Thirty Years after the Psychiatric Unit

Pastor Bob Hunter

Thurmont United Methodist Church

(5/2016) The plan to write this article on recovering from mental health issues was made a few months ago. But it was only a few weeks ago that the tragedy of suicide struck our community twice in one week. This May is thirty years since the beginning of my recovery from a diagnosis of acute anxiety and long-term undiagnosed clinical depression back in 1986 It is my hope that my journey will help you to learn more about what depression and anxiety are, and that there is hope for everyone!

Too often we read the circumstances about a personís battle with depression and/or anxiety and say to ourselves, "Thatís not me!" For that reason, Iím not going to share the issues that brought me to my stay in the psych unit. What really matters is not so much the "how" as much as the "why" we finally break down. People have issues, and how we manage with them make a lot of difference. This would seem obvious, right? But depression and anxiety are not that simple.

In 1986, I was in a great marriage, with two kids; eight and six years old. We didnít want our kids raised in daycare, so I was the stay at home parent; working part time jobs in between. We attended a great church. We had friends. We lived in a great neighborhood. Things were great on the outside. But on the inside; I was angry, addicted to overeating, struggled with over-spending, and who I was supposed to be in life. I was thirty-six years old, so my midlife crisis was a part of this too. I had two "hot-button" issues that I blamed other people for. I felt that I had to prove that I was worth something, which lead to my becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. This process began almost nine years prior to May, 1986.

Then it happened. Late in April of 1986 I had indigestion. I took an AlkaSeltzer, and laid down. I had a pain in my chest, and I thought I was having a heart attack. I was in the emergency room from seven in the morning until four that afternoon. It was a case of acute gastritis, and my heart was very healthy. However, the next four weeks would be the most frightening of my lifeÖand I couldnít figure out why!

I was terrified all the time. I was convinced that I was going to drop dead from a heart attack. I spoke a mile a minute, shaking like crazy. My teeth chattered and my knees knocked together. I couldnít sleep. After four weeks of sleep deprivation and terror, I was getting to the point where it had to stop. I called my doctor again, telling him that the sleep meds did nothing. He referred me to a psychiatrist, who gave me an anxiety medication, but the next day I imagined killing myself to get the terror to stop. I called the doctor, and was admitted to a psych unit.

I

wasnít prepared for what would happen. Iíd never spent a night in a hospital before. I thought there would be a few days-worth of meds, a hospital gown in a single room, and Iíd be done. In our first private session, the psychiatrist told me to describe how I felt. I said, "Iím buried alive in coffin six feet down, with about a half-hourĎs worth of oxygenÖand NO ONE KNOWS IíM DOWN HERE!" He calmly said, "I know youíre there. Your wife knows youíre there. We have a backhoe. Weíll be with you in a few minutes." That was the beginning of my recovery.

In oversimplified terms; depression usually manifests itself slowly. The sufferer sees less and less options, or solutions, to lifeís problems. Some sufferers even get to the point to where they believe that taking their own life will be better for everyone involved. Itís not about self-pity. Itís the only solution they see as viable. There is a chemical imbalance in the brain. In my case, that was what long-term meant. The imbalance wasnít permanent; praise God! But wasnít going to improve without medication and resolution of my issues.

In oversimplified; anxiety is basically our "Fight or Flight" system getting triggered when it doesnít need to be. If we perceive danger, or if itís real; our adrenal glands send out adrenalin to our body to deal with the danger. If we are sitting there, the adrenalin causes the shakes, knee-knocking, and teeth-chattering, to name a few symptoms.

I learned my lessons quickly. I was willing to do anything to get the anxiety to stop. I was told by my psychiatrist that medicine without resolving issues doesnít work. It only helps rebalance the brain to the point of being able to cope and talk, so to speak. One of my two main issues, after finally having the courage to say it out loud, was utter nonsense: a "demon" with no reality to it. The second issue was going to take a lot of work on my part. I did, and itís been resolved for many years now. After two years, I was no longer taking an antidepressant. After three years, I was no longer regularly taking antianxiety medication.

In the thirty years since my stay at the psych unit, I have completed my undergraduate degree, and my masterís degree. I am a professional in two fields. After a life-long call from God, I finally said "Yes" in 1991 to go into ordained ministry. I have been ordained twice since then, and am about to complete my twenty-fourth year as a pastor. I have remained married to my high school sweetheart. We will celebrate our thirty-ninth anniversary this August. I have lost seventy unhealthy pounds. I have a long way to go, but God is with me!

Get your Bible and read I Kings, Chapter 19. Youíll read how Elijah had major anxiety trouble, hid in a cave where he couldnít see options (depression), and how God told him to come out and see what he couldnít while hid in the cave! Elijah listened to God, and recovered!

Depression and anxiety are absolutely treatable "in the natural." Just think what God can do! Letís not blame the sufferers for being weak, or lacking moral fiber, or having a low character. Letís not "condemn to Hell" those who lose their struggle and take their own life. Sadly, I have presided over two such funerals. God knows the person who is in such a mental state. God is merciful! In the meantime, letís not allow the possibility of embarrassment to stop us from approaching people we are concerned about. Get help. Call your doctors. Get referrals. I know itís an old clichť, but if "I did it, by the grace of God, you can too!"

I will accept any calls from anyone who wants to speak with me. I will not be your therapist, but Iíll be honored to help you get started on the road to recovery.

For the love of Jesus, Pastor Bob