For most of my life I’ve struggled with depression. It has been my longest and, with the exception of my wife, most loyal companion. I’ve never had to worry whether this companion would abandon me. It has always been there, a most loyal foe. Depression has manifested itself in my life in various ways. Early on, depression became extreme fatigue and shyness. Throughout my adolescent years, depression took the form of intense anger. For the majority of my twenties, depression made itself known as an intense and literally suffocating anxiety. And up until about seven years ago, depression took the form of excessive drinking and all the less than pleasant results that accompany such an activity. It is difficult when depression is one’s guiding force, but we carry on.
Now, two years ago things changed drastically. The depression became so intense, so disabling, that it stopped me in my tracks. I could no longer use my tried and true method of gritting through it. I gave it my best effort. I pushed myself, even as my reserve emptied and a terrifying sense of hopelessness set in. And not without a valiant fight, I surrendered. It was a crushing blow that shook my sense of being and challenged my faith that there was a purpose in all things.
Over the past two years I have had two major breakdowns which put me in the hospital and forced me to retire with disability from a nearly eighteen year career. A career that was a major source of my identity and self-worth. Although I have income, which I am so grateful for, I have yet to renter the workforce in any meaningful way. When a man is unable to work he feels half-a-man.
This is not to say that I have not made progress. Quite the contrary. Over the past several months I’ve worked with my psychiatrist to come up with the right medication balance, and it is working. My mood improved and I even went back to school to start a new career that is much more in line with my creative interests.
But life is relentless. And when there are lessons we must learn, the circumstances will be provided. Four months ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that is most likely benign. I initially went to the doctor because my right eye had been getting progressively blurry over the past two years. I know. Why did I wait so long? Because the mind wants to believe that everything is okay. I had every eye test possible and was told that my eyes were fine. Eventually, I had a CT scan and then got that unnerving phone call where they ask you if you’re sitting down. I was told that I had a mass in my brain that was 2.3 by 2.5 centimeters in size, about half the size of a golf ball. I was told I needed to have an MRI to get a better understanding of what type of tumor it was. Based on the MRI, my doctor diagnosed the tumor as a meningioma, a brain tumor that is most likely benign. Turns out my blurry vision was caused by the tumor pushing against my optic nerves. I’m scheduled for surgery this Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
Although I’ve never felt sorry for myself through this, I have been profoundly affected by this situation. There has been plenty of anxiety and fear, but even more, there has been a wonderful awakening. I’m beginning to understand that there are some things you can only learn through uncertainty. Up to now, I had never faced a situation that was so out of my control. Even when my depression was at its worst, I could always grit through it and work harder to overcome it. But with a brain tumor, there is really one choice: let go and have faith. There are things I can control. I can take good care of myself, eat well, get plenty of rest, etc. But ultimately, I am placing myself in the comforting and experienced hands of God and my surgeons.
While I do believe all will be well, surgery will be successful and life will go on, the changes that are taking place are wonderfully profound. I have developed a much deeper sense of gratitude for family, friends, and people in general. My faith in God, while already strong, has become deeper and more profound. I am learning to stay focused and immersed in the present moment and soak it up for all its worth. And I’m learning to let go and trust in the face of situations over which I have no control. There are many other awakenings taking place, seeds that I know are blossoming into a greater sense of equanimity, gratitude, and faith.
Oh, and the surgeon also said that this tumor very well may have contributed to my depression and its intensity over the past two years. So maybe, just maybe, my loyal and unrelenting foe, will say goodbye. We’ll see…
Stay the course. Keep the faith. You’re a hero.