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.

 

 

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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.

Letters from Jail #5 Part 1 of 3

The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. Normally, I edit and arrange the material for readability, but this month I offer it to you in chronological order with little editing.

My purpose for these excerpts is to: first recognize the grace of God under very different circumstances, open a window into my thoughts and struggles that may relate to yours, and hope that you may be moved to empathize for the jailed and mentally ill.

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June 13, 2013

I didn’t get back to the cell until late, therefore I didn’t write as much today.

Thank you for your prayers. I’ve learned that prayer is more than a session at morning and night, although that is important. Prayer is a relationship with the Heavenly Father all day long. There was a statement I read today that I liked, “Prayer is not a pious decoration of life, but the breath of human existence.” It lifts my spirit to know that others are praying for me.

Last night I talked to the chaplain about not getting to work. (For every day you work, you get a day off your sentence.) He said he would speak on my behalf. But, I’m content whatever the outcome. My brother told me it was the nature of my offense. (During a dissociative episode, I attacked two police officers.) He called the jail on my behalf, too. It’s in God’s hands.

Thank you for praying that this may be a time of healing and rest for me. It is peaceful except for the constant noise of the T.V., but rest comes easily. As for my healing – well? The battle between forgiveness and bitterness remains won as long as I don’t dwell on the offense or create alternative scenarios in my mind. The “old timers” used to talk about putting things on the altar and leaving them there. I find my hurts want to crawl off and I have to put them back on the altar. The more attentive I am to my sacrifice the quicker it is consumed by His holy flames.

Healing for some areas continues to elude me. I seek healing for the things that contribute to my depression. Sometimes I wonder if I should not embrace it. The Apostle Paul had his thorn that was at once his greatest weakness and his most glorious strength. I find depression is that for me. But, somehow there has to be a way to control the deeper and darker moments. (See II Corinthians 12:7-10.)

Healing of conscience is also an area in which I struggle. Often, I replay past sins and failures hoping for a different outcome. Then, when I realize that, in spite of my best efforts, it ends the same, I question my standing with God. However, I would rather be too conscientious than hardened to my deeds and my human condition.

Sincerely,

Jay

May the LORD be with you. 

*Because of the length of this letter, I have divided it into three posts. Monday November 27, 2017, Wednesday November 29, 2017 and Friday December 2, 2017. Thank you for reading.

Stages of Depression

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There are no recognized “stages of depression.” But as I reflect upon my life with depression, I think it falls into a predictable pattern. The following is my effort to categorize that pattern.

 

 

I. Pre-depression

There is no real agreement as to what causes depression. There are, however, three categories that most can agree upon.

A. Genetics

This is a predisposition to depression that results from a family history of the disease. It is much like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes that also run in families.

B. Biochemical

Postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, substance abuse, brain injuries, serious illnesses, and certain medications that can alter the chemistry of the brain fall under this heading.

C. Situational

This depends on happenings. Abuse, social isolation, conflict, death, loss, trauma, medical problems, and other such stressful life events are included.

Although sudden onset can occur with any number of the above; there are several where a “gestation” period is evident. During this state of incubation telltale signs appear.

My own story reveals numerous days of sadness and feelings of failure. Internal conflict and the quest for perfection. A sense of worthlessness. During college, missing classes and work became far too frequent. Days were lost to hypersomnia. Although I rarely missed more than two or three days at a time, it was frequent enough to portend things to come. This pattern repeated itself for 25 years before the onset of my first clinical episode.

II. Onset

The onset of depression begins with:

A. An escalation of symptoms

For me, the feelings of inadequateness and the weight of stress squeezed tightly. My tendency toward hypersomnia worsened. I isolated. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

B. Clinical depression

Still unaware of my condition, I visited my family doctor for cluster headaches. Then it was for chest tightening and a vague feeling of things not being right. Tests on my gallbladder, stomach, blood, etc. resulted in negative results. Everything appeared normal, but inside I screamed, “Abnormal!” The doctor gave me a diagnosis of last resort, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS was what I had, therefore IBS was what I fought. I got worse. Life was severely disrupted. Suicidal ideations came on strongly. I would never be able to function at full capacity again.

C. Medical Intervention

After a year, I was referred to a specialist who successfully treated the IBS. The real enemy, however, surfaced. I awakened to the fact that I was depressed. Although not trained in mental health at that time, it became crystal clear. I tried one pill after another through the years; the right combination eluded the doctor and me.

I failed to learn that my family doctor was not equipped to help me with my depression. I stayed with him/her for the next 13 years. Occasionally, I saw a psychiatrist, but I always returned to my family practitioner. It took five major episodes and 14 years before I started using a psychiatrist exclusively.

D. Attempts at self-healing

One counselor told me I was a slow learner. He was right. I thought depression was a weakness that could be overcome with strength. A spiritual issue needing prayer. An environmental problem that required a geographical relocation. A marital matter that counseling and reconciliation could cure. Exercise. Diet. Education. I fought to free myself from the morass that held me. Sometimes I got better; other times I got worse, but I never won.

E. Despair

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” became the cry of my heart. Suicide was a great temptation that my faith prevented. I prayed to die. The thread that held me to this world was thin as silk and frayed like a heavily used rope. Only by the grace of God am I alive today.

F. Surrender to Assistance

At last I surrendered. After five severe depressive episodes and four hospitalizations, I asked for help.

III. Seek professional mental health experts and programs

At last I found a psychiatrist who specialized in mental health, stayed current with new medications and changes in the field, and was willing to experiment until he found a formula that worked. Before, I wouldn’t stay with a counselor. This time I determined to find a professional mental health counselor who would listen well, challenge my “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and with whom I felt comfortable. I welcomed the peer support, too.

A. Participation in healing

Ready to be guided and become a full participant in my stability, I built a support team around me that included the above and some key individuals from my family and church. I’ve worked this plan for three years six months successfully.

B. Full or Partial remission

Fifty percent of people with depression will recover fully and never have another episode. That leaves the other 50% of us who will have a second, fourth, or sixth. Some will achieve full remission between episodes. Others of us learn to live with partial remission.

C. Recurrence

Estimates are that a person with a severe recurrent major depressive disorder can expect two to nine episodes during their lifetime. With each recurrence comes more awareness of the signs and symptoms. After 19 years, I know when I’m slipping and when to cry for help.

D. Resistance to permanent condition

This may not be your experience, but I became aware that I repeated most of the steps with each new episode. It was a failure on my part to realize and accept that depression was going to be a part of the remainder of my life. Four times I started with onset and went through each step ending at resistance. With my fifth episode I jumped directly to stage III.

IV. Acceptance

I am convinced that we that have recurring depression must come to a place of acceptance. The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches radical acceptance. The closing prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is, “God grant us the serenity to accept . . . .” Acceptance is not resignation. Rather, it is the peace that comes with the end of resistance and the knowledge and wisdom we gain from being a willing participant during the journey.

Gratefulness follows acceptance. No, I am not grateful “for” depression. I am, however, thankful for the things I have learned, the compassion I have gained, and the opportunities I have received to tell my story.

V. Giving to others

An edited 12th step reads, “Having had an awakening, we try to carry a message of hope to others and practice the life lessons we have learned.” That is my prayer.

The LORD be with you.

Disposable People

Image result for person in a dumpsterWe Americans live in a disposable society. Landfills, salvage yards, and recycling plants are evidence of that. Every era has had its disposables, among them were and are disposable people. Every culture from the beginning of humankind has killed, suppressed, ostracized, hidden, ignored, and/or marginalized people that did not meet their standards of “normal.” And no matter how enlightened we think we are in the twenty-first century, we are guilty, too.

Today, in the United States of America, people who are poor are pushed to inferior housing in crime ridden neighborhoods where there is little prospect of making things better for themselves. People released from prison or jail are legally discriminated against for housing and jobs. People who don’t meet society’s standards of beauty are ruthlessly tormented, intimidated, and maligned. In 2006, Lizzie Velasquez was voted the “Ugliest Woman in the World” at the age of 17. It nearly destroyed her life. She said she felt like “dirt.” The so-called ugly, scarred, and physically misshapen are often denied employment, relegated to menial jobs, or hidden in some back room somewhere away from the public eye. My list of society’s disposable people could go on and on, but I want to focus on we who have a mental health diagnosis.

The stigma of labels still exists. People with a mental health diagnosis are often called names. According to one study at Cornell University – nuts, screw loose, psycho, crazy, weird, mad, insane, loony bin, brain dead, and mental were among the most popular monikers. Personally, I have been called “crazy” and “sick” too many times to count, and told to “try harder,” “pick myself up by my own bootstraps,” and that it was “all in my head.”

Last year I wrote a piece for my blog called, Depression: Sin, Demon Possession, or Disease. In the 21st century people with a mental illness are still labeled as: sinners, possessed, weak, lazy, and flawed characters. In 2013 I was accused of “faking” my depression. Wow, I must be one great actor worthy of international fame. I must love hospitals, psychiatrists, counselors, support groups, nightmares, job losses, demotions, abandonment, separations, divorce, homelessness, pennilessness, and alienation from loved ones. All to support my fakery. GET REAL!

The stigma of violence is alive and well. Some people are hypothesizing that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, had a mental illness. One of his neighbors called him “weird.” A police spokesman said, “We cannot rule out mental illness or some form of brain damage.” President Trump described him as “a very, very sick individual.” The local Sheriff said he may be a “distraught person.” And an Alabama news headline read, “Las Vegas mass shooting prompts questions about mental health.” The same old clichés and untruths about mental health continue to perpetuate. The formula is: a violent person equals a mental illness.

The myth of violence has been debunked multiple times, but the media, politicians, police, and neighbors keep repeating it. It has been well established by numerous studies that, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only three to five percent (3%-5%) of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.” (source: MentalHealth.gov) This stigma attached to us with a mental illness is ingrained in society and repeated so often that many, if not most, believe it.

Stigmas are codified in our laws. After the Las Vegas shooting, Hillary Clinton said there ought to be a law prohibiting people with a mental illness from owning guns. In other words, she wants to legalize the stigma.

The state I moved to requires by law that I disclose on the driver’s license application any mental health issues, medications prescribed, and hospitalizations. As a result of being honest, the law required me to take a driver’s test. I wanted to scream! But, I calmly complied with the regulation. After the test, I wanted to ask, “What did you learn about my mental illness in relation to my driving?” The answer was obvious, “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” I was in partial remission at the time, was not suicidal, and did not have any desires to injure myself or harm others.

I wonder what they expected from my driver’s test? Perhaps they wanted to see if I would play chicken with a semi-tractor on a two-lane road, speed recklessly in and out of traffic on the interstate during rush hour, or deliberately put my car into a ditch or tree to emphasize my need for mental health services? Don’t they know that most people can hold it together long enough to get or renew their license? APPARENTLY NOT! I considered it a complete waste of my time and the time and resources of the state.

Stigmas are institutionalized.  Although laws were passed against inequities between physical and mental health insurance in 2008 and again through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) reported, “High rates of denials for mental health care by insurers.” The NAMI report also said there are “barriers to accessing psychiatric medications in health plans, high out of pocket costs for prescription drugs, high co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance rates, and serious deficiencies in access to information necessary to enable consumers to make informed decisions about the health plans that are best for them.” Another NAMI article stated,  “We know that people with mental health problems are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to: find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, and live in decent housing.”

“Stigma reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns, and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services.” (source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) In 2015 (the last year statistics are available), there were an estimated 9.8 million adults, 4% of the USA adult population, aged 18 or older, who had a severe mental illness within the past year. Twenty-one and four tenths percent of adolescents, aged 13 to 18, had a severe mental health disorder during their young lifetime. (source: National Institute of Mental Health) However, 40% percent of us with a mental illness never seek treatment. Could it be the prejudice, shame, laws, and other stigmas are a significant part of the reason?

Although I have used the verbiage in this piece, one writer has called for mental health advocates to stop calling them “stigmas” and call them for what they are, “discrimination.” As a person with a severe mental illness, I join with others shouting: STOP discrimination in social settings and let us belong. STOP discrimination in health care and make our coverage equitable to physical health insurance. STOP discrimination in the law and give us some common-sense laws based on science, not emotion. STOP making us feel like we are flawed citizens and become our boosters. STOP treating us as disposable people and recognize our worth.

 

May the LORD bless you and comfort and help those most affected by the Las Vegas carnage.

In Search of an Answer

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Why me?

I have been asking that question for several weeks now. It’s a search to which I may never have a satisfactory answer. No records exist. No old journal or diary to consult. What information I have comes from my memory and that is not always reliable.

Why do I have depression?

The year was 1968. It was during the school year and I was in third grade. Although my oldest brother had taught me how to swim, Mom insisted that I take a course at the YMCA. Everyone was confined to the shallow end until you could swim under water from one side of the pool to the next. I accepted the challenge and gained my freedom to explore the deep. But, I couldn’t take advantage of it.

I got sick. It would take two weeks before I was well enough to go back to the YMCA. However, the course had ended and my opportunity had passed. The sickness came on suddenly. A high fever, spinning rooms, hallucinations, and paranoia gripped me. There were several days I couldn’t get out of bed.

My mother took me to three different doctors. We left their offices with three different diagnoses. As an adult I thought it may have been the Hong Kong flu epidemic, but with more study I found out that it didn’t reach the United States until 1969. No further clues and therefore answers are to be found.

It has been observed that people with the flu often become depressed, but it appears not to last much beyond the illness. I have focused on the high fever and that it caused some brain damage. However, fever with the flu (if that is what I had) rarely is high enough to cause brain damage.

The reason I focus on the fever is because of a long term after effect that troubled me for the next eight years. For lack of a better term, I will call them “seizures,” but they don’t strictly fit the definition. On occasion, I would wake up suddenly drenched in sweat, shaking, disoriented, the room spinning, and crying profusely without a reason. Always, I managed to awaken my mother and she gave me sweet hot tea and stayed with me until I was calm enough to go back to bed. A doctor suggested to her that I was just trying to get attention.  When the next one came on, I didn’t wake her and went through it alone.

At first, they were not frequent enough to rouse any concern, but the older I got the more frequent they became. My mother thought it might be related to my older brothers leaving home and beginning new lives with spouses and children of their own. But, when I had about three in a two week period of time, my mother took me to the doctor mentioned above. This time he referred me to a neurologist.

That doctor ordered a brain wave test. After the test results came back, he informed us that I had a blockage in my brain and put me on medication. I took those pills for two years – they were simply awful. Finally, I told my mother I had had enough and I was not taking them anymore. Mother didn’t object, but she prayed earnestly for me. I have not had another “seizure” from that time to this. The only residual effect I have is the room begins to spin if I have a slightly high temperature.

As I look back on those events, I can see a mood change. I was a happy kid, afterwards I was far too serious. Fear replaced courage. I became melancholy. Thirty years later melancholia turned into recurrent, severe depression.

That is all I know. Was that childhood illness the cause? If so, what was it? I can eliminate heredity as a cause – no one on either side of the family ever had long-term depression. No, I still think that prolonged fever caused a biological or chemical change in my brain. But, if that is true, is it reversible? I don’t have an answer.

The neurologist told Mom that I would never be able to handle much stress. I chose to be a pastor and a counselor – among the highest stress jobs you can take. The doctor was right. I have paid a heavy toll  both physically and mentally because of stress.

Although, I know all of the above information, there are questions still. What illness did I have in 1968? Was the water of the YMCA pool a contributing factor? What do I call those “seizures?” Is this the actual source of my depression, or should I look elsewhere?

I don’t know! So, I am still searching for an answer to the “Why?” question. I can only hope that the search is worth it.

Time Off and a Mystery

I am taking this week and next week off as I prepare for and recover from surgery. The Lord willing, I will return on Wednesday, September 27, 2017. Thank you for reading my writings.

My next article, I think, will be an attempt to answer the question, “Why?”. As a former pastor and counselor, “Why” was the hardest question to answer. Many times there was simply no satisfactory response possible. I can remember looking into the longing eyes of people who wanted to know “Why” all of these things were happening to them. Often I bowed my head and said, “I don’t know.”

What do you say to a young couple sitting in a maternity room holding a still-born baby? A baby that was alive and kicking a couple of days before. I didn’t have an answer for their “Why”. They asked me to baptize their lifeless child. I did. It was not a day for a theology lesson; it was a day to be a pastor first. Although it brought comfort to them, the unknowable “Why” still hung in the air.

Just this week a person asked, “Why does life have to be so hard?” It’s not a new question. The author of Psalm 73 asked it in a similar manner, why am I slipping and the ungodly and wicked are prospering? Humankind has been asking “Why” for a very long time.

In two weeks, I hope to give some answers. Until then, I am on a quest to solve the mysterious “Why”.

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May the LORD be with you.

Harvey is Depressed

About three weeks back, I was brainstorming with my wife regarding writing prompts.Image result for hurricane Harvey at sea There was one that particularly caught my attention: “What would it look like if nature was depressed?” I began jotting down several ideas and planned to post it today. Then Harvey happened, and the thought about nature and the natural event merged into a single idea.

We live about 170 miles north-northwest of where Harvey came ashore. It was forecast that our community could be hit with 70 plus mph wind gusts and up to 12 inches of rain. We made preparations to evacuate, if necessary. The coastal region was hit fiercely, resulting in destruction and damage to infrastructure and property. Flooding has devastated Houston. People have lost their lives, families are separated, and many are missing. And, Harvey is not finished yet.

We were spared the worst. Winds reached the mid-50 mph range and we received about six inches of rain. As I was walking Monday during the waning hours of Harvey in our area, I noticed the north side of all the vehicles was covered with leaves while the south side was clean. Evidently, we were on the downward side of the counter-clockwise storm rotation. Limbs are everywhere, some trees are down, and shingles from roofs are scattered about. But, nothing more serious happened here. Please continue praying and helping the people along the coast.

The reason all this happened started with nature being depressed. The evolution of a hurricane is something like this: a tropical disturbance occurs followed by a tropical depression, tropical storm, tropical cyclone, and finally a hurricane. It all started with disturbed and depressed pressure.

Those are the facts, but allow me, with respect and sensitivity to those who have paid and are paying a high price because of Harvey, to explore the idea of nature being clinically depressed.Image result for dark and rainy clouds blocking out the sun

Depressed nature’s day begins in darkness. Tears drip from its cloudy pillow upon the sheets of grass covering the earth. The night lingers, resisting the presence of light. When at last the sun prevails, it emerges clothed in pajamas of black and gray. The light mopes through the day unable to stop its forward motion and uninterested in trying. There is no struggle against the dimness of dusk. Rather, it is strangely welcomed. The skies moan as another day ends with little hope that tomorrow will be different.

It appears nature is trapped in a state of perpetual fall and winter. Things are either dying or dead already. Plants are in various stages of drooping and wilting, the grass is turning brown. Trees that once stood as towers of strength and grandeur are now denuded, slumping toward the earth. Creatures of the earth roam aimlessly in search of what they know not. Some are thin for want of appetite, while others are fat but never satisfied.

The caretakers of the earth worry about its prolonged sadness, decreased production, and low birth rates. The perpetuation of species is so disturbed that many are endangered. Park rangers and visitors are finding neglected and abandoned offspring. At other times, they observe the little ones being over-protected to near suffocation. Fear is thick in the forests and glades.

If one pauses to listen, silence meets them. Birds are not chirping against real or imagined danger.  The creatures of the earth fail to communicate with each other where food can be found or a pleasant resting place. There are no sounds of snorting deer or howling coyotes. Buzz is absent from the ear. The would-be-listener longs for the annoying gnat to appear, but alas it too is silent.

Frisbees lay undisturbed and balls gather dust as our companions lose interest in playing. The purr of pleasure is silent against our gentle strokes.

Batteries die as solar panels and wind mills are unable to collect energy from the unmoved wind and shadowed light. Coal and oil refuse to burn, atoms will not split. Thermal energy weakens as the core of the earth grows cold. The earth is too weak to quake.

Geysers are less faithful. Springs become temperamental and artesian wells sputter. The dysthymic morning mist that gives the Smoky Mountains its name lapses into depressive fog. The tide whimpers ashore. Nature appears to have lost its will to live.

The caretakers of the earth paint and decorate artificial masks of splendor in an attempt to both hide nature’s sadness and in a pretense of normalcy.

None of this, of course, describes Harvey. He is angry and violent. Anger is widely accepted as a symptom of depression in men. Dr. Michael J. Formica wrote, “Show me a mad guy and I’ll show you a sad guy.” Harvey came ashore in southeast and south-central Texas full of rage. Where he has been is evidenced by the destruction and misery he’s left behind. Although Harvey is weakening, he is still very capable of violence as he heads toward east Texas and western Louisiana.

This is a solemn piece, I know, but clinical depression is a grave condition. In the days before I became clinically depressed, my family and I laughed at the way I shuffled on days I had a depressed mood. I couldn’t replicate that shuffle when I was feeling good. Then came the day when it ceased to be funny and became frightfully chilling.

Texas will recover from Harvey. Nature will rebound. In a few years, scars left behind will exist in memories alone.

Most people who become depressed will eventually go into full remission and never have another episode. For a small minority, partial remission is the best outcome we can expect.

The greatest technological advances of humankind have yet to find a way to control the Harvey-like eruptions or dark and teary moods of nature. This is not so for most people who have a major depressive disorder. For all, but a limited few – 1/1000 of a percent of the population – depression is treatable.

Harvey is dying. By the end of the week it will likely be no more. The wind and rain, and all the other weather events a hurricane can spawn will be gone. The sun will shine again.

Unlike Harvey, you and I who fight depression do not have to die – either physically or emotionally. There is hope for a better tomorrow. You and I have a reason to live.

Quotes About Suicide Prevention

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Moral conviction and fortitude come from believing in Someone greater than yourself. Seeing a better tomorrow requires faith. The determination to wake up to a new dawn rests in hope.

Quotes about Suicide Prevention

Image result for winston churchill never give up“Never, never, never give up. In nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” – Winston Churchill