost still remember the feeling of calm that settled over me, the tightness in the my chest relaxing for the first time in years. I also started taking Zoloft, an anti-depressant. Slowly, life seemed to slow down enough to where I could begin to get my feet back on the ground and begin to put one foot in front of the other. I got a job at Target, and enrolled in welfare. It wasn’t easy for my family, but I felt born again.
Now that my grandiose do or die schemes were over, I started advertising to give piano lessons. Over time I started to make enough that I was able to stop working at Target and eventually get off of welfare. Granted I was still popping Xanax at about 2 to 3 milligrams a day, but life was working, more or less. I was an advocate for pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness all the way.
About 4 years into my treatment, the depression start to creep back in. It wasn’t unusual for me to feel depressed once a month or so, and I could handle that, but it started to become persistent again. Now that I had felt good for so long, I knew when I was feeling depression. My doctor prescribed a new drug, Cymbalta, and that seemed to work again. It was miraculous!
I had only been on Cymbalta for about a year when everything started to come unwound again. Basic research revealed that many people reached a point where their anti-depressants no longer worked. Now I was worried. I couldn’t face going back to where I had been.

Depression Debut

14 Nov

Depression Debut

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. To be honest, it was a bout of depression that stymied me. I’ve been able to achieve a mostly depression free existence with my diet, but having four kids means that we all get sick from time to time. Every time my stomach is affected I get depression symptoms for a week to two weeks. So I have that to look forward to after the sickness is past. I’m still rolling through a bit of depression right now, but my sleep has been better the last few days, so I hope that I’m going to be feeling a little better each day.

Depression has a slot of stigma attached to it. Whenever I mention that I’m dealing with depression there’s a percentage of people that get a knowing look in their eye. It seems to say, “Sorry Little Jeremy, life is hard and everybody has to deal with depression along the way, it’s part of life. But if you put on your big boy pants, you’ll be okay.” I remember feeling that way. In fact, when I heard that someone was going through mental or emotional problems, my first thought was, “It’s too bad that they’re doing something in their life the wrong way. It’s some kindof of sin or a wrong way of thinking, obviously, that’s affecting them. If only they would just turn over their lives to Jesus, all that would be gone. How sad, but after all the wages of sin is death.”

And then I got depressed. Depression is hard to describe. After so many years of dealing with it, you start to know the gradations. First is a subtle sense that everything is wrong. Then you notice that the things you enjoy have no joy anymore. Life can achieve a bleakness that is devastating. You have no interest in anything, and you feel like an eggshell that the slightest difficulty or stress will crack wide open. When it gets truly bad, you feel a darkness, an absolute emptiness that is physically painful, as if your brain is aching. Tears come for no reason, and everything is overwhelming. You begin to want to escape life, as you can no longer find any meaning or reason for living. You start to examine everything in your life with a manic intensity, hoping that some change, however small or large, might make one iota of difference, might bring some ray of light or hope back into your mind. For years I interpreted it as a spiritual phenomenon. I anointed the door posts of our apartment with oil, hoping to chase away whatever demon or spirit of negativity was tormenting me. Even after others suggested that I get psychiatric help, I refused. For two years I reasoned that it had to be a test from God, something that I had to learn from. Something that I had to change. It couldn’t be me. And it couldn’t be something so simple as a physical problem, this went way beyond that. There was no way that what I had was physiological, it just was…too big. So I suffered, and my wife suffered.

Next: Beating Depression, Round 1

Morality and Mind Candy

1 Aug

Morality and Mind Candy

Sex addiction is a powerful force. For some men, it never loses its grip. I’ve been  sober from pornography and masturbation for right at 6 years now. As I move farther in time from acting out, the battle gets easier. That battle gets easier. I can remember when it took more than I had, though.

Summer is a tough time of year for sex addicts. Clothes come off and that provides plenty of opportunity for the addiction to strengthen itself. People with a strict religious background find it very hard to understand one important thing: Regardless of how little clothing the woman you’re staring at is wearing, your addiction is your problem. Fundamental Christians have gone so far as make sure female bathers wear T-shirts and dresses when they go to the pool. As a male, I was never allowed to swim without a shirt on. (I think it was the nipples. Watch out for those man nipples.) In Muslim countries of course, these type of preventative measures are taken to even greater lengths. What these belief systems fail to grasp is that lust takes place in the mind. Regardless of the environment, the mind of the addict is where problem and the solution lies. If  you want to look at Jesus, he addressed the mind of the individual, not the state of the world. “Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The church can only monitor behaviors, though, and lust takes place in the mind. For that matter, every problem we deal with incubates and reaches maturity in the mind. That is why all of these boundaries and rules are useless, they can never address the problem and only end up making it worse. The mind never changes and we never grow, we just have lots of fences to keep us “good”.

It’s hard for women to imagine, but most addicted men will understand the idea of mind candy. For me, weekends were the worst for this. I would be out and about with my family, just enjoying the day off. The problem was that my brain had trained itself for years to scope out and take a hit of anything stimulating in the environment. So an attractive woman walks by. Instantly my eyes would lock in on the reported image and the pleasure centers of my brain would light up. I would get that hit of mind candy. And then the next, and the next. It was hijacking my brain, and I couldn’t control it. I’d come out of the fog a half hour later and realize, “I’ve been checking women out for the past half hour, walking right next to my wife and kids.” I was a slave to the drug.

So how did things change for me?

For starters, I was invovled in a weekly men’s group for sexual addiction. I was talking about my addiction and acknowledging I had a problem. A problem I didn’t know how to solve.

Also, I started to tell my wife when I was getting lost in the mind candy fog. “Hey, you know, I just am having a really hard time today, looking at women…” You can imagine the conversations we had after that. They weren’t pleasant, but it helped me change.

Third, I got to a point where I realized I was powerless to change. One of the most powerful things was simply stopping and saying, “God, I don’t know how to stop, you’ve got to help me.” I had prayed for God’s help for years and it hadn’t helped. I don’t really understand it, except that maybe it was admitting I couldn’t do it at all and completely relying on God’s help made a difference. A huge difference. I would usually notice an immediate difference in my ability to make decisions.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have decisions to make, and the desire to light up those neural paths surfaces. These days when the process starts I take a moment to make some realizations: Yes, that is an attractive woman. I have a wife that loves me, and if I really love her, then I need to have eyes only for her, no exceptions. If I keep looking, I’m feeding that old program of enslavement, and I going back, back to where I came from. It was a bad place to be.

Interconnectedness

26 Jul

Big word. Hard to be. Being a social person does not come easily to me, but it’s this isolation that lies at the heart of so many of my problems.

Strangely, in a world where I began knocking on doors telling people about Jesus at the age of 6, I have always been afraid of people. People are scary, they are demanding, and they challenge us to change.  It’s strange that in the world of religion, which relishes its separation from the world, we find Jesus challenging us to become more connected to each other.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”

Okay Jesus, so you want me to be a masochist? Maybe the thought behind all of this is that we simply need each other. In separating ourselves from those around us, we are injuring ourselves in some way. Of course there are some situations where separation is the only answer, but I find that it’s more often  that someone simply aggravates the hell of out me for some petty reason. And so I try to run away. But I’ve been running for way too long, and guess what? I always come back to the the same situations. Different people, but the same problems. Can anybody say “life lesson”?

Unfortunately I’m a very slow learner, and this is something that you don’t do once and quit. It’s a day by day, moment by moment choice to smile at that joke instead of feeling annoyed, to listen to that child instead of whining, “Would you just leave me alone?”, to listen to my wife instead of playing the PS3, to actually involve other people in my life. Cause I do pretty good alone, it’s life that I have a problem with. This is one of the hard ones for me. Still processing…

Coming to Terms

25 Jul

Eight years ago the unresolved issues of my past finally reached a breaking point. Every issue had root, and every root brought a symptom. It was when the symptoms manifested physically and mentally that I was forced to make changes. This blog is about the journey back from mental illness, sexual addiction, and years of brainwashing in fundamentalist Christianity. I want to examine the roots, explain what I’ve learned and the ways I’ve changed, and still am changing.

I started taking prescription drugs for anxiety about 8 years ago. It took 2 years after my first panic attack for me to finally get some help, and I still take these drugs today. As a very introverted personality growing up in a pastor’s home, I was expected to be a type A personality. There really wasn’t any other option. I think part of my anxiety today stems from this pressure to be “always on”.

I start taking anti-depressants at the same time as the anti-anxiety medication. As much as I hate being anxious, depression is the mind killer. It can suck everything good from life and leave you incapacitated. For several years the anti-depressants restored me to my previous personality: fun loving (if narcissistic) and enjoying life. When they stopped working felt like a double punch. I hadn’t believed that ever feel good again before the drugs, and now not even the drugs were working.

From an early age I showed signs of being hyper-stimulated by the opposite sex and especially anything of an intimate nature. There was an emptiness of relationship that I was working to fill. Even before puberty I began to have sexual fantasies.

I consider myself a spiritual person, but not a religious one. I have nearly the entire Bible memorized; if I can’t recite the actual words, I can at least recognize any passage and its meaning. My father started a church when I was 6 years old, and I was there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Soul Winning night, and Saturday mornings for bus visitation. Such a copious amount of lecturing on behavior and beliefs can only be called brainwashing. Were there positive elements? Perhaps. Were there negative consequences? Without doubt.

There’s so much more to the story of course, and I’m going to try to piece it together. Feel free to post any questions or comments. I’m recovering and trying to tell the story so far.