I joined AoM about 2 weeks ago and I'm already finding it a wonderful community of men (and the occasional woman). I've laughed, I've cried, been slightly offended, probably done some offending, etc. Tonight I've been doing some reading here, here, and here regarding depression. I've read the statistics regarding depression in men but looking through the above posts and their subsequent comments has made me realize just how pervasive it has become. Whether your experience has been a bout or two or something much more long lasting it seems many many men have had their lives defined, at least in some small way, by the "black dog".

I guess tonight I want to tell my story. I'll let you know up front it feels a little silly. One of my big pet peeves with society in general today is that it has become self-centered and narcissistic. I've always been a bit wary of blogging for that very reason. Merely typing this assumes that someone out there cares to hear what I have to say. Yet here I am, writing this. I'm choosing to think it of more as a personal journal entry than an attempt to communicate with anyone in particular. You know, getting my thoughts down so I might be able to sleep a little tonight instead of lying awake trying to get everything back to the right shelf as it were. Comment, don't comment, read, don't read...I'd say I don't care but the fact that I'm doing this on a public forum rather than a simple Word document belies my wishes. Here goes.

I believe I've been struggling with depression for a long time. It wasn't until about 6 mos. ago that I finally took my wife's prodding and made an appointment with my doctor to get some help. I was nearing the end of my 2nd year of teaching, had been told my contract was not to be renewed due to poor performance but still had to finish out the last 2 months of the school year knowing that, yet again, I'd spend the summer unsure whether or not I would be able to support my family. My thoughts began to get dangerous, mood swings were violent, and I knew I needed something. My doctor prescribed some blood tests and an anti-depressant (Celexa if that means anything to anyone). It turned out that I also had a thyroid imbalance which was contributing to the situation.

Had this been the first swing down I would never have walked into the doctor's office. The truth is I have dealt with depressive thoughts as far back as I can remember. Things have never felt settled, never quite happy, contented, or where they should be. I could point the finger a number of places; a pretty intense conservative upbringing which taught me we can never be good enough (yes, I know this isn't the point of the pastor's message but it's what I took from it), a dad who I didn't really have much of a relationship with, a mom who deals heavily with depression (although she'll never admit it), moving nearly every year growing up and having to constantly start over with no friends, never quite fitting in or having a core group of close friends, and the list goes on. The constant here, of course, is me and my perception of all these situations.

The most overarching threat to my sanity since my teenage years has been my pursuit of Godliness. It seemed to me that no matter how hard I tried, no matter what angle I came at it from, no matter how much I would try to "rest" in God's promises, I made no headway. All I could see were my faults and constant backsliding. I tried so hard to accept the fact that screwing up was inevitable and forgiveness was complete but that never lasted for long. I felt I was putting in extraordinary amounts of effort and seeing no real results. God wasn't there, He wasn't speaking to me, I was alone.

College was, to date, the most difficult years of my life emotionally. I hated it. (As I said, I've never seen a doctor before six months ago so any terms I bandy about here are self-diagnosed.) Freshman year I had some intense panic attacks. I'd be walking down the sidewalk between classes and would see spots, my heart would race, I'd get dizzy, and (well, you know) panic. I managed to keep my cool but knew something was very wrong. Sophomore year I was in a bit of a roller-coaster relationship which left me quite hurt. This was also the point at which my struggle with Christianity was coming to a head. It started to affect me physically. I was throwing up regularly and (pardon me) had lots of diarrhea. All in all I think I lost something like 30 pounds that first semester. By March of the second semester I was dating a girl who I would wind up marrying. This, of course, was a great thing but had it's own unique challenges. I was in college in Grand Rapids, MI and she was near Dayton, OH. The six hour drive wasn't exactly a boon to our relationship. Those of you who have done a long distance relationship know it's challenging especially in college. 3am phone calls where we were both exhausted left us constantly arguing. We pulled through, however, and by Thanksgiving of my junior year we were engaged (yes that quickly) and married the following summer (again...yes). Our entire relationship was long distance until about a month or two before we were married so you can imagine some of the...adjustments we had to make.

It was right about this time I gave up on my fight to pursue God. I decided it just wasn't worth it. My depression seemed to stem so deeply from my relationship, or lack thereof, with God that as I drew away from Him I actually felt better. That was five years ago and only recently have I begun to re-investigate who God is. I've been cautious but optimistic that some of my hesitancies and doubts may actually have answers (another blog post entirely). I'm also, as I've mentioned in previous blog posts, adjusting to the life of a stay-at-home-dad. I love being with my girls and feel there is nothing more manly than taking care of one's family. I do, however, struggle with the idea that I am unable to provide for them. That despite my best efforts I am unemployable. The only job I am qualified for is one that I've failed at and really have no desire to return to. I love parts of teaching but the good definitely does not outweigh the bad. I find myself asking much the same question that Todd Hecht did in his blog post...who am I? What do I want out of life? What are my strengths? Once I decide what I do want how in the world do I get it?

My life doesn't afford much wiggle room for me to return to school to earn another degree. Nor do I have any idea what I might get it in. My wife has to stay in grad school or else she'll get her teaching license revoked so that doesn't leave me with an opportunity to take night classes. The few positions I've found that have sounded interesting and I could get without additional or minimal schooling don't pay enough to make up for the income I lost.

You begin to ask yourself questions like, when will it ever just be okay? When will we have enough money to not have to live without the constant fear of being in over our heads? When will life let me catch my breath and clean the kitchen? When will I feel like I don't have an elephant sitting on my chest?

My wife deals with depression as well. This has made things very difficult for us as we end up in this codependent death spiral. She refuses to seek help, always making up some excuse. To be fair I haven't exactly been on top of my own health in that department either. I saw a counselor briefly in college (utterly useless) and other than that, I started my Celexa about 6 months ago. The medication has helped although right now I'm in pretty rough shape. My prescription ran out and I haven't been able to get ahold of the doctor's office to see if he will add more refills. I'm reluctant to do so since he prescribed them after a 5 minute consultation, prescribed my thyroid medication over the phone, and has asked to see me since. Yes, I should be more assertive and schedule my own follow-up but, to be honest, I just don't trust the guy.

So right now I've gone cold turkey off the anti-depressant which the pharmacist warned me strongly not to do. I can see why. Dizzy spells, nausea, and the inability to tell if the thoughts and feelings I'm having right now are my own or the product of a hormonal crash.

I'm hopeful things will improve but they're not so good right now. I'm, honestly, scared of tomorrow and what it might bring. It's why I'm up at 12:30 writing this when I should be in bed. Maybe if I don't go to sleep tomorrow won't come and I won't have to deal with it? Near-Vulcan logic isn't it?

For the few, the proud, the ones that made it through this extraordinarily long-winded tale. Thanks. It was nice to get it off my chest.

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Tags: depression

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Comment by Will on December 15, 2009 at 3:02pm
I'm relieved you're over the withdrawal. That is *not* the way to get off it. Taper!

Your story sounds so much like my teenage years. (The God part, not the marriage part!)

In terms of practicality, you get to be Mr. Mom till your wife is out of school or your kids are in it (if you aren't a home schooler). Then you get to train yourself for whatever else you want to do.

And in terms of emotions, once your emotions are a little settled, might I recommend New Warriors (http://community.artofmanliness.com/group/newwarriors/forum/topics/... )? A "Radical Departure" from depression and backsliding might be just what you need.

Or, how depression ended for me: Lent! 2 years in a row my Lenten practice was I gave up control of the uncontrollable to God. *You* have been trying, unsuccessfully, to maintain control of your spiritual life, and it hasn't worked. At the end of those 2 years, my depression was mostly gone.

God does not have an agenda for you to work hard to be good so you can accept his generosity, but rather an agenda for you to accept his generosity so you can be good and work hard. Jesus's image was abiding in a Vine, not struggling or resolving to produce grapes!
Comment by Chris Hamm on December 13, 2009 at 11:25pm
Herb, thanks for your encouragement. I think what fueled the feedback loop was precisely what you said. The Christian life isn't hard...it's impossible. At the same time we know there are steps that we can take to keep us on the path toward God and steps that bump us off the shoulder and into the median strip (if not further). My frustration has always been that, no matter what, I never felt like I was on the road completely. I might have two tires here or there but mostly I was lucky if I was hitting the rumble strips (if I haven't carried that analogy too far). I've had a lot of doctrinal/apologetic questions that are starting to come together. What I was raised to believe and what I saw as reality never quite seemed to mesh. I know that sounds as if I'm trying to create my own truth (definitely not) but what it really is was making sure I understood what I believed. Some things have remained the same but I've come to some different understandings of some other theological issues. I hope that was sufficiently vague for ya! I just figured that was probably a different discussion altogether.

As far as the job goes, you're right. I know somewhere there's a job that I will love AND be good at, it's just a matter of finding it and getting it. What I meant by the statement is that a degree in music education doesn't readily lend itself to work in any other field. While I believe there are a lot of crossover skills it can be hard convincing a potential employer to give you a chance. I actually started a discussion about this which you, so graciously, responded to. I have an interview tomorrow as an hourly employee at my wife's school. Wish me luck!
Comment by Chris Hamm on December 13, 2009 at 11:15pm
Thanks for all the responses guys, it means a lot to me, honestly. I've been doing better as of late. Mostly, I think, because I'm over the withdrawal symptoms from my anti-depressant. I've been trying to get a hold of the doctor to get some refills or see him again but all I get is the nurses answering machine and no calls back. Definitely time to get a new doc. I will be going at some point.

Kevin - Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you have reconnected with your wife after the other night. I'd love to hear how things are going if you're willing to share. I've begun to realize that there are a lot of genuine men on this site. It's not JUST a place to chew the fat about what method you use to shave or how to choose a good scotch or how really damn cool a good leather bag is. There are a lot of people out here that really care. Hope you feel like you can lean on us if need be.

Ray - whenever your ready man, post something up or pm me. Again, I'd love to hear what's up.
Comment by John Clanton on December 7, 2009 at 10:25am
Chris,
Thank you for writing this. It doesn't come off as self centered and narcissistic. Your vulnerability is real and apparent. This is a tremendous step for getting help. Although, I don't know anything about your situation and have no real advice, I want you to know that there are plenty of men here that do. I just want to offer thanks for writing this.
John
Comment by Herb Munson on December 7, 2009 at 1:58am
Thanks for sharing, Chris. I don't know that I have the exact answers that you need ... but, I know One who does. You spoke of striving for "godliness" and it nearly driving you crazy. That might have been the case for a least one or two reasons. 1. Because it can't be attained on a merely human level. True godliness only begins as a gift ... given by God himself through putting one's faith in (receiving) his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ as one personal Savior and Lord. I would recommend reading the book of John in the Bible in that regard to see if that is not so. 2. After having taken that step, then it is God's work to clean us up (make us godly) not ours. Someone has said that the Christian life is not difficult ... it's impossible! That's because it is not something we can do ... it is something only God can and will do if we simply walk with him on a daily basis. I would recommend joining the Bible study over in the AoM Christian Men group in this regard.

Next, it seems to me, you do definitely need to change doctors, find one you have confidence in, and be re-evaluated. See how that thyroid is doing and if the meds you have been on were right for you etc. This is very important. Don't let it slide.

Third, your statement, "The only job I am qualified for is one that I've failed at and really have no desire to return to..." is not true. Anyone who can earn a teaching degree is qualified to do a lot of things. You were just mis-slotted. Make it an adventure to find what you really enjoy and are good at. I guarantee you there is the right job (occupation) out there for you. Nothing succeeds like failure because it moves us from where we are not supposed to be to where we are supposed to be. Ben Franklin failed over a 1000 times to invent the light bulb before he succeeded.

Finally, if you become or are a believer in Christ ... pray. God can do anything. I hope these thoughts will be of some help to you and/or an encouragement. You will be in my prayers. Also, be patient. There are a lot of good men around here who will also have some great things to share. Herb

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