This will be the first Christmas holiday season that I have not had a job. No office holiday party, something I looked forward to with real anticipation each and every year! Very often this was the only Christmas party to which I was invited so it was always very special to me. No exchange of Merry Christmas or Happy New Year wishes this year with fellow employees, vendors, and business associates who I had formed close personal ties over many years of developing commercial real estate projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Although I was careful to be ethical in acceptance of gifts and followed all proper company policies many of these people became close friends albeit always maintaining an appropriate professional separation while conducting business. I admit to taking my guard down during the Christmas season and feeling personally close to many fellow employees and business partners.
I loved each of the three jobs I enjoyed over 35-years starting as a city planner then as a land development project manager and finally as an officer for a publically traded real estate investment trust. But what I most enjoyed were the people who I worked with. That love was second only to the special love I have for my immediate family. I miss my business friends this year and it is hitting me very hard for reasons that I am exploring while trying to work through successfully with my psychologist and with God and my minister.
Christmas was a special time of the business year for me. When smiles were on almost every face and a bounce was in almost every step. When people you cared about looked ahead with anticipation to a New Year full of possibility and if applied along with some good luck always held forth the hope of unlimited prosperity!
Such a pleasant time to be in business and a joyous time for all my business acquaintances. Many business relationships were of long standing and strong personal attachments developed through multiple projects accomplished within wonderful team work environment. I palpably feel the loss of these friends and my job this year.
The doctors took my ability to work away from me in May this year when my mental illness manifested into bouts of short term transient amnesia. Fortunately all the tests have shown so far that these amnesia events are part of my mental disorders rather than any physical neurological issues (I thank the Lord for any blessing, no matter how thinly they are veiled!).
Currently my diagnosis is that I just cannot tolerate any level of stress or anxiety whatsoever or my mind simply shuts down and I experience transient amnesia. The most serious and notable event occurred in May this year while driving. I have absolutely no memory of the amnesia gap whatsoever. I got in my car after having it serviced, checked my watch with plenty of time to drive to a doctor appointment across town which should have taken about 15 to 20 minutes. Off I went and I do not remember a single thing that happened for the next 90-minutes!
I ended up parked in an abandoned shopping center under a tree with the car still running and in gear but correctly in a space with front tires against the curb. I looked at my watch and 90-minutes had elapsed, go figure! I have had several other transient amnesia events but none others while driving. They still are quite disquieting and each causes a combined sense of annoyance, discontentment, fear and anxiety.
I have had a wreck since my diagnosis and even though the car in front of me turning was obscured by plantings in the right of way I wonder if I was my old self if I would have seen that and not just plowed into the car, flipping it over. Fortunately no one was hurt! My insurance paid to fix our cars and I wish there was some way to fix me!
I have applied for total disability based on chronic pain caused by arthritis in my knee from an injury 22 years ago and more notably from arthritis and spinal stenosis with disc degeneration and early Kyphosis which I have suffered from in gradual decline for well over 40 years and fortunate to be in a great pain clinic for treatments every month ranging from RF nerve deadening, cortisone injections, and on a high dosage level regimine of combinations of pain medications now for well over a decade.
More distressing is the continued degraded progression and deterioration of my mental condition. Although I have suffered periods of depression about every 10-years my entire life, with each episode getting gradually worse over time relative to the last; about 7 years ago I fell into a bottomless pit of severe depression which I have not been able to climb out of yet.
Just when I think I am near the top of the pit I fall backwards again into what I can best describe as a bottomless void of complete darkness with no frame of reference. When I walk I feel as though bags of cement are piled on my shoulders. A heaviness pervades my whole body that I cannot seem to get rid of no matter how much I pray or how many doctors I see. I don’t see in colors, everything appears to me to be in shades of darkness and very fuzzy without distinct shape or lines in any form. Various shades of gray. And I cry, I cry a lot. And I pray, I pray a lot.
I have not lost hope but have now been on almost every type and combination of medications that are currently available all with no appreciable success. People who have not had to take psychiatric medication have no idea how difficult and literally mind numbing they are.
You have to gradually go on, experience at time terrible side effects, establish some form of treatment dose and stay on that for some period of time often in an almost zombie-like state, then when it is determined that the drug is not effective or the side effects cannot be tolerated you have to wean yourself off the medications.
This is a medication protocol process which on average takes 3 to 4 months of duration. It is horrible and when you are deemed drug resistant the dosages are typically higher than normal. In my case I have the potential drug interaction with my high level pain medications that prove tricky to predict and manage.
Then invariably when this combination of psychiatric drugs does not work there are always the next psychiatric attempt for relief. This involves the same weaning on, getting to a treatment level, monitoring the side effects and weaning off but now often with new and at times brand new drugs and untested combinations of these medications.
The bottomless pit is still there and I continue to fall backwards, always falling. It is clearer than ever to me now after all these years with multiple psychiatrists that they are simply trying, usually to the best of their ability to see what works but it is largely a guessing game with you as the guinea pig. It is not easy to provide your own patient advocacy while undergoing treatments that put you in altered and at times a compromised mental status This has been my life for the past 7 to 8 years and I would not wish it on anyone. It is a horrible existence.
I am at the point where I am considering Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) but this scares me the worst since there are distinct possibilities of memory loss, short and long term and it is a multiply applied inpatient treatment with regular repeated treatments. This is considered the last resort and I am not quite prepared to go there just yet
I am currently diagnosed as treatment resistant recurrent severe depression, extreme anxiety with panic attacks and transient amnesia, sleep disorder, borderline personality disorder with noticeable deterioration of cognitive ability often referred to as early dementia. My Dad suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease so the doctors are watching my cognitive decline very closely. I know what is coming and I am afraid.
So I wait. Impatiently I wait. I filed for Social Security Disability in June through a firm that specializes in nothing but these types of cases. I have waited since my application was filed for any news from the Social Security Administration. My disability advocate says I have a good solid well documented case and will eventually win but I am not a patient man. This process can take from 6-months to 2-years and that is just not right.
I did finally after 6-months just this past week get a notice that Social Security has requested that their medical examiner see me and do an independent evaluation later in January. I pray there will be good news and my benefits that I worked hard over 37+ years to accrue will be approved! If not the appeal process can take from six more months to another year and a half. So I wait. And I wait. Unsure what my next steps will be and unable to properly plan without knowing for sure what my benefits will be. Thank God that my wife has a good solid job. I frankly don’t know how people less fortunate can make it through this bureaucratic quagmire
My purpose in relating my story in such detail is not to solicit sympathy. It is to help someone else out there dealing with a silent illness not to feel like they are all alone. You are not alone for I suffer with you! There are resources available within your family, your community, your church, your doctors, your friends. Please do not be afraid to ask. Only in asking can you hope to get some help. Do not take your own life, and if you are considering this get help immediately. Dial 911. There is help out there and you can get that help but you have to ask!
You always will have a friend in me. I cannot do anything except listen but I will do that if asked and do it willingly because I know the hell you are going through and how alone it can make your feel. I am also telling my story in hopes that it may help to eliminate some of the stigma surrounding chronic pain and mental illness, two of the “invisible” diseases since they can’t be deduced by any current test or cursory observation. If anything I do offers even one, just one person just a smiggen of relief then I am willing to endure the difficulties and embarrassment incumbent on relating my story!
The Bible declares that patience is a virtue. One which I must admit is among the hardest lessons for me to master. But a virtue that I must master in order to deal with my declining physical and mental conditions.
“A man’s wisdom gives him patience, it is to his glory to overlook an offense”: Proverbs 19:11 NIV
Yet my entire life I have been a man on fire, pushing pushing pushing to get projects completed on time and to make things happen as scheduled. Patience is a virtue that I clearly need to cultivate.
“In purity, understanding, patience and kindness, in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love”: 2 Corinthians 6:6 NIV
But it is an imperfect world and God gives each of us our own cross to bear. The answer is not for me to complain about my difficulties. For so many have such horribly tragic events occur in their lives which makes my situation pale in comparison. Rather, my goal is to bear the cross I have been given with grace and humility. To begin to learn the real meaning of Grace.
It is a hard thing not to feel sorry for yourself when you know a piece of yourself, something that defined your being is gone and will in all likelihood never return. It is difficult to be patient in the face of bureaucratic delay putting your life on hold. Forced retirement puts other strains on the practical aspects of my family and our everyday life.
Yet then I think of Job’s testing in the Bible of his faith in God by Satan giving him every affliction and curse known and not only to Job himself but to his entire family. Reminding us that we can falter in our faith and it will be tested but in the end our faith in God will prevail if we learn patience, practice grace and master humility.
“Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak.” Job 33:31 NIV
“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:22 NIV
“As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” James 5:11 NIV
So here the lesson is clear: we get to determine if we hold fast to God or whether we just let in to our troubles and tribulations and gripe about our situation rather than endure with grace. It is our choice, our decision. If I start to think of patience more in terms of perseverance the true lesson may become easier for me to understand and to model in my behavior.
Grace in Christianity (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) In Western Christian theology grace has been defined not as a created substance of any kind but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”, “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.
So I am torn this Christmas, as are so many between the sadness or depression they are experiencing and the happiness and joy that the season should bring. For me this is proving very difficult to take for the variety of reasons I shared with you.
But so many others are suffering the same dichotomy of the holiday torn between sadness and joy. Some of our friends do not have their loved ones with them because they have died, especially tough if this is the first holiday without them. You may be worrying about your loved ones if they are not able to be with you because your relationship is estranged. Or maybe they happen to be in another location where for whatever reason you are not able to be with each other during Christmas.
Especially blessed are those friends and family on duty in our military and first responders who may be unable to be with their family and their friends. My heart goes out to them and their loved ones for in addition to missing their Christmas at home the are forward deployed to protect and serve all of use and are in constant danger for their very life.
My heart is also with those Christians this year who are being persecuted for their faith alone in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere by intolerant extremist Islamic jihadists whose hatred of anyone who does not believe specifically as they do will be a harsh judgement on their soul and is a stain on their religion.
Fortunately God gives us strength to make any suffering possible no matter how severe. The love you give this Christmas comes through you from God. He is with you always as He is with me as He is with us all, everyday and everywhere. He wants to be part of your life, to take the load that you willingly give to him in Christ’s name. This Christmas consider rededicating yourself to God.
So in spite of it all I know I am fortunate for I know that God loves me and I sit here late humming a favorite Christmas carol. Hum it with me, it may bring you strength as well. Oh, and Merry Christmas to each of you. My Friends, may we each find the true meaning of Christmas in spite of, or perhaps because of the hardships we face. All things are possible in Christ’s love!
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy Infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heavens afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light.
With the angels let us sing.
Alleluia to our King.
Christ the Savior is born.
Christ the Savior is born.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EACH OF YOU MY FRIENDS AND A HAPPY AND JOYFUL NEW YEAR FILLED WITH ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES!
-Your pal John