I recall a crazy summer night cruising around with my buddy Nate on the rural backroads that could have only been known as home. Nate and I had been drinking and my girlfriend (now wife) was the responsible one that had to drive us around. We drove just about everywhere we could think of. We went down roads that were less travelled and saw some animals along the way. Aside from squirrels and birds, we saw a herd of about 30 elk crossing the road in front of us. But what I most remember most about that night was the bear.
It was getting late so we started to drive back to Nate’s house to drop him off. While topping over the hill not too far from his place, we saw a large black shadow climb one of the elm trees next to the road. Of course, these tipsy fools had to investigate.
What we had discovered was a young (yearling) black bear at the top. Staying safe, we parked about 20 feet away. After watching the bear and snapping a few pictures that would later appear in the local newspaper, we were ready to leave. Just then, Nate got out of the car and walked toward the bottom of the tree. He looked back at us with a with a smile and then proceeded to pee all over it with the bear watching from above. That night, I witnessed a man without fear.
I bring up this story not only because it’s hilarious, but because I continuously strive to be that man. The one who isn’t afraid of a damn thing. The man that takes life by the horns and shouts “hell yeah!”.
Unfortunately over the years, I have found that I am not that man at all. Instead I found myself terrified — almost to the point that I could not go outside. That sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Afraid to sit outside, sip your coffee, or walk to your mailbox.
Each day felt worse than the next. I felt that the world was watching me, judging me, and didn’t want me to exist in it. I know that some won’t understand this feeling; this impending doom that swallows you whole. I found myself in constant worry. Every. Single. Day.
Thank God for my ever patient and caring wife. She helped me realize that I needed some help, so I went to see the family doctor. He diagnosed me with General Anxiety Disorder and Depression. Fun.
I’m sure this is probably some shocking news to some of you. It’s something that I never talk about with other people and even close family — mainly because I’m not sure how they would react to it. (Don’t worry mom, I’m okay.) But today, I’m making the first strive to end the stigma. Mental illness not a phase or a made up ailment created just to gain the attention of others.
It bothers me that mental illness is considered a joke in some circles completed with the same punchline about how people should “just get over it”. The problem is that mental illness isn’t something you can “just get over”. Believe me, if it was that easy I would have done that already.
I’ve been on medication for the past year. At first I doubted that it was working at all. But after about six months, I started to notice a difference. Small changes each day resulted in bigger changes further down the road. I’m now going outside my house, saying “yes” to more invitations, and participating in more conversations without the fear I had before.
I’m not cured or “fixed”. No, not by any means. Each day brings its own challenges and there are some that feel as if they were the worst. I’ve noticed that my symptoms are worst during dark days and winter months. I track my mood with an app daily and work on finding ways to improve my situation. I have to remind myself that everything is temporary.
If you feel like hell one day, just keep in mind that tomorrow could be a completely different day. You’ll get out of bed, focus on the good, and say yes to a float down the Gunnison river with a good friend while listening to a “river” curated playlist on a portable speaker.
I focus on pushing through the hard days and strive to create better ones.
I’m braver today, but I’m still not brave enough to piss on the trunk of a tree with a black bear at the top!