31U: Dave

three questions. one of you.

Periodically, I will be asking a friend three questions about his or her experience with mental illness. This person might be a guy who deals with mental illness or someone (like my wife) who is a supporter. Over time, the 31U series will show how men of all sorts, with all backgrounds, and of all personalities can be inflicted in a variety of ways and how loved ones can better understand and support them. The hope is that this series will serve as a reminder for those in darkness that we are not alone in this fight, and that it will be a helpful resource for supporters.

If I were to write a list (which I won’t do) of the people I’m most excited to have connected with recently (seriously, I don’t list friends), Dave would certainly be near the top (if I were to write a list…which I won’t). He wrote me an email a couple weeks ago expressing an interest in contributing to the 31U. Less than 24 hours later, we sat across from each other at a local coffee shop sharing stories and discussing personal experiences. I was enlivened by my time spent with Dave, encouraged by his story, and eager to collaborate in the future. But because his 31U is so incredibly rich, I’ll stop with my intro and let him tell his story.

When and how did you realize you dealt with a mental illness?

With difficult childhood circumstances seared into my memory and the thick stigma associated with mental illness in our society, I honestly never remember a time in my life where talking about my family hasn’t been a challenge for me. There always is pain and shame lurking beneath the surface.

I grew up in the home of a pastor and a working mother, and bottom line: in some religious circles, pastors and their families have a perceived and unwritten expectation of perfection. My family was far from it. My mother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I have a family history on both my mom and dad’s side of clinical depression. I have vivid memories of dark episodes and seasons that wreaked havoc on me and my family as a result of this pervasive and oftentimes lethal disease.

My parents are beautiful and wonderful people. They both have hearts of gold in their own unique ways. But mental illness has taken a major toll on the health, life and careers of my family. Looking back at it now and having learned about mental illness later in life, I see the role it has played in severed relationships, job losses, hospital visits, and a marriage that nearly collapsed on multiple occasions.

I didn’t know how to name it at the time, but these experiences left me with a deep fear and hatred for mental illness. 

Years later, in August of 2006, after graduating and marrying my college sweetheart, I began teaching high school science. I lasted until November of 2007. I thought I was experiencing a career crisis, but I realize now that this was a point in life where I was suffering my first major bouts with severe depression.

What were some of the major signs and symptoms you noticed?

I began to doubt myself, my abilities, and sadly, my worth. Regular life stressors began to be triggers for mornings where I would wake up not wanting to face the day. I began not eating. I lost weight (which was crazy because I was already skin and bones). I began having nervous breakdowns in closets and behind closed doors. I shut out the closest people to me. I didn’t want to face the fact that I was struggling right out of the gate in my early career. I let all this go on too long and reached a breaking point. I realized there was something really wrong when I began thinking about using the gun in our home to end my life, but I had never had thoughts like this before. To be quite honest, these thoughts terrified me. What terrified me even more was the fear that I might be dealing with the same kind of illness that had plagued my family my whole life.

So, I stuffed the feelings and pulled myself up by my bootstraps as they say. I began substitute teaching. This was strange as most people start by substitute teaching and then move into a full time teaching assignment. I reversed that order. It was humiliating to tell people, let alone think of myself as a teacher who couldn’t cut it. Mostly, I tried to just not talk about it with folks.

But then, an amazing turn of events happened and I found myself eventually hired as an instructional designer at Spring Arbor University. This was a role that felt custom made for me. All of the sudden, my career choice and my life didn’t seem to be a waste anymore.

I was thriving in a newfound career helping other faculty begin teaching using technology as a way to engage with more students and help them succeed. Surely, this was the reason for my humiliating episode while teaching. I simply hadn’t found the exact right career pathway until now.

And then I had another episode.

I had just finished a masters degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning Specialization from Capella University and our firstborn son Gibson David Goodrich had just been born. He was a great baby, and I had a wonderful wife and superb job situation. How could I possibly be dealing with this foreign monster of numbness and detachment again?

This is when I began to really be in denial and avoided seeking the help I so desperately needed as a young father. I felt I couldn’t admit to anyone that I was struggling inside because now I had no good circumstantial explanation for it. I would go into work and pretend things were great only to return home and collapse from exhaustion from the agonizing facade. And then I began feeling enormous guilt for not helping enough at home as a new parent. Worst still, I felt guilty that I wasn’t feeling any affection for our son and wasn’t enjoying the things in life that I usually enjoyed. I lost an apatite again. All I wanted to do was sleep. I can’t even begin to describe the dark night of the soul I was experiencing each morning when trying to simply get out of bed. The thoughts of guilt around how lazy and how horrible of a father I was being became too heavy for me to carry one morning. I began having suicidal thoughts again and this is when I had to force myself to admit to my wife that something was wrong and I needed help.

I needed help so bad, we didn’t know what else to do other than go to the emergency room. I then got admitted and began to face the reality of my severely clinical depression when I was diagnosed. This is when I began with medication, therapy and I slowly began to rediscover the joys of life that accompanied routine exercise. Not only did things change around for me, but I felt I had a new chance at life which made me appreciate things more than I ever had before. It is hard to describe, but Parker Palmer alluded to the experience of coming out of a severe depression as “To feel at home in my own skin… To feel at home on the face of the earth…” I also began reading Thomas Merton at the time and started a new spiritual awakening to an inner consciousness I had never discovered before.

Unfortunately, I convinced myself that I had outgrown medications, therapy and I also had lost the regularity of my workout routines. Eventually, I would experience two more debilitating episodes before I began to understand and accept myself as having the condition that I do.

What have been the most valuable tools, resources, or strategies that have helped you? 

Since that time, I continue to grow and learn on a daily basis without trying to suppress or deny the truth of my condition. I no longer fear the reality that medications, professional services, community and exercise are all essential factors for my wellbeing.

A particularly helpful analogy was shared with me after my third episode. Someone asked me what it would be like to go about my daily life without wearing my prescription glasses or contacts. Immediately, I understood how this related to my dependencies on other such interventions for my mental clarity and wellbeing. The idea of weaning off my dependency on prescription eyewear is laughable. I can’t go a minute not wearing them without becoming a liability to us all. Similarly, my health, wellbeing and relationships all suffer greatly when I don’t take care of myself with the help and resources available to me for the condition I have. 

Can you relate at all with Dave’s story here? If so, what helped you? Maybe you are in the midst of a dark season now? If so, consider taking a first step toward wellness by reaching out to somebody, just perusing through Dadding Depressed, or finding a counselor

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Dadding Depressed

D. Doug Mains sips black coffee, writes in the first-person (except when crafting a bio) and thinks best with a blinking cursor. His first name is Dwight, but that's a secret. Everything else can be found on his blog, DaddingDepressed.com, a match for men in the dark.

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