They say there are only two ways to view the world. Either you think in binaries, black and white, or you have a more nuanced view of the world and think in grey. To me, that all seems too simplistic. I’d like to float something else, another way to see the world. And that’s seeing the world in color.
Seeing the world in color to me means seeing life all around me, the beauty of it all, and the tragedy. And not only seeing it but feeling it as well. Allowing myself to feel all the highs, all the lows, and everything in between that make this life what it is.
Life in color also means that I see the world not as it is, but what it could be. Some people may think that I’m just burying my head in the sand. I need to be realistic, you know. There are bad people out there. Yeah, I get that. There’s horrible, unspeakable tragedy out there, very real issues that need addressing and fixing. They’re the very issues I am determined to help fix. Because, again, seeing the world this way leaves much space for tragedy and feeling it to its full. When you see the world as what it should be, not as it is, fixing those issues becomes a top priority.
A tale of two cities
I live in an old manufacturing town in the Rust Belt of Northern Illinois, a place many have written off as past its peak. But for years now, there has been a small group trying to make this city better. They see potential where others see a lost cause. They roll up their sleeves while others scoff on social media. These people, and what they’re doing is changing my city, and it’s not just cosmetic. Those scoffers? Their numbers are dwindling. People are beginning to have pride in this town again. I would know, because I used to be one of those scoffers a few short years ago.
But since I started seeing this place I call home for what it could be, seeing it in color, my mind began to shift from “this place sucks” to “What can I contribute to make it better?” Since then, everything has changed. In rooting for my hometown, visiting new places, and meeting new people, this place looks very different, I can see it in a new light. And the city is changing, every day. Pride is returning, all because a few people chose to see in color.
A life transformed by color
For much of my teenage and young adult years, depression and anxiety have been major themes. They’ve even almost killed me a time or two. There’s been many days I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. In fact, a couple years ago, I was sleeping on average of eighteen hours a day. But seeing things not as they are but what they could be did good and set my recovery into motion. It got me into therapy, into a psychiatrist who found the medicine I was on was way off. I got help. I learned coping mechanisms, I know my limits, I know my boundaries and I stick to them.
Some people may see this all as idealistic and not a good way to view the world. They’ll say the old tired lines like they’ve recited them million of times: The world is a cold place and it will steamroll over you in a heartbeat if you let it.The world isn’t going to conform to you, you have to conform to the world.
Here’s the thing: Does this have to be our fate? Have we lost all originality to be able to do the work that will make this world better? I don’t think so and I refuse to believe that’s the case. My way of thinking is actually, I believe, the opposite of idealism, where idealism just ponders a better future, seeing the world in color helps create a better future. You don’t discount the pain and suffering, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism in the world, not at all. You feel every bit of it, because colors can be light or be dark. Seeing those dark colors with the light ones helps you put a plan into place to obliterate the hate, prejudice, and indifference that plagues our hearts.
This world becomes a better place with people like you, people like me, who see it not as it is but what it could be if we just roll up our sleeves and get to work.
And just like my hometown, it only takes a few of us to spark a movement.
“Why won’t they let me in? Why won’t they accept me?”This has been one of the most recurrent questions I’ve had to ask myself in my short lifehere, but in some odd way, feelingsilenced and shamed has given me my voice.
I think it’s obvious to those who know me that I don’t fit the mold. I don’t fit in, and I’ve always been the round peg in a square whole. I speak my truth and let the chips fall where they may. It hasn’t always won me adoring fans. I’d be the first to admit, however, that I haven’t always lived according to this part of me, and that’s what I wanted to talk about here. My last blog touched on this, but that was reactionary and was written literally the morning after everything hit the fan. Now, almost a month later, I have some more clarity on things that I want to share and things I think could and should be done to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
How it all began
I came to the party late. During my school years, my sexuality was erased. I had no idea what being gay was, let alone who was gay. I didn’t start to even begin to question my own sexuality until junior year of high school, and even then, because of immense fear of hell, I wouldn’t even entertain the thought for more than a fleeting second before stuffing it. However, every couple months or so, it would resurface. I “prayed the gay away” almost every night to no avail. One of these insistences is still etched in my memory.
I was on a retreat with my class at the beginning of my senior year of high school, a conservative Christian school in Northern Illinois. The whole theme of the retreat was centered around sex and sexuality, and a pastor from my church was brought in to talk to us. It was the usual purity culture stuff, “No one wants a chewed piece of gum” or “the Bible doesn’t really say anything about masturbation, but still, don’t do it.” All the hits. At the end of the last session, there was a time to write down all our sexual sins and pray for God to break the chains of our desires and to forgive us. Sitting under a tree in the dead of night, I wrote something down on my piece of paper that I’ve never revealed, and at the time, and for many years after, was my deepest, darkest secret.
“God, please forgive me for being attracted to men. Break the chains, Lord. I am so sorry. Amen.”
After a time of reflection, we went to a bonfire and were advised to throw our pieces of paper in and let the flames consume our sins. For years, it would only be me and that fire that knew the truth.
God boy’s secret
Fast forward four years and a month from that retreat, it was October of 2016 and I was finally ready to come out publicly. I’d spent the previous months coming out to those closest to me but by October I was done hiding from the world. In the pre-dawn hours on October 6th, I came out on my former blog and posted it to all my social media channels, and went to bed. I was now out, but even then, my language and true thoughts were masked in a way that both heaped undue shame on myself while also affirming that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” I had come around to accept myself, but I was still very guarded, thus explaining the mixed language. I was afraid I would be disowned.
In the almost three years since coming out, I’ve made many missteps as I’ve come to get to know a large part of my identity that had been erased for much of my life. Late last year, I kind of low key manipulated myself back into the closet and was referring to myself as asexual. I don’t know how this happened or why, but it did. Around this time, I also started going back to my old church and got swept in really fast. My identifying as asexual seemed fine for the one person who knew everything.
Now, I believe sexuality is a spectrum, and I also believe I register as asexual to a point, but that’s still something I’m working out. I know I am primarily gay. To make a long story short, this person was fine with asexual Tim, at least as it appeared, he was fine with the Tim that wasn’t “acting on his homosexuality” but not openly gay Tim. What makes this even more strange, is that this was never mentioned to me at the time. This person, an old high school friend who was leading the young adult ministry, just skirted around all that, using ambiguous terms to describe relationships and sexuality.
As time went on, I could tell my body was going into a fight or flight response. It all culminated at an elder’s meeting that focused on the direction of the church, one where a lady got up and asked why qualified LGBTQ folks were getting denied by the elders to serve or work in the church. The response from one of the elders was a smug, “Well, because it’s a sin. We don’t want them being role models to our youth. We welcome them to attend, we just can’t have them serving.” I initially freaked out because I was serving. And I had made friends who I didn’t want to lose.
After the meeting, I went to talk to one of the elders and said something that I immediately regretted. I told him that I had previously identified as gay but no longer did and would this be a problem in the future. He told me no, it wouldn’t be at all, but that did nothing to ease my mind. After all this, I ran out to my car, collapsed into my seat and just started sobbing. I had just disowned myself. I knew then that this church was not my future and it didn’t have my best interests at heart. I lied to the elders about my sexuality, but more importantly, I lied to myself, and I was lied to, and it all happened before I could even catch it.
As that week went on, I knew what I needed to do. I knew it was over and this time, it had to be for good. Disowning myself went about three bridges too far. That could simply never happen again. I quickly accepted that I was gay once and for all and I also accepted that my sexuality and my faith didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. When this all fell into place, I was at total peace.
I felt I owed it to my friend to tell him I was leaving, seeing as I was a part of his small group and was at that point, helping him with coffee a few times a month. I called up my friend, who had already been tipped off by myself that I was gay and okay with that. I invited him to grab some coffee where I would tell him my plans.
A little backstory here: I had been texting him that whole week, and like I did to the elders, I disowned myself to him, as well. He also had previously said that no one at the church knew about my sexuality it “just wasn’t something we talk about over lunch, you know?” I found out later that he had told everyone, even going so far as to tell another ministry leader that he was on his way to an intervention for a 20-something who’s “struggling with his sexuality.” An intervention. For the meeting I requested. He had no intention of hearing me out, to him it was simply just a reconnaissance mission.
I didn’t expect this conversation to be easy, and it wasn’t. In reality, it was far worse than what I had anticipated. He came in and I cracked some lame joke that I hadn’t been “straight” (groan) with him. One thing led to another and I told him I was leaving and I was going to try a mainline church that would accept me for me. A bunch of hemming and hawing ensued after this, one thing led to another and suddenly I found myself on the defensive while he took it upon himself to read all the clobber passes (the dozen or so bible passages that seemingly condemn gay relationships, a matter that is up for debate in many theological circles) to me, then explaining them all. I was devastated that a so-called friend of mine would act this way toward me. I was upset that all I was at this point was a project. It didn’t matter that we had the exact same background and working knowledge of the Bible and its many different interpretations, it only mattered that I was now seemingly going against what the church had historically taught and I must be wrong. I. tried explaining that churches don’t have a consensus on this and many have actually come around to being LGBTQ affirming, but to no avail. It was heartbreaking and draining.
Thankfully, the coffee shop had closed in the middle of all this mess, so it was over, but not before he followed me out to my car to impart these parting words onto me “Tim, God doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants you to have everything you need in him.” I took that as the final blow. As someone who had just spent the better part of the last seven years of my life clawing my way out of the abyss of major depression and anxiety. I was finally happy, and no one was going to steal that from me. That comment cemented in my mind that I was doing the right thing.
So, What Now?
Like I said earlier, I still have faith. I’m still gay. Within the last couple weeks, I’ve started attending a small but growing Lutheran church, a church that, on my first day there, was blessing two church members who happened to be married and lesbian, as they were getting ready to move out state. I felt like I was home. Like I belonged. I felt totally cared for and I felt I could be myself.
Is this the end? Of course not. I realize I still have much to learn and a lot of growth to go through, but as time has progressed, as I’ve gained more experience, I do feel I have a good base from which to build on.
I’ll end with a call to action: Clarity is important. I was not told the truth about my former church, I was lied to and manipulated by a person I trusted, something that ultimately ended up with me sobbing in my car in a dark parking lot because I had just disowned myself. This is what it’s like to not have your actively enforced church policies on LGBTQ people and relationships easily available. It only hurts people, it only leads to destruction.
Manipulation was what the serpent used to seduce Adam and Eve. It’s sad to say that all too often, this same tactic is what the church uses to seduce and then systematically, piece by piece, erase Adam and Steve.
If you want to learn more about the work of clarity, and where your church might score, head over to churchclarity.org
Well, here we are again, sitting at Starbucks and having what I can only describe as a mild existential crisis. Of course, I’m being just a tad facetious. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing just fine. I have a job I love with the best coworkers in the world, I’m studying a subject in school that has been my dream since the fourth grade, I have amazingly supportive friends who would drop heaven and earth to make sure I’m okay, and oh! I just started a two-week vacation. Great, then. Right?
Nope. Not so fast. There is this one thing.
I said goodbye to a group of people yet again yesterday.
Maybe I’m just not good in groups, you know? I mean, it makes sense to me, I’ve always marched to the off-beat of my own drum, abhor groupthink and the hive mentality. But it’s more than that, and I should’ve known better. One aspect of my life that was obvious to readers of my old blog is one that I have yet to mention here at all, and that is that I’m gay. I’m also a person of faith. This obviously has created conflict in the years since I first came out in October of 2016. I’ve spanned the gamut from “celibacy” (more like, Tim’s super picky and an acquired taste himself so it would be easy for him to pull off that sham) to “liberal” evangelicalism, to a short stint in progressive mainline circles, but if I was honest with myself I was already out the door to agnosticism at that point. Then, a series of events brought me back to “moderate” evangelicalism last fall, and yes, I should’ve known better. I should’ve known that could blow up in my face quickly, and boy did it. So here we are at Starbucks.
I keep asking myself the question “where now?” Where do I go? I don’t know all those answers. I know that yesterday was very hard for me to get through in one piece, as I sat in another coffee shop while someone I thought was my friend continued to read the infamous “clobber passages” to me. Oh! But he not only read them, he decided to explain them to me, how I was wrong, and how any affirming church I would attend would be wrong, as well. “Well, church history hasn’t changed on this issue yet” he said. What I didn’t say at the time (because I was too busy tearing into my skin with my own fingernail, something I do when I’m in extreme distresses or very, very anxious) was that “the church” has been and is continuing to change on this. In the United States alone, the majority of the faith-based population now supports full LGBTQ rights. The holdouts? Evangelicals. The “hip” churches. (Their marketing jargon, not mine.) In fact, through lessons hard won, I think I’ve come to the realization that the places that claim they’re a different way to do things are really… well, not. Same harmful theology, better band.
I’ve spent my life trying to have this one way or the other, but if I’m honest, neglecting one over the other, my faith over sexuality, or vise versa, has only created conflict, confusion, and chaos.
They need to sing the same tune. My faith is important to me. So is my sexuality and all that entails. I long to someday have a boyfriend, and someday distant, a husband. And I long to be at a church that is affirming and considers the LGBTQ community not only as people they’d like at their church, but as an essential component of their congregation.
The best advice I ever got on this was so simple, but oh so affirming and freeing. It was from one of my cousins right after I came out to her on Thanksgiving in 2016, “You know, Tim, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”And she was 100% right. They don’t, and in my case, they can’t be. I’m done pretending that either of these parts of me don’t exist. They exist in tandem. And guess what? They kind of always have.
I don’t know what the days ahead have in store for me, but I’m not worrying about all that right now. My dad’s retiring in two days after almost 40 years in law enforcement, and then I’m heading off on vacation, and honestly, I need it at this point. Distance can be healing. Some distance from a Starbucks would be nice for a wile, too.
If you’ve been following along for a while now, you may know that life has truly been treating me well. Really, this warm and nurturing time in my life could be described as my own personal Summer. But, it’s also been no secret to those close to me that the past few to several weeks have been quite difficult. Two family members of mine have been diagnosed with cancer, one has now passed away, and in addition to all of that, things have transpired to try and upend the progress I’ve made this year in terms of my faith and my future. I’m emerging from these last few weeks feeling a bit shaken.
Having a history of depression doesn’t help matters much, and has only made me more anxious that my depression is relapsing and I’ll soon be back down in that hopeless pit wanting nothing more than to feel something again. See, for me, depression often feels like nothing. Literally nothing. I get numb and disassociate in major ways. I shirk responsibly, cut off my friends, and hole myself up in my room. It’s a terrible feeling, especially for someone who is naturally expressive and is, somewhat, an empath. Being numb and holing myself up in my room goes against who I am. I hate it, but I can’t seem to help it when it happens. There were times in high school where I had to be literally dragged out of bed and into school because of a depressive episode.
I’ve been afraid the last few weeks that depression was coming back into my life again, after what has been a long period without it. In fact, I’ve been in “full remission” since mid-2018. My prognosis has never been better, and honestly, I’ve never felt better. But still, that fear persists.
Honestly, though, when I think rationally about this (which can be hard to do) I’ve had a hard couple weeks, which included getting bombarded with bad news almost daily and I’ve, for the most part, kept my composure. That’s progress, my friends! These kinds of things would throw anyone off, for weeks, months even. And it would all totally be okay. I’ve kept going this time. I haven’t shirked from obligations or holed myself up in my room, I’ve been out there, and have been present as much as I can be.
No, this isn’t depression. Not yet, anyway.
It seems to be more akin to a midsummer thunderstorm. You know what I’m talking about: You’re by the pool in the afternoon, enjoying your favorite drink and then all of the sudden, big, black clouds fill the sky and you hear it: The rumbles of thunder. Soon, those rumbles become crashes, followed by pouring rain. You can’t see beyond the rain right now, and for a second, you even forget something important:
It’s still summer.
The weather is still warm, the pool is still open, and the sun is still shining bright. It’s all going to be okay. Thunderstorms are just a fact of summer, they don’t last forever.
The weather is still warm, the pool is still open, and the sun is still shining bright. It’s all going to be okay. Thunderstorms are just a fact of summer, they don’t last forever. Sure enough, the thunderstorm subsides almost as soon as it’s arrived. The sun is shining once again and you go back outside to resume your day by the pool.
All is well.
That’s what I’ve been resting on these last couple weeks. My personal thunderstorm has shaken me a bit, but it hasn’t changed the fact that it’s still summer in my life. I’m still firing on all cylinders, I’m still moving forward, and me taking a day to breathe here and there is a good thing and not a harbinger of a depressive relapse to come.
As my mom used to tell me growing up: “Don’t worry honey. It’s just a little rain.”
A quick note: The title of this post says it all: I am going to struggle my way through writing this, for a multitude of reasons. Another note: There is really no controversy here and you may think the title is “clickbaity” but understand something: What I’m about to reveal is something that has traumatized me since the day it happened. I alluded to this event in an earlier post, and said someday, I may be able to tell the tale without freaking out.
Hopefully, today is that day.
1.24.13 – The rest of the story
In January, I told the story of my suicide attempt and the events that proceeded and succeeded it. There were a few details I left out, such as the medication’s name I searched on the internet, names I know, and other things I just wasn’t ready to share yet. The first two categories are things I will not ever publicly divulge, hopefully for obvious reasons to you. The third, I can talk about, but it has to be on my terms.
There’s one major part of the story I left out I’ve felt for some time now if I shared, it may help ease the trauma and shame of someone else who may have a similar experience to my own. For my own mental well-being, I’ve kept it under wraps, but sometimes, exposing things to the sunlight is a good thing to do. I also recently found out that I’m not alone in this, and my experience of what I had happen isn’t isolated.
Within minutes, the ambulance came along with the police. I was mortified and in tears. I remember the EMT’s asking me about school and where I graduated from, but nothing else.
Excerpt from my January blog post – 1.24.13
“The ambulance came along with the police,” when I wrote that back in January, that was already more than I was willing to share, however, the storyline wouldn’t have been complete without it in there. I knew it would someday set me up to tell the rest of the story – particularly the “police” portion.
Now, before I go any farther, I just want to say that I am very much in support of law enforcement. My dad has had a long, storied, and distinguished career in law enforcement and one of my best friends is in school as we speak to go into the field. I know what it’s like to go to bed every night as a kid and worry that your dad may not come home the next morning. I know how thankless of a profession law enforcement can be. Saying that the police acted stupidly is something that, for me, is almost heretical. However, they too are human and do make mistakes. I believe what happened to me that night at the hands of an officer was wrong and has led to years of shame, fear, and trauma.
“Do you want to press charges?”
When the police officer arrived at the doctor’s office that night, nothing was explained to me. I thought he was arresting me, and I was incredibly scared. “What did I do? I didn’t break any laws, did I?” I thought to myself. One thing you should know about me is that I am a rule follower. I don’t even go over the speed limit, for crying out loud. So imagine you’re at the lowest point of your life, and the cops show up for reasons you don’t fully understand, and then take you and handcuff you, still not explaining what’s happening or why it’s happening. I didn’t know if I was being arrested, or being taken to the hospital. But I certainly thought it was the former considering that you usually don’t get restrained to take a ride in an ambulance. Nothing was being explained. Somehow, after what seemed like forever, I found out that I was being taken to the emergency room. But what happened next continues to fill me with shame, dread, and trauma, he asked my parents if they’d like to press charges against me. For what exactly? For being sick? For almost dying? For needing obvious help? Of course my parents said no. But the damage had already been done.
Why are you telling this story, Tim? What do you want accomplished?
I’m telling this story because I fear that this treatment is far too common for someone in a crisis scenario and someone could honestly wind up getting hurt because of it. Luckily in my situation, that didn’t happen aside from the trauma I have carried with me surrounding the event. But first responders not having adequate crisis intervention training is a problem in America. Too few police departments even offer this as part of their officer’s training and many of the others only train certain officers. I’m not looking for heads to roll, I’m just looking for a better way to handle these very intense situations. We could do without the handcuffs in most cases and we could do without the criminalization of mental illnesses or making those suffering from them feel like a criminal. If more had been explained to me, that I hadn’t broken any laws, that I was going to get the help I needed and I wasn’t going to jail, that may have made a huge difference in how I perceived the events taking place.
I also tell this story to hopefully show others who may have had had similar experiences that they’re not alone. I still feel I was treated like a criminal that night and it’s still something that causes me deep shame. That shouldn’t be happening to anyone and if divulging more detail about my own story can ease someone else’s burden, then it’s worth it to me to share.
I’m going to wrap this up, because yes, this is still a raw wound, even six years later and writing just these few words has taken a toll on my psyche, but in a weird way, I feel better getting it all down on paper.
You see it on TV all the time, ghost hunter shows exploring an old psychiatric hospital. You’ve seen movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and you think that must be what it’s like, but it’s not. There were no ghosts, no demons, and at least where I was, no Nurse Ratched. Lately, I’ve noticed more and more people making fun of mental health facilities and the people they think should be there.
“Take the tin foil hat off your head and get yourself up to the fourth floor.” I’ve heard this a billion times in reference to conspiracy theorists. Now, I am the farthest thing from a flat-earther or a believer in the deep-state, but I’ve been on the “fourth floor” twice. This isn’t funny to me.
The Joke Stops Here
There really isn’t much that truly offends me, but cracking jokes about mental illness, suicide, or psych wards is something that will set me off every time. Someone in their darkest hour warrants our support, not our scorn. Someone who finds themselves in distress needs our love, not our jokes. Just today, I found someone I know, a first responder, no less, laugh at a mental health organization for trying to implore people to use the term “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide.”
A little aside: The roll first responders play in helping those in a mental health crisis is crucial, however, too often these people are not adequately trained and can end up making an already traumatic situation much worse than it needs to be. I have my own personal experience with this, and I’m still dealing with the trauma of it to this day. Maybe some day, I’ll tell the tale, but I still can’t tell it even to my counselor without having an anxiety attack, so I’ll leave it for now.
But back to the jokes: It just isn’t cool. The last thing we need is someone thinking their friends and family are going to judge them or disown them for seeking out the help they desperately need. To you, the jokes may seem harmless, but to someone like myself, they add to the shame and the stigma we already feel on the daily.
Cancer jokes? Not funny.
Jokes about heart attacks? Again, not funny and rightfully so.
Jokes about someone’s mental state? Totally fair game.
See a problem here?
My whole adult life has been the story of getting my mental illnesses to a place where they are manageable and to a place where I can be functional as an adult. None of this would’ve been possible without getting help for myself. That old phrase “No man is an island” is even more true for those of us who deal with mental illnesses. We need allies and friends. We need your support, your love, your kindness, and your patience. We do not, however, need your scorn. It hinders us from getting help. Even if you’re joking about someone else, it still affects us negatively and adds to the stigma.
I’ve been lucky: I had parents who made it totally normal for me to go to therapy on a weekly basis when I was younger and they encouraged me that medication was what I needed, just like someone with a physical ailment. I’ve never really gotten the impression people thought I was strange for needing these assets, at least by those closest to me. Unfortunately, my story doesn’t seem to be the norm for many people.
It should be though, and making that a reality is one of the things my heart beats for nowadays. Since I first disclosed that I’ve been hospitalized for mental health reasons, I’ve heard of more and more people who had the same thing happen to them. Honestly, it seems to be much more common than what people care to admit. Too often, it seems people feel the need to suffer in silence, like that part of their story is a dark stain on their life that they keep bottled up and don’t talk about.
It’s understandable. I got lucky with the people I have around me. No one really bats an eye when they hear what I’ve been through. But even for me, it’s always in the back of my mind and my chief worry: What if a future employer reads this? What if that new friend doesn’t want to associate with me anymore? Not even I’m immune, someone who has had an abundance of support.
Not telling that psych ward joke may seem like small potatoes to you, but it really can be huge to someone like me. People who suffer from a mental illness sometimes won’t disclose their condition because they feel unsafe around certain people. Telling that joke may be the thing that pushes your closest friend to not tell you they’re hurting.
The way our culture views being hospitalized for a mental illness isn’t something I’m willing to sit back and take. We’ve made so many gains but there’s still much work to do. No one, upon meeting me, would even think that I’ve been hospitalized for my mental illness, I’m high-functioning, competent, and fairly well-spoken, but then again, a large part of those who have been where I was are also.
I don’t speak very much about my experiences in a mental health unit because, yes, some of my memories of those times are quite traumatic. Most of that trauma, however, stems from me not knowing what to expect and having a level of stigma in myself at the time. Knowing that this was far more common than what I thought may have gone a long way in alleviating some of my anxiety about the whole ordeal.
Although it was traumatic, my experiences in a mental health unit are why I’m alive today. Do I want to go back there? Hell no. Was it pleasant? Nope, but when is a hospital stay ever fun? Am I, in a weird way, thankful for those experiences? There’s some hesitance on my part to type this, but kind of.
I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t hospitalized, I am well aware of that. It was, by far, the most vulnerable time of my life, and even for someone like me, who chooses to be very open about his mental illnesses, it’s still a part of my life that’s extraordinarily difficult to share. I hope in sharing more about this part of me, I can erase some of the stigma and maybe ease someone else’s burden of feeling like they can’t tell anyone about their own experience.
So, be careful before you make that crack about mental health units or make light of someone who looks “off” to you, you never know who may be in your midst or what pain they’re hiding, even if you think you do.
Heavy breathing, heart racing, palms sweating, crying and even screaming – I was having another panic attack. It was the middle of the summer of 2012 and I had just graduated high school, an accomplishment I was proud of. I was also having massive panic attacks at least three times daily, which were by the end of July, literally killing me.
By this time, I had been having relentless panic attacks since that February, each one seemingly taking a little bit more of myself with it. I often say that I wouldn’t wish panic attacks on my worst enemies, and that is very much true, they’re awful. Sorry to be so simplistic, but there’s just no other way to describe them. Although, I don’t wish them on anyone, I do wish those around me would understand more about them and maybe not say and do some of the things they say and do.
“You’re just faking it”
Imagine, if you would, an event or a person you were impacted by deeply. Imagine what you feel when you think about this person or event. It can be any feeling you want, positive or negative. What person or event came to mind? What did you feel when you thought of them? Now, imagine me telling you those feelings you had were all manufactured, you made them all up. You’re a fraud.
Not a good feeling, is it?
Now, imagine telling that to someone who already feels like he’s losing it. Imagine his reaction when the crisis counselor in the emergency room he took himself to to find help in a sea of confusion looks at him like he’s just wasting her time, that she agrees with the others in his life: He’s faking it and he just needs to put up or shut up. Imagine the feelings that stirs up. Imagine feeling even more like a lost cause when even the crisis counselor thinks you’re making the entire thing up. “Funny, you were panicking until you got to the hospital, why not anymore?” She said. Imagine the last bit of light going out of his eyes as he thinks will anyone ever understand? What do you do when even the trained professionals don’t offer you a way out?
Hard stuff, right? The thing is, for those of us who suffer from panic attacks, the feelings of panic and fear are as real as anything. Imagine a traumatic event in your life and how fearful you must have been during it. Now, imagine that feeling coming on with no rhyme or reason when you’re just watching TV with your family. The most intense fear and anxiety you could possibly imagine, and all you were doing was watching the Food Network.
Why would anyone fake that?
“You are kind of trapped”
In late May of 2012, I was wrapping up my senior year on a trip with my class to Cincinnati. I had been holding up well for much of the trip, no panic and very little anxiety. One evening, the entire class was on the bus heading to a dinner on a river cruise. One of the chaperones got up to make an announcement. Before I knew it, I could feel myself fading. I suddenly felt trapped. There was no way to get out of the bus. No way to escape the situation I found myself in.
The chaperone sat down, everyone seemingly going on with their conversations, blissfuly unaware that my world had just stopped dead in its tracks. I started hyperventilating and the tears began to flow. I was having a full-blown panic attack. On a bus. In an unfamiliar city. With my entire class watching. One of the chaperones looked over to me, then to another chaperone and asked her “Is he okay?”
One of my teachers came over to me to try and console me by rubbing my back and trying to talk me down. It took what seemed like hours, but I ended up calming down. My friends came over to sit with me to make sure I was okay, the entire class not really sure what had just happened. I told one of my classmates I was feeling trapped. His response? “Well, you are kind of trapped.” This is not something you want to say to someone experiencing any kind of mental anguish. It makes us feel worse and could jeopardize our rebound.
When I did eventually bounce back, I made it look like nothing happened, it was almost like I was back to “normal” immediately. I went from intense fear, crying, and hyperventilating to the same fun-loving dork of a kid who photobombed every one of his classmates’ pictures on the dinner cruise that night. It was seemingly a major contradiction. Yes, I had fun on the cruise and got some great pictures but the fact remained that I had just had yet another panic attack and a very public one at that.
That’s the nature of these things: Many of us who have panic attacks and anxiety can appear put together, even most of the time, but when an attack occurs, everything falls apart in an instant. There is no before, there is no after. Time stands still and all you can think about in that moment is the panic. It envelops you. It takes you hostage and doesn’t let you go until it’s had its way with you.
“I kind of had a mini panic attack”
One thing that worries me (no pun intended) currently is a trend I’ve noticed. Maybe I’m wrong here, but there seems to be a growing number of people who seem to think their normal, run of the mill nerves are akin to a panic attack. Maybe this is just something that comes with more awareness on the issue, and maybe I’m stressing about nothing, but I don’t think so. Panic attacks are cruel and so much more than simple nerves.
There are such things as Limited Symptom Attacks (LSA) but these are still much different from your average nerves. Limited Symptom Attacks are a big deal and should be handled with the same care as a panic attack. Now, I’m not a trained professional and if you think you are actually experiencing panic attacks, you should see a doctor. This is not directed at you.
For those of us who suffer from an anxiety disorder, we know that they are so much more than just our nerves. They’re not pretty. What does a panic attack look like for me? Usually it involves major hyperventilating, uncontrollable crying, an uncontrollably and embarrassingly runny nose, bloodshot eyes, scratching my arms uncontrollably making my skin all blotchy, and finally, bad stomach aches and diarrhea. Sound like fun? Didn’t think so. Panic disorder is nothing to be trivialized, it’s a real medical condition that needs real intervention.
Now, this is not saying that I think people need to talk less about panic and anxiety, quite the opposite. We need all hands on deck to break the stigma and the misconceptions. We just need to be sure we know what we’re talking about so we don’t aid in those misconceptions. If we trivialize mental illnesses and make panic disorder out to be “just nerves” then that ends up hurting people like myself who need real help, and at times, accommodations for their medical condition.
In saying all this, I think it’s important to reiterate how far I feel we’ve come in understanding mental illnesses. I truly believe there’s more understanding nowadays than there was since my panic attack on the bus back in 2012. We still have a long way to go, but I’m encouraged by what I see and I do believe things will continue to get better. It takes an anxious village to break all the stigma and misconceptions, but I’m positive we can do it. Yes, we have anxiety. No, it’s not going away. But, neither are we.
“I completely understand it. It’s all from Satan.” This was the last message I received and the last contact I would have before it happened and the darkest four days of my life began.
I completely understand it… How many times had I heard that before? How many times had I heard from well-meaning people that my very serious mental illnesses were an attack from the devil and not a medical condition that needed major intervention? When that message came across on that Thursday morning in January 2013, I was grasping for anything that might allow me to hold on just a little while longer. The night before, I got into a major argument with my parents, one of the worst we had ever had. The weeks leading up to this morning were full of major mood swings. I would be euphoric one moment and then super melancholy and reflective the next. In hindsight, that should’ve been a major warning sign something was seriously wrong.
I woke up the morning after the argument in an extremely low place. For weeks leading up to this morning, my vulnerable mental state was causing some physical complications, as well. My legs couldn’t stop shaking. They were almost like jackhammers and would keep me up during all hours of the night and as you can probably assume, getting so little sleep obviously wasn’t helping my mental health any.
A few weeks before my dark day, something began to break in me. Like I said previously, I was becoming increasingly erratic with my mood swings and my depression and anxiety were at an all-time high. My mind was beginning to fail me. One morning, a week or so before it happened, I went incognito on my internet browser and typed this into the search field: “How many [redacted] is considered lethal?” I came across a bunch of people on message boards trying to offer others help, “Don’t do it. There’s hope.” Thank God, I didn’t end up getting an actual answer to the question I had sought out because of what happened that fateful Thursday morning a week later.
Thursday, January 24th, 2013 – 8:10 AM
“It’s all from Satan.” After receiving that message from a well-meaning friend, I was at a loss. How many times did I have to hear that line before people figured it out: I was sick and not possessed. How many times did I have to feel like a burden to my friends and a liability to my family before they understood that I needed help. No, this time, I was done. I was done with the pain, done with the advocacy, done with the fight. A year of this had taken its final toll on me and this had to be it.
That morning, I decided to put my plan into action. I waited until both my parents left to take my younger brother to school so no one could foil what I felt had become my only option. After they left, I wrote out a note on my iPhone, removed the passcode so everything could be explained and through a ton of tears I finally did it: I tried overdosing to end it all. What happened next continues to, at the same time, elude and haunt me: I sent off one last text to my best friend “Help.”
Thursday, January 24th, 2013 – 12:00 PM
That could’ve been the end. I had every intention for it to be the end, but that afternoon, I woke up. I woke up in the lowest place I believe a human can find oneself. The one thing I thought I had control over, I couldn’t even succeed at. It’s a kind of twisted logic only those of us who have been in this place can truly understand. The chain of events that transpired over the rest of that day were mostly a blur, the emotions I was feeling, however, are still etched in my mind.
After I woke up, I feebly walked downstairs where my parents were sitting. “I just tried to kill myself,” I said as I collapsed to a ball on the floor, sobbing. My dad leaped up and went straight to my room where he discovered the empty pill bottle under my bed. I managed to make it over to the couch, where I promptly fell back asleep.
Later on, my best friend I’d texted got ahold of me after he got out of class and I managed to tell him what had just happened. He would later tell me that call was one of the worst calls of his life and he often will describe to me how grim and lifeless my voice sounded. He said he had never heard anyone sound as low as I did in that moment. I spent the rest of the day sleeping until that evening, when my parents told me to get up to go to a doctor’s appointment.
I don’t remember much of the appointment at all, aside from a few major details. When we got to the doctor’s office, I walked in and saw my counselor’s therapy dog, who immediately recognized I was in distress. She came up to me and licked my face, which I remember made me feel a bit more at ease. The doctor came out to call us back. He told me to sit in a chair near the door, away from my parents who went to sit next to him. I knew it then: This was an intervention.
All I remember about what happened next was my dad pulling the empty pill bottle out to show the doctor, which he replied something to the effect of “Well, I guess Tim can’t be trusted.” He added that if something like this happened again, my parents should immediately call 911. I got very angry and tried to storm out the door. The doctor picked up the phone as my dad tackled me. For the longest time, I didn’t know exactly what I was thinking when I tried to storm out, where I planned to go or what I planned to do, but one eerie memory has always haunted me when I think back to my thought process at that moment. I believe now that in that moment, my life was in imminent danger. If I had managed to get out that door and outside, I truly think I wouldn’t be here writing this right now. My dad and my doctor most likely saved my life that night.
Thursday, January 24th, 2013 – 7:00PM
While my dad had me on the floor, I was screaming and trying to get away. Within minutes, the ambulance came along with the police. I was mortified and in tears. I remember the EMT’s asking me about school and where I graduated from, but nothing else. We got to the emergency room, where my belongings and clothes were taken. I felt exposed, in more ways than one. This was going to prove to be the longest night of my life.
I was cleared to begin receiving medication again, so the nurse was able to give me some Ativan to ease my mind, seeing as I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. Even while writing this, I feel extreme sadness but at the same time, love for my former self, and it’s almost as if I’m looking over his frail, limp body wearing a hospital gown, almost as if the exposing nature of it were a metaphor for this whole ordeal. With this imagery in mind, I have the desire to reach down and give myself a long hug and tell him everything will turn out okay. At the time, I needed hope like that. I needed a friend.
The night wore on, and there turned out to be no beds available in the psych ward at my local hospital in north-central Illinois, so the nurses began looking into the Chicago suburbs. They found a hospital about two hours away that was willing to take me. So, the hospital staff began preparing me for transfer.
Friday, January 25th, 2013 – 2:00 AM
Another ambulance arrived after two in the morning on that Friday. I remember it being bitterly cold outside with a snowstorm on the way. The EMT’s wrapped me in a ton of blankets and loaded me into the back of yet another ambulance and off we went. Because of the snowstorm, it took over three hours to get to the new hospital. I was more afraid than I had ever been in my life. I wanted the ambulance ride to last forever. “Maybe they’ll get lost and we’ll be stuck driving around Chicago for days on end,” I thought. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. Like a sixth sense, I knew we were getting close as we exited the interstate and got onto the main roads of Glendale Heights, a Western suburb of Chicago.
During the extended trip, I had actually managed to calm myself down quite a bit but as we approached what would become my new reality, my heart began to race yet again. As they loaded me out of the ambulance and down the long stretches of the hospital’s hallways, I remember looking at the ceiling, the glow of the florescent lights stinging my eyes. I had barely gotten any sleep, or at the very least, any quality sleep. We finally came to a locked door with the sign “Behavioral Health – AAU” above it. I wondered what AAU meant, but even then, took exception to the term behavioral health (I still do take exception to it, by the way).
I remember the EMT’s loading me off the stretcher and a male nurse took me into a room to evaluate me, which was absolutely humiliating. I immediately broke down into tears. The hospital staff thought it would be a good idea for me to be alone for a while so I could get my bearings and maybe feel a bit more at ease with my new circumstances.
They showed me to my room where I collapsed on the bed, pulled the covers over my head and just sobbed for hours. I had never cried so much or so hard in my life and haven’t cried like that since. I was absolutely broken. I thought to myself “How could this be my fate? A year ago, I was at the pinnacle of my life, on a missions trip in a foreign country, no less, on top of the world. Now, I’m here. How could it all fall apart so quickly?” And then, I cried some more.
There’s a song that goes “I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.” The lines of that song echoed in my mind as I laid there and cried. I was at the pinnacle of my life a year earlier, and now, here I was: In a dark hospital room with bars on the windows, the lowest I had ever been. It was just me, a pillow, a too thin blanket, and my fervent prayers to God to come quickly and rescue me because I needed Him now more than ever. I didn’t even have the clothes on my back to keep me warm. I had never felt so alone. I had never felt so forgotten. I had never felt so hopeless. But I was alive. Maybe I didn’t want to be yet, but in time, I would.
Oh, and I was not alone, I was not forgotten, and I was not without hope. Not by a long shot.
The End is Only the Beginning
The hospital can be a lonely place where time seemingly doesn’t progress. I was there for four days, each day getting a little bit better than the one before it. The doctor ended up transferring me out of the ward I was in to a more calming area with higher-functioning patients, many of whom were going through similar struggles to my own. After they transferred me, things began to get better quickly. I was able to, for the first time, voice what I had been feeling and just how broken I thought I was. I found camaraderie with those around me and felt hope for the first time.
My parents came to visit me every night from back home, two hours away. They started to notice a difference in me within a couple days of me being there. My medication had been stabilized and I was now turning around quickly. My parents and I put a game plan together one night about what to do when I returned home. Because of the trauma of the events I had experienced in the last year, we mutually decided I should take a semester off from school. College had not helped the anxiety and depression I had been suffering from the last year and I needed time to heal. It gave me yet more hope and relief that my parents understood this. After that conversation, it was all uphill from there. I was discharged from the hospital that Monday evening and went home feeling better, but incredibly winded and frazzled. It would be a long road to recovery, but my life had been saved and I was at least stable.
Hospital stays are never fun, especially under these types of traumatic circumstances. It was downright awful there for a couple days, but I know now that I needed to go through that, I needed to be there. They saved my life, I was here, I was still breathing. I was alive and this time, I wanted to be.
I remember that first week being home. My friends said how happy they were to have their friend back, a friend that had been MIA for over a year. A year that seemingly came from the depths of hell itself. But there I was, on the other side and on the mend. I was going to be okay.
I tell this story not to bring you down or to seek attention for myself. One thing that’s aided in my recovery in the years since my suicide attempt has been my growing passion for mental health and suicide prevention awareness. By telling my story, I’m shining a light on a very difficult topic people generally don’t feel comfortable talking about. But I believe the only way to erase the stigma of mental illnesses and suicide is to talk about it. Shattering the stigma and the silence of suicide and depression can only save lives.
I also tell this story specifically for those of you reading this who may feel like you’re at your end. You may believe all hope has been exhausted for you, that ending it all is your only recourse left. Maybe, like me, you feel like you’re a burden to your friends and a liability to your family. Can I tell you something, as someone who has been there? It may sound trite, but it’s very true: You are not alone and there is so much hope for you. You are loved and treasured and beautiful and your life is just getting started. Don’t let your story end. You’re going to make it. Take things one minute at a time. Sometimes, that’s all you can do and that’s okay.
It’s been exactly six years since Thursday, January 24th, 2013. But today is a new day in my life. Six years later, I’m still alive, and although I still have my days, weeks, and even months, I’m doing better and back to my old self. I still struggle with anxiety and depression and it will most likely be something I deal with until the day I die, but I’m learning to manage. I’m lightyears away from where I was on my darkest day six years ago, and in time, you’ll get there, too. You may think life will never get better, but just trust me on this one, it most certainly will.
Today may be Thursday, January 24th, but for me, it’s no longer 2013. Today is Thursday, January 24th, 2019, and this is only the beginning. My story, my mission, is far from over.
Most people who come across me on a daily basis notice one thing about me – I’m almost always smiling and full of joy. On the rare occasion I’m not smiling, people tend to ask why I’m not. Smiling comes naturally to me, and it comes from a deep sense of joy. What people are often surprised by is the fact that I have dealt with crippling depression and anxiety for much of my life and more times than once, it almost took me out cold. When I talk about this part of my life, some around me get uncomfortable. They think this area of my life should be stigmatized and not shared, it should be hidden from view and even shamed into silence. At no time, however, has any of that been an option for me. Because if I – a guy who is so filled with joy and always has a smile on his face – am the face of depression, well then, that may make people rethink some of the stigmas they have surrounding it.
As I’ve shared what I’ve gone through, I’ve been absolutely floored by the stories those around me have entrusted me with. Stories from people that even I would’ve never guessed, in a million years, would be their’s to tell. This is why I feel so compelled to speak up. I’ve felt this need to speak up from the moment I clawed my way out from the pit of despair the first time around. That need, that call, hasn’t gotten any lighter on my heart, in fact, it’s gotten more urgent.
Stigmas of mental illnesses only hurt us as a society, but more importantly, they hurt those of us who struggle with these illnesses every day. Take, for example, the reactions I’ve heard time and time again when someone finds out I take prescription medication to treat my GAD, panic disorder, and depression. I usually get some form of “don’t you worry those pills change who you really are?” Or “maybe you should go all-natural?” I’ve heard a ton of well-meaning but nonetheless wrong advice from people that if I had a dollar for each time this advice has been uttered, I’d have enough to singlehandedly fix my state’s lackluster mental healthcare system. Honestly, it does get tiring having to set people straight on these issues but it also can be rewarding when someone you love finallygets it. That’s happened a lot, too.
Back to the point of this all, though. A semicolon is often used by an author to signal that the sentence isn’t quite over yet. It could’ve been over, but it’s not. There have been two distinct incidences in my life where my sentence, my story, could very well have ended but in place of a cold, hard period now sits a semicolon. And if I’m being totally honest, having a semicolon there instead of a period is the best gift God could’ve given me. There’s many reasons I believe I’m still here, more than just raising awareness about mental health. No, I’m also here because I actually like it here. My life has turned out to be something beautiful, even though it can be a big mess some days. Even on my bad days when depression and anxiety take control of my life, I still can find beauty. Those days do still come and I’ve learned not to be ashamed of them, bury them, or feel guilty of the fact that I may need to practice some form of self-care to be able to cope. That’s all alright with me and I’ve learned that if someone’s upset because of cancelled plans or me finding a quiet place during a time when the group’s together, that’s really on them.
I know what I need to be able to thrive and I don’t need to apologize for that. You shouldn’t have to, either. Some people won’t get it, but if I could encourage you for a second, I actually believe that people are beginning to learn and change. And they’re beginning to learn because of so many people I see being brave enough and strong enough to fight the stigma head on and tell their stories of mental illnesses, suicidal ideations, or keeping the memories of their loved ones who have died by suicide alive by providing awareness and safe places for the communities around them to discuss these issues. I’ve seen so many 5K’s, Out of the Darkness Walks, and PSA’s done by local government officials just in the last year and that alone makes me proud to have a couple semicolons in my story instead of periods and a fin. Yes, there is hope. That hope comes from people like you. People like me. Our stories can change lives.
Heck, they can, they have, and they will, save lives.
Suicide, a topic that’s messy and one no one wants to talk about. So, let’s talk about it! Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and by looking at Facebook comments on articles dealing with this day, I see a majority of people still don’t understand. Here’s three of many misconceptions people have about suicide, and I’ll attempt to refute them.
1. Suicide is selfish
Simply, it’s not. I’ve heard suicide described as a heart attack in the brain. When people start having suicidal thoughts, it’s like a bullet train and hard to stop. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however. I cannot stress that enough. The person has a sick brain and they’re not thinking about the ramifications. And, here’s something to think about: many people who have survived suicide attempts say it was solely because of their family and friends that they held on so long.
2. Suicide is cowardly
It takes a great deal of strength to die, regardless of who you are. This comment usually comes from people who have never been in a place where their mind is literally telling them lies. Saying suicide is cowardly is like saying outrunning a moving train while the train tracks have walls built up around them and you have nowhere to go, is cowerdly. No. “But Tim. Why would there be walls built around train tracks?” Exaltly my point. There wouldn’t be. People who die by suicide have perceptions of things and situations that aren’t really real or true. That’s the nature of depression and anxiety. None of it is their fault. It’s a disease. And it can be deadly, just like cancer.
3. People who “commit” suicide go to hell.
Speaking as as a person of faith, I just see no basis for this statement whatsoever. In fact, I actually don’t believe it to be a sin at all. When someone dies of cancer, no one is going to say that their cancer was a sin. It was a disease that needed treatment. Same with depression. I’ve heard it said that suicide is the terminal stage of depression. It’s the stage where your brain literally turns on you against your will. I’m beating a dead horse here, but again, your mind can become sick just like the rest of your body. It does not, I repeat does not, signify a moral failing on your part.
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1 (800) 273-8255