Fight the Taboo (aka real men get help for their mental illness)

It was this time a few years ago that I came to a crossroads. I was in the midst of my PD (post-divorce) season of healing. I was seeing significant progress in my recovery AND my self-discovery. It was an exciting, although painful, season. But, as I began to be made more and more aware of who I was, what made me tick, etc, I noticed something.

For as far back as I could remember, EVEN INTO MY CHILDHOOD, I had this sense of gloom. My divorce only made things worse. I would wake up each morning, dreading the day. The best way I could describe it was that I was functioning inside of a “black cloud.” As each day would go on, the black cloud would somewhat dissipate, but, like clockwork, it would return the next day.

Now that I became aware of this, I took a drive across Colorado to visit my oldest sister. I had a five-hour trip to put my finger on what, exactly, I wanted to say. All I knew is that I didn’t want to live that way any more.

By the time I arrived in my hometown in western Colorado, I knew what I needed to declare. The words weren’t easy to spit out, but I needed to say them, “Sis, I think I’ve been fighting with depression. For a long time.”

You see, it was so hard to get those words out for a couple of reasons.

1.) My family of origin – My parents were old school when it came to dealing with issues. You either dealt with it “in-house” or you swallowed hard and kept silent, thinking that you could pull yourself out of any mess by your own boot straps. We never discussed mental illness at all during my growing up years except in reference to the hypochondriac, manipulative, angry aunt who raised my mother. But apart from that, the subject never came up. I had no frame of reference, no way to know what was normal or not in terms of depressed feelings. Regarding the need for any kind of counselor, totally out of the question. I’m sure if I would have asked to see a psychologist as a kid, my parents would have looked at my like I had 13 1/2 hands and three noses.

2.) I’m a guy – Not to over-generalize, but most guys don’t talk about their feelings. Not necessarily because we don’t want to, but mostly because we don’t always know what it is that we are feeling. Those pesky things called emotions are so hard to put a finger on, that it’s easier to keep quiet about instead of looking like a bumbling idiot who doesn’t know what’s going on in his own self. For me, I was scared to death to put a label on what I was feeling, because of how SERIOUS DEPRESSION IS. 

But, because my five-hour trip gave me the courage to put into words what it was that I was battling, I knew I had to tell someone about this internal wrestling match.

My sister and I, and a high school friend and I, had several good conversations that weekend. By the time I left that part of Colorado to head back to Colorado Springs, I was resolved to do something about this “black cloud” of depression.

Upon returning, I met with a recommended psychologist to get some testing done. This was done on the following Friday. The doctor who administered the tests felt that my situation was serious enough that she needed to call me the next day, instead of waiting until Monday.

She explained that there is a spectrum of depression, where on one end a person is pretty much depression free. On the opposite end of this spectrum, you have severe clinical depression. She described what the few middle notches on the spectrum were like. She asked me where I thought I was on this scale. I honestly answered, “Oh, somewhere just beyond the middle of the spectrum, I guess.”

She explained to me in detail that, no, I didn’t have things that good. She said that I was on the far end of the scale, and that I needed help, and fast. She suggested getting on medication as well as undergoing some counseling.

I was especially nervous about taking any kind of antidepressant. Again, my lack of knowledge paved the road to fear. So, after doing some research, and talking with my new core circle of friends, I came to realize how brain chemistry worked, and that taking an antidepressant was the equivalent to a diabetic taking insulin for health’s sake.

Fast Forward A Few Weeks

It usually takes a handful of weeks for Zoloft to kick in, but when it kicked in, it made such a HUGE difference. I remember the morning like it was this morning.

Instead of waking up with this “black cloud” surrounding me, instead of feeling paralyzed to do what I needed to do that day, I woke up early, about 5am. While I was lying there in my bed, it struck me. “Wow!” I thought. “Is this what it feels like to be happy and undepressed?” As I took inventory of my mental faculties, I began to laugh. Not because my situation was funny, but because I felt for the first time a major sense of relief.

Are antidepressants a fix-all? No. But, under the right circumstances, they can be a life-saver. Was I permanently healed? No. Again using the diabetes analogy, the diabetic has to use insulin long-term to maintain their body’s needs. It could very well be that I need to remain on Zoloft the rest of my life. Honestly, I’m okay with that.

Are Meds Enough?

The best one-two punch in dealing with depression is careful medication coupled with counseling. Being able to get that extra set of eyes that can look into your life objectively is a significant part in making sense of depression, ESPECIALLY FOR MEN.

Don’t Get Cold Feet

If you even have a tiny clue that you might be dealing with depression (if you’re divorced, divorcing, or on the rocks, chances are you ARE dealing with some level of depression), Google the counselors and psychologists in your area. Just do it. Don’t overthink it. When you’re depressed, you can talk yourself out of almost anything. Just do it.

Beyond that, find at least ONE trusted person in your circle of influence, a friend, relative, coworker, etc, that you can say to them, “I think I’m battling depression.” Get those words out. Then, you can have a compassionate ally on your side who can understand you and help you get the treatment you need. Don’t chicken out on this part of it.

Don’t Buy It…

Don’t buy into the notion that men aren’t supposed to be depressed

Don’t buy into the notion that you are weak for admitting you are depressed

Don’t buy into the notion that there is no hope for your situation

Don’t buy into the notion that you are less of a human being, less of a man, because you are seeking treatment for mental illness

Don’t buy into the notion that counseling is for wimps

Don’t buy into the notion that antidepressants are evil and aren’t to be trusted

Guys, regarding the war against mental illness, and specifically YOUR BATTLE WITH DEPRESSION, with the right help, YOU’VE GOT THIS. Hang in there.

Your Brother in the Battle,

BKM

Finding the Bruises (aka healing comes in spurts)

A new coworker of mine reminds me of my ex-wife. Her personality, her mannerisms, her inflections. While this woman is actually pretty cool to work with and I have NOTHING against her at all, I can’t help but battle these reminders of anger and hurt that have sideswiped me. 

I’ve been divorced for several year and have gone to God in prayer many times to give me the strength to forgive my ex-wife. Up until now, I’ve had no ill will toward her. I’ve prayed for her healing, for her well being, for her post-divorce (PD) life. But this new territory of having daily reminders of a broken relationship, and of annoyances that I was too chicken to ever say anything about, has me staggering a bit.

I guess if there’s any kind of moral to this story, it’s that forgiveness is an ongoing thing. My ex-wife doesn’t NEED my forgiveness, but I NEED to forgive her. As often as necessary. Beyond just saying once to myself, “I forgive this person for this or that offense,” I need to be in a continual MINDSET of forgiveness, one that is characterized by an attitude that acts as if the offense never happened. Yeah. That’s the real picture of forgiveness. 

Another lesson learned here is that healing comes in spurts. While I’ve come a long, long way since my divorce, I am seeing that there are still nooks and crannies of my soul that need some work. There are apparently still some bruises that are a tad sensitive to the touch. 

A Few Thoughts to Pass On:

**Don’t be overly surprised if you encounter something that reminds you of your ex years down the road. 

**Don’t be too surprised if you find yourself occasionally hurt by a painful memory. 

**Don’t be surprised by the need to continually forgive.

**Don’t mistake your need for continued healing for weakness. It takes a real man to probe the corners of his soul to see where the bruises are. 

**Don’t withhold forgiveness, lest you become a bitter, scared old man, incapable of ever loving again.

**Don’t be afraid to forgive.

**Don’t be afraid to unpack these surprise feelings with a trusted friend or two.

**Don’t be afraid comment and let the rest of us know about your journey of forgiveness.

BKM

 

Easy as Pie! (aka, make some new Christmas traditions for yourself!)

android-key-lime-pie-qualcommAfter my 11-year marriage ended, I found myself facing a few very painful Christmases. The first one post-divorce (PD) was an absolute blur. The second one, not so bad. I had begun building a new social circle, and had started my incredible journey of healing. So, the third Christmas PD, I came to a realization.

I had no Christmas traditions of my own! During our 11 years of marriage, we had several awesome holiday rituals that I just loved. BUT I didn’t quite feel like continuing them by myself. I wanted to develop my own PD identity. So, I had a great conversation with myself…

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I discussed the things that I enjoyed. One thing that definitely came to the surface was my love of pie.

Well, what kind of pie do you like?

I like ALL kinds of pie, but I absolutely love key lime pie!

So, I made an agreement with myself. No strings attached. For Christmas Eve, I would make from scratch a key lime pie. I had never made one before, so there was significant risk. But what did I have to lose? I agreed with myself that if it was a bust, I would seek a new tradition for myself next year. However, if this key lime pie experiment was a success, then I’d make one each Christmas Eve.

So, how did it go, you might ask.

Several years later, and I’m still making key lime pies each year! (This reminds me, I need to go buy some key limes soon!)

Here’s my suggestion to you. You may be recently divorced, or you may have divorced several years ago. Either way, I think you’ll agree with me in your heart of hearts that the holidays are important. You might be in a fog still or in shock because of your divorce. But trust me, holidays have several layers of importance.

For starters, they allow you an opportunity to reflect on relationships, on life, on the future.

They also allow you to plant some milestones on your journey. They help you to see where you’ve come from and gauge where you’re going.

For me, this pie experiment was a prime opportunity to continue building my own identity.

What’s this mean for you?

Ask yourself what YOU like.

*Do you like live music? Go see a concert each Christmas.

*Do you like to cook? Learn how to make your favorite meal and invite your friends over to share it.

*Do you like to write? Write a poem or short story each Christmas, and keep a notebook of them to serve as a sort of time capsule.

*Do you like receiving letters? Write yourself a letter each New Years. Stick it in your stocking, and then open up that letter the following year. Another time capsule, in a way. Keep yourself informed on how your favorite football team is doing in the playoffs, or what your hopes are for the next year.

*Do you like movies? Watch your favorite movie sometime in the month of December. (For me, to keep things in perspective for Christmas, I like to watch the Passion of the Christ each year to remind myself why Jesus came to earth).

*Are you automotively knowledgeable? Give of yourself each December by offering to all your friends an oil change or a tune-up as an early Christmas gift.

*Do you collect anything? Whether its coffee mugs, coats, cigars, or shot glasses, search for the best possible addition to your menagerie each year!

*Do you have a favorite out-of-town restaurant? Make a pilgrimage there each year, just before Christmas.

*Do you like sports? Each year take a friend to see a football, hockey, or basketball game. (Let me recommend to you the Broncos, Avalanche, or the Nuggets).

*Is there a ministry or charity in town that tugs at your heart? Give of yourself and volunteer there each year around this time.

Let me know what you come up with! And, I mean this with all sincerity, I hope you have an awesome Christmas this year. Here’s to discovering who you are at your core, and to a great year ahead!

Cheers!

BKM

Make a List (and Check it Twice!)

The three and a half years following my divorce were some of the most stark, life-changing, life-giving moments of my life. As I mentioned before, I followed the advice of a friend and I refrained from dating for about a year. Smart, smart move. Those three and a half years were filled with self-discovery, healing, and a reawakening for me.

I actually came to a place where I knew that, although one day I WANTED to have another relationship, I finally knew that I didn’t NEED one to be okay. I had become spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially okay enough where I could stand on my own two feet (only with God’s help, for sure). I remember telling a good friend of mine that if I didn’t find a gal who was just right, I’d be okay with being single the rest of my life.

MY LIST

Part of my healing process including coming up with a list, split into two columns-  “NEGOTIABLE” and “NON-NEGOTIABLE.” I thought of the traits of a possible spouse / girlfriend that were either important to me to be present or noticeably absent in this woman. The categories I covered followed my priorities – spirituality, personality, habits, hobbies, interests, goals, gifts, talents, etc. I knew that it would be pretty tough to find a gal who fit this description. But I decided in my heart of hearts that I was not going to settle on EVEN ONE of my categories.

One of the absolute best things I’ve ever, ever done. Drawing that line in the sand that said, “I will be a man of conviction here. I will not compromise what I feel is important in a relationship.” If I were to compromise again, then I’d be a fool. I’d only have myself to blame.

THE ONE

I’ll tell my “story” in more detail later. Long story short, though. I found a woman who was a perfect match according to this list. Not one area was overlooked to make an exception. Fast forwarding – we’ve been married now for over a year and a half, and we have a 10-month old son. Do we have the perfect relationship. No. Did I find the perfect wife? No. But I found the perfect wife FOR ME. Our compatibility was through the roof, and we have a great marriage based on faith, forgiveness, and communication.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

Your turn… if you are going through a divorce, go back to square one. As I suggested before, take my ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE. Figure yourself out first. THEN, and only then, make a list and check it twice. Don’t just make your list in fifteen minutes while watching tv. Take a week or so to carefully craft this list. And don’t just look at the physical characteristics of a woman. That’s gonna change as time goes by. Focus on the deep, meaningful stuff, matters of character. Share it with a trusted friend (Again, if you don’t have anyone, send it to me!).

And, my friends, DON’T COMPROMISE. DON’T GIVE IN. DON’T SETTLE. KEEP TO THE LIST. AND RESOLVE TO BE OKAY IF YOU REMAIN SINGLE FOR A SEASON. Focus on becoming healthy, happy, focused, and growing.

Guard Rails

I liked this dark house, this dreary building in which relief resided. I was on the doorstep of self-destruction. 

I can pinpoint one life-changing decision that I made mid-separation (MS) that prevented me from entering the front door of self-destruction. This was the darkest time of my life (even more so than when i lost my mom at 18). I was helpless, hopeless, hurting, and and living as a hermit. I wasn’t necessarily suicidal, but I was sure in the deepest, darkest pit I had ever been in.

On both sides of my family we have history of alcoholism. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics and their deaths were related to their disease. For the non-depressed me, I like an occasional drink. However, the darkest-pit me was another story. Like a rapidly spinning whirlpool, the allure of strong drink was pulling me in very quickly. My ex-wife and I had a cabinet full of some strong stuff. I found myself being irresistibly drawn to that cabinet throughout the day. I needed some sort of help, or else it would have been curtains for me. It wasn’t a night or two of drunkenness I was afraid of. A person can easily recover from that. I knew that had I given in to my desire, my singular alcoholic focus, all bets would have been off long-term. I would have given myself completely to the bottle. I think that would have easily ushered in the possibility -no, probability- of suicide. I was so depressed, I think the complete trajectory of my life would have been altered forever.

During this impossible season of my life, my sister made it a point to call me every week to see how I was doing, to let me vent, to let me cry. For this, I am eternally grateful. During one of these weekly phone calls, without premeditation, I suddenly thought to ask my sister for help. I requested that the next time she called me that she would ask me if I had dumped out all of my alcohol. Every drop. She agreed.

Immediately after hanging up the phone with her, I walked to my favorite cabinet of the house. One by one, my bottles were emptied down the drain.  Vodka, Southern Comfort, gin, and others quickly disappeared.”Why is all the rum gone?” you might ask. Because Captain Jack Sparrow needed it to be completely gone. And, so it was. Every drop. When my sister called the next week, I was able to honestly report to her that all the alcohol was out of my house. 

While the funk and depression that I was in still was there, loud and clear, I was able to function and make some important decisions (moving out of state) without the impeding of alcohol. Had I not made the decision to get rid of the alcohol in my house, I would not have found my way to my life-giving support network in Colorado Springs. I am convinced I would have stayed in my hermit state, alone, and with the lights quickly dimming.

That guard rail that I set up, then, of getting rid of alcohol for a time, made a HUGE difference in my recovery. I needed to set some boundaries in order to protect myself. I also needed the help of my sister to make sure I set up that guard rail. 

So, for you, you might not have the same issue with alcohol that I had. But what does the doorstep to destruction look like for you? Feeling tempted to spend every penny you have to try to make yourself feel better? Do you feel the need to sleep with every woman you encounter to somehow make yourself feel better? What pitfalls can you see before you now, thinking objectively? 

I urge you to talk with someone trusted (heck, if you don’t have a friend in the world to help you, send ME a message!), and brainstorm together things that could potentially wreck your life while your not at your best and brightest. Brainstorm together some ways to eliminate those pitfalls so that you don’t make decisions you’ll regret later. Lay down some strict guard rails, and make sure to have some help, some accountability. 

This whole exercise isn’t a matter of turning you into a prude. It’s not to turn you into a teetotaler. It’s not to make you become a tightwad with your money. It’s to help you protect yourself from yourself during a time when you are your own worst enemy. You’ll thank yourself later. I promise.

For me, now that I’m a few years beyond my divorce, and am now happily married and with a 9-month old son, I’d like to report that I enjoy an occasional drink. Have I changed my guard rails? Oh, you better believe it. But have I gotten rid of them? Heck no. Since I’ve recovered from my divorce and was on the path to becoming a healthy human being, I set a new guard rail up. Again, not to be a killjoy for myself, but to protect myself. I have set for myself a strict drinking limit, whether I’m home or elsewhere. I will not have more than two drinks. Period. Could I handle more? Yeah, for sure. But I don’t even want to go anywhere near that old house called destruction, the place of which I liked to hang out at the doorstep. Am I okay with these guard rails? Yes. I remain in control at all times.

YOUR TURN

***What are some pitfalls you see before you? Do you currently have any guard rails set up for yourself? Do you sense the need for some?*****

The Red Wheelbarrow – A Creative Reading

This is another example of RANDOM, YET CREATIVE for me. Since high school, this super short and dorky poem has caught my attention. William Carlos Williams wrote this poem about chicken, wheelbarrows, and rain.

More importantly, the making of this video for me was a significant part of my creativity therapy. Enjoy the randomness!

Jabberwocky – A Creative Reading

Yes, I’m a fan of Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland books, which includes the poem about the Jabberwock, a fearsome creature. However, a young fighter goes out and kills this creature with a sword, and brings back the head to his father.

This was one of the more enjoyable, goofy, nonsensical projects I did. The creativity used here was good medicine for me!

Create Something (aka the Power of Creativity Therapy!)

A couple of blog posts of mine thus far have been videos of spoken word, of poetry. Now, mind you, I’m not a poetically minded guy. I can’t write poetry to save my life, and I really wouldn’t want to if I could. But while pursuing my English degree I was exposed to enough variety of poetry that I learned to appreciate the scope and depth of emotion that poetry can tap into.

When I first went through my divorce, I experienced such a depth of despair and depression, that I hardly enjoyed anything. There was nothing that could reach inside and help me navigate and make sense of these overwhelming feelings. Until a friend of mine suggested I get creative.

I came to understand from several sources that there is a significant healing quality found in the act of creating something. When depressed, when divorced, creativity must be seen as a life preserver. It was for me, anyway.

I had purchased a MacBook Pro, primarily to help with my editing, writing, and voiceover business. Also, though, as I began to explore the various applications available to me for movie-making and music-creating, I discovered an amazing avenue of healing!

I began experimenting with dramatic poetry reading, making commercials for various groups, and sending goofy video postcards to friends. As a seminary student, I even experimented with putting some of my teaching on video.

I would spend hours on this stuff, tweaking, revamping, laughing, crying, and sharing with friends. Although I eventually began taking antidepressants, one significant alternative drug that impacted my life for good was the drug called “creativity.”  I found myself coming out of my shell a bit. I was able to produce things that were cathartic and beneficial, and other things that were just plain dorky. No matter.

Something inside my brain, no matter how temporary, would stop focusing on my despair and instead would focus on producing something that was fun, funny, meaningful, or just plain random. The pain that I was feeling was much like a HUGE bruise on my soul. And, like bruises we get on our skin, bruises hurt like crazy if you keep touching them. When we are hurting so deeply while going through trauma (like divorce, death, etc), we frequently focus on our hurts, our wounds, our pain. We keep pushing the bruise because we think about it all the time.  However, when we divert our attention to something creative, we stop, even if it’s just for a moment, pushing on the bruise. Instead, we focus on something beautiful, something meaningful.

Some ideas -

*Write a book

*Write a blog

*Keep a journal

*Take an art class

*Take up swing dancing

*Try something artistic and physical, like Poi

*Buy a camera and try photography

*Learn an instrument

*Get out in nature – learn astronomy or bird-watching

*Try ice sculpting

*Learn to cook, especially the manly art of grilling

*Learn how to do woodworking

*Take a geocaching course

*etc etc etc

So, your turn.

******What kind of creative things are you even remotely interested in? And, what’s your plan to implement at least ONE of those creative outlets? Let me know!******

If You Must… (Make a Change)

You’ve probably heard of or maybe even experienced the “Divorce car,” where one or both of the divorcees feel the need to make some major vehicle purchase to prove to themselves and/or the world that they are independent. Or, what about the Divorce/breakup haircut? Or, maybe even the Divorce house? Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve at least felt first-hand the urge to break free from your past and plow ahead to create your own personal future.

When I got divorced, I made two major decisions which impacted me significantly. Yes, I caved in and bought a Divorce Car (an awesome red and black Jeep Wrangler, to be exact). While I LOVED that vehicle, the monthly payment was much higher than I was previously paying. Yeah, I felt like this four-wheeling, outdoors, cruising machine fit my personality like a glove, it was not a wise or prudent choice to make. Over the course of the following year, I struggled to make my payment and eventually found a way to get out from underneath my fat loan.

Another major choice I made post-divorce (PD), was to move from Illinois to Colorado. I had lost a great job and got divorced within the same week, and I had nobody I could really lean on in the small town I was living in. Although I was in quite a fog, I jotted down in my journal a chart of possible places for me to move. I brainstormed all the pros and cons of each location, but in the end, I made a move to Colorado Springs. Why? What attracted me to the Springs?

Relationships. I had family there, as well as some super close friends who were like an extra set of parents to me. I knew in my mind that I needed a safety net. I was one broken guy who could have gone down some exceptionally destructive paths had I remained alone in Illinois.  I rented a moving van, loaded up my ton o’ crap and my Divorce Car, and moved me and all my broken pieces to the mountain west.

In my three and a half years in Colorado Springs, not only was I blessed to have frequent time with my family and friends, I quickly built the most life-giving relationships I had ever experienced with new friends. Life-giving and life-changing.

Here’s my suggestion. If you are on the back end of a divorce and are feeling the urge to make some sort of major change to your life, weigh your choices as carefully as possible. If you must, IF YOU REALLY, REALLY HAVE TO make some sort of change, I urge you to forget about buying that shiny new vehicle. Don’t dump your money in a mortgage at this time. If you must do something, move. Change locations. Get a fresh start. BUT move to where you will have people you can surround yourself with. Friends. Family. People you can trust.

If you end up NOT moving, still avoid the major cash-sucking choices like getting a car or house. If you do stay put, though, still find a way to connect with some old friends OR make some new ones. Connect with people in your community (the “activities” tab on Craigslist is a great place to start). Join a health club and connect with people there. Walk through the door of that church down the street from you. Find some human beings you can connect with. Don’t give up on these relationships, though, if you don’t find someone or several people to connect with at first. Not everyone will be accepted or understanding of your newly established divorced life. That’s okay. Just find someone who will be willing to listen, willing to accept you, willing to help you move forward. Bottom line – don’t go through your divorce alone, NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING IT MAY BE.

You are a loose cannon, a bomb waiting to go off when you are at such a heightened state of depression post-divorce (PD). Make it a priority of emotional survival to forge meaningful relationships.

YOUR TURN

*****So, have you experienced the Divorce Car? The Divorce House? etc. etc. What was that experience like for you? Did you regret making that decision?

*****How have relationships (aka, a “safety net”) helped you get through your divorce?

Carrion Comfort – Gerrard Manley Hopkins

Here’s another dramatic reading of a poem I put together a couple of years ago. The speaker in the poem discloses how he came so close to despair, but fought back and resisted depression’s strong pull. The speaker also wrestles with the role God may have played in the difficulties he encountered. While the speaker is far from making a solid conclusion about God’s harsh treatment, it seems as though he begins to see that the difficulties he faced were, somehow, for his own good.

I can certainly relate to this. I was on the brink when I was going through my separation and divorce. Despair was the meal du’jour. However, as I have grown through the experience, I have taken note that I have certainly become a stronger, better, smarter, and more compassionate man because of it.

Enjoy!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers