At this point it had been a few months since my struggle began at NC State. The depression hit me like a semi and the anxiety railroaded my entire being. I was constantly telling myself I needed to just suck it up. I’d feel good about that thought for a few minutes and then I’d find myself on the verge of tears. It went back and forth like that all day, every day.
One day, after feeling so defeated and unsure of how long I’d be going through this, I just said fuck it. I started drinking.
I started early in the day. I don't remember when exactly. My wife stopped me as I was chugging a bottle of whiskey in the kitchen. She had to grab it from me and yell at me, asking me what the hell I was doing.
I don't remember much of that night. I was out of it. I was so tired of it all. I make mistakes like everyone else, but this was different. I wasn't thinking clearly prior to the alcohol. Yes, I was depressed, utterly anxious, but I felt something else. For a split second I felt like drinking was the answer. In that moment I thought a drink or two would dull the anxiety, that feeling in my chest, and the million negative thoughts in my head." Another second later I was happy. It felt good to toss the fight aside. The mistake was trading it for alcohol. I knew this, but two drinks turned into a lot more.
This particular day I thought about everyone I loved. I kept thinking, "them or me". I'm a failure. I let them down. How would I ever fix this? How could I put Sarah through this? My heart ached because as much as I wanted to live, I wanted it all to be over.
At this point I was on a couple of medications. I wasn't yet at the point where I found "the one". My psychiatrist and I were still experimenting. I never even considered what drinking while on meds would do to me. It wasn't good.
What happens next is an experience that Sarah and I have had to heal from. I wish I could go back in time and delete it from our history. We've talked about it a lot. I couldn't remember what happened. Sarah had to fill me in. She had to explain to me how I acted, what I did, and what I said. Per her recollection here are some details:
At some point in the evening I became violent. I kicked two holes in the wall, damaged the linen closet door, fell on my laundry basket, and hurt my wife. As Sarah tells it, I inadvertently punched and or kicked her as she attempted to restrain me. I said hurtful things to her. My wife, the love of my life. I did those things.
My wife made the call to my psychiatrist. Being a Saturday, she had to leave a message on the emergency line...my psychiatrist called back within two minutes! He told her to take me to Holly Hill Hospital. Holly Hill provides treatment for psychiatric conditions and substance abuse for children, adolescents, adults, and older adults.
Sarah had to restrain me, get me into the car, and manage to drive half an hour on the freeway to the ER, hoping that I wouldn’t steer us off the road. Before she could even leave the driveway I had already torn off the visors and rear-view mirror, and cracked my windshield.
This experience has been the worst of my 36 years. This is only half of it.
My call for help, in next week's post.
Dear Friends & Family,
If you know me, you know me not for this ugly side. You know the best of me, the positive stuff. I'm sorry if you're reading this and you're not sure what to think. It's OK. I'm still me I'm doing fine. I'm here, lucky enough to have your support.
Sometimes it's easier to feel like I'm admitting something about myself that may not necessarily be true, instead of not being so hard on myself. I am hard work. I am more than 40 hours a week AND I'm a volunteer position. Sounds exhausting doesn't it? Who would want that?
This week's entry is unplanned. I wrote it on Feb 4th, 2019. I felt it was important to write in the moment, especially in lieu of the last few days. It is a part of understanding mental illness and many things that may come along with it.
**Side Note: I spent one night writing my entire story. I get these manic moments where I have so much energy that I can get a lot of shit done. Feels great at the time. I had an idea to start this blog soon after my down-spiral here in North Carolina. It was weighing on my mind heavily. One night I couldn't sleep and I spent the next several hours writing out my timeline and most of the posts. I am not joking. So each week, I go to my Google Docs and I find the next post in my story. I look it over. I make sure I wasn't too drunk when I wrote it (KIDDING) and I post it. So yeah, this post was not written ahead of time like the others.**
I try my best not to transfer negativity to others, but this is just another part of my story that I know other people experience. I would be doing you a disservice if I wasn't honest with you. So, despite the mostly happy days that I've been having, I get some pretty shitty ones. Like the last few days. And they suck. I'm not myself. It just hits me. It's as if I have no control over the steering wheel. No matter how hard I try to veer off in a different direction it just doesn't work.
Have you heard of Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)? Well, I emailed my psychiatrist this past week because it's important I tell him when I have these shitty times. He mentioned the possibility of PMDD in his email. It's not something we've discussed yet, but we will at my next appointment. Anyways, there's a good chance I fit into that category. No, I'm not diagnosing myself or adding something else onto my plate and wanting people to feel sorry for me. It's reality and it's important that I'm real about my health. My goal is to learn how to manage it after all. Eventually I will have control. See, that's positive?!
So what is PMDD? Hopkins Medicine says, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It may affect women of childbearing age. It’s a severe and chronic medical condition that needs attention and treatment. Lifestyle changes and sometimes medicines can help manage symptoms.
The exact cause of PMDD is not known. It may be an abnormal reaction to normal hormone changes that happen with each menstrual cycle. The hormone changes can cause a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a substance found naturally in the brain and intestines that narrows blood vessels and can affect mood and cause physical symptoms.
While any woman can develop PMDD, the following may be at an increased risk:
Symptoms of PMDD appear during the week before menstruation and end within a few days after your period starts. These symptoms disrupt daily living tasks. Symptoms of PMDD are so severe that women have trouble functioning at home, at work, and in relationships during this time. This is markedly different than other times during the month.
The following are the most common symptoms of PMDD:
**Actually, I'm only going to list a few because there are a shit-ton**
Psychological: irritability, nervousness, lack of control, agitation, anger, insomnia, difficulty in concentrating, depression, severe fatigue, anxiety, confusion, crying spells, poor self-image, paranoia and more. There are also others such as gastrointestinal, skin problems, neurological and vascular, fluid retention, respiratory, vision issues, and other complaints.
HOLY SHIT IS RIGHT! I told you, I'm a full-time job. I know what you're thinking; her poor wife. (I do have a sense of humor believe it or not). And if you're one of those people who thinks PMDD just means women become raging bitches, than you're mostly right. If my sister were here defending me she would tell you to "SUCK A D". Then I'd apologize.
It's easier to just tell myself that I'm friends with depression, anxiety, and PMDD. I guess I need to walk alongside them and find a way to cooperate. Maybe I could bribe them. Like a bunch of moms watching a bunch of toddlers bite each other as they steal each other's sippy cups. Another full time job, but a less negative and ridiculously funny way to look at it. In times like these humor can be the best medicine.
Can I put in my 2 weeks now?
Stay tuned next week for that phone call my wife had to make to my psychiatrist.
Meds take several weeks to make their way into your body chemistry. It’s like trying to fit in, in middle school--super weird and scary.
Call 'em shrinks, crazy doctors, whatever. I have never, nor will I ever, regret seeing a mental health professional. In my opinion, it could benefit everyone to talk to someone about your life, someone who doesn't already have a biased opinion of you. They are neutral. They don't pick sides. They listen and simply help you navigate difficult times in your life.
After saying sayonara to the dazed and confused psychotherapist, I needed more help. My depression and anxiety were only getting worse. I needed to find someone else that could provide more than just a question-asking type of counseling. Enter mental health professional #3. (Since 2009 that is.)
That packet from my first ER visit actually came in handy. Sarah helped me research and together we found this dude who has turned out to be a very good match for me. He’s a psychiatrist. He has a degree from Harvard and he is really great at his job. His beliefs in health align with mine and he doesn't push anything on me. He doesn't just prescribe meds. He does a lot more. We work through breathing techniques, meditation (it's not all weird), and other ways to manage panic attacks. Seeing him has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. Marrying Sarah is up there too. ;-)
Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with discussions with patients, help provide a picture of a patient's physical and mental state. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to evaluate medical and psychological data, to make a diagnosis, and to work with patients to develop treatment plans. These treatment plans sometimes include trying certain medications to see if they can help in managing mental disorders.
Yes, I decided to try meds after many discussions with my psychiatrist. At this point in my life I had exhausted every other means. For me, my medication has been a saving grace, in addition to the ongoing support I receive from friends and family.
Meds of these kind take several weeks to make their way into your body chemistry. It’s like fitting in in middle school--super weird and scary. Deciding to see a mental health professional can be scary too. People are judged. That's the truth. I could tell you I hired a personal trainer and you'd probably be like, "Awesome, good for you. Can't wait to see your progress." But I'm willing to bet that not many people react the same way when you tell them you are seeing a psychiatrist. You simply have to do what's best for YOU and let go of any negative opinions people may have. It's not worth your time and energy and certainly doesn't help with anxiety. Toss it aside! Focus on you.
When you find your match, you'll know. It doesn't always happen on the first go. You have to be willing to be open with your psychiatrist. If it's not working, no hard feelings. You move onto another one. Not the most enjoyable thing, but it's VERY important to find someone you feel comfortable with. In my experience, they understand this and will likely help you to find someone else.
I got a two-fer. We spend half the time discussing meds and how I'm feeling and reacting to them, and the other half we talk about life. I started seeing Doc Harvard 1-2 times a week at first. It's a year later and I see him ONCE EVERY THREE MONTHS. This is good. It means that I've learned to manage my depression and anxiety better AND that my medication is working. It means a lot more than that, but you get the point. OH, and I save a lot of money by going less frequently. Ha. I'm not held to once every three months. My psychiatrist gives his personal number, email, and I'm allowed to reach out to him at any time. My wife also has his contact info and is free to use it for emergencies.
She does end up calling him for an emergency...
Hi you. Thanks for being here. Last week we went to the ER together. You already know that I end up back in the ER 11 days later. Before that however, I have more to tell you. If you're just joining me for the first time, I encourage you to start from the very beginning so that you can truly embrace my story.
After that visit to the emergency room I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I've said this before, but I have a hard time remembering all of the details during these distressed moments. Sarah has helped me through everything. I'm just not myself. I fear I may sound "crazy" here, but the super difficult times are like out of body experiences. It's so hard to imagine myself being in them, but then I am. After the fact I just feel so sad and disappointed. How could I be like that?
I finally realized that I needed to put everything else aside and get to a happier place. It's hard to put yourself first. We're all guilty of not doing it. We like helping others and we lose sight of our own needs. It's easy to do. This wasn't just about me though. I wanted to take care of myself so that Sarah and I could healthily navigate this through our marriage. We knew it wasn't going anywhere so our goal was to learn how to manage it together. No more thinking it would pass or that it was only temporary. This was not good and something needed to be done.
And, in order to take care of myself like I needed to, I had to make a very difficult decision. I had to quit my job at NC State, that I had just started in August of 2017. I didn't even make it a full semester there. Talk about feeling like a failure. BUT, I've learned to stop being so hard on myself. I am not a failure. I did what I had to do.
I felt that all of my colleagues at NC State knew something wasn’t right. I interpreted every look and lack of interaction as a sign that they were afraid to get to know me. It’s probably mostly false, but that’s one shitty part of mental illness--it makes you feel as if everything is your fault and you misinterpret a lot! I do not truly know how everyone felt. We barely knew each other. Aside from my interview, which went very well back in May of 2017, only a couple of them saw me teach. I received good feedback. Those that weren’t involved in the interview or my peer review knew very little. There was no time to get to know me or to see the good in me.
I was on a down-spiral at work. I tried so hard to do the job right. My confidence disappeared. I withdrew from social interactions. I couldn’t teach. I wasn’t getting out of bed. I wasn’t responding to student emails. The department chair at the time kept up email communications with me and even sent me student feedback from course evaluations. He was trying to tell me that I was doing a great job. My students said incredible things about me. It just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t function even if I wanted to.
No one ever said anything negative to me at work. I was supported in many ways. For that I thank the department in its entirety. I did try to seek accommodations through the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, but I was denied. They didn’t feel they could accommodate what I was asking for. At that point I had to make a decision. It was a very difficult one, but I said goodbye to NC State. I contemplated the decision constantly. I lost sleep. I cried a lot. I told myself to "Get Over It" and "Suck It Up". There are plenty of people out there who believe that's an effective method in overcoming mental illness. Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn't work.
In the end it was the right thing to do. What kind of wellness professional would I be if I didn’t choose to take care of myself first? I just couldn’t let the students down anymore. They deserved the best and I wasn’t the best at the time.
I knew I’d never get that job back, but I was going to fight to get my life back. If you’re reading this, YOUR HEALTH ALWAYS COMES FIRST. It’s like being on an airplane--you put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
For a while after that I kept reliving the moment I found out I got the job. How the hell did I mess this up? How did I get back to this awful place? How could I put my wife through this?
Things would get worst before they got better...
Last week we were in the shower.
But really, you should go and read last week's post so my opener makes sense. ;-)
That moment in the shower was like standing in mud, not being able move. I felt like I couldn't see anything. No matter where I looked, what direction I turned in, I saw white space. Not walls, just white space that went on for miles. I saw nothing and that nothing was endless.
Welcome to my first emergency room visit.
I don’t know how emergency rooms work. I’m not a specialist on the logistics: who comes first, why is the wait so long, why can’t you get anything for the pain, and the list goes on. I can come up with a few ideas like the lack of ER staff, the severity of an injury, and the amount of people waiting. Having said all that, arriving to the ER in my condition was not given enough attention. It simply was not viewed as an emergency. Only when there is physical, VISIBLE harm, do we get the attention we need. Is there blood? No. Is she breathing? Yes. Then she can wait.
Definition of emergency
1 : an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action
2 : an urgent need for assistance or relief
So then we ask, “Is it life-threatening?” You tell me. What questions do we ask? Are we asking the right ones? My life felt threatened. I was afraid for my life.
When I was admitted to the hospital due to a mental health crisis, it was difficult for me to understand why it took so long for someone to help me. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me or what I was experiencing at that time. Maybe it was because my wife was with me and she seemed to have things under control. It’s hard to feel justified trying to explain it to you because you had to be there. I was crying, uncontrollably. I’m pretty sure I was staring off into some place. I don’t know where. I can’t even remember arriving, talking to any sort of secretary, or even getting into a room. I know I did those things because Sarah was there and we talked about it.
The fact of the matter is, my wife brought me to the hospital because I needed urgent assistance. We were desperate for help. I didn’t know how to help myself and she didn’t know how to help me.
I think that’s one reason why mental illness can be so scary. One day you feel really great, happy, and on top of the world. And the next day you’re in the deepest, darkest hole imaginable. You do not want to wake up and repeat another day like that. That is not normal. Not all people make it to the ER in those situations.
I believe that not all hospital staff are trained to treat mental health crises as actual emergencies. I may be biased, but I’m not alone. Yes, I am fully aware of the wonderful staff out there that recognize and understand a mental health crisis. I will tell you this though. Society has misunderstood mental health for quite some time and that includes hospitals.
After waiting for two hours during this particular ER visit, I was taken to a room where a woman asked me a bunch of questions. I couldn’t even tell you what she said. I mean seriously, I was not in any shape to answer her questions at that moment. My visit resulted in her handing me a packet of information on depression and anxiety. I was sent home. It was like a one-size-fits-all brochure. The lady was probably just doing what she was trained to do, but it wasn’t good enough. I’m not sure what is. I just know there’s a better way. How do you give a brochure to a severely depressed person and expect them to do something with it? Luckily I have Sarah, who assisted me in moving forward.
My poor wife. She felt helpless. I couldn’t console her. We were a hot mess together, but she was determined to help me. She didn’t waste any time. She started doing research on psychotherapists and psychiatrists and psych, psych, psych. I may not have said it then, but Sarah, I love you so much for your strength and determination.
I saw a psychotherapist for a bit, but it wasn’t helping. This lady sat cross-legged in her chair and constantly asked me, “Well, why do you think you feel that way?” I DON’T KNOW LADY THAT’S WHY I’M HERE! I fired her needless to say. Just wasn’t for me. That’s OK. We don’t always find the right shrink on the first go. I’m sure she was a great fit for others.
Between those visits and taking time off of work, things just got worse. I would return to the ER eleven days later. Maybe this time it'll be an actual emergency...???!!!
See you next week. Thanks for being here.
It was so hard to leave South Bend, Indiana. So hard. It was scary. It was scary to just pick up our lives and feel as if we were letting something good get away.
We ended up buying a house in Knightdale, NC. We looked at the house thanks to FaceTime and Sarah’s parents. They were instrumental in this process. When they found the one we wanted we said yes and on went the purchase.
We shuffled around a bit until we could actually move into our house, but we got there. Sarah’s parents looked after the dogs for us, which was a huge blessing. A co-worker of mine at the time from NC State was very generous to us and allowed us to stay with her for a few weeks until we could move into our house. We both were starting new jobs the same week. Everything was falling into place: we had a house and we had jobs.
In the middle of my first semester at NC State I began to curl into a ball. The world around me felt like it was crumbling down on top of me. I had feelings of doubt. I started to feel like I wasn’t capable of doing my job. I couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. WHAT IN THE HELL WAS HAPPENING TO ME?!!!!!!!!!!!
I knew that depression could come back into my life. I just never thought it would come back like it did in 2009. Nor did I think it would bring a friend (anxiety). I try to be positive about things and move forward. You accept the past and move on from it. I've learned now that my mental health is a priority. I mean, it should always be (for everyone I think), but for me it's a different priority. It is a part of me, and my job is to learn how to manage it. That's what I believe at this point in my life.
During the first year in North Carolina, I believe I was frequently misunderstood. Sarah could not fathom why I would ever want to miss work. Here we were starting a new journey and I was screwing it all up. We’ve talked about this in length and part of our understanding of mental illness as a couple has been her realization that she had no clue. She does now and has been the most supportive wife I could ever ask for. And it's not just about me--Sarah has a place in her heart for those who suffer. Mental illness was just a new addition. I love her for taking the time to learn about my mental health and for adapting to my needs. I know it's not easy. I have also tried my best at understanding her feelings and challenges through all of this.
Her parents gave me similar feelings about how they viewed my "situation". I don't necessarily like to speak for others, so I will say that I am not 100% sure this is how they felt, but I am 100% sure of how I felt. I believe that they still are unsure about what to think. And I want to make sure that I make a point of saying that, THAT'S OKAY! It has not been the best of times with them because of misunderstandings. I believe I've been misunderstood and that I've not understood them. Does that make sense? I'm re-reading this and my brain feels wacky. Ha.
I love them of course, with all my heart, but it saddens me that I wasn't able to reach them. I have felt like a complete failure to them. They were so excited when I got the job at NC State. I was even credited for bringing Sarah back home to them. I was happy. Really happy that Sarah would be back in North Carolina and that her family wouldn't be 800 miles away. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to convey to them what I was going through or what depression and anxiety truly feel like. I just know that I don't want others to have that same feeling.
My anxiety only worsened. I drove it into my head that I was worthless. It happened so quickly. I've wanted to be a teacher my entire life, and it took less than a month to make me believe otherwise. Nothing I had accomplished in my life mattered. I didn't care about our house, my job, this place, this state. I just wanted it all to go away. I wished to be back in South Bend. I wish for this, for that...
I was laying in bed for hours, for days. I wasn't sleeping. The scarier part is that it felt like I didn’t even need to--like I was born without a need to sleep. I couldn’t escape feeling that way. I couldn’t force myself to feel better.
Then one day I just broke down. I was in the shower. I remember staring at the wall and crying. Sarah heard me and came to check on me. She asked me if I was okay and I just shook my head and said, “I’m not okay. I’m not okay.” I was repeating myself, crying hysterically, and feeling hopeless. I remember how I felt, not how I was acting. I know that I felt like not breathing. I didn't want to see anything. I didn't want tomorrow to come. I wanted that feeling to go away. At the same time I was so scared of what I thought I might do. I didn't want to leave Sarah. The dogs. My family and friends. In that moment I just struggled with what mattered most. I know what matters most: LIFE MATTERS. But this is what I'm trying to tell you. Depression and Anxiety take over and life doesn't matter sometimes.
Sarah knew, in that moment, that I needed help. Professionally, it was beyond her control, but she did the right thing by taking me to the emergency room.
Back to that “falling into place” feeling. It's awesome! I can honestly say that I've always said everything happens for a reason. Things just fall into place, ya know?! This is one of those times however, where Falling Into Place walked in the door with a mask on. I wouldn't really believe that until later on.
Stay tuned next week for my first emergency room visit in North Carolina.
If you're reading this, THANK YOU for sticking by my side as we jump into a new year!
To make sure we're all on the same page, let me give just a quick review. My last post was actually a contribution from my wife, Sarah. Though this is my story I'm sharing, I'm not the only one involved. I want to reach people who can directly relate, but if my goal is to help rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness, then my job is to include everyone in my story because we each have our own struggle. This is why I asked my wife to write and speak to those of you who may not suffer from a mental illness, but instead, support someone who does. I shared my love story and how much Sarah means to me. She then did the same. We have different ways of expressing that love, especially when it pertains to navigating my mental illness. I hope that you recognize how strong our love is and that you are able to further define what love truly is.
I now continue telling my story. ***If you are just joining me, or if you forget where you are in my story, please take a moment to go back and read a few posts. It makes more sense if your thoughts are organized***
So...on we go...
You already know that I lost my job at the University of Notre Dame once the department was eliminated. It was a strange feeling. I felt like I had no purpose anymore and no clue what the heck I was going to do. My career goals had always been centered around teaching, specifically health & physical education. My position at Notre Dame was very unique in my mind. Not many universities have a physical education requirement for students anymore. On top of that, a Ph.D was not required. My Masters Degree was just right for the job back in 2009 when I got hired. Basically I lost my dream job and thought I'd never find anything like it ever again.
I struggled during my time at Notre Dame--I think we all know that now. My depression got the best of me numerous times, but I had great moments too. I loved teaching! I still do. I had the best students at Notre Dame--kind, compassionate, inspirational, and always willing to go above and beyond. Toward the end of my career there in May of 2015, I obtained a new friend, Anxiety.
Between 2015 and 2017 I did some summer part-time work and then spent six months as a fitness coordinator in a job that I needed financially, but that totally wasn’t for me. I wasn’t for it either. I hated waking up every day going to that job. My anxiety got worse. I started thinking that my degree, my experience, and ultimately my passion for fitness, didn't matter anymore. I wasn't connecting with co-workers. I felt useless. I wasn't enjoying myself. Financially I needed the job, but it could only trump my health for so long.
I was already slowly withdrawing myself from social situations. I was embarrassed that I no longer worked at Notre Dame because I felt like nothing else would compare. I stayed at home a lot in my own little world. I still did things outside of the house, but those fun times became few. I limited my interactions and created my own idea of "getting out of the house".
I wasn’t as depressed as I had been in the past, but it was still there. It came and went. I’ll tell ya though, the anxiety was a new beast. I thought depression was awful. WHY ME? The reality is that you cannot compare the two. Depression can be horrifying, anxiety mild. Anxiety can be horrifying, depression mild. They both can be horrifying, all the time, some times...lots of combinations to choose from. I just wasn't ready to battle both of them.
After almost two years of feeling worthless and being unemployed, I hit the jackpot! At least it felt that way in the moment. In fact, when I got the call from NC State University, Sarah and I jumped for joy in our front yard back in South Bend, IN. Our dear friends saw us from across the street and already knew I had interviewed. They came out to congratulate us. They knew I was looking for another teaching position and the struggle I was having. This also meant we would be packing our things and relocating to North Carolina. It felt great to know I was capable of landing another job in higher education. I was proud of myself and happy that we would be closer to Sarah’s family.
Unfortunately, things didn't pan out like we thought they would.
Stay tuned for next week's post as my anxiety takes over and leaves depression in the dust.
I wish only the best for you in 2019: kindness, compassion, hope, inspiration, confidence, success, and love. Thank you for your support.
I hope you guys don't mind me filling in for Stephanie this week. She’s been working tirelessly for so long that she is well overdue for a break. Plus, this gives me an opportunity to tell a slightly different story. Don’t get me wrong, this one has the same characters, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution, but the point of view and theme are a little different. Be prepared to experience the sappiest and least sarcastic version of me ever recorded.
Since we are going to be spending the about 3-5 minutes together, I thought it would be appropriate to tell you all a little secret about me...I am a true romantic. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. You know in the movies when a group of women are standing together in the office when all of a sudden some random guy walks in and holding a bouquet of flowers and says “Delivery for Miss Smith”, and then the woman reads the cheesiest card ever as all of her friends standing around say, in unison, “aww...he is so romantic”? That is not me and it’s not how I view romance. That’s not even the bullshit version of romance.
Now might also be a good time for me to mention that I view love differently than most. Instead of spending way too long giving a really boring explanation of how everyone else views love, followed by an equally thrilling description of my take on it, it might be better to express the difference in story form.
The current cultural expectation of love is quite easy, predictable, and boring. It goes something like this: Boy meets girl (I told you it was predictable, right?). The second they see each other they fall madly in love (boring), and live happily ever after (easy). There is no effort, no hard times, no moments where you pretend to have an important work meeting just so you can get out of the house for a few extra hours.
The second story is a bit different. Girl meets girl, and like any other casual meeting there are no sparks or little red shaped hearts filling the voids of their minds. In fact, almost 6 months go by before they even see each other again. Another two years will pass before they join forces as roommates in order to stay in this total shithole of a house that is way overpriced but is close to where they work and has a fenced in backyard for their dogs.
It didn’t take long for the attraction to kick in, but once it kicked in they were goners. Head over heels for each other. So they did what every normal couple does-they had a shotgun wedding in Michigan during the 12 hours it was legal before the supreme court told the country that denying same sex couples the right to marry was ridiculous because anyone who has ever been married knows it is always the same sex.
After they get married, they settle down, buy a house, and start a family of the four legged variety of course, because well, bees. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure which animal correlates to which gender in that whole sex talk scenario but it’s not really important. What matters is that they met, fell in love, got married, bought a house, and had a cute but very hairy family. Then one day, one of them comes home from work and finds the other curled into the fetal position on the bed and silently crying. When asked what was wrong she heard, “I don’t know, I just needed to cry”.
Like everyone else who has never experienced the spontaneous need to cry, she slowly walked backwards out of the room. This is where love really comes into the picture. You see before this Me, Myself, and Irene moment, this was pretty close to the fairy-tale ending of happily ever after (with the exception of the one time that one of them said the wrong thing at a dinner party). Most people who believe in the fairy tale version of love would have bolted out of that room faster than you can say divorce. But how meaningful is love if it is always easy? Think about it like this, would you rather have someone bring you store bought cookies or homemade cookies?
Sure, sometimes my wife is like a real life reenactment of every character in Winnie The Pooh. But the moral of this story is that love is hard sometimes, and when it is the hardest is when it is the most important and the most meaningful.
It was on Facebook that I came out to the world. I was "In a Relationship" with a woman. Bam. There it was. My family kind of knew something was up, but not really. They knew I was going on road trips with my roommate and spending a lot of time with her. I even brought her home for the holidays. It's like they knew, but they didn't know. Same with my friends. It's not official until it's official.
Why did I use Facebook instead of calling my family and telling them? I can think of a few reasons, but honestly, it was easier that way. Everyone I knew would see it and I wouldn't have to tell the story over and over again. Done deal. I also knew it could've been an uncomfortable situation. I didn't want to experience that. I didn't want others to fall silent on the phone, or to ask me a bunch of questions. Not that it would've gone that way, but still. And I didn't want to do it in person. Same reasons. After I made my declaration however, it was nothing to worry about. Everyone accepted me and loved me still.
Through all of my battles at Notre Dame, I still came out (no pun intended) with a victory! Love conquers all, it's true. Sarah is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. There is so much I want to tell you about Sarah. She’s my wife in case you didn’t know. We'll start there.
A while back I told you about the deer. That incredible moment I had running down some country roads. It is true that the way I felt in that moment has never repeated itself. It was a one of a kind feeling meant for a one of a kind moment.
Meeting Sarah was different. I found the best of me when Sarah came along. She is the one I will share the rest of my life with. She is a one of a kind gal for a one of kind me.
I’ve learned that choosing love is always right. Being loved by Sarah and loving Sarah has taught me that loving others and yourself is important. It’s something we can all do and that we sometimes don’t do enough of. I repeat, it is something we don’t do enough of.
God, we have been through so much together; the worst of times and the best. We’ve grown as a couple and are still learning to grow as individuals. Growth is constant for us. We make it a priority. We try to be mindful of how we treat each other and the things we say to one another. We make life worth living. We dance in the rain. We beat the storms. You could say the sun is always shining.
The University of Notre Dame was a big part of my life. For her too. We sometimes joke about our experiences leading up to getting our jobs. Two gay women working at a private Catholic institution. C'mon that's kind of funny.
K, so we met in 2011, engaged in 2013. When same-sex marriage was a hot topic we were interviewed on Notre Dame's campus by WSBT news. While we were engaged, same-sex marriage became legal in Michigan in 2014. Our wedding was planned for July 4 of that year in Indiana, where same-sex marriage was NOT legal. So, on March 22, 2014, we drove two hours to Muskegon, Michigan to get married.
Interesting Fact: We were one of 323 gay couples who managed to wed shortly before a Detroit judge issued a stay on gay marriage. Several couples standing right behind us in line were turned away. I wish I could put a stay on mental illness! Can a judge do anything about that?
On July 4th, 2014 we had our planned wedding with our friends and family. We were officially WIFE & WIFE, Mrs. and Mrs. Ryckman. Aaahhhhhhhhh!
When you love someone you would do anything for them. And I'm not talking about help around the house or a foot massage. I'm talking about the things they don't ask you. I’m talking about just knowing when someone you love is struggling. You can see it, you can feel it. And even if you feel hopeless, or frustrated, or you don't understand, you figure it out. Sarah figured it out. You haven't heard the most difficult part of my story yet, but she knew what to do to help me.
Ask her now, she’ll tell you she loves me even more today than ever before. (Tomorrow could be different, KIDDING! :-)
It took a long time before she would understand my mental illness. That’s okay. It happened at the right time. She is now my biggest supporter and for that I am thankful. I love her with all that I am. She is the best of me.
Stay tuned next week as my wife shares her thoughts with you.
So you met my first shrink in my last post. Now you know I’m gay. I know what you’re thinking. She’s depressed AND GAY?!!! Gees.
Relax. Let’s talk about it.
I was never a fan of labels. There’s so much more than what the eye can see. I feel like people are shamed into categories because of labels. They’re like ASSumptions sometimes. We all know what they can make out of you and me.
People can be so quick to judge. I admit, I’m guilty. I’ve labeled people before for foolish reasons. I thought I was justified simply because that’s what I thought. If I was thinking it than it must’ve been true. When that happens, a label becomes what you think you know about someone. It can prevent people from actually seeing the good that exists. You are creating what’s in the box before you even open it. I’ve learned not to turn my thoughts into judgments, but rather curiosity. My mindset now is, “What more can I learn?”
I’ve always been proud of who I am. I've never felt ashamed to tell people I was gay. No one has treated me poorly because of who I love. Sometimes I’m nervous, but mostly because I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. Even then however, it’s much easier for me to say, “Meh, fuck it. They’ll deal with it how they want to.”
When I talk about depression and anxiety it’s different. I don’t always feel proud. I’ve been mistreated because of it: people have assumed the worst in me. I can accept when there’s a misunderstanding. For example, you just don’t know enough about mental illness because it never came into your life, for whatever reason. I get that. But when someone you love is affected by something, let’s say a mental illness, wouldn’t you want to at least try to understand? We don’t need to be professionals. We just need to be compassionate. You may never understand something, but it doesn’t give people the right to decide what kind of person you are. It doesn’t give them the right to label you.
I try to treat others how I want to be treated. I’m human and I know I miss a beat at times, but I practice what I preach. Even when I don’t get it right I try my best to learn from it. While I’m not proud of my mental illness, I’m proud of my courage. I’m proud of what it inspires me to do. I’d like to think those are ingredients to my person. Me.
Whatever you’re made of, I bet you’re wonderful.
See you next week as I introduce you to the love of my life.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.