I live with severe depression. It is a blessing, and it is a curse.
My worst enemy is my own thought process, always dragging me to hell, always telling me how worthless I am as a human being.
My biggest strength is my thought process. I experience extreme empathy for others who suffer. I live life in a great deal of physical pain, and I use this experience with pain to write about others who suffer, and I try to encourage compassion towards others who are sometimes unfairly judged negatively.
As a man, friends, family, and society, in general, have an expectation that I work and earn an income, especially considering I have a wife and three sons. Throughout my 20s, going to work every day was my strength; it was what I did best. I was reliable in that way.
Then came pain, stress, and depression. When the ability to work for a living was taken away at age 30, as my optimism for healing faded, the depression strengthened. Eventually, depression took over my entire thought process. My number one priority was to set a good example for my 3 sons. What kind of example am I setting by not going to work every day? My mind worked overtime to make sure I knew that I was setting a terrible example. My mind told me I should leave, get out of the way and let them move on, perhaps a stepfather would set a better example than I could. My mind told me over and over again what a loser I am.
I quit answering the phone because I did not want to have to deal with the inevitable question, “How are you healing? Are you able to work now?” I was, and still am, too ashamed to answer the question saying I do not work, I do not earn an income. I don’t get in a car very often, but when I am at a grocery store, I avoid former co-workers as if they are threatening me with a contagious cocktail of Zika virus, West Nile virus, and some ebola for good measure. In fact, what I fear are their judging eyes. I can almost hear them thinking, “If you aren’t able to work, why are you able to go to a grocery store?” They have no idea how difficult the process is, and the repercussions of waves of pain as a result of the trip to the store. They have no idea that I actually wanted to get to the store 4 or 5 days ago, but I put it off, hour after hour, day after day. All because of pain, stress and depression.
I have tried counseling four different times in the past dozen years. My experience with all four was that they were lazy and disinterested. They handed me a handy little packet of papers to fill out, simple assignments each week. Not one of them ever asked, “Tell me what happened. Tell me how you ended up where you are today.” There were no personalized mechanisms introduced to help cope and hopefully improve my destructive thought process. They handed out generic assignments and that was the extent of it.
From Percocet to Paxil, pick a pill, any pill, and it’s been prescribed for me to purchase. Pills for pain never provided any pain relief at all, not Oxycontin, not Vicodin, none of it. Pills for depression made me feel gross. I can’t think of another way to describe it, they made me feel gross, like I was addicted to heroin. Prescription pills created more problems than they ever solved for my situation.
So I began to self-medicate with alcohol. Alcohol is certainly not going to cure the health problems, but neither did surgery. Alcohol is certainly not going to cure the depression, but neither did the toxic brews from the pharmaceutical companies. At least alcohol gave me a couple hours of pain relief. I honestly thought I would use marijuana when it was legalized in Colorado, but as it turns out, it is far too expensive to use on a regular basis, especially considering that the relief I experienced was very minor.
So where does that leave me? I have defined the problem, but I am still searching for a solution.
I know the spine isn’t going to get better. In fact, it gets worse every year, and I’ll never let them cut into me again. Pain is the root of the stress and depression. I live in constant shame, unable to earn an income, and I see no solution to my problem. I’ve tried injections, surgeries, pain pills, prescription medication for depression, marijuana, and counseling. I don’t know what else to do. I believe I am destined to live my entire life in a dark depression born from shame, unable to work and earn an income.
This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness. To submit your story, see below.
Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.
The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.
For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Post that discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.
The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21stcentury.
Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.
As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”
We are partnering together on this Call For Submissions because our missions overlap and because we want to extend this conversation further.
If you are a man living with mental illness and want to share your story, we would love to help.
To submit to the Good Men Project, please submit here.
To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.
Submissions will run in both publications. When you submit, please make sure to let us know you submitting as part of this Joint Call for Submissions with Stigma Fighters and Good Men Project.
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