My Depression: Weary of Winter

Image result for gray cloudy skyDuring this twenty-year journey with clinical depression weather has never been a factor. The onset of my episodes has been in the spring, in the fall, and the latest one during the summer. Although I entered this winter already clinically depressed, I thought things were looking up. I started 2018 with a clean bill of health and my mood was lifting and I was feeling stronger emotionally. At the end of a group session on or about January 4, I told the group therapist that I thought I was in remission.

How wrong I was. My sleep pattern was already messed up and it grew worse during January. Sometimes I was sleepy in the mornings, sometimes I was sleepy in the evenings. My sleep was erratic with one exception – I wasn’t sleeping at night. (I am writing this at 2:27 AM during yet another sleepless night.)

Another sign of continued depression was the feeling of failure. During 2017 I had managed to lose 23 pounds and in two months’ time I gained it all back. My mood had improved, but my eating was still out of control. (I discussed this in my blog post, Depression: Feed It or Starve It.) I also had to stop home schooling our granddaughter. What with my depressed mood it became too much. I felt like I was failing her and my wife, but I had come to the conclusion that it was beyond my emotional ability to cope. Accepting one’s limitations doesn’t come without a price. (Thankfully, she appears to be doing quite well in public school.)

I don’t like talking about having PTSD because I feel like a fraud. Soldiers, first responders, law enforcement, and the like have real reasons to have PTSD. People who have been abducted, physically and sexually abused, stared down the barrel of a gun, or had a knife to their throat have a legitimate reason to have PTSD. I, on the other hand, have experienced none of these. And yet I suffer from violent nightmares, hyper vigilance, exaggerated startle reflex, among other symptoms. For several weeks the nightmares had subsided but came roaring back the other night in quite dramatic fashion. They have continued almost nightly since. How I’ve prayed for my sub-conscious to be at rest from conflict and pain.

January ended with the flu invading our home. First, it was our granddaughter. Then it was our grandson. Our granddaughter had another round. Finally, it was me. I missed five weeks of church taking care of the sick and afflicted, including myself. My mood suffered. My hygiene became haphazard. I isolated and did not talk to anyone for days. My spiritual life was neglected. Feelings of uselessness crept in.

It didn’t help that February was a dark, cloudy, foggy, damp month. According to the National Weather Service we had one clear day during the month here in south-central Texas. Count ‘em . . . one! My mood reflected the weather. Severe depression. No energy. No drive. No life. Guilt for being a burden to my wife. The trees appeared more barren, the clouds grayer, and the grass browner. Everything looked like an old movie – black and white. Totally devoid of color.

This was something new. The weather had never affected my mood before. Seasonal affective disorder was not in my wheel-house of experiences. It was a revelation to me that my mood was so affected by the winter months. I thought I was in remission from my months-long depressive episode, but alas it was merely a string of good days. Darkness crashed upon my parade.

Depression can be so subtle – slowly choking the life out of you. At other times it is like the proverbial Mack truck or GE locomotive that mows you down. I sat in my chair and pulled back the curtains from off the window with hope of seeing something different, but day after day it was dark. And with each murky day I became more and more enveloped in my own kind of darkness. There were days I thought of death although I was not actively suicidal.

I started to feel sorry for myself. Five Sundays and five Wednesdays had passed since I was able to go to church. Did anyone miss me? For six weeks I missed my support group and writers group. Perhaps I overestimated how much I was liked or how well others thought of me. I had to pray, “Save me from feelings of self-importance and do not let my pride cause me to stumble in my spiritual, mental, and physical recovery.”

I am thankful that winter is mostly over, but I must admit it was not totally devoid of light. I managed to turn an old entertainment center into a computer desk and a TV stand. Both pieces look really nice. Over the weekend I worked in the yard and installed a replacement garbage disposal. Insomnia persists, but otherwise the forecast calls for sunny skies with a side of improving moods. All is well.

The LORD be with you.



Letters from Jail #7 Part 2 of 2

letters from jail 6Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through them you may find hope and help from my experience.

Dear ________                                                                                                  Began June 19, 2013

Well, I hit the news again. You may remember I told you A_____ stuck a camera in my face. I guess it’s been released to the media. It shows me chasing them off with a shotgun in my hands. You could probably see it on the internet.

I’m disappointed. It keeps my story alive and makes it less likely they’ll release me sooner. I guess I need to start thinking 360 days instead of 180.

Do you think they included the clips of A_____ laughing at me, taunting me, and mocking me? Did they talk about the Status Quo order being violated? Did they report the fact that the police escorted them off the property two days before? What about my depressed state and being relieved of my churches that morning? What of the lies published on Facebook in an attempt to ruin my reputation?

What I did was wrong, but there were mitigating factors. I wish the whole truth could be told and not just the parts that make me look madly insane. I pled guilty because I couldn’t prove my case, not because I thought I was guilty of everything they said. Lord, I forgive. Help me to forgive.

My brother cleaned out my stuff. He said they didn’t leave me much. If that is true they have taken a lot of my inheritance. I told my brother they can give an account of themselves before God. Lord, I forgive. Help me to forgive.

Neither my brother nor I have heard from A_____.

I may be a very poor man deeply in debt by the time I get out. “If I were a rich man . . .” Limited prospects. I’ll be “living on love, buying on time . . .” (Hey, Fiddler on the Roof and a country song in the same paragraph. How wrong is that?)

Mom started working me in VBS when I was 15. I was only 14 when I started working at Junior Bible Camp. Mom always had me in two VBS’s until I was a teenager – North Anderson and Alexandria, and/or a church on 31st St. that I walked to. VBS is a good program. When I pastored in Lawrenceburg and in Kokomo, we always had real big ones.

The San Antonio Spurs will rebuild. They are a good franchise.

We went to the library last night. I picked up an old classic, A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whiteall Smith, and a western. I don’t know which one to read first.

I talked in my sleep today. My rack mate was so troubled by what I was saying and doing that he got up and stood on the other side of the cell. Lol! I told him I was a harmless man. He said that coming from “Shotgun Shuck” (my new nickname) and a guy who took on two police officers. I had to laugh. How can you argue with wisdom like that? Oh, how I want to be a peaceable man, known for piety, not violence. I figure the bad news throughout the week disturbed my sleep. I need to pray more.

I don’t put a lot of stock in dream analysis, but I have found it helpful at times. Often dreams reveal our unresolved conflicts. I think that is what happened to me.

You spoke of forgiveness. I guess you and I both are having our crisis of forgiveness. I’m struggling with my story being on the news, but I think it’s political – this being a local election year – and the fact that I’m a minister. If I had not been a minister this would be a non-story. I don’t know that there’s anything to forgive here, but I am embarrassed that it is still in the news.

But to take all of my stuff – my inheritance, my gifts, my collections, my non-marital assets. How much do you have to hate a person to want him in jail, no contact for three years, bankrupt him, and take what little he has left? Yes, I’m struggling to forgive.

I desire them no harm. I want them to have what they need. I was willing to be generous. Why, if they profess to be Christian, do they not only wish me ill, but also are actively attempting to bring ill into my life. I’m struggling. Lord, help me.

Did she ever truly love me or was I just a means to an unknown and ill-conceived end? Wow, I can’t feel sorry for myself. Let it go, Jay, release the grudge. God fights our battles. The most important thing is not the accumulation of goods here, but the storing of precious things over there.

Thank you for listening. Why kick a man when he’s already down? Lord, I forgive. Help me to forgive.

Tell me, do you ever get over the sense of betrayal and abandonment? How much time do you spend sitting by the phone expecting an apology? When do they quit inflicting pain?

I guess it’s what I tell my clients – you don’t experience emotional pain over things you don’t care about. When can I stop caring? Do you ever?

I sang in church today. I doubt they hear many classically trained vocalists. “Give Them All to Jesus” seemed appropriate for all of us in jail.

Thank you for Psalm 37. I’ve been reading it daily. It brings peace, comfort, and resolve.

On a lighter note: “A man with a headache does not want to get rid of his head, but it hurts him to keep it.”

Movie quote: “Yesterday was the tomorrow we thought we couldn’t get through today.”



The LORD be with you.

Letters from Jail # 7 part 1 of 2

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through them you may find hope and help from my experience.

Dear ________                                                                                                  Began June 19, 2013

I trust you are doing well, your family is well, and all is well.

Perhaps I misled you about my sleep. In jail you can sleep, watch TV, play cards, visit, read, and write. Several of the guys try to sleep 12 hours daily. I can’t lay on these racks that long. My bones are too old. I generally sleep from 9:00 PM to 3:00 AM and take a nap from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

Yes, I have fallen asleep praying many times. I woke up one time praying for the gas station attendant at the station at the bottom of the hill. Lol! I guess we’re in good company with Peter, James, and John.

Yes, I watched the Spurs’ games with you. I used to watch boxing on Tuesday nights. My kids asked me why. I told them it was because my dad, their grandpa, was watching at that hour, too. It was my way of being with him, although many miles separated us. He loved basketball and boxing. (He used to play semi-pro basketball and was a track star in school. He played against “Jumpin” Johnny Wilson who was on the 1946 state champ Anderson Indians and was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball that year. He played both pro ball and for the Harlem Globe Trotters for a while. He was the coach at Anderson College for years.)

Forgiveness: I find myself replaying past wrongs committed by me or against me. Then I have to pray for forgiveness or to forgive. Forgiveness is, I think, both an act and a process. We forgive and keep forgiving. As often as I think of being wronged I choose to forgive.

In my replays of being wronged I always have a powerful retort and persuasive argument. The person always melts before my superior logic. Then, when I wake up, I have to forgive a new and pray for forgiveness for being so full of myself. Lol!

Bible study was okay last night. Our group went off on several rabbit trails, which, as a leader would have frustrated me to no end, but, as a student I thoroughly enjoyed the detours. What does that say about me? I need to conquer that sense of self-importance. Lol!

I started my anger management class today. It’s going to be a good class. The teacher said he would connect depression and anger, so I hope to learn some things. It’s eight weeks and fulfills my court ordered requirement.

Oh, the chaplain told me that they will review my case in six months as to whether I work or not. What that tells me is they want me to serve a minimum of nine months. If I don’t get probation before, February will be my earliest out date.

Hey, that’s neat that your granddaughter and her “pops” shared a TV show. It was special when my granddaughter and I would sit down and watch Pawn Stars and Law and Order together. I miss her and her brothers.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I must let my children and grandchildren return to me. I may lose any opportunity to have a place in their lives if I call them before they are ready. My arms are open wide; I will never turn them away.

The Smoky Mountains have been our go-to place for most of our vacations, but then they were closer than the ocean from Indiana than from where you live. Dad tried to take us on one long and one short vacation a year. I traveled for two years in college and five years as a representative at the college where I taught. I tried to take a special vacation every five years with my family. Money was in short supply for more than that. We camped often. I went to Mexico in 1976.

Grieving is messy. Sometimes you go through all five stages in a single day. What is the source of your sadness? Cause? Sometimes you may need to embrace the sadness and resolve the cause, if possible. Finding the source of your pain often defines what causes the sadness. Is it loss? Fear? Loneliness? Anxiety?

Friends are special. Get into trouble and you soon find out who is an acquaintance and who is a friend.

My anger management homework was revealing. It is interesting to see yourself and your beliefs exposed in such a way. According to the author my views of anger are wrong. Me wrong? Go figure.

(To be continued . . .)


I Miss the Sun

Please forgive me for not publishing today. The weather here in south-central Texas has been particularly gloomy this winter. It has been cold, wet, and cloudy. In the twenty years I’ve battled depression, the weather has never been a factor. But, this year, with each passing day without sunshine my mood has grown darker. Add to that a bout with the flu and I feel spent and wasted. This must be what it’s like to have seasonal affective disorder. I miss the sun.

The LORD be with you.



I Am Depression

Image result for depressionI am depression. I am black and white in a colored world. Grey clouds on a sunny day. Brown grass after a spring rain. A barren tree at the height of summer. Shadows at noon.

I am depression. I laugh with others, but cry alone. Smile when deeply sad. Appear full when truly empty. Believing when doubting. Optimistic when pessimistic. Hopeful when hopeless. Loving life when despairing. Behind my pleasant mask is bottomless darkness. Unexplainable misery. Persistent unhappiness.

I am depression. I am the wrong side of the bed. The short fuse. The last nerve. The final straw. About to be pushed over the edge.

I am depression. I am the whole punched in the wall. The dent in the door. The tire rubber left on the cement driveway. The whimper from the dog. The cowering child.

I am depression. I am the missed Super Bowl or seventh game of the World Series. Cob webs on the golf clubs. An untouched camera. A grounded drone.

I am depression. I am a daughter’s missed pinning. A son’s missed basketball game. A spouse’s missed community production.

I am depression. I am uncombed hair. Unshaved face. Unbrushed teeth. Wrinkled clothes.

I am depression. I am the lonely chair in a dark room. The closed door. The “do not disturb” demeanor. The affectionless bedroom.

I am depression. I am the extra bowl of ice cream. Tight fitting pants. Grazing. Craving. Insatiable appetite.

I am depression. I am spoiled milk. Moldy bread. An untouched meal. Dysfunctional taste buds.

I am depression. I am the movies watched through the night. Tossing and turning. Twisted blankets. Untucked sheets.

I am depression. I am the missing Wednesday between Tuesday and Thursday. The endless nap. The 18-hour sleep.

I am depression. I am the shortened shopping trip. Half-mowed lawn. The rest required before completely dressed.

I am depression. I am the leg that endlessly jumps up and down. Drumming fingers. Wringing hands. Pacing feet. Exaggerated startle reflex. Trading chairs.

I am depression. I am the unexplained back pain. Relentless headache. Upset stomach. Cramping colon.

I am depression. I am the “what ifs” and “if onlys” that crowd your thoughts. The “should haves” and the “ought to haves.” The bowed head and slumping shoulders. Evasive eyes. Dreadful memories. Exaggerated faults. Unforgiveable mistakes.

I am depression. I am the third reading of the same page. Unheard radio. Unwatched TV. Unfinished puzzle. The long pause between sentences. Unanswered question. The unmade decision.

I am depression. I am the missed meeting. Unfinished assignment. Incomplete project. Late paper. First warning. Pink slip.

I am depression. I am the second glass of wine. Third bottle of beer. Extra pain pill. The anxiety med taken before time. The chased loss. Fast curve. Equipmentless climb.

I am depression. I am the thoughts that envy the dead. The settling of accounts. The saying of goodbyes.

I am depression. I am both young and old. Rich and poor. Educated and uneducated. Male and female. I am every race, color, religion, national origin, ethnic group, and sexual orientation.

I am depression. I make survivors strong. Sufferers compassionate. Wounded healers. Victims advocates.


The LORD be with you.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline   1-800-273-8255

For information about depression see:

NIMH » Depression

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness



Image result for letters from jailSuffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that you may find hope and help from my experience.


Dear __________,                                                                                          Began June 17, 2013


A month of days have passed since I came to jail to stay. It has been an eventful month.

I moved cells twice today. The first cell was a holding cell. I expected to be there two or three days, but they moved us again in three hours. There were a lot of young pups in that cell that made a lot of noise. Another man had schizophrenia and was talking to the TV. One of the guys came to get me to see what I could do. At one point 18 guys were in an eight by ten room. The man with schizophrenia was pretty delusional. I started doing deep breathing exercises with him to help keep him in reality. I felt useful.

I’m in a much quieter cell now. It’s a ten-man cell. One of the guys (A_____) from my old cell is with me. It makes the transition easier. A_____ is a nice guy. Quiet. Thoughtful. He reads his leather-bound Bible and prays over his meals. He has a wife and two children, a girl and a boy. He has an addiction issue that has him in and out of jail often.

I’m watching the NBA finals. Since the Indiana Pacers got knocked out . . . Go Spurs! Old ABA (American Basketball Association) fans have to stick together. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I do like to watch the baseball, football, and basketball playoffs. I like the Olympics, too. I follow NASCAR as well. I watch the start of the race, take a nap in the middle, and wake up for the end.

Sin sure causes messes, doesn’t it? Many of the children I worked with hardly knew where they belonged or had any family identity. Rearing children that are not your own is a difficult job. But, be assured that the Father of the fatherless blesses and sustains you.

On the eighth of each month (The recipient of my letters spouse died on that day of the month.), I try to lift you even more before God. That day may always bring pain to your heart and a tear to your eye. I’m sure it was special that S_____ spent the evening with you and C_____. Shared memories are always good to sooth one’s soul. I’m sure you were a comfort to her as well.

Sometimes I feel near God, sometimes distant. There are times that I think I have messed things up to the point of being irredeemable. Silly, isn’t it? How can God make something good out of such an ugly situation? See what I mean? I’m okay. I’m not okay. Normal, I guess.

Re: self-reproaches. You would think with all my education, experience, successes, and accolades I could overcome my insecurities, but I never feel good enough. I know it’s my background, but grace overcomes. You have exposed one of my greatest weaknesses. Having “grace” as a “hobby” tells a lot about my struggles. Shoo! This is painful. One of my pastors called me a “frustrated perfectionist.” Another of my counselors said I was a slow learner. Acceptance eludes me sometimes. Being a foster care therapist was beneficial. You went into every session knowing you had a hostile audience. Overcoming reluctance was a major task. I succeeded more times than not. You have to be secure in who you are to overcome that hatred and vitriol.

I’ve been thinking about what to do when I get out. I can pastor. I can teach college. I could counsel in jail, prison, or in a substance abuse program. People tell me I have a good voice for radio. Maybe I could read advertisements, read books on tape, or be a DJ (I did that for about six months in 1992).

I just read Psalm 37 on Monday. I reread it today. Okay! I get it! “Fret not!”

I must confess that I struggle with contentment, too. It really hurt me to leave K_____. The people were responding to my ministry. But after a year of pain and six months of deep depression, I put the church’s needs before my own desires. (The depression lasted four-and-a-half years. I’m still learning how to manage it.)

I keep my goatee short. I only shave twice a week, though. That’s how often we get the clippers in jail. I can’t stand electric razors. They don’t shave close and they burn my neck. (A pain in the neck . . . hey!) Give me a safety razor every day. So . . . I’m thinking about not shaving until I get out of here. (Can anyone say Duck Dynasty?)

Question? How do you determine God’s will? I confess that I’m frightened by people who profess to always know God’s will and are so sure of it. I’m sure of what the Bible says, but when it comes to details I struggle. I’ve come to the conclusion that God expects us to use good common sense to fill in the details. We must not rely on special revelation for everything. Reason and experience must be considered. I worked with a young man facing prison time. Another man told him God was going to deliver him. God didn’t. Misrepresenting God is pretty serious, I think. One thing I know, I don’t want to be so vested in my will that I ignore His will.

Something I read in my devotions today I wanted to share. “We may face sorrow, pain, and hardship; but we don’t have to sink into self-pity. The same God who allows our suffering also showers us with His compassion.” “With God . . . we can ‘play’ in pain.” Lamentation 3:31-33 reads, 31 “For the Lord will not abandon him forever. 32 Although God gives him grief, yet He will show compassion too, according to the greatness of His loving-kindness. 33 For He does not enjoy afflicting men and causing sorrow.” (The Living Bible)

I hope you continue to find my letters uplifting.





Image result for 13 childrenI was reading with dismay an article in the Los Angeles Times updating the frightful and horrific treatment 13 children received at the hands of their biological parents. Then it happened. In the last paragraph Riverside County Sheriff’s Captain, Greg Fellows, is quoted as saying the parents presented “no indication of mental illness at this time.”

“YOU DIDN’T REALLY JUST SAY THAT,” I screamed silently. The same old prejudice that arises every time there is an inexpressible crime against humanity – “The mentally ill did it.”

I thought of some of the other unfounded and, frankly, ignorant and stupid prejudices I have heard in my life time.

“All Pentecostal men beat their wives.” Apparently, the couple who perpetuated this absurdity witnessed a Pentecostal preacher beating his wife. Therefore, they extrapolated, “All Pentecostal men beat their wives.” “YOU DIDN’T REALLY JUST SAY THAT.” This kind of logic is what I have come to call the “If one person does it they all do it” rule. I’m very thankful our criminal justice system doesn’t follow this standard.

“Black men rape white women.” On the small campus where I attended college news spread quickly among the 300 or so students that one of the girls was allegedly raped. (I say allegedly because it turned out to be untrue. The next day it was discovered the girl faked the rape in an effort to get the college to forgive her considerable debt.) As the campus waited for news of her condition, I joined some guys sitting cross-legged in the hallway of the men’s dorm. Then one of them just had to go there. He said, “All the black men in this city should be shot.” “YOU DIDN’T REALLY JUST SAY THAT.” There it was. That asinine and ugly prejudice. I stood up angrily, rebuked him soundly, and walked away disgustedly.

“All Hispanic/Latino fathers break in their daughters before they’re married.” I couldn’t believe my ears. And it came out of the mouth of a Christian woman who should’ve known better. “YOU DIDN’T REALLY JUST SAY THAT.” This ludicrous and slanderous accusation against a culturally rich and hard-working community. I live in a majority Hispanic/Latino neighborhood and am very grateful I do. We have great neighbors.

“Appalachian people are products of incest.” My jaw dropped and I immediately replied, “That’s a myth.” I was talking to the director of an assisted living home about one of my clients who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was from Appalachia. And, of course, we know that people living in Appalachia go to family reunions looking for a date. “YOU DIDN’T REALLY JUST SAY THAT.” My client turned out not to have schizophrenia but a traumatic brain injury from being put through a windshield during an automobile accident. Unfortunately, the good people of Appalachia have been the subject of more than their share of prejudices.

I found a few other excuses Capt. Fellows could have used to explain the behavior of these disgusting parents.

“There is no indication that their fathers had tuberculosis at this time.” According to a study released in 1924 of the inmates of San Quintin, there was a correlation between fathers who had tuberculosis and their sons who committed crimes. (L. L. Stanley, Disease and Crime, 14 J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 103 (May 1923 to February 1924))

“There is no indication of a sexually transmitted disease at this time.” In the same study it was found that 66% of the inmates had a STD.

“There is no indication that the hot weather played a role at this time.” There is multiple statistical data that demonstrates crime increases as the weather gets warmer. Because this couple lived in the warmer states of Texas and California, it could have been the weather.

“There is no indication that alcohol or drugs were involved at this time.” This one may have actually sounded intelligent.

“There is no indication that they had an infection at this time,” or “There is no indication that they had the flu at this time.” These illnesses were discussed in relation to criminal activity in a book by Robert Peckham (ed.), entitled Disease and Crime: A History of Social Pathologies and the New Politics of Health, New York; London: Routledge, 2013.

Write Captain Gregory Fellows at 137 N. Perris Blvd. Suite A Perris, CA 92570 and tell him that people with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator. Let him know that people with a mental illness commit no greater number of crimes than the average population and in fact there are indications that they commit less crime.

Also send an email to the LA Times writers who published such dribble. The article is titled, “Horrific details emerge as parents accused of holding 13 kids captive are charged with torture.” The writers are (State Bureaus and Immigration desk), (Education staff writer), and (City Desk, Mornings) (Note: The article has since been updated and the quote deleted.)


The LORD be with you.



I LOVE TO LAUGH (Humor and Depression)

I love to laugh. The big belly laugh that brings tears to your eyes, makes you hold your sides, and causes you to hide your face in your hands. The kind where your body shakes, your should269054_248420058503284_485974_n (2)ers heave up and down, and you bend at the waist and knees.

I love to laugh. The lengthy tickle that sticks with you and keeps coming back up over the course of minutes, hours, and days. The one that comes with odd looks and embarrassing moments for its untimely eruption. The kind for which your peers and co-workers require an explanation, but you cannot give for laughing.

I love to laugh. The well-crafted humor that takes thought, planning, timing, art. Don’t expect me to like the cheap laugh that appeals to elementary school boys by referencing body sounds and bathroom functions. Or the uncomfortable laugh that accompanies foul language and crude talk. Especially distasteful is the guilty laugh that preys on the weak, the imperfect, the vulnerable, and the different.

I love to laugh. My tastes include slap-stick, farcical, hyperbole, irony, and highbrow. I have a dry sense of humor and after living with depression for nearly twenty years, it tends to be dark. My loved-ones know that if I stop laughing or making attempts at humor, I am very seriously ill.

Do you find it odd that a person with depression loves to laugh? People with depression are supposed to be miserable, sad, humorless; right? They’re not supposed to laugh, or smile, or experience happiness; are they? Come on! We who fight depression have not exited the human race, yet. Yes, we still laugh.

In fact, a Dr. Rita Labeaune, Psy.D., recognizes a condition she calls, “smiling depression.” She defines it as “appearing happy to others, literally smiling, while internally suffering with depressive symptoms.”

I don’t know what to think about that, but I do laugh. However, my laughter may be at different times, at different levels, and for different reasons than yours.

I may laugh to fit in. The sadness in my soul and the pain in my heart may be hidden behind a public mask of humor. Think of the sad clown or the depressed comedian. Although there are no definitive studies to support a connection between stand-up comedians and depression many, like Sarah Silverman and the late Robin Williams, publicly share their mental health struggles.

Laughter may be my way to cope. “Laugh or cry, you have to laugh or cry,” is a phrase that I use frequently. What am I to do when my thoughts are dark? My mind is in a thick fog? Gloomy shadows surround? Or my spirit is haunted and tormented? Cry? Crying is surrender. Why not laugh? Laughter is my rebel yell, bugle blast, or siren’s call announcing that I am not dead, yet.

Embracing humor is my way of reinforcing life. Someone said, “Depression is a war within your own mind and it feels as though you are constantly losing.” At times I am among the walking wounded – pierced, beaten, bleeding, bruised – a casualty of my conflict with depression. Laughter lives. Life may exist without laughter, but laughter cannot exist without life. “Help me Clarence, I want to live again.” (George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life)

To my chagrin, I have fewer belly laughs and lingering tickles than I had in my youth. Maybe it is maturity. Perhaps the simple and naïve pleasures of the yesteryears have dissipated with knowledge. Possibly the experience and observation of pain and loss, misery and poverty, cruelty and injustice has dulled my funny bone. But, I reject the notion that I must never, will never feel bliss again.

Martha W. relates, “I have often been accused of having ‘no sense of humor.’ So wrong. Before depression took over my life I smiled and laughed as much as the next person. Now, having lived with depression for over 15 years, the humor I find in a joke or situation is rarely visible on my face or heard in my laugh. I feel humor, but it’s just too much effort to express it. I don’t have the energy.”

With all due respect for Martha’s difficult experience, I choose to find the strength and expend the energy to laugh out-loud. Forgive me if your joke or story only evokes a smile from me instead of the hearty laugh you think it deserves, but laugh with you I will.

I will laugh in 2018. I will laugh openly, unapologetically, with gusto and delight. And, I hope to have at least one belly laugh and one lingering tickle this year. Please join me. Ha! Ha! Ha! He! He! He! Ho! Ho! Ho!

The LORD be with you.



DEPRESSION: Feed it or Starve it?

Image result for emotional eatingThe old adage goes, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” I don’t know if food has anything to do with colds or fevers, but it is such an important ingredient in diagnosing major depression that it’s classified as a symptom. My interest? Last month (November 2017) I gained 15 lbs., but more about that in a moment.

I started pastoring my first full-time church at 20 years of age. Yes, I was young, inexperienced, idealistic, unqualified; a babe in grown-up clothes. My weight was 165 lbs., two years later it was 212 headed toward 230. You see, I’m a stress eater and that first church needed a far more mature and experienced person than I.

There were several stressors. I was a full-time student trying to finish college. The church was a full-time charge with heavy expectations. It had a reputation of disgruntlement, but I was naïve and thought I would be different. I wasn’t. My idealism was shattered, a world-rocking stressor for me. The church more than doubled in two years. That’s a good kind of stressor, but it is stress none the less.

After a round with stomach ulcers and with my blood pressure rising, my doctor sat me down for a talk. She said that if I didn’t get control of my eating habits, my health could be negatively affected. I made eye contact with her and shot back a reply, “Food is the only thing I have in my life right now that doesn’t talk back.” And thus, I fixed my course for obesity over the next 31 years.

However, weight gain or loss alone is not enough to suggest depression. Although my weight gain was significant in those early years and eventually topped out at 280 lbs. three decades later, it lacked rapidity. To be considered as one of the nine symptoms of major depression, weight is limited in both time and amount.  It must be both rapid – within a single month – and significant – plus or minus five percent of your body weight – without conscious effort. During my six episodes of depression since 1999, weight was a factor twice. In the spring of 2014 I lost 20 lbs. in a single month – eight percent of my body weight, and last month I gained approximately eight percent.

Since late August, I have been in a mild clinical state of depression. In November, I dropped to a moderate state and I fed it like a growling grizzly. I raided the children’s left-over Halloween candy. Ate two bowls of ice-cream a day. Lunch consisted of cookies, candy, or any other sweets I could find. Thanksgiving was indulgent. My appetite was insatiable. I hated myself for doing it, but regardless of the every-morning-promises I made to myself; I couldn’t stop. It was a primeval scream for gratification; an urge, a drive, a hunger that had to be satisfied. For 2017 I vowed to lose 20 lbs. Before November I had lost 23. If I hadn’t already been depressed, that alone was enough.

Mood and food have long been related, but more research has gone into what moods we feed and what ones we starve. “Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating” or cooking, or lacking the energy to prepare meals, says Dr. Gary Kennedy, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Major Depression Resource Center)

Sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and other negative emotions appear to be connected with eating. “Depression can also result in emotional eating, a common event in which the need to eat is not associated with physical hunger,” notes Debra J. Johnston, RD, of Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. Some may eat to avoid feeling or thinking. (ibid.) (Depression’s Effect on Your Appetite by Chris Iliades, MD)

Anger, frustration, and excessive and prolonged stress are also associated with eating. (Ibid.) Here, I must plead guilty. Generally, I can handle a single stream of stress, but multiple streams tend to bring me down rapidly. August, September, and October saw a convergence of stressors until it became an overwhelming torrent. An education problem, a family relationship issue, and six medical matters of which half pointed toward cancer was more than I could bear. Although, the medical issues were less problematic by November – after informative or negative results from tests and retests, a surgery, and a new medication – it was too little too late to make a difference. My stress had to be fed.

I just love the way the literature addresses this subject. Make wise nutritional choices, it says. I’ve reached two conclusions about the depression advice givers: First, I think their intended audience is people who have symptoms of depression but do not meet yet the clinical definition of a major depressive disorder and/or those who have met the very minimum of requirements. Please don’t misunderstand my words as discounting or belittling the seriousness of depression at any stage, but at this point rational thought and wise decisions are easier to come by.

My second conclusion: the writings are not for people with severe depression. I’m not whining or looking for a “poor Jay, he’s had it so rough.” Save your sympathy. I’m observing a deficiency in the literature that lacks the ring of truth or practicality for a woman who can’t get out of bed, regardless of her best effort. The man who every day exhausts the resources he has in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Stop asking people to make rational and wise decisions when the biggest choice of the day, the only important choice, is to live or die.

So, I gained 15 lbs. in November. I feel terrible and don’t like myself much right now. But, by the grace of God I will overcome.

By the way, I’ve lost six lbs. so far in December.

The LORD be with you.




My Sometimes Visitor: Catalepsy

Related imageIt was a Sunday afternoon and the third day of my first psychiatric hospitalization. I woke up from a nap feeling unusual – the kind of unusual you get help for quickly. It was a heaviness that seemed to engulf my torso and limbs, a restraint without visible binders. I got up and made my way down the long hall toward the nurse’s station. My room was the last on the unit. It felt like a short walk up a steep hill. By the time I arrived I was laboring for each step. One of the attendants noticed my strain and asked what was wrong. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” was all I managed to fearfully say. At that point I went rigid and mute.

It was my first experience with catalepsy – a paralysis like state in which one’s posture remains in the same position – and mutism – an inability to speak. Both are among the 12 symptoms of catatonia – a state of being involuntarily immobile or having abnormal movement. In either case you are unable to respond to your environment. Your motor activity is markedly decreased or meaningless. “Catatonia is typically diagnosed in an inpatient setting and occurs in up to 35% of individuals with schizophrenia,” (DSM5) but it presents most often with a mood disorder. Mine occurred in the context of my severe depression.

When this occurred, I was completely aware of my surroundings and heard everything that was being said, I simply could not interact with or respond to my would-be helpers. They managed to put me in a wheelchair, take me back to my room, and sit me on the side of the bed. Not long after the on-duty psychiatrist came in with a neurologist in tow.

It was perfectly logical for him to do so. Before diagnosing a person with a mental illness, other options have to be ruled out. Catatonia can have neurological causes. He asked me to explain to her what was going on. I wanted to answer. I tried to answer. I formulated a response. The words were on the tip of my tongue. But, nothing came out. We sat there for a few minutes in a staring contest before he rose with a snotty remark, “Well, when you get ready to talk, come find us.” I got mad. I wanted to talk, tried to talk, but nothing came out. I later told him he was rude and needed to learn better bedside manners.

Catalepsy and the other symptoms of catatonia are easily missed. I suppose a psychiatrist or a counselor could work through an entire career without seeing or recognizing a case. With catatonia some people can move while others can’t. Some can be posed into gravity defying positions while others resist such posturing. Some can speak while others are mute. Some can be unresponsive while others are agitated.  Immobility may be severe, moderate, or mild.

When I was young, our family enjoyed putting puzzles together. It would be laid out on the dinning room table and you could place a piece or two as you passed by. There was a competition to see who would put in the last piece. I wanted to be the winner, so I would tilt the contest to my advantage. I hid a piece and waited while others searched before miraculously “finding” that last one that made the picture complete. The same could be said about the difficulty of diagnosing catatonia or its separate components. There’s always a hidden piece.

Perhaps it was wrong of me to expect the psychiatrist and neurologist to recognize it. But, this was a teaching hospital. The biggest and best hospital in the state, attached to the biggest and best university in the state. I depended on them to tell me what was wrong with me, but they missed it.

A couple of days later it happened again. It was about 2:00 AM and I was answering a call of nature. As I walked toward the restroom my legs quit working in mid-stride. There I was cemented to the floor, unable to move. My upper torso was moveable, my arms were moveable, and I quickly proved that my vocal cords were usable as I cried out, “Help!” Again, the night staff helped me first to the restroom and then on to bed.

A short time later another doctor came into the room. It was not to be a repeat session with a neurologist, but a visit with an orthopedist. (I told you it was hard to diagnose.) As he began to move my legs about, bending my knees, moving my ankles and toes, I said, “Doc, I don’t think the problem is in my legs. I think it is in my head.” And, once again, they missed it.

It wasn’t until I came home, dived into my DSM4 and my copy of Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, 11th Edition, consulted reputable sources on the internet, like Mayo Clinic, and talked with other professionals that the light shone forth. Since then, I’ve never had another episode of mutism. However, there have been several recurrences of catalepsy.

It’s a problematic diagnosis. Treatment from hospital staff and other caregivers can range from the harsh to the cruel. I’ve been slapped, pushed, berated, misunderstood, and treated rudely. Others have had it far worse by being posed, humiliated, and other such degradations.

Until this past November (2017) it had been nearly five years since an instance of catalepsy. During the month I had two episodes that lasted up to 18 hours. It’s not as scary as it used to be. I now know what’s happening and am familiar with the routine. By God’s providential grace, none have lasted more than several hours and never more than a day. When it comes, I’ve learned to accept it as my mind’s way of coping with stress and depression when my otherwise conscious efforts have failed. I wouldn’t call it a friend. It’s more like an occasional acquaintance that shows up for coffee now and then.

Hakuna matata!

The LORD be with you.