How Shame (and pride) Kept Me Sick

There were definitely times in my life when I should have seen a doctor. One of those times happened a little around 14 years ago.

I was in the midst of a depressive episode, the second of what would become many. I was drowning in a dullness that I found myself unable to escape, and it was consistently painful, painful to the extent that I didn’t want to live. So one evening, I took what remained of a bottle of muscle relaxers, drank as much alcohol as I possibly could, and went to sleep. When I woke up, I found that I had vomited.

I should have seen a doctor then. Instead, I rinsed myself off, and went to work. Six weeks later I met Trish.

In my relationship with Trish I received a hope and stability I had been lacking. She helped me through the season she found me in, and would become the person I leaned on throughout the next decade and a half of highs and lows. Though we would come to tell each other most of our darkest secrets, I didn’t talk to her about that day until this last year.

Trish, this incomparably patient angel, has endured the roller coaster of being married to me with a grace that I will never understand or feel worthy of. Even after it became apparent that the shifts in my mood were less than normal, she would only occasionally suggest that I see a doctor. Though she did so with a gentle kindness, I resisted, made feign attempts to schedule an appointment, and attempted to muster myself out of whatever dark place I had found myself in.

For the last year, I’ve thought a good amount about what kept me from seeking professional help, and I find one part of the answer to be incredibly disappointing: I would have rather died than felt that I had failed to get through life unaided by meds.

And that’s how I saw medication. As failure. I couldn’t bring myself to consider for even a moment that I could live knowing I had relied on something I saw as akin to a crutch.

So I tried to push my struggles as deep under the surface as I could. I found myself pursuing challenges I should have avoided, determined to prove I wasn’t somehow less than others. That I had the potential to be as whole as I perceived them to be.

The more I denied myself the help I needed, the more I came to resent those who felt free to pursue relief through medical means. Even as my wife was experiencing her own mental-health struggles, I would encourage her to muscle her way into a better place. When others would recommend she talk to a doctor about maybe trying an anti-depressant, I would discourage her from considering the option.

What’s even worse is how incredibly counter my opposition to this type of help was to the gospel I had been preaching over the course of my adult life. I talked about God’s love for the broken, for the lowly of spirit, for those who mourn. I espoused the goodness of presenting a contrite heart at the altar of a truly benevolent savior, while inwardly despising the thought of achieving salvation through extra-biblical means. I sought heaven by force of will.

And in doing so, denied a whole gospel. One that sees God’s means of grace in nearly every facet of life, including psychiatric medication. It would take being broken beyond my ability to function before I could accept that.

Today, there are medical miracles at work in my blood. A regiment of little white pills that I still occasionally cringe at the sight of, ones that help me sleep at night rather than walk around in anxious circles, ones that keep me from hearing demons clawing on the roof, ones that allow me to believe that my friends are truly my friends and not my secret enemies.

Collectively, ones that allow me to have a more consistent belief in God, albeit, in slow recovery from delusions that once found me believe I was His special prophet.

All to say, His power is made perfect in weakness, even the type of weakness that needs a pill to help it on its way. It doesn’t deny the reality of my ultimate dependence on God, only reinforces the insufficiency He proclaims I embody throughout every page of His word. If it took a surrender to my physical need for medication to understand that, it will be worth every single co-pay.

A year ago, today.

On July 10th, 2018, at the UMC Psychiatric Clinic in Tucson, I was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder (manic-depression), and social anxiety disorder.

From about 19 years of age I have experienced lengthy periods of severe depression, interspersed with varying durations of high energy, risky behaviors, extreme paranoia and auditory and visional hallucinations.

You probably didn’t know this about me, and that’s okay, because at the time, I really, desperately, didn’t want you to.

Most of my adult life has been spent trying to appear as strong, stable and competent as I possibly could. I justified my socially unacceptable actions with socially acceptable reasons that fit well in the context of the communities where I existed. I was dishonest in my omission of details regarding what was happening internally, and outwardly projecting an image of everything I had hoped I could be, but wasn’t.

Who I was in relation to others and who I was in my head were two different people, almost entirely.

Last June the person I was on the outside started to break beyond it’s ability to hide what was happening inside. The highs and lows were becoming indistinct. I was increasingly scared, nihilistic, and suicidal. I was more and more confused in social situations, hearing people say things they weren’t saying and responding to them with confusion and anger. I was sleeping only a few hours, waking shortly after midnight with enough energy to circle the house until the sun came up. I was finding it difficult to keep physical tics from manifesting themselves publicly. I started hiding from people. Death became less scary than it appeared warm and welcoming, making things as mundane as driving become dangerous.

Then I saw a doctor.

For the last year I have been on multiple medications, seen multiple doctors, attended what I think is personally, too much therapy (Trish disagrees), and have had recurrent bouts of symptoms as I’ve rapid-cycled through highs and lows and highs and lows.

It has been hard. At times, embarrassing. Consistently isolating.

And it’s that isolating piece that made me want to write about it.

I have been fortunate to have a system of immediate support that many people don’t have. I have a wife who has read book after book so she can understand me better, an insurmountable blessing. A friend and mentor who gives up an hour of his Saturday every other week just to talk, and has for a year. I have health insurance, and access to doctors and treatments that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This morning, my internal and external self look a lot more like each other than they did a year ago. I have the resources that are allowing me to get better. It’s my hope that in small doses, I can begin to be a kind of resource to others. At the very least, I can be honest.