Living with Chronic Depression
I’m not going to dabble into the clinical aspects of Chronic Depression. That’s already been done and redone. I’m here to write about hope. There is hope for you if you or someone you love is suffering from Chronic Depression.
I enjoy writing about what I am passionate about such as family, marriage and personal experiences. This is probably the most personal story that I have ever written. Once published this will forever be logged into the annals of Cyberspace but if it will mean something to someone and if it can help just one person then my purpose is complete.
As a young man I recall that terrible day when my father pulled me aside and told me the worst news that I ever wanted to hear. My mother had six months to live. She had been battling colon cancer and after surgery and a long remission it had spread again and this time it was not going to let her go. We were all there at the hospital when she died and was able to tell her how much we loved her and that we would see her soon. She gave us all a wink and a smile and then finally let go. To the last she was thinking of others and not of herself. She was a very special person who always enjoyed her faith in God and helping other people. This traumatic episode was the catalyst which years later would culminate into a journey that would forever change my life.
I never dealt with my mother’s death. I simply suppressed it. Subconsciously I suppose I didn’t want to believe that it had happened. What I failed to realize was that suppressing those emotions would start a ticking time bomb. Her death occurred at the time I had just started my police career and had become engaged to my wife. My wife and I decided that it would be best to move up the wedding date so that my mother could attend. My mother only lived less than a year after we had wed. She gave it a good fight but just couldn’t continue any longer.
I soon found that my daily routine was not enough to keep my mind occupied. I began to drift away from going to church and began to binge drink and go to parties. Church just made me think of my God fearing mother. All I could think of was her praying and worshiping and singing. My daily expectation began to consist of getting off of work and going out to whoop it up with the crowd. I began to go to the gym and began focusing on weightlifting. As I became more and more immersed in the gym I became rather narcissistic. I suppose in my mind that the better I looked and the more appealing I was to others that I would feel better about myself. I suppose it was my interpretation of Anorexia?
After several years of immersing myself into my new found lifestyle, my grandmother became very ill and had to have open heart surgery. Not long afterward she died from Congestive Heart Failure. I didn’t shed a tear when she passed away. I was still in caretaker mode I suppose? I had to see to her care giving and later to her funeral because she didn’t have anyone else. In retrospect I was just so used to suppressing my emotions about death that I became an expert at it. I simply stowed it away with the rest of my baggage. My drinking soon got out of hand. I began to binge drink every night. I patted myself on the back for how high I could make the pyramid of beer cans. It was not uncommon for me to keep a bottle of Tequila in the fridge. I would put it up in the freezer when I started drinking so I could just take a shot right out of the bottle.
After 18 years of police work I had seen my share of traumatic scenes and negative episodes. I worked for a less than ideal boss who was unhappy with his own life and found necessity in reprimanding his subordinates as his way of management. Footnote to all of the iron fisted bosses out there. Servant Leadership is not a weakness! I recall my productivity declining and my dependability slowly slipping away. I was jeopardizing my fellow officers because I just didn’t care anymore. I wasn’t doing my job like I used to. I would just clock in and clock out as it were. I was becoming a liability to myself and to my comrades.
One of the last incidents that I recall that affected me greatly was a simple assist on a life squad call. The female patient was having seizures after brain surgery. As I looked at this helpless person with her recently shaved head, convulsing on the couch, I tried my very best not to let it bother me. I was doing ok until I glanced over at the mantelpiece and saw her wedding picture. I remember thinking how beautiful she looked in her wedding dress and how happy she seemed. After I arrived home I spoke to my wife about it and just began to sob. It was so heart wrenching to see that life altering episode unfold before my very eyes.
After years of bouts with alcoholism and blowing all of my money on the night life, I remember when it all finally came to a head. My wife had had enough and told me she was going to leave if I didn’t quit drinking. She could no longer deal with my fits of rage and binge drinking. After a few rounds of denial with her and a lengthy debate, she stood her ground. I decided to give it up because of my love for her and my family. I didn’t want to lose the only good thing that I had going in my life. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It made me deal with who I was the most afraid of dealing with, me!
Shortly after I had stopped drinking I remember sitting in my patrol car about to start my shift when a wave of anxiety came over me. I felt like I was spiraling down a tunnel. I just sat there with the car idling and staring at the steering wheel when I heard the voice of one of my mentors on the radio announcing that he was on duty. I immediately radioed and requested him to meet with me. I began to break down and sob when he arrived. I simply said to him that “I don’t know what to do.” I even confided in him that at one point I was even thinking about committing suicide. I had explained to him that I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings of dread and surrender that I was embattling every day. I would wake up and go to bed with a dark cloud hanging over my head. My family couldn’t stand who I was anymore! I was a monster to them! His advice was a turning point in my life and the lives of my family.
To my surprise my mentor explained to me that he had spoken with his doctor years ago and that I may be suffering from the same thing. He began to explain what Chronic Depression was and that I should go see my doctor. I don’t know why but it was as if a giant weight had been lifted from me! I saw a glimmer of hope at the end of an infinite tunnel! The next day I checked my insurance and found that I had counseling visits included in my health plan. I called my insurance company who gave me the name of a psychiatrist who offered counseling services.
I remember the first visit quite vividly. The counselor had listened to my story and agreed with my mentor that I was indeed suffering from Chronic Depression. He further explained that the deaths of my mother and grandmother coupled with the traumatic episodes in my career were the catalyst for what is described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He began to see me every week for quite a few months and also scheduled a session with the doctor. He had recommended that speaking with him would help and also he was recommending an anti-depressant. That troubled me a little due to the stigma associated with taking anti-depressants. I also knew that if I started taking anti-depressants that I could no longer be a police officer. After speaking with the doctor he prescribed a low dose of Prozac. That didn’t set very well with me as I had reacted like most people. Prozac has always carried with it a clinical stigma of being associated with crazy people.
I remember after a few weeks of counseling and taking the medication that I began to breathe again. I could feel the water finally receding. I remember coming down stairs and seeing my wife sitting on the couch. She was doing what she did best, spending time with the kids. I walked up to her and knelt down beside her and after taking her hand I simply told her, “I love you.” She began to cry which made me cry and it was a total mess. I told her how sorry I was for what I had become and that I would make it up to her and the kids.
I soon had made it up in my mind that I was going to get out of police work and filed for a disability pension. That’s a story in itself so I will just simply say that they didn’t exactly go out of their way to take care of me. As I previously mentioned, as with the stigma associated with my medication, the same held true at the time for Chronic Depression. The mindset of the time was just to suck it up and be a man. Well I have to say for all of you in a similar situation that it takes a man to admit he needs help. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you.
It’s been 12 years now since I retired from police work. I have to say that it was the best decision of my life next to marrying my wonderful wife. I must stress the fact that it just didn’t all go away and we lived happily ever after! On the contrary! I still didn’t completely deal with my mother’s death. I had a number of relapses with my drinking. At one point I stopped taking my medication because “I was ok now.” That was a big mistake! Most recently I tried to wean myself off of the medication under the advice of my doctor but I still went right back to where I was. My wife put her foot down again so I went to see my doctor and once again began to take the medication. I suppose I still have some baggage that I need to deal with?
Three of the saddest memories I have of those times is of my son asking me if I had started drinking again. When I told him “I’ll never lie to you son, yes I have,” he began to cry. He was becoming a young man and I was too preoccupied with my own selfish needs to realize it. The other is of my little girl asking me “Daddy, did I do something wrong?” It broke my heart and I had to reassure her that she had done nothing wrong, that daddy was just in a bad mood. The last was when I was drinking heavily and my wife and I got into an argument. She tried to leave and began to back out of the drive way so I began kicking the car. I dented the side of it terribly and was so enraged that she was leaving and not dealing with the issue. She wasn’t the one not dealing with the issue. I was!
One very important thing that you have to realize when you stop dealing with your problems and suppressing them is that it translates into hurting the ones closest to you. You begin to lash out at the very people that you hold dearest to your heart and care for you the most. Becoming numb by drinking or taking drugs is only prolonging the inevitable. Sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with the root cause of your depression.
If you suspect that you’re suffering from Chronic Depression, I strongly encourage you to go seek counseling. You may not want to take any medication but at the very least talk it out with a professional. If you have a clergy you can confide in by all means please make it a point to do so. There are also other resources for you to pursue such as, Cops for Christ, AA, and AL-ANON just to name a few. Out of all of the programs and out of all of the people that helped me I owe the most to my wife. She stood by me through all of the bad times. To my lovely wife I dedicate this story to you. Thank you from the depths of my heart. I love you very deeply.