Part 6: Stress and Depression

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I've chronicled how my poor choices led me down a path of unhealthy living. All of my previously discussed disease markers were taking a physical toll on my body. But in and around those diseases that had been diagnosed by blood tests and CT scans was another health issue which was more difficult to test and evaluate.

Can you measure stress with a blood test? Is there an x-ray for depression? I know this may come as a shock to folks who know me in real life, but both stress and depression have at different times overshadowed my life.  If you've been around theMangoTimes, you I know that I have alluded to this over the years. Throughout this series, I've found that my transparency has been helpful to me and my readers., so hang onto your hats and let's dive into these topics today.

Our family has gone through a number of big trials, but because of my personality it appeared as though I took each one of these trials in stride without showing any cracks in my exterior life. People often comment that "you and Kendra are so strong" or that they admire "how well we cope" in the midst of tragedy. I recognize this too. I believe that I have a high capacity for stress, but everyone needs an outlet for that stress. In other words, you can't keep it bottled up forever. The cork will pop and everything will eventually come pouring out. For those of you who are new readers, let me chronicle a few of the bigger issues I am referring to:

I just listed the big things and each of them have their own story and their own ramifications that play out in my life to this very day. There continues to be broken bodies, damaged relationships, deception fallout,  loss of trust and heaps of long-term healing taking place.

As a Christian, I thought and communicated to everyone in the midst of these trials that my faith was secure. In the middle of life's biggest storms, I was able to articulate clearly that God was in control and would sustain us. I said it then, I believed it then and I still believe it now: God is sovereign and powerful. Nothing in life happens that He does not have ultimate control over. (Sorry for the theology in the midst of a story about diabetes, but stress, depression and spirituality are all integral parts of this story).

Get Real Fletch!
The only problem was that in the midst of saying these things and preaching to myself a solid message of hope, I had no outlet for the darker times. "God's got this!" or "This too shall pass!" are the things you are supposed to say in the midst of a trial. It is not cool to say out loud that you think life sucks! As a "good Christian boy" I could never say what I really felt: That life is really fucked up right now and it feels like everything is crumbling around me! 

It was simple. I just could not be real. I felt like I had too many onlookers and observers with super high expectations of me. Kids, friends, parents, employees, patients and the list goes on. Perceived or real, I felt like I was expected to have the right response at all times. Put your head down. Keep calm and carry on!

When it came to relationships, some of my closest friends had their own "major issues" going on, while others were physically and locationally just not present in my life. At the same time, I had other friends who had just abandoned our relationship all together. 

Kendra was there every step of the way, but she was processing through these trials in her own way. Besides, I didn't need to add my dark season to her equally dark season. It is what it is. Life is exploding right and left and the stress level keeps pushing up. Kids didn't know it. Friends didn't see it. Parents/Family didn't understand it. I just kept my head down and pushed forward. I wouldn't call this a mid-life crisis, just a stressful season with very dark days that I learned to walk alone. 

What do you do in this situation?
I remember not recognizing this as depression. You know why? Because, I'm not that guy!  Depressed people are curled up in a ball sitting in a dark room, not busy running a business and a ministry and a family. That's not Fletch! Fletch is the life of the party. His goal is to make others feel better. He reeks of optimism.

But, the truth was that for the first time in my life, I found myself relationally alone and in a place of occasional darkness. I read a blog post where the author wrote about his battle with occasional depression. I related to everything he said. It was like I gave my self permission to embrace my melancholy.

I can remember when I first heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide and listened to all the rhetoric of the funniest man alive dealing with depression. Yeah. I get it. I totally get it. Life can be a stage sometimes. I have a job which requires me to "be on" 8 hours each day, but when the laughter and entertainment dies down, things can get lonely and dark. I've been there.

So that was my situation for several years. At the same time, my physical body seemed to be failing right and left. No matter where I turned, I was faced with a feeling of dread. I could physically feel my heart beating in my chest every day and with the least amount of added stress, my nose would explode into a river of blood. I was feeling it in my physical body and my mental body. Something had to change. 

Dogs, Dark Poetry and Loyal Friends
I forgot to mention that In the midst of these trials, I lost the best dog on the planet. My golden retriever, Salsa, died. She's didn't make the list of major life issues above, because she lived a great life and it was her time to go. Thanks to a friend over at Langley Labs, I had the space to add another few dogs in my life. The first was a yellow lab named Betty and then later I adopted a chocolate lab named Rasta. Little did I know this friend's encouragment to get one of her labs was way more than adding a dog to my world, but would actually be a large part of my therapy.

Because they were labrador retrievers, they required exercise, so I began walking with them wherever I could. Before long I was walking 3-5 miles at a time and looked forward to finding new trails together. The dogs required nothing, they were extremely loyal and at the end of the day they provided exercise and a place for me to think through life. I was quickly logging about a hundred miles each month. It's no joke. These dogs have become a part of my daily therapy.  As a bonus, I felt great and started losing weight. With their help, I could feel the dark cloud lift.

I also returned to my college habit of writing poetry. However, I found that my writing descended into an extremely dark form of poetry. The kind of poetry I would not want anyone to read or discover after I died. Yet, at the same time, it was very therapeutic for me to cry out to God and dialogue what I thought about life. They ended up as personal psalms for me and I shared them with very few people. Again, the cloud began to lift.

Lastly, I began to connect with a few old friends. Because I know that he occasionally reads what I write, I want to publicly thank my buddy James for being a steady friend through this dark time of my life. He was (and continues) to be a friend who takes whatever spills out of my mouth. The good. The bad. The ugly. 

As a reader of this post, if you have a friend struggling with a tough season in life, allow me to share a great piece of advice: Just Show Up. Just be there in the midst of the storm. Allow people to be real and to vent and even argue out loud. James and a larger group of guys (Bill, Chris, Travis, and Don) let me do that and I am eternally grateful.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to be super clear. I know the answer. It's not dogs or friends or poetry. They were all ingredients in my recovery. Ultimately it was rediscovering the goodness of God. My faith was the main prescription and I was super rooted in the love of God for me. That is the answer. It still is.

I weathered the storm. I walked out of the darkness. The black dog of depression ran off. Will it come back? Probably. I'll be ready for it. But at this point, the fog lifted. I found ways to deal with the stress and the depression disappeared. Then, as if on cue, the next part of my body began to fail.

The Perfect Storm
If you follow the time line, you will see these storms came one at a time. There were a few times when I could barely catch my breath before the next storm rolled in, but thankfully they did not hit all at once. 

This all culminated last summer when the final shoe dropped. Yes I was walking and hiking every chance I got. I still had the stress of my dental practice. Business was going 100 miles per hour and it was continuing to grow. I still had the stress of unsold property which had been on the market for 18 months and there were no potential buyers on the horizon.

It was in the midst of this storm season that I began to notice a few more key issues in my health. I'm no dummy and I knew the signs of diabetes. In my next post, I'll tell you what happened and how I figured it all out.

Quietly making noise,
Fletch

READ THE WHOLE SERIES
Introduction
PART 1: Middle Age Status
PART 2: Fatty Liver Disease
PART 3: Ironman Is Here
PART 4: Hypertension
PART 5: Bloody Noses and a Tumor
PART 6: Stress and Depression
PART 7: Diagnosis: Diabetes!
PART 8: Get Out and Get Walking!
PART 9: Kicking Sugar to the Curb!