The Commencement Address I Imagine Myself Giving One Day

I wrote this comment on a blog I follow.

Awesome post! Here are few lessons I imagine myself telling if I’m ever asked to give a commencement address at my alma mater. Just an outline at this point.

1. Don’t be generic. God made you unique and gave you unique gifts to offer the world. Offer them, and be proud.
2. If you have enthusiasm for something, pursue it. The word enthusiasm literally means “breathing in God.” If you feel yourself breathing in God in any activity, that’s a big clue to your purpose in life.
3. Follow a career path that allows you to focus on your strengths. Don’t follow a path that’s not right for you just because you think you can make a lot of money at it.
4. Don’t try to change your basic nature. If you are extroverted, don’t force yourself to be an introvert. If you are introverted, don’t force yourself to be an extrovert. Both of them have their advantages. Whatever you are, do something that fits your personality rather than forcing yourself to change.
5. Believe in yourself and believe in the Almighty One. Wait, shouldn’t believing in God come first? That’s what most religious people will tell you. What I’ve learned is, if you don’t believe in yourself, nothing else you believe in will have any power for you.
6. Know yourself. If you don’t know who you are, what you believe in, what your unique gifts are, what your personality is, and what you have enthusiasm for, you won’t be able to follow points 1-5.

Do you think these are good life lessons to pass along?

Fell on Black Days

On May 27 in Seattle, Chris Cornell was laid to rest. I know I’ve already written one post, and I don’t want to look like I’m rehashing the same subject. It’s just that so much about the circumstances in which he died touches on my own experiences with depression and hard lessons I’ve learned through them that one post was not enough.

Depression and Grunge music

The Seattle Grunge that exploded onto the music scene in the ’90s sounded like it came from a city where it rained nine months out of the year: Dark, depressed, moody, brooding, and riddled with distortion and druggy haze, but also brilliantly creative and original. If I asked who were the Big Four of Grunge, I think anyone would say, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Cornell’s Soundgarden. We had already lost Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. In a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Cornell said this about them and other area musicians he knew,

The tragedy was much more than the fact that I would never see him again – it was that I would never hear him again. There’s this projection I had with Andy, Kurt, Jeff Buckley and other friends of mine that died of looking into the future at all these amazing things they’re going to do. I’ll never be able to predict what that is. All this music that will come out that will challenge me and inspire me – that sort of romantic, dramatic version of the perspective. When that goes away, for me in particular, it was a really hard thing. And it continues to be a hard thing….

So part of my memory of every record, and certainly Superunknown, there’s an eeriness in there, a kind of unresolvable sadness or indescribable longing that I’ve never really tried to isolate and define and fully understand. But it’s always there. It’s like a haunted thing.

And now those same words apply to Cornell himself. Of the Big Four, three have now lost lead singers to depression and/or drug addiction. The two often go hand in hand. I never got on drugs myself, but I am convinced a lot of drug use associated with these bands was really self-medicating for undiagnosed depression.

Where do “Black Days” come from?

In that same interview, Chris Cornell opened up about depression. On the inspiration behind the song “Fell on Black Days,” he said,

No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place, and you’ll just be in a darker place anyway. To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over. So that was the song I wanted to write. It just took a while.

Cornell accurately described the experience of millions of people living with depression who don’t even know it. You look around at your life, you think you should be happy, and you’re not. You’re depressed, and you have no reason to be. If you can’t be happy when everything in life is going well, how can you ever be happy? Maybe you think there’s no point in going on. Or maybe you sabotage your career or your relationships, so at least then you have a reason to be depressed. It doesn’t make sense to you, but I’m here to tell you there’s a reason for it.

Depression can either be clinical or situational. If there is nothing in your situation that can explain your depression, then it must be clinical. There are a number of possibilities, but the most common is that you have a chemically imbalanced brain. I’ve talked before about the time I went without my AD medication for a couple of weeks, and about the depressed voice in my head. When I was off my medication, the depressed voice in my head came back with a vengeance. But as I took my new medication, the voice went away. What this means is that voice in your head that tells you you’re worthless, you’re a waste of space, you’re a burden, you’ll never be happy so why not end it all, no one loves you, God has forsaken you, blah blah blahthat is the voice of a chemically imbalanced brain.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born with a heart murmur. You were born with something like a “brain murmur.” It’s not your fault, any more than the person with the heart murmur. Clinical depression, like all mental illness, needs to be treated like a medical condition.

The shock of my life

I’ve known this for a number of years. Seventeen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Before that, there had been times in my life I knew I was depressed. But I had always thought it was temporary. There were times in my life when I thought I was happy. But even then, people sometimes asked why I was sad, or even worse, why I was angry. When I found out about clinical depression, this finally made sense. I might feel happy, but chemically, my brain was still depressed. There was this underlying sadness people sometimes picked up.

It didn’t feel like depression, I guess because it was normal to me. It was the way I had always felt. The thing is, when I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t have said I felt depressed. At the urging of my mother and sister, I got myself tested anyway. The results?

You tested high for depression in every possible way.

I don’t think anyone has ever said anything about me that shocked me more. It was totally surreal. It was something I never would have thought of myself in a million years. I thought, it can’t really be that bad, and yet I knew it was true. Like I said, even at times when I felt happy, people around me thought I was sad or upset. No matter how I felt – happy, sad, good, bad, or apathetic, optimistic or hopeless – every moment of my life, I had been living with a brain that was tilted toward depression.

Don’t believe every spirit

If only someone could have been there to tell Cornell, “These thoughts you’re having are not real. I know they feel real to you. They sound like the Gospel truth. But they are not. These thoughts are just chemical imbalances in your brain. Whatever you do, don’t let these chemically induced voices make life and death decisions for you. Don’t believe these voices in your head. Fight them. Treat them like the enemy, because they want to kill you. Don’t let them. God will help you if you call on Him. God can help you fight these thoughts and imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge that you are a child of God with unique gifts to give the world, of which the music is part, but there is much more ahead. Even if you have never believed that before, dare to believe that just this once.

Don’t believe anyone who says Chris Cornell died because of drugs. He died because he had a mental illness, an Anxiety Disorder of some kind. How do I know? Because of the medication he was taking. He did the right thing by seeking professional help for his condition. Medications like Ativan can help some people with Anxiety Disorders, just like Zoloft and Trintellix helped me with Depression. Unfortunately, they don’t help everyone. In fact, for some people, it may make them more depressed, more anxious, and more suicidal. And so it breaks my heart that the very thing that saved my life ended up killing him.

 

image of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden performing at the Sound Academy

Related Posts

Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

The Voice…that no one wants to hear

 

Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

As rock fans know, on May 18, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit. It was officially ruled a suicide by hanging. His wife says she thinks it was related to Ativan, a prescription drug mostly used to treat anxiety disorders. I know he had a history of depression and drug addiction. That combination often ends in tragedy.

Still, I have a hard time understanding it, because I saw him on CBS’s Saturday Morning show last month, and it looked like everything was going well for him. He wrote the theme song for “The Promise.”

https://youtu.be/I2Bh0vU6_Lw

I was interested in the movie before. The song was so beautifully poignant, I really wanted to see the movie after that. My girlfriend and I both loved the movie. We had never heard of the Turkish genocide campaign against the Armenians, so we learned something important. Cornell made us both want to see it.

Chris Cornell was touring with Soundgarden and excited about the new music they were making. He was proud of the music he wrote for the movie. He sounded optimistic, and it seemed like he had every reason to be happy with his life now. He did not seem like he had any reason to want to die. That’s why the news came as such a shock. And yet I know that’s what depression can do to you.

I don’t know if Cornell’s case was related to depression. The last time he spoke to his wife, he told her he had taken extra Ativan. I’ve posted before about my use of antidepressant drugs. In my case, they have helped tremendously, but they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes they can make the condition worse, so you have to work closely with your physician if you decide to try it. Any kind of psycho-tropic drug affects everyone differently. It’s possible that too much of it took his mind to a place we can’t understand, where hanging himself made perfect sense. The fact that an anti-anxiety drug was prescribed for him shows he was having some struggles.

When your sun is a black hole

I’ve seen it before, especially in people who struggle with both depression and/or drug addiction. They get treatment, they get clean and sober, and they look happy. They show no signs of being suicidal. They get their career and family life back on track. You think they’ve turned their lives around, then BAM! The news hits you like a 2″ x 4″. You saw them just a few days or weeks ago, and you wonder why you didn’t see any signs.

Since my girlfriend knows I have a history with depression, she couldn’t help wondering about me. I reassured her that I’m not just pretending to be happy. I really am, thanks in large part to her. But that’s what happens to the people left behind. It makes you second-guess yourself and everyone you love, especially if you know they have struggled with depression and/or drugs in the past. They look happy, but how do I know? And so with her worried about me, I gave her my word I would never do that to her. Is that enough? I hope so, because it really was the only assurance I could offer.

I wouldn’t do that to her, or my mother, or sister, or father, or niece or nephew, or brother-in-law, or all the relatives I see most every year in our family reunions, or my friends at church. When I think of Cornell, I feel at a loss. Such a great talent. Such a great voice. Such great music he made. He had a wife and children who loved him. If I was shocked, sad, and baffled, how must they feel?

Higher truth

I don’t care who you are, you have people in your life who love you and care about you. Suicide will leave them devastated and agonizing about where they went wrong. Even if it’s just one person who cares, think how they will feel if you go through with it. Even if no person on earth loves you, God does. If you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you.

God put you here in this life in this time for a reason. If you can’t see that reason, keep trying until you do. I’m still not sure what purpose God made me for, but in my lowest points in life, what stopped me from suicide was I didn’t want to hurt my family, and I didn’t want to die without fulfilling God’s purpose for me. I just kept trudging through the darkness, not knowing if I was going in the right direction, with nothing but the hope that someday, somehow, I would find out my reason for living. And now, I’m finally starting to see that as a possibility.

Some of those things I went through for so long when I was really in the depths of depression, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I would never want to go back there. But the fact that I can see the light now proves I did the right thing to keep living when that was all I could do. And if I can use that experience to help one person who is lost, who doesn’t see any possibility for happiness in this life, if I can convince you to never give up on life because one day I promise you, you will find your way, then everything I went through was worth it.

Keep hanging in there. Seek, and you will find. You can have a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop depression from sabotaging it.

Related Posts

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

 

Announcement and new post

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and it might be a while before I post again. I said I wanted to blog about the relationship between faith and depression, but it was a lot of work making sure I had a post worth reading every week. Right now I need to focus on writing that pays. However, if by any chance you are still interested in following me, I will be posting on my author page blog about topics related to my writing career. I hope to post once or twice a month but no guarantees.

I do have a new post there called “J. C. and the 12 O.G.’s.” It compares the early Christians with a gang, which is related to how they survived persecution, which is related to a novel I’m trying to publish that deals with Christians being persecuted in the first century. Bizarre, huh? Anyway, you can click the link to check out the post if you want.

Can Antioxidants Help Treat Depression and Anxiety?

Oxidative stress has been shown to be an important contributor to inflammatory conditions, and in recent years has been implicated in the underlying mechanisms that result in depression and anxiety.

Midtown Psychiatry and TMS Center

ADHD Doctor, TXAntioxidants Depression and Anxiety

When it comes to stress-induced psychiatric disorders, anxiety and depression are the most common. I see this often in my practice. We know that stressful life events can produce a state of vulnerability to depression and anxiety in some people. The mechanisms that contribute to vulnerability of mental illness is an area which needs further study. Although promising research has been done in the past few years that indicates that there are biochemical changes that occur in the body as a result of stress that can be addressed. For patients suffering from stress-induced psychiatric disorders, it is essential to understand the role of antioxidants on stress-induced psychiatric disorders so a plan can be created and implemented to help cope with the effects of stress.

Stress and Nutrition

Research has shown that stress places a demand on the body in terms of nutrition. During a period of…

View original post 1,268 more words

Quick reads–I believe the “dishonest media” on this one. And Obamacare update.

He said he would build a wall, and Mexico would pay for it.

He signed the executive order to build it.

The press pointed out Mexico has not made a single payment and has said publicly they will not pay for it.

He whined how the “dishonest media” did not say that we would pay, but Mexico would reimburse us.

Mexico said they would not reimburse us.

Paul Ryan said, without batting an eye, the wall would cost between $12-15 billion to build. (He also said the Republican Congress would be fiscally responsible).

He tweeted that if Mexican president Nieto was going to refuse to pay for the “badly needed wall, it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

 

Pres. Nieto canceled the upcoming meeting.

Still think Mexico is going to pay for the wall? Are you willing to bet $12-15 billion on it? If so, I can get you a fantastic deal on a tremendous bridge in Brooklyn.

 

Obamacare Update

 

I do have to give Trump credit for this. Congress seemed all set to repeal Obamacare immediately and create a replacement later. President Trump said he wanted to wait until they had something to replace it with. So, at least this time, Trump was the voice of reason in the GOP. At least someone knows cutting off health care for 20 million people is going to be problematic. In a press conference today, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell seemed like they wanted to work with the new president on most matters. Hopefully that means I won’t lose my health care just yet.

Obamacare saved my ass. Literally.

I know I may be losing readers if I get political. But this isn’t political for me. It’s very VERY personal. Trump campaigned on repealing and replacing “the disaster known as Obamacare.” At least he said he wanted to replace it. All Congress ever did before him was waste their time voting 60+ times to repeal it, without even mentioning anything to replace it, and knowing Obama would veto it. So since the election, I’ve been nervous because I am one of 25 million Americans who now receives health insurance through this so-called disaster. We’ve lost the firewall protecting us from GOP demolition.

I heard, though, it wouldn’t be immediate. They are not going to just leave 25 million Americans stranded when it comes to health care. The Republicans in Congress said they were (finally) working on a replacement plan. Any repeal will not take effect until after they have something to replace it with. However, the Senate did not wait. Thursday morning, I was watching the cabinet confirmation hearings on CNN when I saw the newsfeed scrawl beneath say late at night, the Senate passed the repeal of Obamacare along party lines. What happened to waiting until you replace it with “something terrific,” as the President-elect said?

Now it goes to the House. Paul Ryan says the repeal won’t take effect until they have something to replace it with, but that does not make me feel much better. What are you going to replace it with? I know some people have some legitimate complaints about Obamacare, but wouldn’t it be easier to fix something already in place rather than throw it away and start over from scratch? If your roof leaks, does it make more sense to fix the roof or burn down the house?

I am amazed I even have to write a post like this. Health care affects everyone, Democrat and Republican. It does not discriminate by politics. There is no such thing as a Democrat heart attack or a Republican cancer. There is no such thing as a liberal childbirth or a conservative stroke. We are all going to need help from medical professionals a few times in our lives. Not only you and me but the people we love as well. If we can’t agree on affordable health care for everyone, how are we ever going to agree on anything?

So before you jump on the Repeal bandwagon (or if you are already on it), I ask you to at least hear my story and others who support and/or rely on Obamacare for our health care. And in spite of whatever else I say in this post, if the end result is that the Republican Congress and president-elect comes up with something that solves the problems some people are having AND allows me to keep my coverage, I will be the first to thank and congratulate them. I’m not optimistic that will happen, but for now we can still hope.

My life before Obamacare

Despite all the preachers who say the Bible promises health and wealth for believers, I have been poor, too poor to afford health insurance. And even if I could, I have some pre-existing conditions that disqualified me from signing up for new insurance. I once had employer-provided insurance, but when I lost that job, I lost my insurance as well. Without an employer, I was not able to get around restrictions of pre-existing conditions. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know one of those pre-existing conditions is depression. Here are the others:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Causes intense abdominal pain and diarrhea at unpredictable times. Requires prescription Levsin (or generic Hyoscyamine), cost $80-121/mo.
  • Sleep Apnea – Causes snoring and intermittent stoppages of breathing during sleep, resulting in blood with not enough oxygen. This has been shown to result in damage to all organs: heart, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc, which long term can cause devastating health conditions. Requires C-PAP machine, cost approximately $5000 plus maintenance and regular replacement of various parts.
  • Flat feet – Sounds like a little thing, but it throws off the alignment of your legs so that standing, walking, or running for long periods of time can hurt not only your feet but also your knees and back. You can correct it somewhat with arch supports. I remember my first chiropractor telling me if I didn’t get supports, I would keep undoing all the work he was doing to fix my back. Even with them, my feet would hurt if I was on them for too long.
  • ADD (without hyperactivity) – haven’t been treated in a while.

After Obamacare

When Obamacare was finally implemented, it was a Godsend. Through the Federal Marketplace I was able to find a plan that worked for me and that my Primary Care Provider (PCP) would take. The premium was well beyond my means. Since my state rejected the expansion of Medicaid to help people like me, I had to rely on federal subsidies to afford this or any plan. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a., Obamacare, you cannot be turned down for pre-existing conditions. So what did that mean for me?

  • IBS – Hyoscyamine now $10/mo. co-pay.
  • Sleep Apnea – C-PAP machine covered (might have been a small co-pay, I don’t remember). Scheduled replacement parts overall about $10-20/mo. co-pay.
  • Flat feet – still using arch supports and staying off my feet when I need to.
  • Depression – recently changed medication to Trintillex, which is not covered on my plan. That’s true for most new meds, especially if there’s a cheaper one available, but for me this has fewer side effects. Right now relying on samples from my PCP.

Post-existing conditions

In addition to these pre-existing conditions, I’ve had other things come up that were totally unexpected. This is where I get into the reason for the title. I developed a cyst right between the butt cheeks. I’m not sure how. I saw it happen to my grandfather in his last few years. After he broke his hip, he had a very hard time walking, so he had to sit practically all day. Maybe all the time I spent sitting to research and write got to me as well. It was easier for me, certainly, to stand and walk than for my grandfather, but when you have flat feet, you can’t stand all day. You have to get off your feet for a significant part of the day, and there are some times when you just have to sit.

Men, let me ask you. Do you like to sit with your wife/girlfriend/significant other next to you, resting her head on your shoulder? Women, do you like to sit like that with your significant other? In order to do that, I had to slide down until my butt was off the couch. It was worth the trouble, but still, I could tell she felt a little awkward.

My doctor said I needed surgery to remove it. I’ll warn you, if you’re squeamish about medical issues related to surgery in the gluteus maximus region, you may want to skip ahead to the next heading.

Turns out these things are not just on the surface, so you can’t just lance it. I scheduled the surgery for a time when my parents were visiting, so they could be on hand to drive me home and help with my recovery. I also had a smaller benign cyst on my neck. It wasn’t painful or urgent, but the surgeon said it would be cheaper overall to have both cysts removed in the same operation. Two for one deal, in other words.

The surgery was successful. But when you have a hole in your butt – besides the natural one, of course – you have to take measures to be sure it heals properly. They said it was a small hole, but that’s relatively speaking. A hole cut into your body is a hole cut into your body. I had to insert gauze into the hole and disinfect, inside and out, every time it needed changing, and then cover it. I say “I,” but actually it was hard for me to reach around to get where I needed, so my mom ended up doing that for the first two or three weeks. There are not many people you can ask to do that for you, so God bless her.

[If you skipped ahead, start here]

Without the insurance I got through the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, I would have had to pay over $3000 out of pocket and probably would have had to leave the cyst in my neck. With my insurance, my co-pay was about $338, still expensive for me, but I was able to work out a payment plan that terminated in about a year rather than ten years. So after the surgery, I was able to focus on getting back to my life rather than, “Dear God, how am I ever going to pay for this.”

And that is what the Affordable Care Act was about, making health insurance affordable, so that health care could be affordable when you need it. I know some people say it has not worked that way for them. For some, their premiums shot up. Some were not able to keep their doctor under their plan. Some saw their plans leave the Federal Marketplace. I sympathize. I want it to work for you as well as it has worked for me. Thing is, all these problems could be solved if Congress – and all of us – got serious about covering everyone, like every other industrialized nation in the world does. Other nations know 1) it’s the right thing to do, and 2) people are more productive when they are healthy than when they are sick or injured. Why is that so hard for America to understand?

Even those of us who supported ACA knew it was going to need some course corrections after it got started. But the opponents of ACA never talked about how to fix it, just repeal, repeal, repeal. It’s a disaster. Get rid of it. Rolling out Medicare wasn’t entirely smooth in the beginning. If the same people had been in Congress in the 60’s, we wouldn’t have Medicare today. It was not a disaster. It was not Armageddon. It was not a slap in the face to business owners. It was not the death of America. Medicare may not be perfect, but people would fight like hell if Congress threatened to repeal it. So it should have been with Obamacare.

Finally, I have to say something about the hypocrisy of our legislators in all this. Congresspersons and Senators railed about how ACA is socialized medicine while taking the health insurance plan for government employees. So to my two Senators who just voted to repeal Obamacare, a.k.a., my healthcare, and to my Congressman who has pledged to do the same, if you hate socialized medicine, can I have yours?

Deep Water

BeautyBeyondBones

So tonight, forgive me, but I’m going to reblog one of my favorite posts from 2016.

We’ve been dealing with a family emergency, so I haven’t had 2 minutes to sit down and write to you, my dear friends.

So thank you for giving me an extra couple days here. This post is ringing true in my life right now more than ever, perhaps it will for you too. Happy New Year friends. 🙂


Ever feel like your life is a broken record?

Like there’s something that you just. can’t. break free from? Just can’t quit or fix or resolve?

How many times have you gone to bed and thought, “Well, I’ll try again tomorrow.”

IMG_9285

Ask anyone who’s breathing and they can relate.

“Go out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Luke 5

This is a pretty famous story in the bible. The gist is this: 

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