I’m Spencer, and I suffer from a mental health disorder.
My primary struggle has been with depression, but I also live with the uncertainty of moods that can go from low to high, and everything in between, on a daily basis. My doctor calls it “atypical.” I don’t know if that’s official, but it sounds about right.
Living with these mental health issues is a journey. It’s a long journey with highs and lows. The lows are rough, but with treatment, I can persevere and make it to another day. I hope my story will provide hope, encouragement, and resources not only for those who suffer, but for those who are part of the lives of someone who does.
I was fifteen years old the first time I experienced depression. I was rather socially inept; I began the school year with huge ugly glasses and clothes my mom picked out for me. I also began an advanced literature class. I didn’t want to take the class, but the school counselor talked me into it, saying that I’m a “smart kid” and I didn’t need to be in the English class with the “regular kids.” On the first day of class, we started studying mythology, and my math and science brain just didn’t understand. I went from having all A’s and two B’s, for my entire life, to failing grades. I remember sitting in classes, slouched inside a heavy coat, and looking forlorn hoping someone – anyone – would notice me. I can’t say that the literature class triggered depression. Sometimes depression just happens. I think it was just a perfect storm of the academic challenge, a new school environment, and the changes adolescence brings.
I didn’t know I had depression at the time, but I knew something wasn’t right. Others noticed, too. The same school counselor called me into her office to talk about my falling grades. I told her my classes were just hard, and she was satisfied and sent me back to class. Classmates noticed and went so far as to tell their pastor at church that they were worried about me. Of course my parents knew there was something wrong. I never got treatment. I don’t put blame on anyone. It was the mid-90s, and treating depression wasn’t as much of a thing as it is now, especially for a fifteen year old. But luckily and by the grace of God, by the end of the year the depression was gone. But it wouldn’t be gone forever.
Depression came again in college. I remember thinking how strange it was for me to be depressed, since I viewed my life as perfect – I was having fun and had made amazing friends. I had no reason to be depressed. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes depression just happens for no reason. During one of the periods of depression in college was the first time I thought about suicide. I went so far as to make an attempt, which I aborted before I harmed myself. The main thing keeping me from going through with it was knowing that I’m an only child, and my parents wouldn’t have another child to love. Like before, the depression would come and go on its own.
After college, I was largely depression-free for the next fifteen years. I got married to a beautiful woman, had two little girls, and landed in a great city with my dream job. But in the fall of 2016, when I was 37, depression came back. I confided in some friends that I was depressed and asked for prayers, but I told them not to worry, since it would pass like it had before. But this time was different. It got really bad, really fast. A few weeks in, desperate for relief from the pain – any relief, even temporary – I did something I would have never seen coming. I started abusing prescription opioids. Being severely depressed and on the fast train to addiction, I made the decision to take my own life. Depression has an interesting way of messing with your mind. I believed that my suicide was the best choice for everyone I knew. My wife would be able to marry a guy who would be the husband and father I couldn’t be. I honestly believed that my wife, kids, and friends would be smiling at my funeral because the burden of me would be gone. I simply felt like a burden on the entire world. I even started skipping meals because I viewed it as a waste of good food.
My wife didn’t know anything was amiss. She didn’t even know I was depressed. I didn’t want to bother her with my troubles; I thought my existence was enough of a burden already. I made orderly plans for my suicide, but the illness was starting to give me impulses to do it quickly without waiting for my plan. It was at this point that I knew I was powerless to stop my looming addiction and my suicidal impulses. So one evening, after the kids were in bed, God gave me the courage to do one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life: I went to my wife and said, “I’ve been depressed, and I need help.”
This got the ball rolling for treatment. The first step toward treatment was an appointment with a psychiatrist for medication. It was during this meeting that I began treatment for my depression and ended my drug abuse. The date of this appointment, the beginning of my recovery, was December 21, 2016. I also soon started seeing a therapist. On this side of recovery, I can attest to the fact that treatment is a journey. My medications have changed several times, and my even diagnosis has changed. At first it appeared I had classic symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. Later I experienced upward mood swings that hinted at being on the bipolar spectrum. Most recently my doctor says I have “atypical depression” because of the varying and unpredictable moods I experience.
There is no magic cure. It takes a lot of effort. I have to be proactive with my doctors, continue therapy, and put myself in a healing community. I’ve been very open about my struggles, and I’ve learned that mental health struggles are everywhere. One amazing community I have found is Celebrate Recovery. I find healing and support knowing that when I open up about my issues, there are people listening who know exactly what I’m going through. You don’t understand depression unless you’ve experienced it. And that’s ok.
I believe God has called me to share my experiences in order to help others who are suffering. Neither the people in my life nor I knew how to seek treatment for depression. No one had the tools to dig deep and realize how close to suicide I had become and my urgent need for treatment. When I share my testimony, I try to give hope to the suffering and tools to the rest so that people can get the help they need. It’s ok to ask someone if they are depressed. It’s ok to ask if they are suicidal. And it’s ok to ask for help. It’s hard, I know. If there’s one thing I want everyone to know, it is this: you are loved. The illness and enemy may give you disbelief but trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s true. YOU ARE LOVED.