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.