As long as I’m able to lead with my heart I will do so.
The hardest part of managing my depression and anxiety is playing the tug of war game that is mental illness. Sometimes it takes away my ability to lead with my heart. I’ve said some awful things to those I love. I’ve done plenty of other things while experiencing the wrath of depression and anxiety that I am not proud of. But I will continue being me because that’s the best I can do.
No, I am not living with a struggle everyday. Was I? Yes. It took me almost 10 years to find something that worked for me. Mental illness is so complex. No two people will feel the same despair. Every single diagnosis and every single story is different. For me, I am at my best. I didn't get to where I am now however, without going through the worst.
Is my depression gone? Absolutely not. I hate to sound like a Debbie-Downer, but for me to believe that I'll never go through a difficult time again is naive. For me to believe that I'll never experience debilitating anxiety again is just plain silly. This is not negative-thinking people. This is me accepting and learning how to manage my mental health appropriately.
I'm on one med. I sleep well. I exercise regularly. I'm not working like I was, but I'm doing what I feel passionate about. I think I've found the job I was meant to have. Yes, I still think teaching is a part of me, but now it's time for me to teach in a different way.
I’ve always wanted to make a difference and help those in need. I've been blogging and sharing my story now since September of 2018. That's approximately 38 weeks. This is just one way that I am educating others. There's more.
In lieu of the past year, Sarah and I have made some big decisions. One of those has been the incorporation of our nonprofit, Project Blue Co. We just filed with the state of North Carolina and are happy to be official. Our goal is to change the way people think about mental health, specifically mental illness. We want to encourage people to share their stories; those who suffer from having a mental illness as well as the ones who surround them and witness their struggles. We believe healthcare professionals and emergency medical responders need better training when it comes to mental health crises. We want to help develop these programs. All of this will help society respond positively to mental health in general. Hopefully it will be placed in the forefront.
We will be doing this right from the comfort of our new home, The Sol Bus! We've also decided to change the way we live; sell things that don't matter, downsize our lives, sell our home, and travel around North America. We want to connect with people. We want to continue sharing our story and hear new ones.
This is the beauty of our struggle. We believe we are exactly where we are meant to be because we made it possible. We took a real shitty situation and made it better. It made us think about what we wanted in life and how we could make a difference. We believe we'll be okay, but we know others are not. We need each other. People need people.
I hope you found my story useful. I wish you joy, peace, and love for the rest of time. May you find strength to persevere. May you lead with your heart.
Thank you for listening to my story.
In Kindness & Love,
What’s the difference between…
A) Adam had to pullover on the side of the road during his morning commute because he had diarrhea. He never wants anyone to know about it.
B) Ashley has been unusually sad lately. It is hard for her to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. She has been turning friends away for social gatherings and isn’t sleeping too well. There’s a history of depression in her family. She’s too afraid to tell someone and doesn’t want anyone to think she’s crazy.
Adam had an embarrassing moment at one point in his life and keeping that a secret isn’t a big deal. Ashley however seems to be having a serious struggle and should talk to someone about how she’s feeling. If only it were that easy, right? If only our serious concerns came out like diarrhea. I often feel that if we were unable to hold in our concerning thoughts about our own health, that we’d in fact be healthier.
I wish for people to feel comfortable enough to talk to someone about their health concerns, especially those involving mental health. These are concerns that you should not hide. Yes, you may feel embarrassed about them, which can be a difficult emotion to overcome, but concerns such as these can be life-threatening, unbeknownst to you and your loved ones.
The most rewarding part of navigating my own mental illness is hearing another story. Since I made the decision to start blogging about my depression and anxiety back on September 11th, 2018, I’ve had so many people approach me with questions. Often times they just need someone to share their experience with. I feel...honored, happy, and encouraged when people feel safe enough to talk to me. I’m not knocking on anyone’s door. I have nothing written on my forehead. I do not send out mailers. I’ve shared my story and it seems to be working.
It’s not just my blog though. My wife and I have had many conversations with people about our time here in North Carolina. Sometimes she’s having them in my absence and vice versa, and other times we’re together. Just depends. Regardless, the story of our struggle usually comes into play. Lots of our neighbors want to know why we have a big ass bus in our driveway. Or a new friend might ask us what we do for a living. We decided a while ago that it’s just best to be honest. We have nothing to hide. It’s not always easy sharing what some consider personal information, but it has only proven to provide positive experiences.
It’s as if people are just coming out of the woodwork. Maybe I do have something written on my forehead. I like to think people can see my heart on my sleeve and it just invites them in to chat.
Just the other day a neighbor drove up next to me as I was standing in another neighbor’s lawn. Right out of the gate she spilled her beans and just opened up. She asked me about resources and what steps she could take to help herself and her boyfriend. We barely know each other, but we’ve spoken a handful of times about random stuff. She knows a little about our bus and our reasons for it. Whatever it is that we’ve shared with her, she felt safe enough to share with us too. That’s important.
This is why loving your neighbors matter. It doesn’t have to be the same love, like the love you have for your spouse or your children. I mean, it’s basically the same concept, but different feelings accompany different types of love. At least that’s what I think. Being kind, offering your yard tools, inviting them over for a cookout, etc, are all ways that you can express to your neighbor that you are there for them. They may just need you in a serious matter. They may come out of the woodwork after hiding for far too long because some nice person made them feel like it was okay.
To bring something out of the woodwork is to bring it out of hiding and into the forefront. Your mental health should be in the forefront of your life. Get that shit out and feel better soon.
Ps. Diarrhea can be a serious thing too, so don’t run away from the runs.
There you have it. You know more about me than ever before. What do you think? People will disagree with my transparency and say I’ve shared too much. That’s how this works though in my mind. It’s all or nothing. I feel like I would be wasting your time if I left out all of those potentially embarrassing and shameful moments because they were very much a part of my anxiety. I do not feel ashamed however because I know my story has a greater purpose.
The point of my entire blog isn’t to make people feel sorry for me or “woe is me”. I’m here to speak up for others who’ve been unable to do so for fear of disappointment and judgement that may fall upon them. By sharing my story I hope to encourage others to tell theirs. Even if you think no one will care, find a way to share it because the only way our society will start accepting mental illness as an actual illness is if enough of us let them know how real it is.
And it’s not just about me or about people who are diagnosed. It’s about YOU too! If someone you know struggles with mental illness than it most likely affects you. Maybe you’re their caregiver or their boss, or a friend just wanting to know how to help. We are all affected in one way or another. How do we work together on this then?
It starts with education. The Internet has tons of trusted resources. If you know someone who struggles with a mental illness try listening to them and offer to assist in finding professional help. You may feel like you have no clue what you’re doing and that’s okay. You do not need to have all the answers, or any of them. Someone who’s in a mental health crisis may need you to think for them in that particular moment. They need to come down and grab a hold of reality again. We all need help sometimes. We cannot do things alone. We need to take better care of each other.
One important thing to understand is that there are many different diagnoses. The severity changes from person to person. Some manage their illness very well and some do not. Some need meds and some do not. Do yourself a favor and do not compare because like I’ve shared with you, every story is different. I’m on meds. I was unable to hold a job for a while, but believe I am now capable of doing so. While I’m in a much better place than I was almost two years ago, I still struggle with certain things. I believe I have my depression and anxiety under control, and simply have small things to work on. They will take practice, but have come as a result of my mental illness, the shame I’ve felt. A few things on my list include:
I tried to make that last one sound a bit overwhelming, but with a touch of humor to make myself feel more human-like. Did it work? Are you thinking that everyone has these feelings? It’s true. We all go through bouts of these, but there is a difference between a fleeting moment and a long-lasting one. Especially when accompanied with a chemical imbalance that can result in the brain thinking ridiculous things, scary things, unwanted things, and so much more. Trust me, there is a difference. When these things start affecting our ADLs (activities of daily living), our performance at work, and our relationships, that is not normal, and beyond fleeting moments of sadness and disappointment.
So what can you do? I’ve already said to try and listen. Open your heart and let people in. Don’t judge. Start there. Then, educate yourself. I’m not going to repeat what you can find in the links below, so just visit these sites. These are great, trusted resources for you and anyone else wanting to learn more. The NAMI Homefront is FREE, and helps people understand PTSD. You should really check it out. Also below, is a resource for Teens. Even if you’re not a teen, but let’s say a parent of one, this is still a great resource for you.
The effort it takes to visit these links and to read the information they provide is extremely minimal. It takes up your time, but even 10 minutes will do some good. But, the difference you can make in doing so is extremely important! Personally, I would be very grateful for your time, but I also want to thank you in advance on behalf of others because I know that someone you love would be very appreciative of your time.
NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI Homefront is a free, 6-session educational program for families, caregivers and friends of military service members and veterans with mental health conditions.
NAMI Family Members and Caregivers
NIMH National Institute of Mental Health
I’m going to tell you what it’s like for me when I visit my psychiatrist. Before I do that though, let’s talk about why people call psychiatrists and psychologists “shrinks”. Where did this term come from anyways?
If you Google it, its various definitions include:
A psychologist who wrote for Psychology Today wrote,
“From what I can tell, the word shrink is a shortening of “headshrinker,” referring to Amazonian tribes who preserve and shrink the heads of their enemies – certainly not a very positive connection! So, on the dark side, there are connections to shamanism, magic, and spiritual rituals, but in a more positive light, it is also suggested that psychotherapists [the term was first used to describe psychiatrists and psychotherapists] who might “shrink” problems to make them more understandable.”
Personally, I prefer the problem-shrinker to the head-shrinker. I’m still not the biggest fan of either because my psychiatrist doesn’t do the work for me. He assists me along the way. I also don’t like the term “problems” because we all have problems. I guess. My psychiatrist and I work together to help manage my depression and anxiety so that I can live the most productive and happy life possible.
On one hand, I don’t want to be that person that everyone thinks gets uber-sensitive over vocabulary. But if I’m not some kind of version of that type of person than how do I give 100% to preventing the stigma surrounding mental health? I have to care to some extent. I want to. Now, I’m not going to lash out at you if you ask me how my shrink is. Honestly, it’s easier for me to write about it than to have a conversation. I’m a bit passive, but I need to work on that. I have to be confident and comfortable with having an open dialogue with others about the proper way to address and/or describe others. I get it. In the comfort of our own homes we talk about a lot and say things we would never say in public. So my advice would be to do just that, especially if you’re unwilling to make an effort to respect people. Calling me crazy and telling others I see a shrink is something I can personally handle. But this isn’t just about me. I hope you see that. Think about all the other things we say that may be offensive to someone. Go ahead, list them in your head. I can think of a few that I hear too often and I do not use them myself. People think they need to watch their every move and constantly pay attention to what they say. You don’t. It’s not that hard. Just be respectful and kind. Have you seen Bambi? Well Thumper’s mom tells him, “If you can’t say anything nice than don’t say anything at all.”
Now that you understand I see a psychiatrist, let’s talk about my visits to his office. No, I’m not going to tell you every detail, but my goal in sharing this is to let everyone know that it’s not so bad. Actually for me, it’s not bad at all. It’s hard sometimes, but let's not confuse the two. My opinion, everyone could benefit from talking to someone who has the skill to hold a neutral position and listen to whatever you need to say, without judgement. The only downside, it can be expensive. Other than that you’re talking to someone who’s not your spouse and who you don’t have to worry about fighting with. Sounds like magic to me.
When I first started seeing my psychiatrist I cried A LOT! Every time I went in I cried for at least half of the 1-hour appointments. I didn’t cry for 30 straight minutes. It was off and on. You talk about whatever you want, but because I share everything I was navigating through some tough stuff. It’s hard, so you cry. We all cry. I cried because I was scared about sharing. I cried because I felt helpless. I cried because I wasn’t sure how long I’d be feeling the way I was feeling. I cried because it was expensive and I had a hard time justifying the cost. I cried because I just wanted to go home without seeing my wife exhausted. I cried because people close to me became distant. I cried for us. I just cried.
We also spent a lot of time working through various medications. It takes a while to find one that works. That’s just the nature of the beast right now in these types of medications. So every visit we’d talk about any side effects I was experiencing; no sleep, too much sleep, not eating or eating too much, irritable, anxious, extremely depressed, suicidal, overly excited for long periods of time, extreme amounts of energy, and the list goes on.
Some things we’ve also worked through included breathing exercises that could help me control panic attacks. I’ve had panic attacks, some very mild and only a couple that were severe. The first one I ever had woke me up right out of a deep sleep. I literally sat up in bed, felt like I was going to pass out, had trouble breathing, and sat in the bathroom. My body went numb and I was naked on the floor. It was the strangest feeling and I had no clue what was going on. I had never felt anything like that before. Breathing exercises and forms of meditation can be very effective for some people. So if you think it’s corny that’s fine. Maybe it’s not for you. But don’t knock it until you try it. And certainly don’t judge someone because they are engaging in a strategy to manage their panic attacks. If you do, you’re just a bully. Grow up.
I’ve been doing very well for quite some time now. My appointments are down to once every 3 months and we meet for 30 minutes. The routine is different for everyone. I started seeing him twice a week. We talk about how I’m doing, any new changes, and we prepare for anything that I anticipate coming up because one of my triggers is big change. So that’s a bit of what it’s like for me. I enjoy seeing my psychiatrist and I would do it for the rest of my life. He’s very supportive and has even agreed to contribute to my blog. So what does he have to say:
A note from my psychiatrist
I’ve been a psychiatrist for the past 5 years and practice currently in Raleigh, NC. I view psychiatry as a unique combination of philosophy, sociology, literature, and medicine in the pursuit of creating meaning in our lives and addressing suffering. We all suffer in different degrees with anxiety, depression, anger, paranoia, grief, ect. And about 1/5 people suffer enough throughout their lifetime to meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder.
The simplest advice I would give to family and friends of those suffering is to have an open mind and listen. You don’t have to have all or even any of the answers, but the simple act of compassionately and attentively listening to someone’s struggle is helpful. In fact
that is probably the single most important reason psychotherapy (regardless of specific orientation) all work. Just the act of feeling heard is therapeutic.
The next piece of advice I would give is to take care of yourself and utilize your own support network if you find yourself caring for someone with mental and/or physical illness. See your own therapist. Keep up to date with your health. Cherish and cultivate your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to connect with others going through similar struggles. NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health) can be a great resource for patients and family members alike.
So the next time you think about me seeing my shrink, imagine me reclining on a beach chair sipping on a pina colada, sharing my problems with the ocean. It’s pretty fu*king awesome. You should join me.
It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve blogged. I took a week off after my last post, which discussed results from some Facebook Polls I took, concerning mental health. After that week I was so distracted with other things I decided I wasn’t in the right mindset to blog. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean.
So where the heck have I been? Don’t worry, 95% of the time I’ve been great. A rough day or two since we last met, but nothing to be super worried about. They were just days I consider “normal” and sort of expected. It has taken a lot of practice just to get to the point of embracing them, but even with their anticipated arrival, I’d still rather do without them. But less is good, so I’m on the right path. I’ve come a long way in managing my mental health and I try to become better at it each day.
After I last posted, there happened to be some talk about why I share my business with all of the world? I’m not naming names because that’s not the kind of person I am, but it still bothered me that I got word of it.
If you know me, you know that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s all or nothing for me, even if that means I’m taking a risk of exposing information that could open paths of judgement. I’m okay with that. I’ve been fairly open with who I am for several years now, and not one time, has it brought me harm. I enjoy that part of being human; sharing with others and making meaningful connections through my personal story. It has proven to be nothing short of spectacular. So, that’s the most obvious reason why I choose to blog and post my story all over Facebook. Technically, it’s not “all over Facebook”, it’s on my personal timeline. I also have a blog of course, or website if you prefer. I’ve also encouraged friends and family to share with others.
I recently made one of these connections with a stranger on an airplane. Last weekend I flew to Wisconsin to support my sister in her first physique competition. She was awesome BTW! While on the plane (remember, flying is where I was first inspired to start blogging) I met a man named Musa. We got to talking and I told him all about The Sol Bus. He then wanted to know why such an adventure that most people would never take on. Of course I told him about the hard times my wife and I went through over the last two years in North Carolina. My mental health came up and he immediately responded with, “That’s funny you say that because I’ve been having a difficult time understanding my 19 year old son.” He proceeded to share with me that as a military man, he is frustrated by his son’s lack of motivation, poor hygiene, and severe social anxiety. After talking to his son and his wife, they decided it was best to meet with a mental health professional to determine what was going on. Based on the information Musa shared with me, it was clear that his son was struggling with something only a professional could help mend.
I may never know how his appointment goes, since it was a future appointment, and beyond my time with Musa. In the 2 hour plane ride we talked the entire way, mostly about my personal story and how he could better support his son. He thanked me numerous times for opening up to him because even if he still was lost in understanding his son, he felt like he could be more compassionate. He later shared that his daughter received her master’s degree in mental health counseling. We shared so much on that plane ride.
Do you know what we said to each other? IT WAS MEANT TO BE! This interaction with a complete stranger, is what I live for. It was validation that sharing can open up a world of change.
There are other reasons why I have chosen to share my personal story with you. If I don’t talk, who will? If I want to help our society eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, then I have to talk. It has to start somewhere. Somewhere can be anywhere, but if one person starts the wave, hopefully it continues until it sweeps across the country.
They say to ‘Be the Change You Wish to See in the World’. At least that’s what I believe. Though I’ve made mistakes, I am completely confident in saying that I’ve stayed true to my values. That’s what matters. I choose to see the best in people. We all have the ability to right our wrongs, to believe in each other, and to step outside the box. To be that change.
If you’re of the mind-set that you’re just one small person in a world of billions, then you don’t get very far do you? But one person CAN make a difference. That’s why I choose to share my personal story, because it’s personal. It means a lot to me that I can courageously step outside of my box to reach others, even if it’s just one. I know I’ve already done that. But I’m far from accomplishing all of my goals. I have more work to do. I want to reach more people.
So those who question my sharing are free to do so, but you don’t get to angrily, resentfully, and disrespectfully judge me. You can have opinions that you keep to yourself. I respect that. Just know that I may know someone you know, that I reach. Doesn’t that matter to you? What if I’m that person that feels comfortable talking about mental illness and I’m able to open my heart and listen to others who are afraid to talk about it? Because that’s who I am.
So, if I don’t talk who will? Will you? Or are you a part of the stigma? You can change that.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.