I don’t consider myself or my story all that special, but maybe there will be a little something in it that will touch someone enough to get them through just one more day….Just….One….More….Day….
That day when you feel so much emotional pain that you don’t think you’re gonna make it. When it takes all you’ve got just to be able to tell yourself, just take that next breath. Come on! One more breath! That’s all you gotta be concerned about! You’ve only got to focus enough to make yourself take that next breath. You don’t have to think about anything else right now. That’s it….Innnn….come on, stop holding your breath, let it go; in and now out. Whew! Did it. Now the next one. Come on, you can do this.
Hello, my name is Thomas.
August 2nd 2017. 7:45 a.m. I was 53 years young. A strapping, tough as nails, tall, cool drink of NH country water. One of those uber healthy for their age type guys. I had just semiretired 2 months before from a life of very hard work. Was getting my 27 acre organic dream farm up and running when an eight foot fall happened and snap! (pun intended)—I snapped my back at the T12 vertebrae. Means I have no feeling or muscle movement from my hips down. The signals from brain can’t get by my hips (typical for a guy, I know!).
I now had a new birth date! I was a baby again! Just like a newborn, I had to learn everything. How to use my stomach muscles to breath, how to sneeze, had to relearn how to pee and poop, how to roll over and basically learn how to do everything from my butt. What a journey it has been.
I believe humor helped me survive. I truly consider myself lucky. I could have come down different and snapped my neck. Been like Christopher Reeves. The mental strength that it takes to wake up each day and do what needs to be done to remain alive and remain a human when the only thing you are physically capable of doing for yourself is move your head, is something even I cannot totally comprehend. He was truly a superman.
I was the tough guy in the hospital and the rehabilitation place. That’s where they teach you how to do the basics like balancing on your unstable butt without falling over on your face! My attitude was, “let’s get this rehab stuff done so I can get home early. I got a life to continue living!” Took three months but I made it back home. I had myself convinced that this is no big deal. Just can’t walk that’s all! My first morning at home with a cup of hot coffee in my hand, looking out at the woods and my farm from my wheelchair was when depression—or the “Boogie Man,” as I call him—said hello to me in no uncertain terms.
It was too much for my poor girlfriend of 6 years, so I ended up totally alone. I signed up for mental counseling or therapy but my insurance ran out, so I had to stop. It took me two years to be able to get my fingers up on the rim of that dark hole of depression and pull myself up for a look at the world. I am the old school, absolutely nothing can stop me, kinda guy you read about but there was nothing I could do to beat this Boogie Man.
I almost didn’t survive. I was absolutely leveled by this depression thing. You know, that thing that only the other, weak willed people get. I can figure a way out of this. I am cognizant of what’s happening to me. “I’ll get myself back under control after I sleep a little,” I said to myself. Sometimes that sleep would equal days or weeks in bed under my pillow. It was almost like an out of body experience where my consciousness was disconnected from my brain and body. I….just….stopped….caring. About myself, others, or anything. It felt like everything was covered in a fuzz that made things blurry, disconnected and unremarkable. Just plain old blah was how I felt. Not sad, not mad, not awake, not asleep, just a no flavor yogurt with blah. People’s voices even seemed distant. Everything seemed a Herculean task. Try putting on your underwear when your legs are just dead weights because of paralysis. It takes a certain kind of determination that is extremely tough to access when you’re having problems relating to your consciousness.
It got so intense that I started mumbling to myself and hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. The intense, emotionally driven, internal physical pain that happened was the worst. Thought my insides were just going to disintegrate and get sucked into a dark hole. Then add in the isolation and loneliness. Tough times for sure. Somehow, I managed to keep taking one breath, then the next breath, one after the other and eventually had a decent day where I didn’t cry for no reason. The next day back down into the hole I went. It was incredible, even the sun hitting my face would send me off into depression never-never land. I’d melt into a sobbing puddle of pain. I had my public face which I barely could maintain and then the real me when I was alone.
I tried the alcohol cure to numb and forget my pains but it only intensified those feelings and emotions. I struggled as such for a whole year. It got really sad but somehow one day, I found myself knocking on a meeting place door, peeking inside and asking if this was an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. Little did I realize that I had given myself a chance by reaching out. I found out from others in a very non-committal way that I was not the only one who thought themselves crazy. Unbeknownst to me, this totally voluntary, totally free, open form of group therapy, gave me a toe hold in my uncontrollable world. I didn’t talk, just sat and listened but just being around people with similar problems helped me hang on somehow. They all had and were living depression. Not only was I able to get my abuse problem under control but also the depression relented a bit.
A little while later I was able to have insurance again, so I signed up for therapy at a mental health facility. That went from Zoom meetings (COVID) to in-person meetings. Just having someone to bounce your uncensored feelings and thoughts off of helped. It also forced me out of the house and to be around people. I tried to keep the forward momentum going and took an advocacy course that NAMI offered. Then I started college! Very small, hybrid type courses but picked up speed somehow and now am chasing a degree in Psychology so I can help people like us! Funny how things work out, but guess who is doing their internship for college at NAMI? Yep, little ol’ me!
On my journey to regaining fairly normal mental functioning, I’ve found out about three very powerful tools that you can use to help you right your ship.
1. Don’t go it alone. You need qualified impartial help to help you see through your fog. No matter how small the opportunity may appear, “make” yourself get help.
2. Have that help, help you find a purpose. That purpose will give you a reason to be, to exist.
3. It’s ok to occasionally let yourself go, to be sad and hide under your pillow to escape for a while or even a day. It is not ok to let yourself be forced to stay under that pillow by what ails you. Fight back by reaching out for help! People like myself and NAMI care and want to give you our support!