Is Your Life Killing You?
Today, I take a first step on the road to wellness. Before the journey starts, I ask myself a semi-rhetorical question.
“Is your life killing you?”
The mirror’s reflection tells me a hard but clear truth, “Yes, your life is killing you.”
A Quick Peak in the Rearview
As you can gather from my previous posts, I am in a battle and I’m struggling.
Diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety, this is a war I have fought off and on for most of my life.
Yes, psychopharmacology, behavioral modification and talk therapy by well-meaning professionals have been a part of my life but to little sustainable positive result. A dissatisfied, frustrated and hopeless Frankenstein addicted to the habit forming medications I was prescribed was their creation.
I do not blame the therapists and psychiatrists who were managing their best to help me – other than failing to talk to one another to determine if 9 different medications appeared reasonable. In the end, a long and expensive list of drugs, including their side-effects, was not a reasonable answer for me.
Three Days and Nights in Hell
I did what I’ve always done when I committed myself to a goal: Plunged in headlong without a net.
One Saturday in 2005, I stopped all medications.
The resulting three days and nights brought a blur of sweat and pain. I was on fire and nauseous. Scalpels filleted my skin. Hallucinations piled on nightmares and delusions.
I say it was three days and nights, but the truth is I don’t know. To me it was one continuous house of pain, until one morning after a gift of a few hours of sleep, I woke to a clear beam of sun streaming in the bedroom window with the world solid and standing right-side up.
This is a cautionary tale: Chemical dependency self-detox is obviously never a good idea. Had I been in a physical and mental condition to objectively evaluate it, I would never have done it. In desperation to feel better, I could have inadvertently killed myself. Irrespective of what you may read or what you may hear, nothing can ever come close to the reality of detoxing, particularly multiple medications simultaneously, without medical supervision and especially when one of the medications is Klonopin.
Klonopin (Clonazepam) is an evil beast. It took years to rid my body and mind of the after-effects.
Why Would You Do That?
I was ashamed and my life was coming apart at the seams. I had two young children and a wife whom I loved. The combination of medications combined with an average of 80+ extremely stressful hours a week at work were affecting every aspect of my life and all relationships I cherished.
While I’m sure my wife suspected it, my pride would not admit to her that I had become, albeit unintentionally, an addict. Having a solid Christian upbringing and never experimenting with any drugs, I didn’t know if she could understand, love or respect me. I would later find out the truth.
Also about this time, my friend and mentor SW took me to lunch and confronted me.
He wanted to know what was going on. He was worried. I’d missed work without calling in, something I’d never done, and when I was there my thoughts were scattered and my sentences wandering and incoherent.
I told SW of my long struggles with depression and anxiety, most recently aggravated by a passing of a loved one and the end of a bad two years at a job I left. I told SW I felt like an impostor and unintentionally sold him a bad bill of goods when I went to work for him. I was broken.
The reason I had not called into work was because I was done being a Frankenstein. I wanted my life back and I finished by recanting the tale of self-detox.
Regardless of the many years, we’d known one another, I feared that revealing my challenges and addiction would be the beginning of the end. However, I misjudged both the nature of true friendship and SW. He responded with surprise, amazement, and encouragement.
His words spoken then and his actions later to help mend a broken soul is a debt I’ll never be able to repay. He wouldn’t hear of it anyway. That’s just his way.
A Renewed Dedication
I started a new plan to return to physical and mental health. I worked out daily at the gym and ran on a road course at home. I ate a balanced diet filled with plenty of naturals foods and eliminated processed foods and refined sugars.
You know what? It worked.
My emotional stability returned. The physical effects of the medications disappeared for the most part. I still have trouble with memory loss – people’s names, places, events – all of which I attribute to Klonopin and my self-detox.
I lost weight. I carried myself with confidence. My speech sounded clear and reasoning logical. While stress was constant, I handled it with composure and responded with action.
I felt good and I’d conquered the depression and anxiety monster. At least, that’s what I thought.
A large lesson waited for me to step into the batter‘s box.
The Beast Returns with a Vengeance
Since 2005, life happened. I got very busy with home and work, all the responsibilities and challenges that life throws at everyone. I failed to make my health a consistent priority. As a result, I would reap what I had sown.
My company completed a wholesale reorganization of my department‘s function in 2011. It wasn’t my first rodeo. I had experienced many of these in my career, but it was stressful nonetheless. I didn’t know where I or close friends like SW would land, if we would land at all.
I had a new boss, a VP, with whom I had trouble communicating and each day was an exercise in frustration and emotional depletion.
One day, the new VP sticks his head in my office and sees me standing still, staring into space and sweating.
He asks me if I’m ok.
I respond, “No, I think I’m getting burned out. I’m crispy around the edges and I might be done.”
He looked concerned and closed my office door behind him. I don’t remember what he said. I think he might have recommended a vacation.
A few minutes later, SW walked in and I guess I was still in the same way. He closed the door behind him and asked what wrong and if I was ok.
“No, I’m not.“
I tell him my heart was racing. I felt panicked. All I wanted to do is run from the office. I felt desperate. A dark intensity gripped my entire body and it paralyzed me. I felt hopeless and helpless.
SW sat down and looked me in the eye, “Get on the phone now and call your doctor.”
I tried to wave him off, told him I just needed a break and was scheduling some vacation.
If you don’t get on the phone and make an appointment with your doctor right now, I’m going to take you there myself. You need to make an appointment and leave. Now.
I did. I left the office and met with my regular doctor.
An Emergency Outside the ER
I told Doc how I was feeling and it must have been evident. In 20 years as his patient, I’d never seen Doc respond as he did that day. He immediately ordered an anxiety and depression assessment. After he reviewed the results and quizzed me to assess for suicide, Doc also recommended an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant.
I balked at first.
He was aware of my history but not in total. Doc was the one who recommended the most effective therapist I’d seen but then I’d informed him of the snowball of prescriptions as well as of my self-detox.
After telling me how foolish it was to self-detox, Doc stated it was completely my choice. I could use these medications to help stabilize me, especially with the forthcoming vacation, and get me well enough to start taking proper steps to wellness. After that point, we would slowly wean me off the medications. I acquiesced.
The actions, caring, words of SW and Doc saved my life that day. I’m convinced of it. Doc prescribed the right medication in the right amounts the first time, which was magic based on my lab rat history.
Over the next few weeks, both my extreme anxiety and deep depression were made manageable.
Life is Marathon, Not a Sprint
Once I felt better I recommitted to getting well again with the goal of getting off the medication completely and staying that way.
I began to run again and workout. My body responded well and I remembered how much I enjoyed it. I felt good. I achieved more personal fitness goals than I ever imagined.
I saw Doc six months later and he was amazed at the changes I’d made.
He also asked about my friend, SW (and still does). He told me how lucky and thankful he was, and I should be, to have a friend like SW as it’s rare for men to stand tall when dealing with things like depression and anxiety in other men irrespective of friendship or any other bond.
I also told Doc I was about to run my first half marathon. He was astounded. Seeing my physical and mental condition just six months prior, this was an unthinkable challenge. However, I’d trained consistently, and for once, intelligently. I was ready.
When race day arrived, I was excited. It was a slightly chilly early April morning. I moved to the group aligning with the finish time my training told me would be close to actual finish. The starter went off and I ran.
Two Years Gone
I finished the marathon that day two years ago. I remembered vaguely the applause of the crowd cheering on all finishers. However, two things were and remain vivid at the finish: Crossing the line to the excited shouts of “Congratulations, Daddy! We’re proud of you!” and the warm embraces of my family who crossed the barriers to meet me.
At 44, I was not in the best shape of my adult life nor was I blessed with a runner‘s frame but I was proud of the progress I had made. The race I ran was for myself and my health but it was also for them, my family.
I crossed over the finish line to rejoin them in life.
With the race barely over, I arrived in the office on Monday morning and my boss tells me one my colleagues left the company over the weekend. I was shocked at the suddenness. He needed me to fill the gap, a much bigger role with more responsibility and increased stress.
I had to do what I thought was best for the team and I was the one best equipped to keep the ship afloat. I agreed.
Back to the Future
In the last two years, while largely successful, my job has changed multiple times, and with each change, has become more demanding in time and personal investment. Also, the pressures of family have increased as well.
As a result, I’ve gained >100 lbs. as the pain and stress most find some outlet. It’s hard to see in print, but there it is, truth unvarnished.
While not near the levels of 2005, I am still on medications I want to be rid of.
Like many addicts, I’ve taken the success I achieved for granted, only to be revisited by the demons of clinical depression and chronic anxiety. This time around, however, they have hit me harder and stayed with me longer than at any other point in my life.
I’ve realized these afflictions represent an opportunity and I view them that way. I also realize that while they can be managed, there is no cure.
My fourteen-year-old daughter said to me recently, “Daddy, I want to go back to when you were happy.”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
Remember when you were running and in better shape…when you finished the race? That’s when you were happy. I want you that have that again.
It was both touching and condemning.
They are my inspiration. I’m here to make a change, a permanent change for us. I’m ready to do what it takes to win the race of my life, and by doing so, re-enter and play a significant part in the lives of my family.
So, I take my first step on the road to wellness. Mile markers ahead from previous experience will help guide my way for a bit, but there is new ground to cover without a map or GPS.
I am convinced that the answer to long term success on this journey is not a capsule in a medicine bottle but my own lifestyle choices and how each interrelates holistically to my mind, body, and spirit. If so, there is hope.
This is a race I must finish and finish strong.
That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow’s another light.