Tag Archives: depression

Better Living Through Modern Chemistry: Struggling With the Stigma of Mental Health Treatment

 

I’ve struggled for most of my life with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and impulses. In fact, the first time I tried to commit suicide I was eleven years old. This isn’t exactly a secret. I’ve been pretty open about it in recent years; but that wasn’t always the case. As a kid/teen I didn’t talk about it much because it (understandably) freaked my parents out. As I got older I didn’t talk about it because I was a youth pastor, and who wants to trust their kid with someone that may be unstable? In positions of trust and leadership, where people look to you for help, guidance, etc. it’s particularly difficult to struggle with your own stuff. In my experience, particularly within the ministry, there was a rampant mentality of “fake it ’till you make it.” You might have other pastors that you trust enough to open up to, but generally you try to put on a facade that you are the rock that people can count on. Anyone who pays any attention, especially to recent headlines, can see pretty clearly that this approach really sucks and almost always ends with said person self destructing.

Thankfully that never happened to me in my professional life. Medical issues caused me to go on disability before things ever got that far, but that doesn’t mean that the self-destruct timer stopped. When I was a younger man my “episodes” of deep depression and suicidal impulses tended to happen pretty sporadically. Maybe once every few months something would trigger it and I’d have to go somewhere on my own away from people, usually in a dark room or out to a park somewhere, and deal with it until it passed. It’d be a little touchy for a few days, but it’d fade and I’d be mostly fine until the next time. The depression and anxiety never really went away. It was always there, slowly building, like air pressure, until finally I just couldn’t hold it back anymore and I needed to vent it. As I got older, the time it took for that pressure to build was getting shorter and shorter. It went from a bad episode a few times a year, to once a month or so, to once a week, until eventually in the last two years it became almost a daily struggle.

I swear, if we were Catholic I’d put my wife up for sainthood. We’ve only been married for three years, and she’s had to deal with this Jekyll and Hyde thing with me for a majority of it. She’s always been incredibly loving, understanding, and supportive, but eventually I decided that enough was enough and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. It wasn’t fair to my  family. I needed help. I was adamant that I didn’t want to take any medications. There’s a horrible stigma surrounding psych meds, and I didn’t want to turn into a bigger basket case than I already was. I started with therapy instead. While it was helpful in many ways, it wasn’t what I needed. He gave me someone to vent to. He offered helpful suggestions for ways to approach things that were frustrating me, but they were just delaying tactics to help vent pressure here and there.

Finally, after a particularly bad episode, I decided to give medications a try. The first one I took was horrible. Instead of helping the depression and anxiety it amped it up a hundred-fold. It was incredibly scary, and luckily I wasn’t on it for too long. That experience made me hesitant to try anything else, but my wife encouraged me to try again with something different. This time my doctor prescribed me Prozac.

It was like someone flipped a switch.

For the first time in years, I started feeling like myself again. A weight I’d gotten so used to carrying that I didn’t even realize how much it had weighed me down was suddenly was gone. It wasn’t a cure-all. The depression and anxiety are still there, under the surface, but it’s like I have a protective bubble preventing them from touching me. I went from being clinically depressed every day, and having suicidal thoughts and impulses almost daily, to having no major episodes in almost two months. The difference really is like night and day, and my only regret is that I allowed pride and the negative stigma surrounding treatment to keep me from trying sooner. So, I wanted to write this as an encouragement to others who, like me, have been struggling with mental illness.

It’s okay. Really, it is. I get it. I get the embarrassment. I get the worry of what others will think. I get the fear of judgement and being thought of and treated differently.

I get it.

Ignore it.

Suffering every day is just not worth it. The people that really love you will still love you regardless. They’ll want you to get help. It doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes far more strength and bravery to admit that you have a problem and seek help than it does to be stupid and pretend that you’re fine. Don’t wait until the self destruct timer reaches zero.  Talk to someone. Get help. Weigh your options and keep trying until you find what works for you. It may be therapy. It might be medication. It might be some combination of the two. Regardless, you owe it to yourself and the people you love to get the help you need.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and impulses right now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Why Star Wars is Important

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The following is not yet another article on the impact that Star Wars has had on the film industry, genre fiction, or even fandom. There are already plenty of much more qualified sources on those subjects readily available if that’s what you’re looking for. In fact, if you’d like to read/listen to the most comprehensive, well written, and entertaining book I’ve ever read on those subjects, I cannot recommend Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe enough. (Read my review here!) Instead, the following will be a much more personal account of the importance and impact that Star Wars has had in my life, like the lives of so many others like me, over the last three decades.

Star Wars has literally saved my life on more than one occasion.

Before I get into how, let’s begin with a little context. I was born with a fairly rare medical condition. My body doesn’t produce testosterone. While this type of issue isn’t unheard of, it’s usually caught fairly quickly- typically during infancy, but almost always before puberty. My condition wasn’t discovered until I was thirty, long after puberty had had it’s way with me. My testosterone count was so low, and my case, given my age, so rare, that the specialist I was sent to got so excited that he had to go and get his colleague in the next room to show me off like I was a unicorn. They couldn’t do anything to help me with the issues that I went to see them about, but they wanted to do papers on me. They really wanted to do papers on me. They looked like a couple of coyotes that smelled a pork chop. I left as quickly as I could.

Life, just before puberty.

               Life, just before puberty.

Why did it take so long for a doctor to realize there was a problem? A fun side effect of not producing testosterone is that without testosterone you don’t build much muscle. Without muscle, it’s very difficult to burn fat. I’ve been overweight since I was a baby. My parents took me to doctors and even dietitians. It was generally believed that I was just a fat kid that needed to exercise more and eat less. I can remember being put on diets as early as the age of seven. Nothing worked. I kept getting bigger, no matter what I did or how hard I tried. The bigger I got, the more assumptions were made. That is until my current doctor, literally within five minutes of meeting me and after a quick physical examination, asked me if I’d ever been tested for low testosterone. He was shocked when I told him no, and that no one had ever mentioned it before. Thirty years and a number of doctors, dietitians, and specialists, and all it took was a simple blood test. Now, when I say that I have always been overweight I mean I weighed over one hundred pounds by the time I was twelve. I was clocking in close to three hundred by the time I graduated high school. This was me at Easter of this year:

I now weigh over 500 pounds.

I now weigh over 500 pounds. Still dead sexy.

As you can probably imagine, life was hell growing up. I was picked on and bullied just about every day. I hated myself and I felt like no matter what I did nothing helped or would ever change. My first suicide attempt was when I was eleven. I tried to hang myself. That began a long and constant war with depression and suicide, one I fought mostly in silence because I didn’t want to scare my parents like I did that first time, and I didn’t want people to think that I was nuts. Things were bad enough as it was. Even though I’ve since sought professional help, it’s a war that I’m still fighting to this day.

I’m sure by this point you’re saying, “Wow, that’s really sad and depressing, but what the hell does this have to do with Star Wars?”

Well, Star Wars is one huge reason why I’m still here.

Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I saw in a theater. I had just turned two years old. I watched my dad’s VHS copies (and later laser disc. REPRESENT!)  as I played with my Star Wars figures just about every day, driving my mom insane, until I was thirteen. I was nine years old when Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was released. I read it cover to cover (along with my dad’s copies of the original novelizations and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye) and then I begged for the next two when they were released. This began a collection of books, comics, and media that continues to this day. If it was Star Wars,  I had to have it. It wasn’t just because I was a huge nerd and a super fan (and I was/am). Those movies, books, audio dramas, and video games saved me. They gave me a safe place where I could retreat when I started to feel the darkness surrounding me.  Whenever I felt like I couldn’t cope. Whenever I felt like my life wasn’t worth living. Whenever I felt like the dark side was winning, I’d put in a movie, or I’d pick up a book, or I’d turn on a video game. That beautiful John Williams theme would kick in (even if it was just in my head) and then I wasn’t me anymore. At that point, I was in that galaxy far, far away with characters that I loved. By the time I was done things certainly weren’t perfect, but they were better. They were manageable. The darkness wasn’t so all-encompassing anymore.

I’m not alone.

Stop any cosplayer at a convention. Ask any 501st Legion member. More often than not they’ll tell you a similar story: they were the outcasts, the nerds, they didn’t feel like they fit in until they found other Star Wars nerds. Star Wars was their refuge. Star Wars was their happy place. Star Wars gave them…a new hope.

Sorry...

                               Sorry…

Star Wars is universal. It’s transcended political borders, languages, and generations and spoken to millions of fans around the world over the course of the last four decades. It’s given us all a galaxy far, far away filled with wonder, and adventure, and a hope that good will always triumph over evil. It tells us that even the worst of us can be redeemed with love; that even the humblest of beginnings and a life that you can’t wait to escape could lead to an opportunity to do something amazing that will change the lives of countless others for the better.  It tells us that no matter how dark or desperate things are, there’s always a hope for things to change, to get better.

There’s always hope.

My new hope.

My new hope.

Things have changed a lot for me in the last few years. I got married to a beautiful woman who has a now-5 year old son. Family was something that I always desperately wanted but never thought would happen. Now I’m a husband and a father with a kid that I can share Star Wars with in the same way that mine shared it with me.

Speaking of which….

My body is ready.

My body is ready.

Words cannot describe how excited I was when I read the announcement that there would be new movies and a new canon that’s starting fresh. I’ve ravenously consumed every new book, comic, and TV show. (Reviews are here.)  I watch Collider Jedi Council every week. I spend all day checking news websites for new scraps of information. I managed to get tickets not only for opening night, but for the night after as well before everything crashed. I’m sure I’ll end up seeing it a half a dozen times (at least) in theaters. The promise of new movies in this franchise that I love has really helped during the more stressful times in the last few years. It’s something positive to look forward to sharing with my new family. Once again, it’s Star Wars helping me through the dark times, only this time it’s along with an understanding wife and an adorably goofy son.

I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life, even with everything I’ve gone through. I’ve had a great family and friends. I have a loving wife and son. And I’ve got a galaxy far, far away that’s always there when I need to make the jump to hyperspace and escape for a little while. For me, it’s not just been a fun movie franchise. For me, Star Wars is important.  For me, Star Wars has been a life saver.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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A Damaged Mind

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It’s scary how the damaged mind works, the little tricks that it plays. It’s often not the big, dramatic events that trigger a bout of suicidal depression but instead the small stuff that you would normally shrug off. The little flakes that build and build until they become an avalanche of self loathing and doubt that washes away everything else until you’re buried up to your neck in it. As I sit now, alone in my car, in an empty section of a park parking lot where I can feel the breeze on my face and listen to the sounds of birds chirping and the leaves of the trees rustle with the wind,  I have to ignore that nagging thought in the back of my mind at how nice a scene it would make for my last moments. It’s peaceful, and there’s a longing to let that peacefulness wash over me as I let go of the hurts and frustrations of this world and release myself from this prison of flesh and pain that I feel shackled to, that I hate with a fiery passion that burns in my chest even now as I tap out these words on a tiny smartphone keyboard. I have to fight the longing I feel to hold the knife dangling from the keychain in my ignition, to feel the cool touch of the steel and the leather grip in my hand; to ignore the impulse to let the sharp bite of its blade let the water of my life free of its confines and allow myself to drift off to an unending sleep. It’s scary how tempting that all is. It’s scary how a damaged mind works.

I think of my wife, whom I love dearly, and what my death might do to her. Inner voices lap against my mind like waves; one that tells me that she’d be better off without me once she’s free of the burden that I’m sure to become, then another that whispers of love and the many happy moments that we’ve shared.  I think of my son, not of my blood but certainly in my heart, and how much I love him and how badly I want to see him grow to become a better man than I. I think of my parents, my sister, my grandparents, other members of family and friends and the impact, both negative and positive, that my passing might have. There’s a war going on within me. It’s a battle of conflicting thoughts and feelings vying for dominance. It’s these thoughts, and the expression of them through this medium right now, that stays my hand and helps to pluck my damaged mind from the dark waters that I’ve been wading in.

For those of you who don’t know, who have been lucky enough to have never experienced how dark and lonely and hopeless a damaged mind can feel, read these words, absorb them, and count yourself blessed. Try to remember that those that you love may sufferer from a damaged mind as well; they may need your love, understanding, and support. They may need you to be the life preserver that keeps them from being swallowed up by the dark abyss of depression and despair. They may need you to be that small light they see when everything else is black.

Because it’s frightening what a damaged mind can do.

 

Author’s Note (Please Read):
First of all I want to assure those that know me that yes, I’m fine. I’m still here. Everything is okay.

I did write this post in the middle of a bout of suicidal depression while I was sitting alone in my car with thoughts of ending it all swirling through my head (hence the rather melodramatic nature) . At the time I wanted to try to express exactly how I was feeling. In writing it out, the words helped me to get past that final hurdle and come back to myself.

I want everyone to know that I have an appointment this week to talk with someone about my depression and to explore treatment options. I’m not ashamed to admit that publicly because I know that it isn’t an admittance of weakness, regardless of the stigma that tends to still be attached to depression and all other forms of mental illness. The brain is an organ just like the heart or lungs, and sometimes it gets sick. Sometimes something goes wrong and you need to seek treatment to correct the problem, just as you would for any other medical issue. You wouldn’t feel ashamed for seeing a doctor to treat the flu, so why should you feel ashamed about seeing a doctor to treat depression?
I decided to publish this piece in the hopes that it might help someone. Maybe you suffer from depression as well and you’ve found yourself feeling this way. I want to encourage you to seek treatment. I know it can be difficult. I know it can be embarrassing. But please, for yourself and for your loved ones, seek help. As I just said, there’s really nothing to be ashamed of.
Maybe you don’t suffer from depression yourself, but you know someone that does. I hope that maybe by getting this very brief glimpse it might help you to better understand how it feels to be in their shoes. I know that words really can’t do it justice. They’re just too inadequate to express all the complexities of emotions and thoughts that swirl around and encompass a bout of suicidal depression like this, but I hope that it might help in some small way.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a bout of suicidal depression and is in danger of taking his/her life, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Down With the Thickness: Writing, Family Life, and Dealing with Depression

DWTT Final Cover

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and actually wrote something. My last blog post was in September. Before that I’d only done one other post for the entire year, which makes me incredibly ashamed of myself. I’ve toyed with edits on my new novel off and on, but I haven’t sat down and really tried to write since I got married. I’ve been telling myself it’s because I’ve been adjusting to my new life as a stay-at-home dad. It’s been an experience and my kid can be a handful. That’s true, but it’s not the real reason that I haven’t been writing. It’s taken me months to really nail down exactly what my problem has been, but for the past few days I’ve come to the realization that I haven’t been writing because I’ve been struggling with depression and thus have been actively avoiding writing, or really anything that requires motivation and a sense of self worth outside of the things that I HAVE to do.

That realization surprised me.

Struggling with depression is nothing new for me. I’ve battled it my entire life. For years I couldn’t go more than a month or two without depression rearing it’s ugly head, and a few times a year those funks would dip low enough where suicidal thoughts would come and go as well. The thing is I haven’t had a bout of depression that bad in over a year. I had honestly thought that I may have finally slayed the beast once and for all once I got married. For as long as I can remember the one thing that I’ve wanted more than anything was to get married and have a kid. I always felt like that achievement would be the crown jewel in my life. It’d be the key to my happiness and once it happened all the feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and all that other junk that depression likes to torment me with would all be rendered moot.

In a lot of ways I was right.

I’m happier now than I’ve ever really been in my life. I don’t feel lonely anymore. I don’t feel completely worthless or like I’m unlovable. My wife is the most loving, supportive, and understanding woman I could ever hope to find. My kid is an adorable, smart, hyperactive, spoiled pain in the arse and I love him more than I thought it was possible to love another human being. The fact that he isn’t my “blood” doesn’t factor into it at all for me. He is my son in every way that matters and both he and his mother are the answers to decades worth of prayers, wishes, and hopes. I couldn’t ask for a better family.

Which is why this current bout of depression has caught me by surprise. The depression has evolved. This time it didn’t attack me in the way it used to. Before, depression would come on hard and fast and put me on my ass for days. The world would go dark; I’d be a moody pain in the ass; and after a few days I’d emerge exhausted mentally and emotionally, but generally intact. But all of the old stuff that it used to use against me doesn’t work too well anymore, so it’s found new avenues to attack that are more subtle. In fact, I think it’s been something that I’ve been struggling with for months and I just didn’t fully recognize it for what it was until now.

Getting married hasn’t eradicated my insecurities or made the world a perfect place. My wife and I have had several very stressful things we’ve had to struggle with already. That’s just life. We’ve gotten through them together and we haven’t let those things affect our relationship. In fact, it’s only made our relationship stronger. That’s how marriage is supposed to work. That said, while the old insecurities may have been hammered down by the love of my new family, new ones have taken root and sprouted to take their place.

I have medical issues. They’re issues that are genetic and thus they are issues I’ll have to deal with for my entire life. They’ve caused a lot of physical problems, problems that have gotten progressively worse in the last couple of years.  As a result I’m unable to do much in the way of physical activity, I’m in constant pain, and I’m unable to work.  The dynamic in our house is my wife works full time and I stay home and take care of our little Tasmanian devil. I try to do things around the house: take care of the dishes, keep the house from being a complete disaster area, cook on the days my wife works, etc. I can’t do everything I want to do. I get tired and my body rebels on me after only short bouts of activity, so something that normally would take maybe ten minutes might take me half an hour or better. In a given day if I’m able to empty and load the dish washer, make dinner, and keep our kid from doing something that might hurt himself or others I call it a win. I’m not writing all this to throw myself a pity party or to garner sympathy. I’m just providing a bit of perspective.

I know that times have progressed. Gender roles aren’t what they used to be. I know that it is just as okay for me to be a househusband and stay at home dad as it was for wives to be housewives and stay at home moms. I know that having my wife bringing home the majority of our income doesn’t make me less of a man. I know that my wife understands my physical limitations and that she knows that I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that I work hard to provide for her in other areas to make up for what I lack in being able to help in the physical ones.

I KNOW all of this. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still bother me. That doesn’t mean that depression can’t use it as ammunition to assault me, and it has, because I was wrong.

The “war” with depression that I thought I won wasn’t the real war at all.  I’ve realized what anyone who has battled depression all their lives can tell you- it’s what Superman would describe as a “neverending battle”. Once you win one skirmish the enemy will find something new and attack again. It’s a war that you only win when you’re on your deathbed surrounded by your family and other people who love you and you realize that despite it you still lived a full and mostly happy life. It’s a war that you win by refusing to let IT win. Now I’m in a new battle with depression, but now that I’m aware of how it’s attacking, with the help of my loved ones, I’ll win this one too. Then it’ll be something else, but that’s okay. I have a family and friends that love me. I have a dream of becoming a published author.

I have things worth fighting for.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re struggling in the neverending battle yourself. Maybe you’re in the thick of it and it’s hard to see around you. Maybe it’s hard to focus on what you have to fight for. Just know that you aren’t alone and that the only way you lose the battle is if you give up and let it win. Don’t give it the satisfaction.

Carry on.

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Rant Alert: Anonymity Does Not Equal Blameless

Jerks

I spend a lot of my day on the internet. As I write, I take frequent breaks to mull stuff over or just to get away from what I’m working on for a few minutes to come at it a little fresher later. (Read: I goof off.) Because I spend so much time online it’s hard to not let the crushing weight of negativity that permeates things start to get you down after a while.  I try to avoid comments sections on fan sites in particular because nothing of substance generally comes from them, and they generally only end up ticking me off. Still, like a sickness, I find myself drawn to looking at them anyway.

Trolling is nothing new. For longer than there has been an internet there’s always been “that guy” or “that girl” that just can’t wait to pee in someones Cheerios, or just generally be a total jackass to people because they get a kick out of getting a reaction. But now that the internet has become such a staple of everyone’s lives, trolls are no longer the little jerks you’d run into every once in a while, and silently (or sometimes not so silently) you wish someone would just come along and beat the stupid out of them. Now you can find entire swarms, like locusts, that invade message boards and comments sections and feed off of each other. Online bullying has become a real serious thing. Kids have committed suicide over it. It’s becoming ridiculous.

Why?

I think a large part of the problem is because of the anonymity that the internet brings. You can say anything you want and, outside of the online environment, you don’t have to pay any consequences for it or see the real world affect it may have on people. I think to a lot of these negative people it’s become an escape from their normal lives. They’re able to say and do things they just can’t in the “real world”. Additionally, because it’s online it feels less real. The other people commenting don’t feel like real people. They’re screen names. They’re digital voices in the internet ether. It’s all a game and it’s no big deal.

Until it is.

Those are real people behind those screen names, and many of these people have no separation between “reality” and “online”. For many of those who have grown up with the internet their online persona and their real life persona are one and the same. When people say nasty and hurtful things, it has a real world impact. it goes beyond just making some random person explode on the internet. It could have serious ramifications, depending on what was said and the subject matter. Ask any of the families who have suffered through the loss of a family member because of online bullying.

For any of you who are into gaming at all or are big on watching YouTube videos you’ll probably at least recognize Francis. He’s known for being “the fat guy that freaks out about stuff.” As an example, here is a video he posted today giving his reaction to Microsoft’s reveal of the new X-Box console. The ending made me laugh out loud.

What many people may not realize is that “Francis” is actually a character that the guy plays on his YouTube videos. He does this for his job. He gets paid to act like spaz for a few minutes at a time. Living the dream. But earlier this year Francis made a different kind of video in which he talks about his real life, the stuff he’s gone through, and where he is now. It’s a sad story, but it’s not played for sympathy. He tells us this story to let his audience know how much he appreciates them, so that people who watch his videos can see that just by watching him act silly for a few minutes at a time it’s completely changed, and in this case it’s helped to save, his life. He wanted to say thank you, and he wanted everyone to know just how serious he was and what it means when he says it. I don’t normally watch his videos too often, but I admit this hit me where I live a bit.

So I watch this video and come away from it feeling all the feels that I’m sure if you watched it you are feeling right now too. Against my better judgement I scroll down into the Kotaku comments section and this is what I find:

Yeah, it seemed more like “I am pretty good at html, but as times changed, I didn’t keep up. Now I can’t make any money!” Well, hate to be this much of an ass, but dude, get some literature on modern web design, stop being so lazy, and also, lose some weight killer, it is very bad for your health to be that heavy.

No I am one of those people who think that you should take good care of yourself and never end up at that weight. Which of course, would put me in the small minority of this overweight, obese, “it’s not my fault!!” country.

And I don’t see how this relates to starving children in Africa, their plights can be traced back to European colonization, not some lazy white guy sitting at his computer and taking down a whole case of Mountain Dew and Fritos.

That’s fine, but I just don’t feel bad for people who make their own problems and refuse to deal with them.

Depression is a hell of a thing, I know from first hand experience, mostly because I was one of those people who made my own problems, refused to deal with them, and sulked and whined that the world had it out for me, that is what this video screamed of to me. Sorry to be so blunt, but I am tired of the bleeding hearts when a little bit of “shut the fuck up and get on the damned exercise bike” would do the trick.

I win the “Not Obese Award” it comes with a lifetime free of diabetes.

Too Soon?

It gets progressively worse from there from this commenter and a couple of others. For those of you who did not watch the videos, the guy in question is a really big dude. He came from an abusive home and was constantly sick as a kid and ended up with a few medical conditions that only added to his not being able to exercise/eat right, including depression. As a result he ended up getting bigger, and then more depressed, and eventually became a shut-in for 7 years and almost committed suicide. This guy has opened up, stepped away from his online persona, and talked about what I’m sure are things that were extremely hard to speak about, not only as a thank you, but also as a means to help others. As a result he gets crap like the above back. While yes, it’s just a vocal minority, and some people are just know-it-all jackholes, crap like this can seriously do harm, especially to someone with a history of serious depression and suicidal tendencies. Sure, you could argue that when he put himself out there he knew that would happen, but that’s not the point. The point is these are real people, and anonymity does not mean you get to be blameless for the crap you say or do. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. It isn’t harmless.

The commenter above is obviously a jackass that makes a lot of assumptions and knows nothing about what clinical depression, or this man’s life, is really like. He’s just one example, and it’s not just the internet. There are a lot of people like this jerk in the “real world” too. I’ve had to suffer them for 32 years, and assumptions are a large reason why I’m in the medical position I’m in right now.

I know there’s nothing I can really say that’ll make a difference to these hurtful people. I know I can’t change the internet. I guess the whole point of this is to hope that someone might read it and it might make them stop and think before they respond the next time, both online and in real life. Just remember that it is human beings (most of them) on the other end of these digital devices, and those people have feelings just like you do. And if you realize that and just don’t care, and continue to be hurtful to people just because it’s fun and you have nothing better to do with your time or your life…well, that just makes me feel really sorry for you.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99. Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!

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Rant Alert: Struggling with Faith

depression_1-ad78d208bfd0907a122c249a74cd8f6ff184705e-s6-c10Author’s Note: I’m going to be discussing religion, God, faith, etc. If that’s not your bag, or if you’re easily offended, feel free to click a link to somewhere else this time. I won’t be offended. Likewise, if you’d like to leave a comment or participate in a discussion about this, that’d be great, but be civil and respectful of whoever else may post. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but it does mean don’t be a jerk. I approve every post before it’s seen by the public, and I won’t allow anything that attacks someone else or is just outright offensive. I promise, however, I won’t prevent a post from being seen for any other reason.

I was a very troubled young man. I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts most of my life. I tried to commit suicide when I was 11 by hanging myself. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. A medical condition I have, which went unnoticed until I was 30 and it was too late to do anything about it, prevented me from developing muscle like I was supposed to and had the fun side effect of causing me to be morbidly obese regardless of whatever diet, exercise, ect. I tried. So I was also mercilessly taunted, teased, picked on, and made to feel like complete crap on a daily basis for most of my childhood. My parents were never overly religious and we never attended church. I wasn’t really exposed to religion in a significant way until I was 16. One of my best friends at the time, Matt, had grown up in church and his parents were members of the church leadership. Another, mutual best friend, Brennan, had recently started going to church with Matt and had “gotten saved”. I go into detail about this in Down with the Thickness, but the TLDR version is one night while Brennan, Matt and I were talking about God I felt like I heard God speaking to me and I felt His presence around me. Our conversation lasted through the night until the next morning, as did that feeling. When it was over I not only believed in God I dedicated my life to Him and felt as though I’d been called to be a minister myself. I finally felt like I found where I belonged- like I knew my purpose.

I spent the next five years serving in ministry at our church. I went with Matt’s dad every week to do prison ministry at a local prison. I served as a youth leader. I worked as an assistant under the youth pastor and was at the church almost every day helping and learning to be a pastor. When I graduated High School I went to college as a Pastoral Ministry and Psychology major at both a local college in Memphis, and later at a Bible college in Chattanooga. There, through a ministry summer camp, I got connected with New United Church, and eventually was hired as a youth pastor and was licensed there. I served at New United for 8 years, on and off- the last three years in a full time capacity. That is until the church imploded due to some very corrupt people who ran the finances. After spending a year and a half unemployed I was hired by the Salvation Army in Belleville, and worked there full time as a Youth Director for an additional 3 years, give or take a few months.

In total, I have dedicated literally half of my life in service to God. Every major life decision I’ve made since that night when I was 16 has been made with God in mind, in an attempt to do what I felt I was lead to do. To be a better man. To be a better pastor. To do the right thing. To help people. I’ve spent countless hours volunteering, helping people in crisis, talking with people at 3 am who felt like their world was falling apart. I did it all because I felt like that was my purpose, because that was what God called me to do, and because He was with me, He cared, and He would take care of things.

Now I wonder if I’ve totally wasted my life.

With the exception of a seasonal job at Christmas that lasted 7 weeks, I’ve been unemployed for a year now. My health has taken a nose dive and has gotten exponentially worse, particularly in the last year. I’m now physically unable to do things that would have been easy even two or three years ago. Regardless of my education or experience, I’ve been unable to be hired by anyone, church or other, because when I get to the interview portion of the process my physical/medical issues tend to weigh against me. I can’t honestly blame them. I’m a risk. I get hurt easily. I look like I may have a heart attack just walking down a hall. If it came down to hiring me or someone else who looked like they might not be at risk of dying on the job, I’d choose the other person too. So, obviously this is going to have an affect on my disposition. I struggle with depression anyway. Feeling like you’re completely worthless and just a burden on your family is enough to make anyone tailspin a bit.

I’ve spent the last year throwing myself into my writing. It took ten years for Mark and I to finish our first book. In the last year I’ve completed and self-published four, with a fifth currently being edited and three more in various stages of completion. I’m proud of the work. I think they’re all decent books. I’m still learning, still developing as a writer, but I wouldn’t put anything out that I didn’t feel wasn’t up to a professional standard. However, they aren’t selling. Promotion/advertising without money is difficult. It’s all by word of mouth and while I try to promote through this site, facebook, and twitter, it’s just not getting the job done and I refuse to be one of “those people” who just spams everywhere and annoys everyone.

I’m not writing this to get people to feel sorry for me, or to throw a pity party for myself. I’m simply trying to give some context for what I’m about to say next:

My faith in God has taken a huge hit. It’s being gradually ground down until, at this point, there’s not a whole lot left. It’s not because my life got flushed not once but three times in the last 10 years due to church crap. It’s not because my whole body literally throbs with pain 24 hours a day and I have to take a high dose of Vicodin three times a day just to function, let alone sleep. It’s not even because I can’t find a job, feel like I’ve wasted my life, and am a completely worthless human being. No, my faith in God has crumbled because I feel like He’s just not there anymore. I feel like I’ve been used up and now I’m done. I’m not expecting God to be a genie in a lamp who will magically make everything better. I’m not acting like a spoiled child who, just because he doesn’t get his way, yells “I hate you!” and goes to his room to pout. I don’t blame God for what’s happened. No, my faith is dying because the only thing I asked of God is that I wanted Him to speak to me. I wanted to know, beyond doubt, that He was still there, still cared, and that my whole life hasn’t been dedicated to superstitious crap. I wanted something supernatural, from Him, that couldn’t be explained away, misinterpreted, or twisted. Talk to me, send an angel, burning bush, whatever. I just wanted Him to let me know that He cares and that I’m not alone. If I had that, I could face all the other crap. I could get up in the morning, feeling like I got run over by a bus, and face the day. I could get up in the morning and not feel this pressing weight that manages to also feel like a void. I could go through my day without feeling like I’m wasting my time. I could go through my day without, at least once, feeling a compulsion to just end it all. I just wanted God to speak to me, to love me, to show me He’s still there and still cared. It’d give me the strength to face the rest. Even if things never got better and I spent the rest of my life in pain and struggling, I’d still have the comfort of knowing I served Him as best as I could, and that peace was waiting for me.

It hasn’t happened.

6 months, nothing.

I know all the old church standbys and excuses: “He speaks in a whisper, maybe you’re just not listening.” “He speaks through other people.” “He speaks through the Bible.” Look, I know how the game is played. I know all the things we tell ourselves in order to make us feel better, to justify our faith, to reinforce ourselves when we begin to doubt. I don’t want to hear stuff from someone else unless God freaking divinely inspired their butt into saying it. I don’t want to “hear through the Bible” because that can be interpreted any way anyone wants. I don’t want to convince myself I’m hearing from Him just because I desperately need to believe that He is. I don’t want some message that can be interpreted seven thousand different ways.  I want undeniable PROOF that He is speaking, that He is there, and that I haven’t wasted my life. For an all-powerful God that shouldn’t be too much to ask. We shouldn’t have to operate on blind faith. Our forefathers in the Bible didn’t. Every single one of them was spoken to either directly by God, Jesus, or an angel. They were given signs. Undeniable, supernatural, signs that God was moving, speaking, involved. Why should I settle for anything less? I’m not asking him to miraculously heal my body, win the lottery, magically provide a job, or anything of the sort. I just want Him to talk to me in some way. I just want even ten seconds of attention, a supernatural equivalent of a hug, something. I don’t think that’s too much to ask from my Heavenly Father whom I’ve faithfully served the last 15 years.

I’m tired & I’m running on empty.

For me, it’s time to put up or shut up.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective,  the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.

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Rant Alert: How Star Wars: The Old Republic Has Been Saving My Life

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m an uber Star Wars fan-nerd. I’ve also made no secret of the fact that I struggle with depression quite a bit. More so in the last few months since it’s been getting closer to a year that I’ve been unemployed with only my indie writing gig bringing in any money (read: almost none). I’ve been going through the process of filing for Social Security Disability, which let me tell you can be a stressful, humiliating, and pride-killing process. Family and friends have been encouraging me to do it for a couple of years now, and as my physical condition has gotten progressively worse, especially in the last year, I finally had to admit to myself that it was time. Going over, in detail, all the things that hurt you, are physically wrong with you, can be a painful experience in itself. A lot of times we push things into the background. They become something we live with every day and actually grow used to to the point that you don’t really think about it as much- it’s just how you live. So when you really start to break down just how screwed up your life is and the things you live with every day that most others don’t, it can put a damper on your day pretty quick.

I’m going to be honest with you, faithful reader, I’ve been a lot lower than usual the last couple of months. I mean, I’ve always struggled with depression and even suicidal thoughts, but these past few months have been more difficult than just about any other time I can remember. It’s actually become almost a daily thing at this point. It’s not that I really have it horrible right now. I have family that loves me and are incredibly supportive. I have a great girlfriend, something I honestly never thought would happen for me; and while we don’t get to see each other too often due to her work schedule and me being broke and without gas money (she lives about 30 minutes away) she’s still the most loving and supportive girl a guy like me could ask for. I have great friends/family that have been helping me with this whole writing thing as test readers, editors, and Shawn, who is an extremely talented artist that donates his really increasingly short supply of free time to providing covers for me.

But the depression is there, and it speaks to me. It tells me that I’m a failure as a man, that I never really had a chance, that I’ve been doomed to being a dependent on others my entire life, and that all the pain and physical problems I have now are just going to keep getting worse. That I’ve already peaked in life and done the best I’m going to do (and that wasn’t much of anything at all). That my time as a minister was a waste, my time with school was a waste, and that God may be there but He has better things to do than hold my hand. That the writing is just me wasting my time trying to make myself feel like I have some sort of meaning left in my life, that it’s never going to go anywhere, and that I’ll end up being just some nobody that self published a bunch of crap that no one wanted to read. This is the stuff that I go to war with every day from the moment I get up until the moment, generally around 4AM or so, when I’m exhausted enough that I’m able to sleep. When it gets really bad that’s when those thoughts become thoughts along other, darker paths. That’s when you start to feel like maybe you’d be doing everyone else a favor by just putting an end to it now. Maybe you’d just be putting yourself, and everyone else around you that has to take care of your sorry and very large posterior, out of what will only become steadily increasing misery. That’s when being a writer and having such an active imagination becomes not a good thing, because I can start to see, in very graphic detail, all the ways I could make that happen.

So yeah, not exactly puppies and sunshine.

My saving grace for the past few months has been Star Wars: The Old Republic. For those of you who don’t know, SWTOR is an MMORPG- a video game online that you can play with other people. It’s made by Bioware, my favorite game developer, who is known for doing story-focused games. They made some of my favorite games of all time: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic & Mass Effect 1-3. I’ve never been a huge fan of MMOs, but SWTOR was different in that the storyline for each class is actually really well done, and you can play it solo like a normal video game if you want. I’ve actually made several friends through the game that I play with on a daily basis- something that I’ve never really done to this extent with an MMO before. More importantly, it’s helped me to not think. Whenever the depression starts to speak, when those dark thoughts start to happen, I just jump on the game and play. I get lost in that galaxy far, far away for a few hours and when I’m done, I’m not so down. It has, quite literally, helped to save my life, and probably sanity, on more than a few occasions.

Video games have gotten a bad rap. They’ve become the target of the media and politicians as a scapegoat for all the bad crap that’s been going on- school shootings, bullying, promiscuous sex, you name it. Well, here’s an example of where a game has helped someone. I’m not addicted. I don’t play until I get sick, or starve to death, or whatever. It’s just a release for me. It’s become my “happy place”. We all need something like that in our lives, especially in times like these when so many people are hurting, struggling, stressed out, or yes, depressed and/or suicidal. Maybe you’re there too and need an outlet. If you’re a Star Wars fan maybe you should give SWTOR a try. It’s free to play right now. Go and download it and start her up.

Maybe it’s not a game you’re into. Maybe it’s a book, or a TV show, or a movie, or church, or whatever  you need or have found that helps to get you through. Something that you can get lost in and just not think about all the crap for a while. It’s okay, and don’t let anyone else tell you different. You’re not alone.  For me it’s this video game where I can be an intelligence agent, or Jedi, or an evil Sith and force choke stupid folk in a fictional universe that I’ve always loved since I was a little kid. Whatever that thing may be for you, I hope you’ve found it, because we all need an escape sometimes.

May the force be with you…now excuse me while I go be a Sith Lord and shoot electricity from my fingertips for a while.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective,  the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, and the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1- all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.

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