The recent news of the pastor that committed suicide left me with a longing to tell my story. I want to put my thoughts…my story….my victories and my losses. I want to put it ALL out there so that it might bring hope to someone else who finds themselves where I once was.
I have not had to go on a lot of medication or even go to therapy. But I feel like God has brought me through this. I am not in the same place. I can remember a time of my life that was really, really difficult. It was somewhere in 2012. Even though I was never officially diagnosed, I know that what I was dealing with was a form of anxiety and depression.
There is no denying the fact that it all snuck up on me. Whenever you take a road trip, part of the adventure is the journey. You can map routes, make playlists, and stop for gas station snacks. Then after all of that, you arrive at the destination. The place that you had set out to reach- a place that you had purposefully traveled towards. However, I had taken this journey without even realizing it. It took rock bottom for me to realize where I had arrived. I don’t remember the trip. It was like I was just all of a sudden there.
I found so many questions rolling around in my head. How did I get here? What was wrong with me? What triggered it all? Was it the robbery that I went through? Tough family situations involving my birth parents? How did I get here? What brought me to this point?
I tried to hide the struggle from everyone else. I put on the mask that told the world that I was just fine. I spent all of my energy trying to contain this feeling.I faked it for everyone else. As a pastor, I had expectations on me. I used all of my energy on playing the part and then my family got the leftovers- which was essentially nothing. I could not let people at church or youth group see that part of me. It would make me look broken and messed up. How can you help people when you are that way? However, I am just a person as well and there are so many other people that are dealing with these same issues and I don’t want to minimize the very real struggle that it involves.
I physically felt numb to everything. I came home from the office and didn’t want to talk to my family. I just wanted to hide. I wanted to not be bothered. I didn’t want anyone depending on me. Our children were around the ages of four and nine. My wife was still working nights at this point and that left me alone with my thoughts for hours at a time. I would be so exhausted from keeping up the “pastor image” that I would come home and have absolutely nothing left to give my family. I would walk in the door and walk right past them. I would go to our room, shut the door, and get in bed. I wasn’t eating dinner with my family or spending time with my kids. Every second of every day was taking so much focus and energy to just ‘make it through’. I was living my life mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted all the time. After my wife left for work, my kids were becoming used to me parenting them from bed.
I remember driving Allie to school and after dropping her off….having to pull over to cry and asking God what was wrong with me. Why was I so miserable all the time? Everyday was absolutely awful.
I was trying to cope and maybe even blaming God for the way I felt.
I was frustrated that things were not changing and getting any better.
The robbery that I went through really had a bigger affect on me than I realized. My anxiety really started after that incident. I would have pains in my chest. I would think it was a heart attack. I can think of at least three different times when I ended up in an ER or being taken in an ambulance because of fear. At that time, I was early to mid thirties.
The doctor’s word never gave me peace, and I had so many doubts. I also thought that I was one pain away from dying. It wasn’t until I got a PCP and started going for annual check ups that I actually trusted what was being said.
I started working out and losing weight. My doctor put me on blood pressure medication and I had a prescription for an anxiety medicine since right after the robbery. All of those things helped, but they weren’t the biggest part of the equation. I lost a significant amount of weight and people would come up to me daily and talk about how much I had lossed and how much better I must feel. I always smiled and answered graciously, but the truth is I didn’t feel any different. The feelings, thoughts, and struggles were all still there and I could not figure out why. Even though I was a pastor, I felt like my soul was not in a great place at that time. Life was so hard. I loved God, but each and every day was an ordeal.
My family had been extremely patient with me up to that point. Something like this takes a toll on everyone involved. One night when I came home from work and went and got into bed like usual, my wife came in the room. I expected her to be telling me that she was leaving for work and that the kids were watching movies. She walked around our bed to my side, grabbed our comforter, and snatched the blanket off of me. She told me that something had to change. She said that she had tried to allow me space to work through this and to be there for me, but this has been too long. She said this spiritual attack needed to be faced so that we could move past it. That was a wake up call.
I had never looked at it as a spiritual attack before then. I honestly thought that something was just wrong with me physically. Spiritually it was an attack- it is SO important not to downplay the spiritual side of this battle. Coming to terms with the aspect of spiritual battles- identifying that and calling it what it is was a game changer.
I remember going to work out one morning at the gym at our church. I pulled in the parking lot to go work out, but God had other plans. He kept telling me that I needed to go into prayer. I was late and didn’t want to go. I argued with God. I finally answered with a ‘fine God…I’ll go’. I walked in and didn’t say anything to the ladies leading the meeting. They were really almost done. I came and stood in the middle of their circle and they assured me that I had come there for a reason and that I needed prayer. That day I balled my eyes out before God. Everything didn’t change overnight or anything. The struggle was still very real and ongoing, but my spirit shifted and I started going to the prayer meetings twice a week . I was still exercising and also using that time to pray and listen to God. I took my kids to prayer meeting with me and they would sit in the foyer and watch videos. My direction shifted. There was more focus on him and less on me and the why and the physical feelings. The greatest help was without a doubt the spiritual aspect of it all.
It has been a process. I have learned to seek God more. My desperation for peace and for Him made not doing so impossible. There was a change in my attitude and in my heart. I even feel like there was a shift in my very soul.
There were so many instances of growth. There have been many shifts that have corrected my path. It wasn’t one big life changing, healing moment. And the struggle didn’t stop and go away instantly. Even as recent as 2016, I had an episode where I had pains in my chest. I immediately went into panic mode and felt like I needed to go see my doctor ASAP. During this time, we were getting ready for a large event at our church and so the prayer group had been moved to a back room. My doctor could not see me right away, but they were going to try and get me in. In the meantime, I went to prayer that morning. I remember being so loud in prayer as I cried out to God, that I even startled some of the ladies. I was so broken. I went to see my doctor later that day and everything was completely fine and normal physically. I ended up talking to my Dr about prayer and the amazing role that it was playing in my journey.
Something else that had a huge impact on me was being able to talk about the struggles with other people. There is a freedom when you can give what you’re going through a voice and find that there are other people that are walking the same road that you are on. It made a big difference when a friend of ours started sharing her struggles and the similar things that she went through. It is so important to talk about what you are going through. Talk with your spouse. Talk with trusted friends. You don’t necessarily need people trying to fix you per say- you need people that will listen, pray for you, and walk with you through this painful season. Don’t be ashamed if you need to go talk to someone on a professional level- go. I felt like that was a big issue for me in the church. We are so scared of what people will think. How are we supposed to lead them if we are broken ourselves? Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Surround yourself with a faithful support system. I have learned that people care more about authenticity and honesty than anything else!
Life now is exponentially better now. It is never going to be perfect. I am realizing that it doesn’t have to be. I am far from where I was and still striving to get to where I want to be. I think that is how it is for everyone. As a family, we are closer then we ever have been and are doing better than ever before. That does not mean life is perfect. We have issues and problems. But that spiritual heaviness is not clouding every moment of every day. I have had new things birthed in me- new dreams. With each of these new births, an old part of me dies- the attacked part. I am a better father, better husband, better pastor, better communicator, better leader now. Not because of perfection, but because of transparency. Even though I haven’t been 100% delivered- I am better equipped to handle it.
When I share my story with someone, I think that people are often surprised to hear the depth of the darkness that I faced. People don’t expect it from someone in my position. I don’t talk about it enough, and that is one of the big reasons that I wanted to share it now. The number one lesson that I have learned through all of this is that you must never, ever devalue prayer and an authentic communication with God.
He hears you and He cares. It does not matter how deep the pain is or how dark everything seems. I promise you that He is there with you. Just hold on- He will guide you through and stay with you during the entire journey.