Opinions & Philosophies

My Battle with Depression: Mountains, Valleys, Medicine and more

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Thanksgiving.

Let’s take a minute to focus on that word. Not the holiday, the state. Being in a state of thanksgiving. Dictionary.com defines thanksgiving as “the act of giving thanks… especially to God,” which I was honestly a little surprised to find. I am currently in a season of thanksgiving myself. I have been for a couple of months now. So I want to talk a little about this season of my life and another, much darker season I went through since we last spoke on topics outside of the normal fishing realm into which we delve on a weekly basis here.

For those of you who don’t know, I wrote an article last year around this same time talking about my struggles with depression and the tumultuous times I had along my path to finding my place in the fishing industry. The confusing and frustrating task of marrying the hurdles of my personal life with the goals of my professional one all the while coming to the abrupt realization that I’m manic depressive.

For the rest of us, I thought it prudent to offer an update. Pick up the conversation again on some of the heavier stuff too many of us choose to keep locked up inside. My hope is that in doing so, it’ll give others the courage to open up. There’s no reason to suffer in silence. It’s important to talk about this kind of stuff; the tougher topics. I hope to show both the perspective from within the fire and the glorious view having made it through. After all, you’ve got to talk about the depth of the valley to be able to describe the height of the mountain.

That conversation takes a little time, so bear with me. This is my testimony.

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The valley

Editor’s note: If you’d like to know the backstory for what’s about to be discussed, you can check out that article here.

About two and a half months ago, I was standing in my shower on the verge of tears. My soul was aching. I was miserable. For months I had been drinking heavily, eating poorly, not exercising at all, not going to church and completely isolating myself from the rest of the world. I’d go to work, come home and waste each day waiting for the night. Idle hands doing the Devil’s work.

I was focused on what I didn’t have. I didn’t have a wife. I didn’t have a family of my own. I hated the way I looked and felt. I couldn’t see all that God had blessed me with for my own misery. I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other in a positive direction to save my life, literally. Instead I just wallowed in my self-pity and misery. It was the darkest and loneliest time of my life to date.

I can’t say that I had ever had a God moment before that night. Not one that I could clearly identify, at least. I know God has had His hand on me throughout my life. He has done things for me that I couldn’t see or appreciate at the time. I look back on those things in hindsight now and wonder why I ever questioned Him. But I had never really “heard” God speak to me. And I’m not saying I did in an audible sense that night. But, standing there in the shower with my heart breaking I cried out to God, “Please, help me. Tell me what to do.”

As God as my witness, two words flashed as clear as any ever have through my mind.

“Small groups”.

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Church

I have been attending a church off and on for the last few years called Church of the Highlands. It’s a big church and one I’d never have really seen myself giving a chance had it not been forced upon me in a way. What I mean by that, my sister started attending Church of the Highlands with her family a year or so before I first went there. And she was way too into it. She was so joyful about it and just lit up when she talked about the people she had gotten to know there.

It sounded a little too cultish if you asked me. She and I were both raised in a small baptist church and, though it may have just been the time in my life that I went there, I had rarely been excited to go to church. That’s bad to say because there were and are a lot of Godly people there doing good things for the Lord. But that was just the experience that I had.

I do remember going to youth conferences with my church when I was younger and coming back revived and on fire for Jesus. But it was like she was getting a dose of that each week and all week at times. So it was a little too good to be true and I admittedly went the first time in an attempt to protect my sister by poking holes in what they were doing there, in order to convince her that she needed to stop going.

What I immediately found were biblical truths being dished straight out of the Bible in a convicting manner with practical and applicable next steps following suit. It wasn’t a feel good message where the preacher just told us how much God loves us. It was meat and potatoes Christianity. Sitting in this “non-denominational” sea of people from all walks of life, the preacher was handing down messages straight from the Bible that lit a fire under you and made you want to try harder. Not so that you could be a better person or perfect Christian, but so that you could have a better relationship with Jesus, which is what it really means to be a Christian. Being better is a byproduct of a better relationship.

I was shocked. I would love to say I did a 180 right there and had this massive come to Jesus moment where my focus shifted and I fell right in the lap of the Lord. But if you’re keeping up with the timeline here, you know there are a few missing years between then and now that we still have to account for. Though I attended Highlands off and on during that time, my walk with the Lord continued to look more like dragging a kicking and screaming toddler through Walmart. I’m simply giving you this backstory on my church to explain why those two words rang a bell for me that day, “small groups”.

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Community

So many of us walk all too often through seasons in life alone, whether by chance or by choice. One thing that had been stressed at Highlands throughout every service I attended there over the last three years or so was small groups. Again, Highlands is a really big church. So small groups is their way of making a big church small. You go in and find a group of people you share similar interests with and start hanging out. Fishing, hunting, bowling, pottery, whatever. You find a little common ground to break the ice and then, pretty soon you’re living life together. You’re praying together, laughing together, crying and celebrating together. It seems improbable but it really does happen that fast.

So I got out of the shower that night, got out my phone and signed up for four small groups. I spent the following week trying them all out and ended up sticking with two of them. One is a group of guys who get together to shoot basketball once a week and listen to a short word from our small group leader, Nick. The other is a group that our local campus pastor and his wife, Wren and Sherry, lead for young professionals and grad students.

Both groups have been awesome at helping me build on my relationship with God, while also giving me something I desperately needed, community. With community comes fellowship, friendship and accountability. Getting out of the house and around people does so much for our mindsets. And doing so with a group of people all coming from different places but pointed in the same direction does even more for our personal growth. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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The doctor’s visit

That was my first step, signing up for small groups. The cliché holds true, the first step is usually the hardest to make. But each step after that comes easier and easier, I promise you that. My next step was a visit to the doctor. If you remember from my last article concerning all this, I was skittish of trying medicine again after having gained 60 pounds or so in an 18-month period a few years ago on different antidepressants and mood stabilizers that hadn’t helped at all. Then we found that I had low testosterone and that was the magic bullet that at least started me off on a much better path.

Well, for a while this year I had been strongly considering trying out meds again. I was miserable. Perhaps now that my testosterone was in check, there was a little something that could help balance me out without making me gain a bunch of weight or crushing my creativity. That was another big fear of mine when it came to medicine. When I had been on the antidepressants in the past, they put my brain on mute. Having to write, edit, shoot and host a podcast as part of what I do for a living, the thought of losing my creativity again terrified me.

But I went to the doctor anyway. It was time. Time to put my foot in the ground and pivot. This was a new doctor that my parents had swapped over to and they highly recommended. I went in with a game plan. I was tired of sitting in my own way. When the doctor came in, I told her that I knew four things: when I go to church, eat right, workout and don’t drink, I feel better. So I wanted to do my part by getting those things in order and see where we were before we went crazy with the meds in search of some magic combination of pills that was going to fix me.

She agreed and immediately circled the convo back to the church part. She asked if I was a believer, and I said that I was. She said that was important, that if our spirit man isn’t well, our physical one won’t be far behind. This was very different from any doctor’s visit I had had in the past and extremely refreshing. I came to find through our visit that day that their office is a “wholistic” one. Which sounded to me like “holistic” to start with and had me thinking I had stumbled on a witch doctor for a second.

But no, “wholistic” refers to their approach on healthcare. They look for other remedies instead of going straight to hardcore pharmaceuticals. Diet, exercise, making sure we’re getting the minerals and nutrients we’re supposed to. Making sure we’re getting enough rest. Checking in on our faith. All the stuff that doctors did for decades really, but stopped somewhere along the way when we all started demanding something in a bottle that would let us continue to live the same jacked-up lifestyles but still fix everything for us somehow. That doesn’t exist.

I wasn’t sleeping. And that was something she wanted to address right away. With manic depression, not resting is pretty dangerous. And if you get into a manic state, you have zero desire to sleep. So she started me off on a low dose of an anti-psychotic medicine used to treat manic depression but also used as a sleep aid, since the main side effect is drowsiness. I needed the sleep so I agreed. And I was good with one pill, since the first go round was a different combo or 2 or 3 pills every 2 or 3 months. There was a slight chance of weight gain with it though. So it was time to take another step and be proactive about that. 

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Diet and exercise

When we last spoke about all this a year ago, I was doing intermittent fasting and a little exercise and was feeling pretty good. I had lost some weight at the time and had lost a considerable amount over time, dropping 62 pounds gradually over the past 3 to 4 years to bottom out around 230. Well the yo-yo went back up the string since then and I topped out again around 252 this past summer. After the doctor’s visit, I decided to get serious again. This time I was going to go all in on the exercise too.

I joined a gym, Orange Theory Fitness. Hopefully I won’t get ‘canceled’ here for my blatant chauvinism, but I must admit I thought this place was just for girls. I went on a dare the first time and it absolutely kicked my butt. So I signed up and started going twice a week for the first few weeks. It was brutal and I’m not going to sugarcoat that. But after each workout, I felt so alive and empowered. And I hadn’t felt that way for a very long time. Pretty soon I upped my plan to the unlimited package and started going nearly everyday. With such regularity, I also got to know a lot of the coaches there and some of the other people attending the classes and continued to expand on my community.

I also picked intermittent fasting back up, within reason since I was burning so many calories each day. I typically do something around a 16/8, meaning I fast for 16 hours a day and only eat inside an 8 hour window. That sounds ridiculous at first, but it’s really extremely easy and something I don’t even think about now.

This is the schedule that I’ve adopted and what works well for me. I have a cup of coffee in the morning but don’t eat until lunch. I’ll eat something fairly healthy without a ton of carbs or sugar most days, but still let myself live a little since I’m working out so much. Then after lunch around 11 a.m. I’ll hold off until I work out sometime between 4:30 and 6, then eat dinner right after I workout and won’t eat anything else before I go to bed.

If you’re able to get the 8 hours of sleep you should be getting anyway, that’s half your fast right there. The mornings are easy for me, since I’m not that hungry usually anyway. The evenings are the tricky part at first and will be for most people. The main key there is to eat a substantial, protein-packed dinner that will stick with you. Something with something to it. And then just don’t put yourself in bad situations.

If you live alone like I do, don’t even buy the crap you know will tempt you. Don’t even bring it in the house. If I had a fridge full of soft drinks and a pantry full of Twinkies, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. I’d be curled up on the couch in a food coma. If you have kids, God bless and good luck. I can’t even walk through my sister’s or my parents’ house without wanting to stuff my face with all the junk they have lying around for my nieces. But you can do it. As bad as I hate to say it, water is key. Just drink as much as you can and focus on the goal.

I’m currently about two and a half months into the latest leg of my fitness journey. At my last official weigh-in after two months, I was back down to 229 with a good bit more muscle this time. My body fat was down from 27.8% to 20.3%, muscle mass up 2.4 pounds and total weight down a little more than 20 pounds. This is the same guy that was standing in the shower sick of himself about to squall two months prior. But let me be clear, this wasn’t all me and the journey isn’t over. 

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Arrogance, complacency and credit due

I’ve re-read that article I wrote last year a few times since. I’m really glad I wrote it and bore my soul because I know it helped a lot of people. I know that because a lot of you told me as much. And I’ll be glad I wrote this one I’m sure for the same reasons. This is my testimony. This is the whole point of the hard times. You have to give your pain a purpose. Or else, yeah, it would be easy to just sit here and complain.

But in re-reading that article from last year, I picked up on a sense of arrogance and complacency. It was like I had made it through, I was on the other side. Like I had fixed my problems. A lot of I, I, I. And obviously, it’s hard to talk about all this stuff without doing so from the first person. But I was kind of setting myself up for another valley in that piece. I needed to be humbled again and become more reliant on God. I needed to give Him the glory.

Yes, this time I went to the doctor, she prescribed me medicine, I changed my diet, I worked out, the coaches at my gym pushed me, my pastor counseled me, members of my small groups prayed for me and checked on me and my family and friends have all done their part, but I see God in all of that now. Because of that first step. When I was at my weakest, God was the only one there pushing me forward, holding me up, keeping me going. All in spite of what I was doing.

So I’m full of thanksgiving this Thanksgiving. More so than I have been in the past. I’m thankful for my family and my friends. For access to a healthy diet, for the ability to exercise and for the marvels of modern medicine. And I’m thankful for a God that loves me and is molding me.

I’m currently on a mountaintop and not planning to come down anytime soon. But if God has other plans for me, I’ll lean not on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). The God beside me on the mountain top is the same God who will walk through the valley with me (Psalm 23:4). Do I still get tired? Yes, but (Philippians 4:13). I still don’t have a wife or kids of my own, but (Jeremiah 29:11). And I don’t know what this world has to offer, but I do know that there’s so much more in store for me outside of it (John 3:16).

I don’t mean to be preachy. And I don’t mean to imply that I have it all figured out. I just know I don’t have to figure it all out. I have something I want so desperately for others to have: Hope. I’m not a perfect Christian sitting on a high horse looking down. And I tell you now that there’s no such thing. I’m a country boy who was dragged to Jesus through the blood and the mud and the booze. I’m an imperfect creation dependent on a perfect creator in pursuit of a relationship with Him. And His hand is outstretched in pursuit of me, as it is you. And that’s a lot to be thankful for.