Just write, Harrison.
For the love of God, write.
This speech needs to be locked in a week and you don’t even have an outline.
So write. Like you’ve done a thousand times before.
Have I Lost It?
Baby is crying again. Ignore. She’ll get her. You’ve got to get this done.
Oh yeah, and it’s got to be good. There will be 1,000 people with deep pockets at this thing. So make it compelling. And funny. And smart. Some inspiration would be good, too.
Why can’t I do this?
Just write one word. One stinkin’ word.
Heart pounds. Head spins. Muscles seize.
This isn’t going to get done.
Walk away. Lie down.
Have I lost it?
Will I get back?
What if I never do?
When Brock Harrison writes, I read. Brock’s crafted persuasive speeches, engaging articles for national newspapers and has numerous other creative accomplishments under his belt. When he shared this story with me I knew it was something everybody should read. I’ve known Brock for over three decades as his pastor and a friend of our family. I officiated his wedding and dedicated his kids. We’re both fans of the NFL Patriots and have travelled to Foxboro to see them play. This post is his finest moment.
My Initiation Into The World Of Mental Illness
In November of 2013, I was going about my life as a new dad and speechwriter for the leader of a political party when it hit me.
It presented innocuously enough as panic attacks. Sitting down at my computer brought sudden and paralyzing physiological discomfort. I had experienced the odd panic attack in the past, but they were periodic and easy to shake off. These were different. I physically couldn’t work.
I handed off my major work projects, like the speech, to my colleagues and took a few days off to recover. By the end of it, my panic attacks had subsided but I could sense something more sinister was stirring. By Christmas, after a brief bout of generalized anxiety, I found myself in the depths of major depressive disorder.
Kicked Down The Hole
I still don’t know what caused it. I’m nearly three years into my life with mental illness and while I’ve been able to make some sense of it all, I’ve never quite pinpointed what exactly kicked me down the hole.
Was I stressed? Sure. I had a pressure-packed job with no small amount of responsibilities, but I’d been performing it at a high level for years without a mental blip. Our daughter was three months old, but my amazing wife bore the brunt of colic and sleepless nights far more than I did.
I had a young and growing family in a home filled with love. My marriage was strong. I had edifying, meaningful relationships with my family and friends. I had a stimulating and rewarding job that I looked forward to (almost) every single day. And I had just figured out how to drive a golf ball 300 yards.
Any way you slice it (pun intended), life was good.
Why This? Why Now?
But this thing still happened to me. So more than anything, my depression confounded me. I’d ask why probably a hundred times a day. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t this be over?
I was asking God.
This was fairly normal for me. Throughout my life, I had treated God like a therapist. I talked to him when I felt I needed to and pretty much ignored him when things were good. Obviously, this was a time I needed it. So I talked to him.
My depression woke me up in a cold sweat with a racing heartbeat every single day at 5 a.m. on the nose. (It’s as lovely as it sounds.) Rather than lay in bed thinking of all the reasons the day would suck, I mustered the courage to get up. By the way, when you’re depressed, getting up requires courage.
Every morning, I’d grab my Bible, read, journal and pray. God didn’t answer my prayer immediately. I never heard his voice. I wasn’t healed. Most of the time it just felt like nothing. But I kept doing it.
What Depression Feels Like
It’s impossible to describe what depression feels like – but here is my best shot: It’s like standing in the middle of a gigantic empty warehouse with the lights turned off. The floors are wet and you can see your breath. There are sounds in the distance. The roof leaks.
My depression didn’t debilitate me like it does for some. I went to work. I went to church. I did life stuff. But I never left the warehouse. I couldn’t. It went with me wherever I went.
Being depressed means you’re never present. You don’t experience life the way most people do. A casual conversation can be torture. Comprehending a simple written sentence requires effort. Eating? Forget it. Your appetite is long gone. You can’t engage in life because you’re constantly fighting your mind.
Fortunately, I never experienced the desire to end my life. I now believe it was Jesus, and my begrudged demonstration of faith in my darkest times, that kept me from reaching those lows.
Go See A Doctor
A couple of months in, I received possibly the best piece of advice of my life from a Christian counselor I had reached out to. He told me to go see my doctor. Therapy, he said, was only one type of treatment.
I had always dreaded the thought of medication. People who took mood pills were crazy. I prided myself on my emotional strength and stability and I looked down on people who needed pills to be happy. Truthfully, I thought they were weak.
So when my doctor made the diagnosis official and prescribed me 20 mg of Celexa every morning, though I was desperate to feel better, I felt shame. The judgment I passed on others I was now passing on myself. I had failed. I was weak.
Only my wife and my parents knew. One day, when my daughter found my pill case in the bathroom and started rattling it around like a toy, I broke down in tears.
It was awful.
And then it wasn’t.
Closer To God
The medication started to work. Like a morning sunrise, my world slowly got brighter. The darkness lifted and I got my life back. I eventually weaned myself off the medication only to relapse earlier this year. I am now back on Celexa – at double the dose as before.
Sadly, there are still those Christians who scoff at the notion of psychiatric drugs. I can’t overstate how important it is to ignore these people. Medication works. It might take some time and some trials of different types and doses – but it works.
I will say, though, that my battle with depression has brought me so much closer to God. I’m treating Him less like a therapist and more like the father He is. That closeness has given me wisdom and knowledge that has allowed me to understand and manage my illness.
Do I believe God allowed me to get sick in order to grow my faith? I don’t know. But the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9 have never been more true to me:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Helping Others Find Help
That warehouse? I can still see it. Sometimes it’s far off and faint in the distance. Other times I am standing at the door. Sometimes I find myself back inside. But thanks to Jesus, now I know where the exit is and how to find it.
If you are experiencing anything like I’ve described, please get help. Talk to somebody you trust first. It doesn’t have to be a doctor or a medical professional. If you can’t think of anybody, or have questions for somebody who has been through it, drop me a line. Sharing helps!
On that note, TSN broadcaster Michael Landsberg is doing amazing things at SickNotWeak.com. Michael suffers from depression and anxiety and has made it his life’s mission to create a support community for his fellow travelers by sharing stories like his and mine. Please check out the website and follow him on Twitter – @heylandsberg.
I just want to help Christians who struggle with mental illness. The wisdom God imparts to us is critical to recovery, but I also believe the first step is to share with one another.
I am thankful to Pastor Bob for his willingness to talk about mental illness candidly and for encouraging me to share my story. I hope and pray that it will make a difference for you.
Please do two things with this post: leave a comment for Brock below and share this on your social media platforms. Thank you.
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