Attacked by a Monster
As my blue Mazda 626 rolled to a stop at the light, I had no idea my life would take an immediate turn. I was thinking only of getting home to watch the Cubs on cable while I ate my lunch.
The corner of Highway 99 and McDonald Street has one of those lights that always seems to be red—especially when I'm on my way home. On the left was Elmer's Restaurant, the "after worship" eatery for many families in our church, and on the right was Union Gas Station. Everything looked familiar.
I felt normal, meaning stressed. I assumed the tightness in my chest and pressure in my head (but without the sharp pain of a headache) was the expected byproduct of being a church planter. I was a little dizzy—all things I had grown accustomed to.
Suddenly something bizarre happened. Nothing looked familiar. It was like that feeling you get when, in the middle of the night, exhausted during a road trip, you awaken in a half-conscious, panicked fog. Your surroundings are strange and you can't remember where you are—until you realize you're in a hotel room, not in your bed back home. Only in this case, clarity wasn't returning. I didn't know where I was, where I was going, or where I'd been. I just sat there, dazed, until the car behind me honked and startled me into creeping through a now foreign light that had turned green.
I motored slowly down the highway, thinking, I'll just keep driving until something looks familiar. I turned left because it "felt" correct, then left again for the same reason. I think I live on this block. But I wasn't sure which house was mine.
Push the button on the garage door opener, I thought. Wherever a garage door opens, that must be my house. When I noticed a garage opening, I parked in the driveway, walked into the garage, and sat on the freezer, waiting for my head to clear. I wondered if my ministry was over because of some serious and debilitating disease.
That happened in the spring of 1991, and it started a chain of struggles, errors, and lessons that have proven to be among the most significant in my life.
One of those errors happened right there in the garage. As I sat groping and pleading with God for mental clarity, my son came home from school. "What's wrong, Dad?" he asked. "Why aren't you at work?"
I decided to keep this experience to myself. How could the family handle having a dad who couldn't find his way home for lunch? I would see my doctor because I wanted to know what the problem was. But I determined to deal with this thing alone.
After several medical tests, the doctor's diagnosis was "stress-induced depression," and he recommended that I find another profession. This, too, I kept to myself. Not even my wife knew. While my motivation was to protect her, it was a foolish, unloving, even dangerous decision.
That was the first of many bad decisions. What follows is an abbreviated list of the lessons learned in my ongoing struggle with this monster called depression.
1. Trying to handle depression alone is its own ...