Every day when someone asks what I am taking my medication for, and I explain I have anxiety & depression; I always get asked “What does that feel like?” or “Are you ok?”. I’m never really sure how to explain that, and as I take you through my little journey, you’ll find I never used to talk about it or admit it. My explanation to those that don’t have it usually starts with something like this:
“Imagine you’re in the biggest game of your life (if you’re a Football fan, I say the Super Bowl), and you won…you should feel like you’re on top of the world, a pure rush of happiness and accomplishment right? When you have anxiety & depression, you get about 15 seconds of the glory and then the disease kicks in. “Did I play well?” “Does my team know I gave my all? “What if they think I half-assed it?” “We could have scored another touchdown if I did this differently, now they’re going to think I suck.”
For those reading at home, even as I am writing this blog, the thoughts of: “What if my point doesn’t come across correctly?” and other worrisome thoughts are surfacing. However, lets together go on my journey.
In 2010/2011, I was diagnosed with Anxiety & Depression. At that time, it didn’t really have quite the hold on me as it does today, but I noticed an overall change. I carried on going about my normal routine and enjoying life to the fullest. I laughed at the notion that I was “mentally ill” and hid it. They prescribed my medication, and guess what? It sat in a bin collecting dust. I refilled it on time so the doctors thought I was taking it, but I hid it. I had a secret place in my bedroom that stored my full bottles of medication. When my mom would ask what the doctor had said, it was always: “Nothing major, just need to work on some stuff”. However it was major, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it.
I started to find myself burning the candle at both ends if you will. I would stay up late and fill my day, never wanting to be alone. I even took a job in which I had to be at work at 6:45 am, to ensure my day was jam-packed. I didn’t notice the changes that were overtaking me until really it was too late. I stopped playing music, stopped singing, stopped caring about all the hobbies and things that brought me joy, and traded them for many nights out at the bar with friends, masking my problems.
Eventually, I had a turn of events happen and took medical leave. I was forced to see someone and “talk” about it. I neglected appointments, and even when I went show up, I did just enough to get by. I was ashamed and embarrassed. My level of embarrassment was so high, there really were no words to describe it. I went on about my time and eventually fought myself out of the situation…or so I thought.
A year or so went by, and I was going to see Boyz II Men (the single-handed best group of all time, with *Nsync coming in at 1B because they broke up), and the excitement was so great! I got to the show, and about 20 minutes in something funky happened. I had a pain in my left arm and shoulder, I started sweating, and became dizzy and weak. “What is going on? Am I having a heart attack?”, I said to myself. Paramedics came, and I left the show. All my tests come back clear and the doctor goes: “you’re as healthy as can be, but I see that you suffer from anxiety and depression. What you more than likely had was an anxiety attack. Are crowds one of your triggers?” WHAT DID HE SAY? In front of my friend?? NOOOOO! My reply was simply, “I don’t have panic attacks”. They gave me more medication and said if I have that same feeling again to try it. We left, and my friend started asking questions like a reporter. “Was I ok? Did I need to talk to anyone? What makes me depressed?” So I played it cool, alpha male style. “Yup, I am fine, the doctor just put that in there for some reason, and I am looking for a new doctor because of it”. This wasn’t the last of my attacks and certainly wasn’t the worst.
Moving forward, I progressively got worse. The same things I loved now, became the same things I feared: amusement parks, concerts, traveling, etc. I get panic attacks from the things that always had brought me such joy. This wasn’t me, nor has it ever been. I became overly depressed. I self-medicated with booze and became such a horrible person. I bailed on friends, stopped traveling, stopped going to concerts, anything that I loved became what I hated. I was a shell of myself. I eventually hit rock bottom.
For those that don’t know, this might be the first time reading it…but I’ve learned to accept the past and focus on the future…I got a pulled over for a DUI and lost my license. There it was, the worst it can get. Not only do I feel so low I can’t get up, I just took away my own freedom. I had to attend classes, go to a session in which I heard about lives being taken from alcohol and driving under the influence, and do some community service hours. Through all this, I was surrounded by people who cared about me, but I have never felt more alone in my life. The screams for help were silent, yet the silence was deafening. Loneliness is such a strong feeling, and when you’re depressed it is like you’re locked in a cage and see what you’re doing is wrong, yet you can’t stop it.
I was forced to adapt. I was forced to move 50 miles north. I slowly started to see I had a support system. My best friend and his girlfriend moved in with me and took me to work. My depression was still being masked, and I would fill my nights with hanging out with my co-workers, drinking. It got bad. I wound up moving back home 6 months later because I simply wouldn’t do anything to help out around the house. We didn’t really talk for a while and that was on me. However, I am blessed that they’re both good-hearted people and knew I needed help. Til this day we’re still close and he is standing in my wedding. (We can make a whole separate blog on wedding planning anxiety if you’d like)
Now I finally realized I was on a self-destructive path, and it was time to climb out of this hole. I went to the doctor, refilled the medication and started taking it. I stayed on it for about 8 months. I lost all emotion and felt like a ghost. You could have told me my dog died, and I would have given you a blank look and said: “that sucks”. I hid the meds still and would put them in an Ibuprofen bottle so no one knew what I was taking. I started feeling better and moved on. Slowly, I started playing video games again, I went to another concert (no shock it was Boyz II Men) and was piecing together what I had broken. It felt good. This time it was ok.
From here we are traveling to more recent times…July of 2016, my grandma passed away. To give you some backstory, my grandparents were very much like my sub-parents. They helped raise my sisters and I (my dad passed when I was 4, and my mom worked 2 jobs to support us). We would spend the summers living with them. I was at the hospital on July 1st when the doctor told my grandmother that her progress was great and she able to go home. Mind you, on July 2nd, I had planned to go on a cruise, so I was ecstatic to hear this. As soon as the doctor walked out, she looked me in the eye and made me promise that i would go on vacation because she knew she wasn’t going to make it. I cried, and it sucked because I had never thought about death or living life without them. Well, on the last day of the cruise, I got the call my grandma passed away. I had 3 days to get home for the services. I had one of the worst panic attacks ever. Hello depression, my old friend, we meet again. I don’t deal with death very well. I never have and simply never will. It scares the living shit out of me, and I refuse to talk about it. Sadly toward the end of this blog, you’ll find this isn’t the last time I had to.
That was a year which was hard to recover from, but I was taking my medication and felt like I was gaining ground. Then came March 31, 2017, one of the hardest days of my adult life. I got the WORST call. My best friend for as long as I can remember had died suddenly. I was at work. It was awful, I dropped to the floor and just cried. He and I had gone on so many crazy adventures, and honestly, I credit him with pulling me out of my funks and helping me find a road to recovery. He was one of the best people I had ever known, and to this day I still get a tear talking about it. I fell back into those old habits I spoke about earlier and found myself at the bar. I was broken, more alone, and this time I didn’t care. My mission was to forget everything and dull the pain. I was in Sales at the time, and I would go to work, and simply perform at my absolute best to support my bar tabs. The sad truth is these type of habits, where you numb out to not feel the pain happen more than you think. I now check on those that I see my own signs in.
I was lost, wandering down a road I’ve only encountered as a teenager (my high school best friend died the day after Christmas in 2002), and had no one to “relate” to. I wanted to talk but didn’t know how. I didn’t want to look weak. I knew by now it was ok to feel this way.
November of 2017, my grandpa passes away. 2 deaths in a matter of months, and it’s not done yet. I got to see my grandpa a few days before he passed. What I experienced towards the end wasn’t my grandpa but a piece of him. I was as close to him as I could be. He stepped up and helped play that “dad” role for me since mine passed when I was young. From birth, he was always there for advice, help, and even tough love. He helped shape me with morals and values and now what was I to do? In just 17 months, I’ve lost 3 of the closest people to me. Losing my grandparents was the end of an era, so to speak. My whole family was held together by them. Everything I grew up knowing was going to change. Holidays will never really be the same without them.
I thought I had experienced the worst day of my adult life when my best friend died, but then came February 2018, the day my mother suddenly died. Truly, the worst day of my life. I had spoken to her 41 minutes prior to her death. Her passing still haunts me. I sometimes stay up thinking about it. My anxiety kicks in all the time. What if I was there to help her? What if she told me she wasn’t feeling well when she spoke to me? Is this my fault? All of these deaths sent my thoughts into overdrive, feeling as though I could have prevented them. I drove my best friend to work the day before he passed. What if I stayed with him? Could I have called 911? Could I have taken him to an ER if he wasn’t feeling well? As of this day, my brain is filled with all these “what ifs”.
After all of this, I changed jobs. I got a promotion to District Sales Manager which I earned and was great at. I finally felt like things were going to get better. However, with the year I had just experienced and some of the toughest life challenges, I was given a boss who made fun of mental illness. Once he found out that I took medication, he asked me why and I told him. I explained what my triggers were. For the next 7 months my life was hell. He would use my triggers against me, asking me if he made me cry yet, ring my phone from 6 am to almost midnight, and even laugh when I would take my meds, making disparaging remarks. Eventually, I went to our Employee Relations Department and complained about him making fun of my illness. He made me feel ashamed as if I was in the wrong. Even the Employee Relations Manager had a very derogatory tone when asking “What kind of disability do you have? Who diagnosed you?”. A week after that call, I was let go. I was let go for having a disability at a job I excelled at. I remained unemployed for a long time. I had to take a step down with another company and essentially start over. Mentally, I am still working through this, and am not over it.
The reason I wanted to share this with you is that whereas I had some emotionally challenging years and went down some dark paths with no GPS or road map, I finally spoke up and got help. There are so many people out there that struggle just as much if not more, but finding your support system and realizing it’s okay to admit you’re not ok, is what gets you back on your feet.
I now take medication daily. I see my doctors as scheduled, and I open up and talk about what exactly is bothering me. I had to change and adapt, but the biggest thing that helped me was knowing I am not alone. WE are not alone. You, the person reading this feeling like it could be time to take your life or run away…I was there, multiple times. I thought about ending it, running and hiding, and more. YOU are not alone and we’re here for you!! I still have a long road to go, and I don’t know if I will ever “recover” 100%. My mental illness will always be there but I do know that talking with someone helped change my thinking.
Losing a job I worked so hard for still haunts me. My team, to this day, has told me they miss me and keep in contact with me. Losing my mom, grandparents, and one of my best friends destroyed me…but I promise you, you can come back from it all.
As a man, I always think I am supposed to be tough and strong without talking about what is bothering me. We have to let go of stereotypes. Our mental health is just as important if not MORE important than our physical health. I personally have gained over 40 pounds over the last 8 months from the depression, but it will never get the best of me again.
This story might have been long, but anyone reading this has a friend in me. For those that don’t struggle with mental illness, educate yourselves. It is certainly not all in our heads, or something we do to ourselves. We cannot control what it does, or when it comes. We can only react the way we do. Support your friends, support strangers, be the good you want to see in this world. We don’t know what battles people are fighting until we fight them ourselves. My advice to anyone is remember you matter, you’re beautiful, and don’t let ANYONE tell you what you are worth. You’re priceless in your own right. Don’t let the darkness in. Talk to someone, anyone, and let your soul out! We truly are better together.
I’ve come to realize the only thing that matters is me, living my best life and working around my disability to improve my life. I grab end seats at concerts so I can stand in the aisle. I take medication but I have finally worked up to being on a plane for 5 hours (aisle seat). I still try and make time for those things i love, like my video games and music. And during all of this darkness, I met the love of my life who accepted me and helped me get help. She helped me see that life isn’t always pretty but we can make it better. She encouraged me to change, and realize you can change someone else’s life by simply being an active part in it. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and no matter how bad today was…you’ll never have to live today again. Tomorrow WILL be better.
Daryl Ward is a lover of dogs, advocate for mental health, and driven by kindness. When he is not helping others, you can find Daryl sharing his passion for music, dogs, and old-school- everything to those around him. Traveling when he can, making memories with those he loves and keeps close. Living by a credo: “Work hard, play harder”, as often as possible. Captivated by once in a lifetime moments, and impulsively moving. Dancing to the beat of my own drum, but always striving to help others in need.