Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mental Illness - My Story

In hindsight now at the age of 65, I can look back to my teen years and begin to see the early beginning of my story, although there were probably subtle indications even before then?  My father, a very good man, suffered with his own mental illness throughout my childhood.  I am the oldest of four children who grew up in a loving home despite my father's bipolar illness and PTSD associated with his WW2 experiences.  The depression, anxiety, nightmares and hallucinations would eventually cause him to end his life in 1986, and coincidentally trigger a new season of illness for me after a period of wellness.  On to my own story then . . .

The first symptoms of depression (pervading sadness and loss of direction) began in my junior year of high school, increasing in my senior year.  My grades suffered and I lost interest in athletics, which had been a passion.  I did however make the effort to attend college in the Pacific Northwest, but grey weather added to my depression, then self-medicating with alcohol worsened things.  I returned home to Sacramento after a 1.0 semester, my life had fallen apart.

I enrolled at community college, got a job and tried to piece things back together.  During this time I had a "psychotic break" that led to worsened anxiety and panic disorder, yet still I did not seek medical treatment.  At 21, a high school friend and I decided it would be good to get married and move out together.  We graduated college, started careers, and bought a home, all the while I continued to suffer with depression and anxiety, including sleeplessness and now panic attacks too.  She "hung in there" with me for seven years before it became too much.  One evening over dinner she informed me she was moving out to a friend's home.  I begin to panic, went for a walk, and pondered having a "breakdown" and/or ending my life.

I must say at this point that I never sought medical help for my illness.  Not so much due to stigma, as to the fear that meds and treatment would  Only see me get worse as in my father's case.  Having a job and understanding co-workers and bosses saved me, literally.  I begin running (hadn't done that since junior year track season in high school).  I took to running as my therapy, becoming obsessed with it to the point of logging about 100 miles a week.  Then I added cycling (200-250 miles), and swimming (6-7 miles a week).  I competed in ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons, and slowly, subtly I got better?  After over a decade of severe clinical depression I honestly thought it was all behind me.  (Later, my psychiatrist would suggest that all that exercise "normalized' my brain chemistry, but you can't keep that up forever and have a family life too.)

By now, my first marriage had officially ended, during two years of separation, my wife had refused counseling and most contact.  And I had met someone who would eventually become my best friend and soul mate for life.  I would be severely remiss if I didn't stop here to thank my Creator for this Providence in LOVE.  So, life goes on in a new relationship, including the children I had always wanted, but my first wife not.  A few years in, after the birth of our second child, my father committed suicide, and I began to slowly slide back into depression.  My wife noticed my irritability and temper around home and suggested seeing a counselor, which I did.  My intuitive counselor detected immediately the classic symptoms of depression in men.  I did a lot of "work" with her in the area of cognitive therapy, but she really wanted me to see a psychiatrist and consider medicine in addition to therapy.  I was afraid of the medicine route mostly based on my father's experiences with the older treatments.  Persistence by my counselor, prayers and encouragement from my wife and friends, and a lot of research on my own part led me to relenting and scheduling my first appointment with a psychiatrist who would become my meds manager for the next 12 years.  We recently parted ways, both to "retirement", but healthy, happy and me confident in my ability to seek proper ongoing care via my family practice physician.

For those who may be curious about details, I continue to take an SSRI daily (lifetime), and have a couple anti-anxiety Rx's that usually expire in their bottles before I use them.  The SSRI handles my depression, GAD and panic quite well thank you.  I now meet with people to encourage and support them in their own journeys in this season of being a "wounded healer".  Life still has its challenges and trials, but I'm able now to "embrace" them by applying all the tools I've been given over the years.  I am grateful.

Patrick Watters, aka the anonemoose monk 😁💜

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