Depression – After the Storm

A couple weeks ago when I wrote the first of this three part series, I never would have thought the world would be in the situation it is today. I could not have imagined that all across the world, families and individuals are being told to stay home. We have this whole “social distancing” thing going on, we are asked to stay six to ten feet from others, and not gather in groups of more than ten individuals. How many of you, like me, had to go and get two separate beds for you and your significant other at night? Not really!

But in all seriousness, life has drastically changed for a lot of us over the past few weeks. What your routine looks like today is probably much different than it was pre-coronavirus. Moments like these can wreak havoc on someone who battles depression, loneliness, and anxiety. In the previous segments, I wrote about being in a crowded room, surrounded by friends and loved ones, yet feeling isolated and alone. Now imagine, being isolated and alone at this time, and what it is doing to those people. The outcome isn’t good at all. I’ve read all over social media, and have seen in numerous people, the temperature going up. They’re more irritated than before, they’re starting to lash out, and people have stated how the level of hostility within their homes has increased. Some people are at a breaking point. They’re scared, alone, unsure of the future, and their routine has been greatly disrupted.

As previously stated, I am definitely not a mental health expert. When I was in the Air Force and instructed many different training classes, I often taught suicide prevention; consisting of recognizing stressors in your own life, warning signs in others, and ways to cope with those things. How to get help!Like any of you reading this, I am no stranger to stress and life experiences that bring about a heightened level of stress and emotion. But please also realize that not every kind of stress is bad. Sometimes it actually makes us fight to survive. Stress can sometimes bring about new ideas and help you recognize a new passion!


In 2011, I personally went through what some may classify as one of the biggest negative stressors a person can go through. A divorce. It was quick, sudden, and came out of no where (at least for me). For several weeks I felt stunned, lost, and confused. It wasn’t the fact I was getting divorced that really hurt, as it may be for some, but it was being forced to change and adapt to a new life. At the time, I wasn’t one who particularly embraced change. I didn’t like trying new things. I liked the thought of security and the illusion things wouldn’t change. But here I was being forced to completely change my life, my outlook, and adapt. Instead of playing offense, I was now in defense mode and forced to do what I needed to in order to protect myself and my family. In short, this life experience that could have been devastating, is probably one of the greatest things to impact my adult life. I found new ways to occupy empty time, I learned to enjoy those quiet moments alone, be content, and focus on me. I went out and bought my first “real” camera. I began taking pictures, traveling around the area I lived in, and seeing beauty in a new way.


Through divorce, separation from family, being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, having my sixteen year career in the Air Force cut four years shy of retirement and pension eligibility, and having to pack up and move somewhere with an unknown future, I’ve had my share of stressors. A couple of those started sending me on a downward spiral that I didn’t want to travel again. People ask me often, when hearing my story, how I survived or bounced back so quickly. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard either. It came with some difficulty, but here is how.


First? A lot of prayer! A lot of time in self-reflection and thinking about who I wanted to be when I came out on the other end. What did I want the last page of the story to read like? Did I want my story to be one of defeat, or one of triumph and victory?

Secondly, I found something I loved and I dove head first into it! Picking up the camera, traveling around, or even just photographing a family, gave me an outlet to focus on. Patriot Images wasn’t founded upon the love for photography. Sure, I love taking photos and I love giving a family or person something that can be treasured for a lifetime and then some, but that’s not the driving factor. Photography was and continues to be an outlet in which I can focus and help make an impact. It was never about money. It was about connecting and healing.

Another area, although I’m not always that great with it, is exactly what I am doing right now. Writing. As a teenager and going through some of the tough challenges teens face, I learned that I could express myself through writing. Maybe someone would stumble across it and it could help them. If not, then at least I was putting my thoughts down on paper and sorting them out for myself.


Whatever you’re going through, there is something on the other side. The emptiness and loneliness that you’re feeling? It will not last forever. It can’t. I know what is happening around you doesn’t always match what’s going on inside you. I know that while you may be physically surrounded by love, you sometimes feel so deserted and alone inside. I do promise that it cannot and will not last forever. Every storm ends. Take these moments and decide how you want the last page of your book to read. Choose victory over defeat. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, how you want to feel, and what you think you could do to get you to that point. Maybe not immediately, but what are some steps you can take to move through the darkness?


Lastly, I am always available through email, FB Messenger, or by telephone. While I am no expert and I cannot promise to get you through those pits of despair in life, I will certainly walk with you through them and listen. It’s better than walking alone!

Depression – The Silent War

I have really debated the past couple of days on whether to write this or not. It’s personal and deep, and involves taking a journey down a road that although familiar, isn’t a pleasant one to travel. But I am a traveling man, and not all roads are easy to travel down.

Depression. Depending on who you speak to, you will get different responses regarding this word. Even within the last decade, my own personal thoughts and opinions regarding depression have changed.

Why am I writing this? Don’t I usually choose topics that are a little easier and pleasant to absorb? Yes, but I also dedicate this blog site to impacting those near and far and trying to positively influence those who read it.

This particular topic and blog entry has been on my mind constantly for the past two days. For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2016, which led to my early retirement from the United States Air Force after sixteen years active duty. Part of having MS is trouble falling asleep. Because I have trouble sleeping, I was prescribed a sleeping medication recently. This particular medication has caused me to have extremely vivid dreams, none of which have been great dreams.

I will skip the details of the dream I had two mornings ago, but immediately upon waking, I took the contents and overall theme of the dream, as a prompt to write this and hopefully inspire others to share their own stories.

I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional. I have zero textbook experience on the subject of depression. What I do have however, is years of hands-on practical knowledge, experience, and coping mechanisms used to deal with this silent killer.

I call depression a silent killer for many reasons. Almost more times than not, those who deal with depression will keep silent about it. For different reasons, they’re ashamed, and don’t want it to become evident to those around them, let alone themselves. These silent victims walk through their daily routines, wearing masks and hiding the pain they feel inside.

I am no stranger to wearing masks. For years, I became an expert at changing them often, and creating different ones for various occasions in life. I have never been one that is talented in the area of hiding facial expressions. Those around me could usually tell how I felt inside by the way I looked on the outside. So I created masks. I portrayed a smile on the outside while my heart and soul screamed on the inside.

Many times over the past years, I’ve talked about silent warriors fighting silent battles, and the battlefield being hidden within the four walls of their home or within their minds. They’re fighting these silent battles in a silent war, and if they make it through the night and into the next day, they’re winning. I’ve talked about this often and it’s so true.

When I was in the military, depression wasn’t something people talked about very much. The perception was there, especially in my career field and carrying a weapon, that any sort of mental or emotional health problem was a career killer. So you ended up having so many kill themselves on the inside to save their careers. With a rise in mental health awareness programs to combat Post Traumatic Stress and Suicide, the stigma has started to be shunned out of most units. Those who were in positions that did nothing but support the stigma mentioned above, have found themselves either getting with the program and following suit with other leaders, or being hidden in places where they will have minimal influence and impact on others. Good!

It’s a hard place to be when you’re standing in a room full of people, only to feel completely and utterly alone. For those who have never been surrounded but feel an intense loneliness and emptiness, it’s hard to fathom. To be surrounded by happiness and light, but feel as though you’re standing in a dark corner, is excruciating. To want nothing more than to break and scream at the top of your lungs, but thinking you can’t because they’re depending on you to be the happy person you always present yourself to be, is nothing short of painful. It’s like being stung over and over by the same bee.

Many think that someone who is depressed is suicidal. Not true at all. Someone could be in such a state of loneliness, sadness, and emotional despair, they don’t want to continue. They lay down at night praying they won’t wake up, unable to fathom another day in pain. But they’re not suicidal. They just want their pain to go away. Imagine the most excruciating toothache. Everything you tried to do to make the pain go away, failed and you’re left walking around with this pain that no one can see but only you can feel. Wouldn’t you do anything, including the removal of the tooth, to make the pain subside?

If you’re reading this and can relate, I’m here to tell you there is hope. I can also tell you that you can think all the happy and positive thoughts in the world, and it isn’t going to work. Why? Because that’s not you and that’s not how you were wired. And you know what else? That is okay!

I started this post by telling you I am not a doctor and have zero professional experience in the case of mental and emotional health. But I have experience, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here writing this for you today. I’m going to talk about things I’ve done to help in my next entry. It might just save you hundreds of dollars or another long period of pain and darkness. Maybe you won’t have to wear that mask so much. If none of the above, at least you will know that there’s another person fighting alongside you and cheering for your victory.

Friends

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”

Dalai Lama

It’s been somewhat of a rough start to the new year. I am sure many can relate because life continues and things happen, regardless of the pages of a calendar turning. As I have written in previous posts, you can’t experience true joy unless you know true sorrow.

I have been trying to think over the past several days on how I was going to write this. I’ve laid awake in bed, wishing I could fall into a deep sleep, but continuously reminded of past memories; many of them 20+ years old. I lost a friend last week. Sure, I’ve lost many people in my life over the years, but this one just feels so much different. Taken too soon for many of us here left behind, God must have considered his work here complete and called him home. The death of my friend is a harsh but valuable reminder that life is so short and we only have one shot to get it right.

I want to talk about Matt a little bit and share some memories. When I have been laying in bed unable to fall asleep, scrolling through social media and seeing a photo of him and his wife, or just thinking about his untimely death, I am reminded of so many funny memories. I’m reminded of how we used to bike ride around the area we grew up, he would stop and show me all the local “haunted” houses. We would stand there on the side of the road hoping that something creepy would happen. It never did and on we went. I’m reminded of the trails we use to cut in the woods, and how he once pointed out an American Indian burial ground. I remember watching professional wrestling with him and we would pretend we were the wrestlers. I recall his love for CB radios, how he introduced me to them, and how he took me to meet people I only knew from the airwaves. One of the funniest memories I have is when he went camping with my Dad and I in Indian Lake, NY. In the middle of the night my Dad woke us up and said there was a black bear outside the tent. Matt woke up startled and shouted, “Ooooh! Ooooh! Ooooh!” I don’t know if he thought there was a bear in the tent.

Matt was always a bit crazy. He was fun to hang out with. Matt was also one of the only friends I’ve ever had growing up that would give you the shirt of his back. Yeah, we all know nice people. Generous people. Matt went beyond that. He was genuinely a nice person.

A couple of years ago when I retired from the Air Force, I moved back to my hometown, and Matt and I connected a few times. Busy schedules and families of our own didn’t allow us the time to see each other often, but when we did, it was like I had never left the area. We had grown up but there was always the silly jokes and phrases we used to say as teenagers. One night when my wife and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, Matt walked in to pick up dinner for his family. He saw my wife and I sitting there and paid for our entire meal. That’s just who Matt was.

I had the opportunity to take family photos for him within the past couple of years. As you can imagine, from what I’ve already written, the shenanigans continued for two and half hours while taking his family’s pictures. It was a great time and good for the soul. That’s who Matt was.

Matt passed away unexpectedly at the age of forty-two.

Fly high Matt. Thank you for your friendship, the laughs, and great memories you left so many with. You will be missed and I look forward to seeing you again.