I’ve had way too much experience watching other people suffer. I’m talking specifically about depression here, folks. Just one example: two years ago, I was sitting at a church conference in Amarillo when a friend made an urgent call to me, saying that a friend, one of those bubbling personalities, had shot himself at home the night before. He had everything: business success, humility, charm, respect as a professional, beautiful, loving kids, loved by the entire community. The community was stunned. I was heartbroken, furious. I had to leave the sanctuary immediately in sorrow. That was on a Friday. The next Monday, we dedicated my nighttime Christian Rock radio show to Wesley’s memory, tackling depression and suicide. I had a trusted friend – a man of strong faith, wisdom, and a licensed counselor – call in live to the show to talk. Then one of my best friends came in studio to share his story. My jaw dropped as Vincent told live to half the state of his struggles with clinical depression, leading to not one, but two separate occasions where he put a loaded pistol against his head and pulled the trigger. The gun's action jammed both times. As an EMT, I've probably transported hundreds of good, loved, purpose-filled people for whom I never understood lost sight of it, fully believed they were worthless, unloved, broken, and attempted to end it all. My heart has broken every time I’ve met someone who moved along, saddened, lifeless, lonely. It’s one thing I’ve spent my life trying to understand so I could help people to ultimately find a way grow through it, so they could help people with their new understanding and experience.
2020 has been a year for the history books. Not in simple terms of greater society, but for each of us. Now, I’ve got a deeper story to share as part of, with everyone else. I am now one of the 264 million people on Earth diagnosed with clinical depression. I know that except for those closest to me the news will come as a shock; however, this is something now that I realize I’ve been living with for at least a year. It began a few weeks ago when I really began searching myself about a general lack of energy that until Spring I had simply attributed to a profound lack of sleep (living on short naps alone) for almost the entirety of the three and a half years I worked full-time in Abilene for MetroCare (AMR) in addition to producing a major radio program almost full-time. However, I became more concerned when I realized that, for the most part, my sleep schedule has improved dramatically since I moved to the 24/48 EMS schedule I’m on now. Still, I will sleep at any opportunity, feeling fatigue and like I need it, and will lay down for a nap and sleep easily five or six hours, wake up, eat dinner, and go back to bed. I had lost interest in and energy for things I love. I live for being on-the-air, but in the past several weeks since I’ve returned to terrestrial radio, I have some days absolutely had to drag myself through preparing the shows. As soon as the mic was hot, I’d be right where I need to be, but as soon as it was back off I’d be back to staring into space. And it has been double the motivation needed to get done with that and have to delve into getting the evening show done for my online ministry. I’ll be forced to admit that the hope and excitement of what I’m doing with the Rangers hasn’t shut me down from producing what I need to there, but I noticed I’d gotten a lot less proactive about finding new things to produce (that’s not all me, some of that has to do with the fact with no fans we simply don’t need that much this season). I haven’t practiced the pipe organ since probably March and things are stacked up at home on the practice organ. That’s been eating at me terribly, but I look at it and just haven’t had the energy to even climb on the bench. I had completely stopped going to the gym to lift weights and at about the end of June, I had all but stopped running. As much better as that made me feel physically and emotionally, I had no energy. I was blaming it on the heat. The forced social introversion has been rough on me. There have been a few really tough calls this year (along with a few building up over the past few years) that really did me in. I’ve been on a few calls this year where we lost kids. I saw a suicide that very much had to do with the loss of sports in the spring. I’ve even struggled some with self-worth, as I’ve always had to work multiple jobs in Abilene just to make ends almost meet financially, wondering if I’ll ever be in a boat without that stress. People have contributed to that, as well, without meaning ill except for the fact that sometimes it builds up. For instance, the day in late August I was leaving for Arlington for the Texas Country Reporter shoot at GLF, I was literally watching Abilene in the rearview mirror as I had three people from Abilene on the on the phone simultaneously just about, one needing information, another yelling at me because I didn’t simply stay behind and work on the things they dumped on my plate literally an hour previous, and another with an irrelevant complaint. Small things like that, well, I’ve been more apt to let them get the better of me this year, I think. I was even a bit insecure for several weeks following the baseball cancellation that I’d fall through the cracks with the Rangers and they wouldn’t want me anymore. My wife - in her infinitely greater wisdom than mine – correctly pointed out that Chuck Morgan wouldn’t let that happen.
And I’ve wrestled with one of the very internal struggles I’ve counseled people on: the nagging thought that this can’t be a valid explanation, I’ve got absolutely everything to be on top of the world about. "Dustin, you're so engaging on the radio, and having so much fun at the organ." Yes, and I'm aware of it, but the cloud still comes along sometime, and then it's a double whammy because there's guilt for not having energy to do what I love and was made to do. But then, I realize I've lost sight of what matters most. I do live a lot of my life behind a microphones, connecting with and interacting with people every day, and all things aside loving every minute of it. I get to go save lives as a first responder. I have the most wonderful spouse and four legged kids anyone could ever ask for. I get to go home, despite when everyone else in the world comes after me, to a sanctuary where I’m deeply loved. I have a church family (albeit distant this year) that is the same. I’m the freaking organist for the Texas Rangers, one of 20 people in the world that get to play the organ for a Major League Baseball team. And this summer, I’ve realized that I’ve got an entire community there where love and respect is spoken. That feels better than you can imagine. It made me not want to leave the ballpark a few weeks ago, and that was just with the journalists, production team, and broadcast personnel there. I feel like I can build a future around that, and it’s a pretty awesome and empowering concept to realize that it will likely be a centerpiece of the rest of my working life. The fog is still there, but there’s always hope, if you know the right places to look.
Depression and hopelessness is real, and I’ve understood that from the lives brought into communion with mine for some years now. I now know what it’s like firsthand, and consider myself fortunate to have the medical and pastoral background to recognize the symptoms before they got out of hand. Even then, it was several months if not over a year before it clicked. I’m blessed for having a very full August, running calls several hours a day non-stop almost every shift, going back on regional radio, building a show, and finding time to do an adequate amount of preparation for it. If things hadn’t come to a head with business, I don’t think I would have spoken up. As it was, I have the best support system. It was past my wife’s bedtime, but when all this clicked while driving to the hospital one night, I called her right after that call to say what I thought was going on. My wife has been more supportive than anyone can be, along with a few close friends. This is only a moderate case - I must stress, I’ve not experienced any serious thoughts of self-harm, before anyone gets worried – and my doctor doesn’t think I’ll need to treat this long-term (a mild SSRI, if you are wondering). If anything, this has been good for perspective. I’ll continue saying it, even though it now applies to me: there’s no shame in talking about mental health. It is a demon, and we know demons can’t possibly hold victory over us. The strides in victory over mental health issues have been enormous in recent years, but they won’t continue if we ever stop being honest and open with each other about what’s going on. It’s far too easy to hide away and give the darkness too much credit. Then there’s this: where there’s darkness, the light is all the more piercing. There's nothing wrong with speaking out truth. Stay strong, y’all.