Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Impact

Some of my friends have gone skydiving. I've never been tempted to do that, mainly because you sometimes have to pack your own parachute and I'm not good with my hands. They say that you don't need a parachute to go skydiving, but you need one to go twice. When a sky jockey leaves his 'chute in the plane, the fall is not the problem. It's the impact that hurts. Webster defines impact as "to strike forcefully." It is also defined as "the force of impression of one thing on another: a significant or major effect."

When I was fifteen, my father decided that we needed to move from Oklahoma City to a 250 acre farm outside of Prague, Oklahoma. That decision was to have a tremendous impact on my life. Even though I was excited about having so much land for our horses, I wasn't completely sure that I wanted to move. I was a freshman that year, and I was expected to be a state wrestling champion within the next two years. That dream was hard to give up. I was also leaving friends with whom I had gone to school for 9 years. Everything that was familiar and important to me was being left behind.

It's never fun to be the "new kid" at school. On my very first day, one of the school bullies pushed me and we got into a big fight in the hallway. During lunch, he and I, along with about 10 other boys, went to the football field to finish our disagreement. Even though I won (?) the fight, I never felt so alone in my life. I was in a strange place surrounded by people I didn't know. It was kinda scary, but I wouldn't let anyone guess it.

I didn't realize how much my father's decision had impacted my life until a few years ago. I was going through my old school journals reading the entries written by my childhood friends, and this intense feeling of sadness and loss came over me. I suddenly remembered and experienced again how I had felt about moving to a new town and school.

Webster's dictionary defines impact as "the force of impression or operation of one thing on another." Often times we are unaware of how certain events or circumstances affect us. Crime, bad health, war, divorce, bad parenting, alcohol and other drug addiction, abandonment and failure all have an immeasurable impact on the lives of men and women. The question today is, "How does depression impact the lives of caregivers and other loved ones of someone who is faced with mental health issues?" Finding an answer to that question and discovering ways to cope may help to avert burnout.

About eighteen years ago, I went to see a therapist for a number of reasons, but one of them was anger management. I thought that, as a Christian, I had overcome that problem. Typically, I would become irritated at someone or some situation, and I would say to myself, "I'm a Christian. That doesn't really bother me. I'm in control." I didn't understand that my method of control was to "stuff" my anger down some place where it wasn't noticeable. Neither to me, nor to anyone else. The day would come, though, when some minor aggravation would cause me to boil over and spew my angry feelings over whoever was in range.

Here's the advice I received from the therapist. He said, "Stormy, your problem is that you are not acknowledging your anger. You are fooling yourself into thinking that you are impervious to the common irritations of life, and yet you continually stack them up like dominoes. After awhile, the stack gets so high that it doesn't take much to knock them over, and then you blow up. What you need to do is to acknowledge the moments when you become angry before the dominoes stack up."

That was some of the best advice that I have ever received. The cure mostly hinged on continuous awareness and immediate acknowledgement of things that bothered me. This awareness enabled me to not only know when I was being irritated, but to be appropriately assertive when someone had violated my emotional comfort zone. I might say, "I'm angry because....and this is what I'm going to do about it." Or maybe, "John, what you are doing (or saying) is irritating me." That new approach worked wonders. Now, I'm not always at absolute peace with everyone else, but I'm pretty much at peace with myself, my God, and my anger.

Living with someone who is often depressed can have a tremendous impact on you, yet you might not have an awareness of the issues or be able to resolve those perfectly natural feelings. Read the following statements, looking for those which seem to reflect your inner truths.


I feel guilty that I may be the cause of the depression.---I blame myself by feeling: "If I had done this or that..."---I feel embarrassed by his/her behavior.---This behavior is a reflection on me as a person.---I'm afraid that he/she may hurt me or someone else.---I resent being burdened with this problem (Why me, Lord?).---I get angry at this person because I feel like he/she could do better if he tried.---I feel guilty when I respond to this person in a way that I know is not helpful.---I now see many mistakes that I made in the past.---There are times when I dislike this person.---Sometimes I wish that I had never married him/her.---I get depressed myself about this situation that we are in.---I'm afraid that this person will get sick again.---The mental health professionals really don't seem to have any answers.---I am afraid to leave him/her without supervision.---I spend a lot of time feeling like I am "walking on eggs."---It has taken so much of our hard-earned money to take care of this person.---I am physically, spiritually, and emotionally tired and depleted.---I have no hope.---I wish that we had a normal life, like everyone else.

You may read the above list and feel like "bailing out." Yet, you might read the list and become more aware of how you honestly feel, and realize that you are not alone. Others have struggled with the same issues you have. Remember and read the blog on "Stinkin' Thinkin' (2/19/07). Sometimes things are not as bad as we believe. Sometimes they are, and we need awareness, an expression of our honest emotions and support. There is no doubt that mental illness has an impact on everyone connected, but it can be survived. I suggest that you speak with a counselor familiar with mental health issues, join a support group, and cling to God.

One of my favorite Bible verses is: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126:5)." I need to be frequently reminded that "this too will pass."

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Twelve Things To Do

Special Note-I wish I had more hair so I could pull it with both hands. As you can see, I still haven't resolved the template issue with Google. I wish Google was a man so I could shoot him (in my mind). Meanwhile, if you want to communicate with me, my email address is Following is an article I thought might be informative.

Twelve things to do if your loved one has a mood disorder (author unknown)

01-Don't regard this as a family disgrace or subject of shame. Mood disorders are usually biochemical in nature, just like diabetes, and are just as treatable.

02-Don't nag, preach or lecture to the person. Chances are he/she has already told him or herself everything you can tell them. He/she will take just so much and shut out the rest. You may only increase their feeling of isolation or force them to make promises that cannot possibly be kept.

03-Guard against the "holier-than-thou" or martyr-like attitude. It is possible to create this impression without saying a word. a person suffering from a mood disorder has an emotional sensitivity such that he/she judges other people's attitudes toward him/her more by actions, even small ones, than by spoken words.

04-Don't use the "if you loved me" appeal. Since persons with mood disorders are not in control of their affliction, this approach only increases guilt. It is like saying, "If you loved me, you would not have diabetes."

05-Avoid any threats unless you think them through carefully and definitely intend to carry them out. There may be times, of course, when a specific action is necessary 6o protect children. Idle threats only make the person feel you don't mean what you say.

06-If the person uses drugs and/or alcohol, don't take it away from them or try to hide it. Usually this only pushes the person into a state of desperation and/or depression. In the end, he/she will simply find new ways of getting more drugs or alcohol if he/she wants them badly enough. This is not the time or place for a power struggle.

07-On the other hand, if excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol is really a problem, don't let the person persuade you to use drugs or drink with him/her on the grounds that it will make him/her use less. It rarely does. Besides, when you condone the use of drugs or alcohol, it is likely to cause the person to put off seeking necessary help.

08-Don't be jealous of the method of recovery the person chooses. The tendency is to think that love of home and family is enough incentive to get well, and that outside therapy should not be needed.

09-Don't expect and immediate 100 per cent recovery. In any illness, there is a period of convalescence. There may be relapses and times of tension and resentment.

10-Don't try to protect the person from situations which you believe they might find stressful or depressing. On of the quickest ways to push someone with a mood disorder away from you is to make them feel like you want them to be dependent on you.

Each person must learn for themselves what works best for the,, especially in social situations. If, for example, you try to "shush" people who ask questions about the disorder, treatment, medications, etc., you will most likely stir up old feelings of resentment and inadequacy. Let the person decide for THEMSELVES whether to answer questions, or to gracefully say "I'd prefer to discuss something else, and I really hope that doesn't offend you."

11-Don't do for the person that which he/she can do for him/herself. You cannot take the medicine for him/her; you cannot feel his/her feelings for him/her, and you can't solve his/her problems for him/her; so don't try. Don't remove problems before the person can face them, solve them or suffer the consequences.

12-Do offer love, support, and understanding in the recovery, regardless of the method chosen. Expressing disapproval of the method of treatment chosen will only deepen the person's feeling that anything they do will be wrong.

["'m so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's Up, Doc?

I once saw a cartoon of a cigar-chewing "robust" man who said to a medical receptionist, "I'm looking for a fat doctor who smokes." Most all of us are looking for the perfect doctor. For some of us that would be a person who would validate all of our wacky ideas. I'm in favor of doctors who (1) are open-minded to new developments, (2) stay up to date, and (3) treat me as a respected and important advisor in my treatment plan.

I'm happy to report that I get all of the above at the VA hospitals that I've attended in Arkansas. In most doctor's offices you feel as though you are on a conveyor belt. After arriving early for your appointment, dealing with an inattentive receptionist, sitting for hours on a hard seat, and finally being called to the examination room, you step on the belt. It whisks you to the nurse, who takes your vitals, puts you back on the conveyor, where you fly by the doctor, answering his questions in 1.3 minutes, receive a dull needle in the old bohunkus, and are finally dumped at the feet of the cashier. Where you can stay as long as you like, filling out the mortgage application forms.

Sometimes the doctor doesn't' even look you in the eye. "What's your problem? Unh, huh. Unh, huh. Here's a prescription. Now, GET ON THAT BELT! Next patient!!!" Sound familiar? They try to cram forty-eleven patients into a time slot for 20, overbook by 59 patients, and get cranky if you dare to start asking THEM any questions.

I want a doctor who treats me as though he has all day to solve my problem. I want a doctor who is personable. I want a doctor who readily admits that he is not God. I want a doctor who is humble enough to accept any information or insight that I might have about my possible treatment options. And I think that I deserve that kind of doctor.

Far too often, the professionals in the medical community find themselves at war with others who have a different approach to medicine. Everybody is defending the "fort" of their particular treatment philosophy. It seems ironic that the Greek etymology of philosophy is the love of wisdom. It that's so, then why do so many doctors act so foolish? They seem to follow the idea that "the best offense is a good defense." So they attack each other relentlessly while ignoring their responsibility toward their patients.

I take the pragmatic approach to my health. To me, whatever works is good medicine. If it doesn't work, then it's not good medicine. I assure you, if a doctor convinced me that standing on my head would cure me of Bipolar Disorder, I would quickly become flat-headed. I want a doctor who is wise enough, humble enough, and enterprising enough to utilize anything and everything that might improve my chances of healing.

If I could afford it, I would employ an M.D., a therapist, a nutritionist, a psychiatrist, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, and a veterinarian (if necessary) to put me on the road to good health. And I don't want a fat doctor who smokes. Believe me, I would run all of my bases and leave no bone unburied if it would make me well.

I pray that you will hold all of your treating medical professionals to a high standard. If they won't work with you, then don't you work with them. You deserve the very best!!

Update on suicide: I received a very disturbing email this last week from a woman who lived in fear of her husband committing suicide. Last Thursday a good friend's father took his life. In the last 6 months, I have personally known three Christians who lost a close relative to suicide. I can't think of anything worse than that. Please continue to educate yourself about this issue, but if you are a survivor, do not let Satan convince you that you have anything to feel guilty about. As heart-breaking as suicide is, it is still the personal decision of the person who takes his/her life.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Friday, May 18, 2007


Suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts are an SOS for help. People don't wake up one day and say, "You know, I don't have anything else to do, I think I will commit suicide." A person who makes this decision may be somewhat impulsive, but not that impulsive. As someone who has had to struggle at times with suicidal thoughts (not actions), I know that this type of thinking is insidious. It creeps into your emotional processing and becomes attractive as a way of coping with pain. A friend of mine recently stated that suicide was a "cowards way out," but I have to disagree. It is a desperate way out.

Let me assure you, that for several reasons, I do not believe that this is a decision or action that I will ever make. That does not mean that it is not something that I have to guard against. Other than wanting to please God in all things, one prohibitive factor in my life is the shame and guilt and almost unending pain that suicide survivors have to deal with. I would not want to inflict those things on my family and friends, but love of others can sometimes even lead to suicide.

I believe that personal and crushing guilt for causing problems in another persons life is often a prime motivator for suicide. Someone thinks, "They really would be better off without me." Love, not anger, can cause a person who has illogical thinking patterns to see suicide as an expression of how much they care for someone. If they feel guilty for the negative effect their life or their illness causes another person, that guilt may suggest this radical step as being a solution to the problems of someone they care about. This might sound "crazy" to you. You need to understand that a person with suicidal thoughts is NOT thinking logically, otherwise they would not even contemplate this act.

Besides my own struggles, I have had a lot of personal experience with suicidal people. My first acquaintance with suicide occurred when I was a young adult. I received a phone call from a girl who was desperate because one of our friends had intentionally overdosed. This was before 911, so I rushed over and loaded my friend in the car and took her to the emergency room. She was hospitalized for 3 days and released into the care of her mother. All ended well.

A few years later, I was in my church office and I got another call. One of the church members screamed that her husband had a gun to his head and said that he was going to commit suicide. I broke all the speed limits on the way to their home, and when I entered their front door, he was sitting in a recliner with a pistol while his wife and daughter looked on. I sat beside him and began to quietly ask him why he felt so sad. The short story is that he was depressed, felt hopeless, and ached for someone to give him a reason to live. After talking for several hours, he gave me his gun and was taken to see a doctor. He later became a Christian and a leader in the church.

One day I was talking to my mother and another relative about my problem with depression. When I went outside, he followed me and said that he wanted to talk. He told me that he was thankful that I had shared my struggles, because he had been planning to commit suicide. I called his son and got him some help.

Then, in 1993, while I was finishing up my degree work, I became a friend and study buddy to a young woman. She began to miss classes, and one day she came to class but sat quietly, not paying attention to the lecture. I noticed that she was doodling on a piece of paper, and I was close enough to her chair to see her draw a skull. After class ended, I saw her throw the paper away. When I retrieved it, I found that she had been writing comments related to suicide, so I talked to the professor about getting her some immediate medical attention. She was put in the hospital and her parents were called. After she was released, she came to me and said, "Stormy, if you hadn't seen my note, I would not be alive today." That impressed on me the importance of paying close attention to people. She recovered and married a wonderful young Christian man.

Also, in my family, I have had an uncle, a first-cousin, and a second-cousin all commit suicide.

Although these stories are a little tedious, I just want you to see that there are a lot of people out there who are in pain. According to the Center for Disease Control, 30, 622 Americans took their lives in 2001. In 2002, 132,353 people were hospitalized following suicide attempts. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24, but even children as young as 10 have taken their lives.

There are many websites dedicated to information about this national tragedy. One site that I would recommend and that has several good links is at "" I believe that everyone should take the time to educate themselves. We may not know how distressed our loved ones can be. Don't wait until it's too late. Statistically, 6 people will be affected by a suicide. I believe that statistic is drastically conservative. I pray that none of us will ever be one of those people.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chuckle Cheese

It all started with a casual remark made about my son's comment on the last major blog. He said, "Pretty clever, Dad." My wife remarked that "It must be a male thing." I parried by claiming that it has been scientifically proven that men have a better sense of humor than women. I nearly always resort to the proof of science when my beliefs are attacked.

But seriously, who are the punny ones in your family? The men, right? Who does the teasing? Who plays the practical jokes? Who laughs loudest and longest? Who receives great joy from tickling others? See, that is also what the scientists who did the proving observed.

Even one of my best female friends, who attended the class reunion asked, "Where did THAT (blog) come from?" Women just don't get it. It's been proven. Scientifically. A casual glance at my wife would note that she appears to have eye muscles on steroids... from rolling her lovely orbs. Listening to my jokes all of these years has never marred her skin with laugh lines.

All of this is a silly male approach to a very serious subject. If you are deeply depressed, it's extremely difficult to laugh. In fact, unaccountable tears are a key indicator that someone is suffering from depression. Therefore, perhaps laughter should be intentionally added to your medical regimen.

A casual review of web articles will demonstrate that laughter is thought to be a medical adjunct to the treatment of cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, back problems, stroke, heartburn, stress and even bad attitudes among prison inmates. Laughter is a form of medical treatment heartily recommended by the International Association of Scientific Proofers. As we might expect. Check it out, read the web.

As a man who has suffered from chronic depression and Bipolar Disorder for over 40 years, I can state unequivocally that laughter has helped keep me sane. Of course, there are some people who have their doubts. In fact, my wife stated that you would have to be "crazy" to write something like the blog "Old Acquaintances (problem thinker)." There is a genetic male predisposition toward humor in my family. People have often said, "You have your father's laugh." When my sons and I get together, we become almost uncontrollably silly. I fully expect my grandson to carry on the paternal mark of humor. The females in our family, though, just don't "get it."

On the web are many lists of the top 100 funniest films and funniest comedians. Some I agree with and some I don't. Unfortunately, many that are on the lists are full of vulgarity. Following are some of my personal favorites (inclusion does not mean that I approve of everything).

All of the Abbott and Costello movies, Laurel and Hardy, Keystone Cops, Spanky and Our Gang, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack, Jerry Louis, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Shrek, Bill Cosby, Groucho Marx, Milton Berle, Steve Martin, Lucille Ball, Mrs. Doubtfire, Bill Murray, The Office, Billy Crystal, Don Knotts, Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Peter Sellers, Ghostbusters, Harvey Korman, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, Daddy Day Camp (Eddie Murphy), When Harry Met Sally, Father of the Bride, and many others too numerous to mention.

While thinking about these, I've been inspired to start creating a "laugh library," made up of videos, books and recordings. On those days when I'm feeling really, really down, I can retreat to my laugh library for some relief. Come and join me. Even though many of my blogs are depressing (about depression), I really am a man who loves to laugh, be silly, goofy, wacky, punny, witty, facetious, amusing and humorous. It's been scientifically proven.

"There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:5)."

For those of you who have been disappointed by the lighthearted mood of my last two blogs, take comfort in the news that my next topic will be suicide.

Please excuse the strange appearance of my blog structure. I'm pleading with Google to get it fixed.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Monday, May 14, 2007

Just Returned

I just returned from my trip, so I am still decompressing. I will have a new blog tomorrow. Have a great day, and if you can't have one, just have a day anyway.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Old Acquaintances

This Saturday I will be attending my 4oth high school class reunion. I'm a little afraid that my classmates will have all gotten so old that they won't recognize me. Some days, I hardly recognize myself. Just thinking about it hurts my head.

The other day I was discussing with a friend the (a) problem with young people. Some schools are just not teaching them how to think. They go to college and quickly learn how to swim downstream. There is no independence or creativity in their thought processes. If they have a strong-minded professor, they will soon learn to approach everything the way that he does. That's why people who have mental health issues are so interesting. They have a totally unique way of thinking. Give THAT some thought! But be careful, thinking can be dangerous.

A psychologist once told me (honestly) that he believed that I had sustained some brain damage at some time during my life. I know that my friends who read this will all be laughing, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, but this is not funny. In fact, it's possible that it was the cause of my becoming a problem thinker.

It started out innocently enough. I first began to think at parties now and then, just to loosen up. After awhile though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker. I began to think alone--just "to relax," I told myself. But I knew that it wasn't true.

Thinking became more and more important to me. Finally, I was thinking all of the time. I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself. I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Freud. I would come back to the office dizzy and confused. My mind was obsessed with questions like, "What are we doing here?"

I was having problems at home too. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my spouse about the meaning of life. She said that I was scaring her, and she began to avoid me. I could now see that we were just not well matched. We were like two opposite Polish people repelling one another. Soon, my wife began spending some nights at her mother's house.

I eventually developed a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me into his office. He said, "Stormy, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. It's disrupting the whole company. You just don't fit in anymore. If you don't stop thinking, you will have to find another job." That gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early from work, and I confessed, "Honey, I've been thinking..." "I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!!" Tears ran down her face as she quietly said, "It's getting serious, Stormy. You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently, and she began to cry. I'd had enough. "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door. I wanted some books. I was in the mood for some Nietzsche and Voltaire, topped off with some Solomon. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors. They didn't open. The library was closed. I fell to the ground weeping.

To this day, I believe that God was looking out for me that night. As I clawed at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for psychology, theology and philosophy, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker's Anonymous poster. Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a TA gathering. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video. Last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last time we met.

I still have a job, and I still have a wife. After I became used to it, life just seemed easier as soon as I stopped thinking. I know that my TA mentor will be concerned about me writing of my experiences, but surely just one thought won't hurt. Oh, alright, there have been several thoughts in this blog, but none of them really mattered.

Here's thinking to you, kid.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I Don't Really Need It

"I don't really need it," is a comment often expressed by people taking medication of any kind. It's a form of denial. Doctors will tell you that noncompliance with a prescribed treatment of medication is one of the biggest frustrations that they face. This is not limited to patients who have been diagnosed with a form of mental illness.

In support group meetings, I have often heard someone say that they have not followed their doctor's advice. The reason is usually the feeling that if they are not taking medication, then they are not truly ill. They are denying the reality of their health issue, and consequently, they deny themselves the surest way of stabilizing their health.

Another reason why patients don't comply with their course of treatment is that they have become discouraged. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, more than 50 per cent of individuals who took antidepressants needed to try two or more drugs before finding one that was effective. Ten per cent of patients had to try five or more drugs before finding one that was effective. In my case, I have tried a dozen medications and have still not found one that will successfully control my depression. Fortunately, I'm just stubborn enough not to give up.

Family members of depressives often try all kinds of methods to change the attitude of their loved one toward medication. Most often their efforts fail. As someone who has had Bipolar Disorder (BPD) for over 4 decades, I believe I know what is most likely to work and what isn't.

What depressives really need to hear are persuasive statements. The biggest mistake that family members or friends make is to be overly proactive toward their loved one. Whatever is said to the patient, it must be seasoned with wisdom and gentleness. My advice follows.

DO NOT nag-be persuasive
DO NOT shame-be persuasive
DO NOT command-be persuasive
DO NOT manipulate-be persuasive
DO NOT control-be persuasive

I believe that most people are open to persuasion, but they will rebel against any of the above attempts to get them to take their medication. What it takes to persuade one person may be ineffective with another. Maybe getting the advice of a counselor who works with depressives would be a good place to begin. They would have the most experience in dealing with noncompliance issues.

This much I know. Those of us who struggle with mental health issues are in desperate need of love, acceptance, understanding, support and persuasive advice. A failure to receive these things will nearly always result in noncompliance and hopelessness. In some cases, suicide.

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24)."

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]