My friend James and I connected several years ago because of our asthma, and our desire to be physically active in spite of our lungs–we have also had some good talks on spirituality and religion and our past and current struggles within each. In the more recent past, James has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder and autism, and has become a mental health advocate as part of his journey in healing. I am grateful to have him sharing the raw and real story of one recent experience in particular.
Today is Suicide Awareness Day. Coincidentally and unfortunately, James touches on this subject within his guest post. This post may be triggering if you are experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide. Please seek help immediately by visiting your local emergency room or by finding a suicide/crisis hotline in your area.
When I think of an invisible illness, I think of people suffering from physical ailments. I think of those in severe pain or those having troubles taking a breath. I think of those illnesses that are so debilitating that a person has to rely on mobility devices. There are so many invisible illnesses out there and the incredible people who suffer through them, I just can’t begin to spotlight them in this post.
I can spotlight at least one that my wife suffers though, Psoriatic Arthritis. All I can say is this is an awful illness. On damp days my wife can’t get out of bed because it hurts to move. That is not even half of what that disease does to a person. Psoriasis takes over and makes a mess out of everything. My wife’s ears and forehead is over run by psoriasis. I feel bad for her because she feels so unattractive. I wish there was something I can do but there isn’t. In a way my wife’s illness is visible but the pain is not. She is a brave women and toughs it out everyday. This is just one of those incredible people out there.
I am not without a couple of chronic physical illness myself, asthma and Paget’s disease. However, I am not going to write about those diseases.
I am going to talk about an illness that is not physical. In some ways, it is not discussed much because the majority is afraid of it. Plus, from my observation, there is a stigma running rampant for those who just don’t understand. What is this illness? Depression.
See, I have clinical depression or being more technical, major depressive disorder. Yes, I know everyone has had some sort of bout with depression. What is the difference between clinical depression and the average depression most people feel? Usually, when some one is feeling depressed, they snap out of it in a few days, mostly because they are just sad about something. Clinical depression is nothing like that. I can only speak for myself on this, but the sadness is way more intense and it doesn’t leave my thoughts after a couple of days, sometimes not even a couple of weeks. Lately, to be honest, not even a couple of months.
I think to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder; a person has to have had multiple attempts at suicide. That is what I believe my doctor told me anyway. Yes folks, I have attempted numerous times to end my life. Thank goodness, failing in all attempts. I told a counselor once that I am so bad at suicide. I am just going to quite trying. She couldn’t help but snicker a tiny bit and told me my since of humor was still around.
Sadly, there has been a recent attempt. I thought maybe I would share that with you so you can get a real example of my life.
My personal life is a mess. To be honest, I am not sure anyone would come out unscathed from what I am dealing with. There was a blow-up at home that sent my mood spiraling downwards. I have been through quite a bit of therapy, so I have some idea how to combat major down turns in my mood. Unfortunately, this one caught me a tad off guard.
Exercise is a big part of my therapy. It really works to improve my mood. With that said, I started getting back into cycling. I used to love cycling when I was young. Even today, I love it a lot. So, by the third day, my mood had plummeted to dangerous levels. At this level, escape is a must. I decided to jump on the bike to ride off the sadness. Little did I know at the time, I was going to hurt myself.
I started riding mid afternoon on a roasting hot day. So hot that salt crystals formed on my skin surface. That normally does not happen when I ride. I had it in my mind that I was going to push it to the max, and I did. The whole time I didn’t realize that I was not taking care of myself. I should have calculated my water stops and electrolyte loading a tad better. What did I end up doing? I ended up riding myself into heat exhaustion. Worst part, I was out in the middle of no were with no shade or water. I was so disoriented that I missed my route turns and couldn’t use the map on my iPhone to save my life. So, I figured enough was enough. I found some shade from a row of corn and tried to get my bearings. I should have called my wife but the only thing I could think was calling 911, so that’s who I called.
I was transported to the emergency room and put through a full psychiatric evaluation. Actually, no big deal now days, I’ve been through it a few. I was a prospect for hospitalization but my doctor thought it was a bad idea. Therapy was going to be more effective for me and I wouldn’t get that at the hospital. The only thing the hospital could do for me is keep me safe.
On that note, if anyone is considering self-harm: Please seek help by going to an emergency room near you. They can really help you, even though you might feel that nothing can fix you. Been there and I got the help I needed, it works.
But I digress.
It is possible that the day in question was not really a suicide attempt, but in reality me disregarding all my training in warm weather. It was just too hot of a day and I was just asking to get sick. Yes, that is possible. Frankly, I have rode and walked in these conditions numerous times without much trouble. Plus, I was only 33 miles into a 50 mile ride. I did a 64 mile ride 6 days earlier. This ride should have gone off with little trouble. Like I said, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind and not doing what was needed to have a successful training ride.
To be brutally honest, I am not sure I am the kind of person that could put a noose around my neck. I have always tried things in hopes that death was the final outcome. Thankfully there still is a part of me that believes in self-preservation.
So, that is a taste of what it’s like to have clinical depression. Is there hope? I can’t answer that question all the time, but I do believe that there is. Unfortunately, this disorder is kept invisible by stigma and it is very hard to recovery in secrecy. I know all about that. No one knows I have this disorder, except manage at work and selective family members. Everyone around me would rather I keep my trap shut. So, not only is depression an invisible illness but for many of us, a forced one.
Maybe in the future through advocacy, we can stamp out stigma and make the world a better place to recover from mental illness. That is my hope anyway.
Thank you, James, for sharing your story! I can say that you have opened my eyes with this post, and hope that those reading have gained a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with mental health problems and that, one step at at a time, we are helping to decrease the stigma around living with mental illness.
James is a cyclist and endurance walker who has completed several marathons. He lives with his wife and two boys, and in addition to work, is involved with a variety of communities on Twitter helping to support people living with mental illness, autism, asthma and Paget’s disease, and helping to educate those who don’t. James can be found on Twitter at @JamesofRC, and through his blog, Religiously Challenged.