It is my hope that the long days of my own depression and God's grace to me while enduring those days will encourage those who are suffering right now.
It was 1985 and I was in my first episode of a major depression. I had been put on the antidepressant Norpramine (this is an old tricyclic) and it was working partially. I had gone through a horrible severe depression for months. It was so bad that I believe I began to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; I feared a relapse more than death itself. The partial relief from the antidepressant was welcomed and in fact, I had almost become content to live moderately depressed.
No one was in a hurry to help me with my depression at this level. In those days there was no talk of poly-pharmacy and my psychiatrist had said that often the medications worked up to a certain point but then the other issues still had to be addressed.
Since depression had foiled my pastoral career; I had to devise a plan to work and support Robyn and our three children. As I tell it in Broken Minds, Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It, we had to move to Pennsylvania and live in our relatives' basement. A couple in the church was opening a new an ice cream shop and they offered me a job. My psychiatrist had encouraged me to work if at all possible, so I was experimenting. I had major issues with separation anxiety even though our temporary basement home was not more than five miles a way. It was humbling and embarrassing to me as a man to be afraid for no apparent reason. I faced many obstacles to working as a soda jerk in a newly opened ice cream shop.
One day the well-meaning entrepreneur said to me, "Do you think that you could smile sometimes?" My concentration was still bad and I was focusing on trying to put the right kind of sprinkles on the customer's ice cream. I understood why he said it and what he wanted me to do, but he didn't realize how horribly depressed I was, how fearful, how many obsessive thoughts I was dealing with; basically how sick I really was. Asking me to smile and present his ice cream shop as a happy and welcoming place was just about impossible for me. My illness came upon me less than a year after completing a pastoral internship and getting ordained to the ministry. I had completed college and was on my way to my first church when I became suicidally depressed. Here I was with my wife and three kids, living in my brother's basement, unable to remember the color sprinkles a customer wanted, panicking over nothing external and basically incapacitated with sickness. Smile? Uh, no, not really. I managed to endure that job for a month or two and I got another job being a photographer in a portrait studio. I was still depressed but I was taking pictures of singles, families and couples. The job was very competitive (the sales aspect) and there were a large volume of pictures to be taken. Ironically it was my job to get the subjects (often children) to smile. I functioned there and all the time I felt like I was dragging a heavy weight on my mind and soul. I could not escape that psychic pain because wherever I went, I had to carry my brain with me.
persevered despite my depression.
Off to the psychiatric hospital for three weeks
The psychiatrist did not change my medication but when I had a memory lapse one day, he decided to put me in a psychiatric hospital in Southern Pennsylvania. My wife and kids and I had moved into our own home after four months at my brother's and now we lived in a neighboring city. The hospital where I was to go was a three-hour drive from our house and it was January of 1986. My wife, Robyn, is from Florida, had never driven in snow and she and the kids visited me twice a week for the three-week stay. The roads got very bad a few times and here I was stuck in the hospital, creating another issue for her trying to be there for me.
In the hospital, which was a Christian facility, they sought to rid me of my depression in many different ways. Once I was part of a psychodrama group. Their efforts in this group were to get me to break down and be helped by the exercise. I did cry and felt better for about ten minutes, then that awful depression returned. But during the session, I asked the psychologist who was running the group if we could talk about the medications the members were on and about the success of their treatment. He sat there with his crisp shirt and tie, took a sip of his coffee and said, "Well, let's leave that to another group." However, there was no such a group and yes, I remained depressed.
I was discharged from the hospital after three weeks and I realized that I needed to get another job. I was reading the classifieds (no surfing the net at this time) in the Scranton Times when I noticed there were a number of ads that said "MSW required." I had been reading a book at the time, called: What Color is Your Parachute? It is a classic treatment of matching jobs with one's passion and skill set. I looked up MSW and realized it stood for Master of Social Work. I decided to enroll at Marywood School of Social Work, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Then, at the same time, I applied for a children's therapist job and told them that my major in college was in human services and that I was enrolled in an MSW program. I got the job. I also added a part-time job at a place called the Rap House in downtown Scranton where I functioned as a counselor with chronically mentally ill people who dropped in to talk and have coffee. My classes were all day on Saturday. I was a very exhausted and still a very young, otherwise healthy but horribly depressed man. I remembered thinking over and over again that I was only half the man I used to be. I often thought of this old Beatles song:
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly
My next blog will deal with Scriptural truths that helped me endure depression.
I would like to recommend our book, Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel
Like You're Losing It. Here are some reviews.
If you would like to read my blog about antixidants and depression, please go to http://sbloemreflections.blogspot.com/2012/03/thinking-outside-box-i-have-been.html