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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Thank you Brock for sharing your life and your heart. You’re a good man and you have been challenged in life by something that many people are ashamed to talk about. Proud of you! We will have to hit some more 300 yard drives together!
Wow, not very often I’m speechless but thanks for sharing that. I for one can understand. As a first responder, we need to understand that it’s ok to “be not ok”
Its amazing when Brock writes who reads. Thanks for commenting Cody. (It takes me 3 tries to get to 100.)
Thanks Nadeen for sharing. Empathy is huge. Vulnerability is gold. Brock’s a good one, just like you.
Good morning Brock. I am a fellow traveller on the “Depression Road”., and also have been candid with my challenges. The more we are able to share the more people we reach who need faithful support and courage to also get proper diagnosis and help. Blessings to you and yours.
Thank you for commenting, Maureen as a fellow traveler. That means a lot.
Brock, thanks for sharing from your heart. This problem is more common that we would like to admit. Your honesty and advice will no doubt help many people.
Thank you Brock, I can sincerely relate to the confusion of why, the misconception of weakness toward the use of medication and surrendering in faith. I am grateful our Father sees us through but as you said, perseverance toward Him (even when we feel nothing) is the key. Sadly, we aim to “present well” so we “look well”. Perhaps if we “present our truth” we would realize we have more in common with one another then we think. The pressures of today’s world are real and we need to “be real” in our conversations to overcome. The support, love and healing is worth it – we do not have to suffer alone (as the enemy would like us to). God bless you and continue to share – you will help many.
Brock, thank you for your strength and boldness in writing this!
Brene Brown says there is courage in vulnerability. BH is courage embodied.
Thanks Wendy for the supportive words. Brock usually comes to the first service at North Pointe. You usually come to the 2nd or 3rd. Shared faith family…different time zones…same page.
Thanks Jess for commenting.
This was amazing. Thank you. My partner has a depressive bipolar. This really hits close to hone and with him. I love him so much and it hurts seeing when depression takes over. Again thank you. 🙂
Thank you for sharing. My partner has a depressive bipolar. This really hits close to home, with him. I love him so much and it hurts seeing when depression takes over and the challenges he faces, it’s definitely a struggle a lot of people are faced with. Again thank you Brock. 🙂
Those in a struggle need help. Those who help loved ones in their struggle need hope. Prayer, medication, Scripture, are good sources of help and hope. God bless. Thank you for commenting.
Thank you Jo, for speaking up. Fearless is a good word.
Well said Brock. Your strength is revealed in how you walk with this challenge and overcome. Proud of you.
Hey Jeremy. Thank you for connecting with encouragement all the way from Ethiopia!
I love knowing the author because personal stories hit a little closer to home. Thanks for being vulnerable, Brock, and playing a part in defeating the mental illness stigma!
I also love this article on Christians and mental disorders: http://adam4d.com/things-helped-anxiety/
Been there, done that, and I appreciate your honest journey through the fog. And I agree! I was very reluctant to take meds too, but they saved me and I’ve been well and off drugs for five years. There is a lack of understanding shown and great harm done particularly by well-meaning Christians who insist that depression is simply pouty lack of faith and sin. COULD it be? Yes, but often is not. It’s often a chemical malfunction in a body system, not unlike diabetes or other glitches in the way your body is supposed to work. No one calls underactive thyroid a sin!
Hey Brock thanks for sharing. On the same journey as you. Finally accepted I was dealing with depression and anxiety plus S.A.D. when I was 8 months p.p. although looking back I’m sure it had been going on for a few years. It’s so good to be open about it with others. You never know who might be struggling but afraid to talk about it or seek treatment. Have had many a conversation with people now helping to educate and normalize it. We can all help reduce the stigma.
Hello, Ro. All the way from Poland! Thanks for the link. I am going to use that link in a future post on anxiety.
Thank you Melodie for commenting. Love the phrase “pouty lack of faith.” Christians say the most interesting things. Thanks for being a voice of help not harm.
Hi Jacquelyn. Everybody’s got a story. Yours is a great one! Health and joy to you. PS You are an awesome mom.
I am on the journey too. I tried to solve it on my own and with prayer. Finally I went on the meds. I am still not out of the fog but I know it will happen. Eventually I will be better and be able to go back to work… but not today. 🙂
God bless you, Marin in your journey THROUGH the fog. You will get through this. With God’s help through prayer, doctors, medication, your family, your church family, Scripture, you will get through. Standing with you.
Thanks so much Pastor Bob
Morning Brock and everyone. I am just in the process of relocating to Edmonton and I came across your story. As a therapist, I understand the debilitating effects of depression. I want to thank you for sharing your personal battle with depression. I believe that God is really going to use you and your story to help others. Thank you for such willingness to share. God Bless You!! Kate Wyse
Hello, Kate. Thank you for commenting. If you are looking for a church community to belong in, North Pointe is a great landing place. We are easily accessible from the Anthony Henday Ring Road in Edmonton northwest off of 127 St.
Morning Pastor – Thank you for your reply. I am eager to attend North Pointe, and have done so in the past whenever possible bringing my grandchildren to church who live in Morninville. I am excited to be able to do that now on a regular basis. Being able to bring them to church is actually the main reason for my move from Red Deer. I should be moved by mid-October and I look forward to attending and becoming involved at North Pointe!
Good news. I remember now our connections and your family from 2009 and 2012. Looking forward to seeing you in October.
Wow pastor you have an amazing memory! Thank you for remembering us. Looking forward to attending regularly.
Hey Brock: I missed this when published, caught it today. Thank you. You are an incredible communicator, and credible voice on depression. Life is messy sometimes. I appreciate your candid commentary.
I am so happy to read this..its the best written description of my journey through depression,,I have been on celexa 20 for a few years now , after the initial month it took to kick in,,I almost had feelings of elation..it was being set free, I dont see it as something to be ashamed of..my dr explained to me that , just as diabetics need insulin to make their physical system work well,,the brain sometimes needs more seratonin, which celexa provides..Prayers is my main source of happiness and peace though ..thanks for sharing
Thank you for sharing Brock. I have a daughter with BPD so I’ve watched her struggle with anxiety and depression most of her life. I was stunned when my Dr diagnosed ME with anxiety.. I thrived on being busy and available to everyone! I was so caught up in the vortex of my anxiety I couldn’t see how it had changed me, how my friends and coworkers worried for me, how my husband was at a loss to know how to help a wife who insisted she didn’t need help. I’ve been on medication for almost 4 years now and happier than I’ve ever been. It’s allowed me to be present and aware. Most importantly it allowed me to be strong when my rock, my husband fell into his own warehouse of depression and anxiety. Medication has been a life saver for him as well. Thank you for encouraging people to share their stories, to seek help and council and not feel shame in doing so. I know your wife and she is an amazing ball of energy and positivity. She makes me happy just seeing her smile, so I know you are in good hands in her love. I wish you all the best
Thanks for sharing your story, Brock. It only deepens my respect for the man you are. Depression is no stranger to our family either. My wife of nearly 39 years, Toni, has suffered from it most of her adult life, and is currently enduring another very difficult period. Friends and family want to help, but they clearly feel powerless, as indeed I often do. It is a prison. But exposing this hidden anguish to the light, as you have done, is a good thing. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your story. It reminds me what courage looks like. I believe God guides us all on our journeys and prepares us for a purpose that is not always ours to know. May you be blessed in the days ahead.
I loved your analogy of the warehouse. We always know that the warehouse exists, and sometimes we still find ourselves inside it, but we have the tools available to help us find the exit. This really made sense to me. Thanks for sharing!
This is pretty awesome. Sharing our mental health struggles may encourage others to seek help or seek a trusted friend to talk with. Medication has not helped me, although it has helped many. I have chosen to attend to my biochemistry to increase dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. Some things I try to manage in order to manipulate hormones are exercise, diet, sleep, cold or cool showers, mindfulness (pause app by John Eldridge), talking to a friend, spending time in nature and doing selfless things for others that allow me to receive gratitude. I do imaginations of events where there is selflessness and gratitude – the subconscious mind is said not to be able to tell the difference between imagination and reality. I also try to remember to linger a bit in gratitude for the tiniest of things to train and rewire my brain:). I might rewatch of move that inspired me. I refer to these difficult psychological states as mental health challenges, as I didn’t ‘catch’ it anywhere. And courage, for me, is taking action in the midst of adversity. Not all are able to every time, and that’s why it is so vital to seek help when we need it:) Seeking help is strength and courage, not weakness. I believe that for depression 80-90% of the improvement, at least at first, will come from attending to the body and it’s chemistry.