ON THE MORNING OF WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2015, I WAS ADMITTED TO A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL, THE RESULT OF ANOTHER MAJOR DEPRESSIVE EPISODE. Morning had come and I was unable to get out of bed. This was my second breakdown in a year; I felt completely hopeless. I was in the hospital for three days until my thoughts of suicide diminished, in part part due to the new anti-depressant I was prescribed. After my hospital stay, I enrolled in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program where I did some amazing work with fellow patients and therapists, who I count among my bellowing angels of health and safety. While I started the program full of hopelessness and depression, I worked incredibly hard to recover. I took my medications according to schedule and I learned and practiced the cognitive tools of the CBT program. On my final day in the program, I wrote this journal entry and shared it with the CBT group.
November 30, 2015:
I’VE BEEN CARRYING AROUND FEELINGS OF SHAME AND INADEQUACY SINCE CHILDHOOD. Until this program, I’ve spent the majority of my life trying desperately to prove these negative feelings wrong, while paradoxically at the same time seeking clues to confirm their truth. A mad contradiction if ever there was one. And this way of living, along with my body chemistry, has led to personal confusion, anger, exhaustion, and deep depression. I’ve felt unworthy for as long as I can remember.
In my late teenage years, I came to the conclusion that if I could succeed in college and achieve a “respectable” career, I may be able to lead a “normal” life, a life like the families I so envied as a boy. A shirt and tie career would prove my worth to the world and allow me some happiness, self-worth, and maybe, just maybe, freedom from depression.
My hospital stay made me accept the fact that this approach to living hasn’t worked. In spite of some real successes, my depression, anger, and anxiety have increased over the years. While proud of overcoming, I haven’t enjoyed the work I do. Rather, I’ve felt an intense pressure to hang on and continuously prove that I’m not a fraud. Fear of failure and continuous worry that my incompetence would be revealed, robbed me of the ability to truly enjoy my work, family, and ultimately, life. As I was always exhausted, friendship was also a luxury I couldn’t afford.
My core belief that I was unworthy of success and happiness justified the intense anxiety and depression I felt most days. I truly believed God had given me success I didn’t deserve. I was perfectly fine with feeling terrible because I believed it was the inevitable price of my financial and professional security. After all, people like me, depressed and from a tough childhood, weren’t supposed to feel happy and secure. Until this program, I viewed my breakdown and hospitalization as the final proof that I was unworthy of any goodness in my life.
I know now that these were distorted thoughts, the product of an internalized voice telling a child that he was unacceptable, shameful, and inadequate. For years, I was my own worst critic and self-abuser. If I heard someone say to another person the words I spoke to myself, I would have been appalled. I would have come to the victim’s defense. But I never came to my own defense. I learned to always accept the worst and that the worst would always happen. I learned that if things went wrong that’s what I deserved because I was unworthy, inadequate, and shameful. I learned to put on a “mask,” even if it didn’t fit and hurt my head. I learned to hang on for dear life and accept fear, depression, anxiety, and unhappiness as the just cost of the financial well-being and “respectable” career that I did not deserve. I believed I was the ultimate fraud.
These distortions were untrue then, and they are untrue now. They are the product of a legacy of mental illness, addiction, abuse, shame, poverty, fear, and neglect that stretches back for generations in my family. Children of children of children who passed on this unhealthy legacy.
I’m grateful that today, right now, I clearly see that I have the power to change these distorted beliefs. I understand that I am worthy of happiness and self-esteem. I understand that I have the power and “smarts” to make choices that will nourish and fulfill me, allowing me to give my best to the world. I understand that I deserve every success I’ve achieved because I worked my ass off and did it all with an untreated mental illness. If there was a penance, and I doubt now that there ever was, I have served my time, made my amends, and I am free.
Today, right now, I have the opportunity to listen to my heart and trust my mind. I am going to make a career change that fits with what I truly want, who I truly am. And I know I can do it. Living this way will not jeopardize my well-being, or the well-being of my family. It will lift us up and give us the power and courage to dream, to soar, to live completely. We are worthy. I am worthy.
A final thought…
I think it’s important to point out that outside of my wife, parents, and kids, most people had no idea that I was Bipolar and struggled with depression. I, like so many others, have become an incredible actor. I still marvel that feeling the way I did (fear and depression were my daily companions), I was able to put on such a good show. My thoughts and prayers are with my fellow actors. May we all find peace and safety, and keep our feet firmly on the ground. Day at a time. Step at a time.