This week I will try and discuss my depression and how I have chosen to treat it. ALS is my life, but it does not get to control my cognitive well-being, unless I allow it to. Let me explain. Depression has been deflating me for most of my 45 years on this earth, long before my ALS diagnosis in 2010. It probably began around four or five years of age. No I don’t remember everything, but I remember the shocking occurrences of my youth.
My birth mother and biological father would be classified as “unfit” by today’s standards. This part of my family history has many facets and intertwining tragedies for both of my parents. This would, of course, be passed down through genetic materials, known simply as DNA. Now add environmental conditioning, systematic physical and mental abuse, throw in neglect, starvation, filthy living conditions and so much more just for good measure and Walla! My home.
At the age of four, I had open heart surgery that saved my life in more ways than one. During my month-long stay in the hospital, the nursing staff recognized the signs of abuse. My siblings and I would never return to our parents after this. I was already demonstrating severe signs of depression. I felt unloved and rejected by my parents. I would was saved by my grandparents. They raised me to be the man that I am today and I am so grateful for that.
Having been working a full-time job since age 12, I was just busy enough to hide from my depression, or so I thought. I began drinking when I was 14. I would pick up the habit from my adult coworkers and they seemed to have accepted me as one of the guys. Finally, I felt the “acceptance” that I was yearning for at a truck stop in Nebraska. I grew up hard but with the life lessons that I was learning, I was able to make it through my school age years in one piece.
Now that you have the foundation upon which I was raised, I shall continue. At age 20, I joined the Marine Corps and was hoping for a better life or a fresh start at least. I loved the Marine Corps and I loved being a member of the Few and the Proud. I now had the tools and the training to bury my depression deep. So deep that no one was aware that I was privately and slowly slipping into that very dark pit, that I know now is “depression”.
Being a Marine and given a license for destructive behavior, my life was going nowhere very quickly. Burning the candle at both ends since age 12, my mind and body couldn’t take much more.
My life would be saved for a third time and I knew it right away. The day that I met my wife, I knew that I had been saved once again. However, my love was not aware of the demon that I had buried deep inside of me.
Thirteen years of military life, a beautiful wife and three beautiful sons later, I was thrown a curve ball. During my annual routine military physical, the doctor found a large mass in the arch of my left foot. It would turn out to be a tumor that couldn’t be removed. This would prove to be the dagger that would kill my Marine Corps career. I was devastated and I once again felt depression creeping up on me.
Before I was to be medically discharged, I had several procedures done to slow down the tumor growth. These treatments made me physically weak. I was having trouble passing my physical fitness tests. But I ignored the symptoms because I was afraid to go to see the Doc, since I didn’t want to be forced out for medical reasons.
Which was bound to happen anyway. Marines are stubborn creatures and I refused to give up.
So the Marine Corps dumped my family in the desert. This would be our last duty station. Right into the asshole of the United States of America. It was the final kick in the balls, or so I had thought. The intense heat really took its toll on me physically. I never took off my pack. I kept going to work, school and to the weight room. Ignoring the symptoms. But ALS has a mind of its own and with it comes depression.
One of the last medical issues on the ALS train is depression and for me it’s the most illusive and dangerous trait. You see I already had severe depression and now I had ALS. What I had failed to realize, is that whatever I had been suffering from..so had my family. They were afraid to speak about it themselves. What have I created? I was a ticking time-bomb and if I went off then I would have taken everyone that I love with me. Well, you see I couldn’t have that happen. So I swallowed my pride and I got some help.
First, I had to admit that there was a problem. This still isn’t easy for me to do. Remember I am a Marine and we are super-human. Admitting that we need help means that I am weak and that is simply not in my vocabulary. Are you feeling me? Well the next advice really pissed me off. My doctor recommended that I take medication for my depression.
I wanted to take baby steps and agreed to therapy. Yes, a counselor or a psychologist. I wanted to save me from self-destruction and in turn, save my family.
By this time, I was carrying so much anger and resentment. Yes I was depressed, but I needed to break it all down in order to deal with all this negativity. Remember, I am taking baby steps here. There is no magical cure it will require continuous, hard work for the rest of my life. Which is good because I have so much time to think and that could be dangerous for me. I needed to collect tools for my personal toolbox so I can work through all of my thoughts, emotions and ideas. To constructively work through my depression.
As I was able to make positive changes with my cognitive well-being, I then was able to discover on my own that I was willing to add another tool. I did some research and consulted with all my doctors about taking an SSRI or depression medication. What I discovered is that along with therapy, the medication in small dosage, can make my progress more advanced. I think with more clarity and with better judgment. My thoughts and ideas now have logical and educational substance to back them. I don’t panic as often and I am able to make better decisions with purpose. I can actually sleep at night, stress free and wake-up each day prepared to take on new challenges.
Well, the purpose of this message was to share with you that I am currently in a good place. Yes, I am dying from ALS but I am choosing to die with my boots on. I will not go quietly, nor quickly. I choose to go out just like I came into this world. Kicking and screaming!
Until next time my friends.