It was one year ago this week, a cloudy day in March of 2014, that I had decided would be the last day of my life.
There were several things that led to that decision.
- I worked in a job where we either tried to keep people out of foreclosure or tried to win the legal battles necessary to foreclose. Having just lost our home the year before, the job often served as an emotional trigger.
- The weekend before my wife had asked me for a divorce. She had done this before, or simply given me her rings, but this time she also insisted I leave the house. This came about after she discovered emails between myself and a friend (who is also a counselor) discussing the possibility that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. There were also emails to one of my female Dr.s that she thought were too personal in nature. She may have been right, but regardless I spent that Friday night in a hotel. We reconciled the next morning but tensions were mounting.
- In 1989 I was first hospitalized for abdominal pain. The pain had persisted with multiple hospitalizations, ER visits, scans and an appendectomy – all with no relief and no diagnosis. On that morning in 2014 I had a follow up with a surgeon to review a recent MRI. The diagnosis: psychosomatic. The pain, according to him, was in my head.
I had had enough. Instead going to work after the appointment I stopped at a local sporting goods store. I knew I could buy a gun and be done with it. I had guns at home but they were all family heirlooms; I couldn’t taint them with what had to be done. As I was getting ready to sign the papers and have the background check done for the purchase, I hesitated. What stopped me was a simple thought, “How am I going to explain to my wife that I spent this money on a gun?”
The thought made me aware of a very important fact: somewhere in my mind I planned to be alive.
That realization triggered other thoughts about my kids, my parents and our church. I remembered a contract I had signed with a therapist after a past brush with suicidal ideation in which I agreed to a plan to prevent me from following through with exactly what I was now determined to do. I told the clerk at the gun counter that I was having second thoughts about the purchase and would need to think it over.
Returning to my truck I fought through the tears that were streaming down my face and started making calls. By the end of the day I had voluntarily admitted myself to a hospital where I knew I would be safe – safe from my past, safe from my thoughts, and for the moment – safe from worrying about the future.
As I look back on what has transpired in last year, I am both grateful for and humbled by the life I am privileged to live. I still battle with depression, I still have major stress triggers in my life, but I have come to accept three things about the nature of change that helps me press on. (If you’re familiar with The Serenity Prayer, you will quickly recognize the similar themes here.)
First, everything will change. There is nothing that is immune to that reality except God Himself. I think of all the things that scare me about my episodes of severe depression, what scares me the most is the myth of permanence – believing that everything will always be exactly as I perceive them at the moment.
Second, I have the ability to change more than I usually think. I have vastly sold myself short in my ability to take hold of my health, my emotions, my identity and several other key areas of life. For for a Vaasa number of reasons – most of the based on very strong distortions, I had surrendered those things to the influences of others. Becoming “me” meant taking back the control I had needlessly yielded.
Finally, the things I can’t control don’t matter nearly as much as they feel like they do in a moment of desperation. One of the best things I have learned to do this year is to keep those things in perspective. The opinions of others, medical developments, job related issues – they are all going to happen with or without my consent and worry. And while they may be unpleasant, uncomfortable or stressful, I don’t have to allow them into the core of who I am.
One of the most significant breakthroughs in the months after I left the hospital was that the chronic pain I had been dealing with was finally diagnosed. After 25 years of beating my head against a wall I am finally free of the pain! The surgeries that corrected the issues also helped to identify and correct hormone imbalances that had been contributing to my depression. While there are still challenges and struggles ahead, I know I am on the right path.
I have experienced God’s grace and compassion this year. I am thankful to not only be alive, but to be engaging in life and I look forward to more great years and more awesome changes to come!