Funny, but I never, ever would have suspected that illness would unlock the door to my public writing.
After years of chronic back pain which culminated in a spinal fusion, I began to blog. I’ve always liked to put my thoughts on paper. As a child I would write notes of affection to my mom. When I dated I would write notes and poems to Cheryl. Once, I wrote a poem of gratitude for my dad a few years before he died. I would often record thoughts and experiences for no particular purpose, other than to solidify what I was thinking at the time. In the ninth grade when I was forced to make a selection as to what vocation I wanted to pursue, I chose journalism. I did not walk this path professionally, but in some small way I have practiced it by scribbling my thoughts down ever since.
The years of chronic pain took their toll on my physical health. Also, during the past decade I lost parents and nieces to the grave, left a partnership which ended up in broken relationships and was involved in a ministry debacle involving leaders who were my close friends. The stage was set and I eventually succumbed to a rather serious bout of depression which lasted nearly four years. Anxiety was a constant companion, as was fear and confusion. This was not that long ago and it was an ugly time. As I walked through this illness, I felt as though I were caught in a maze without a way out. When I fell asleep at night, not waking up became a comforting thought.
The recognition of my illness was forced upon me by extreme anxiety attacks. I reluctantly sought help. It is difficult for a self-sufficient man to admit that he has been taken down by an “ illness of weakness ”, as I once thought depression was. After a few doctors, several medications, and counseling, I started to pull out of my personal hell. I prayed often during this period. They were short prayers because my attention span was short. I didn’t receive any answers which perplexed me, however, I never felt abandoned by God-just tested. I thought about Job a lot.
Once I began to experience sporadic rays of light illuminate my being, I ruminated about what had been taking place within me. I recall reading a few helpful books and many a self-help book with multiple keys to wholeness and significance. They confused me so I quit reading them. What works for one may work for another, but in general each person must seek and discover his or her own formula for wholeness. It is the ‘ living abundantly ‘ part of my existence that I struggle with the most. I’m still searching while trying to enjoy what I have and where I am. Writing has become a panacea for me.
I was fortunate to come across an invitation thrown out by Civitas Press to contribute to a collaborative effort to create a book about depression. I wrote a short essay and was accepted. The book was published and my name was among the list of authors. There was no compensation, except the hope that whoever reads this book will benefit from it. After I received my free copy, I began to read the stories of others who suffered from depression. I couldn’t finish the book. It depressed me!
This brief encounter with having a piece of my writing published gave me confidence to explore how I could continue to write and be heard. Writing is a process of self-discovery, as much as it is anything else. I wanted to know me better, and I wanted to help others in the process. I was encouraged by a wonderful young lady named Angel, who was the marketing director of an inspirational website. After we had a few chats over the internet, she said I should consider creating a blog. I didn’t have a clue as to what a blog was so I began to learn. At some pivotal point during this process, I made the leap and started a blog in August of 2012. It was liberating and scary at the same time. It still is.
I concluded my inaugural post with these words, “And, maybe, I will begin to remove the hinges from the door that I can’t seem to open wide, and instead, remove it. Why should the door exist anyway? Who do I want to keep out, and why do I want to stay in? I don’t know. However, I seek to find out ”.
This was my way of expressing the frustration which percolated within me. To be true to myself, I can’t state that I am much farther along in answering those questions. However, one thing I do know is that I am not alone. My family and close friends have been a great support. Also, I have met some very wonderful and talented people as a result of posting and following other’s blogs. The greatest satisfaction I experience occurs during my interactions with others. My goal is to encourage and inspire so I am afforded the opportunity to do both via my writing and the posting of my photography. My soul has received the beneficial balm of inspired words and photographs by my fellow sojourners. I am grateful, and encouraged, as well.
My essence can best be described as tossed salad these days as I struggle to find my place in this world, as Michael W. Smith once sang about. At this stage of my life I am astonished that I am where I am. I fully expected to be more certain about life…and me. This does not mean I don’t have a strong set of core values. I do. The road I have traveled has been full of twists and turns, bumps and bruises. But, I must ask, haven’t all of ours been like that? Jesus told His followers that each day has enough trouble of its own. Those who are going through serious trials would even say this is an understatement. Of course, our Lord never under or over stated anything. He was simply making the point that life is hard. Therefore, we are encouraged to trust in Him; the Way, the Truth and the Life. This imploring to trust is easier said than done, but not impossible or He wouldn’t have commanded us to do so in the first place. ‘Challenging’ may be a more accurate assessment when it comes to taking up our crosses and following (trusting & obeying) Christ. Dying to self is not enjoyable.
Writing for me is a tonic of sorts. Sometimes it is bittersweet. At other times it is smooth and refreshing. Always, it is different. For each thought, every idea, the occasional epiphany are unique from one another. Multiply that dynamic by everyone who holds the pen or punches a keyboard and we have a vast garden variety of words which can impact us. It is my sincerest hope that my words make a positive impression, and occasionally inspire. At the very least, I pray my words don’t offend. To challenge and question is okay…yes? I hope you can relate. Life is too short to waste on the trivial.
One last thought; actually more of a postscript. The personal experiences I listed are not to gain pity or sympathy. They are real, they hurt, and I am still wrestling with the residual effects of depression and, of course, daily pain. However, because so many people deal with so much more hardship, I considered not posting this piece. I did post, in spite of my reluctance, because I want others to relate and to be encouraged. Please note that throughout my life I have been the recipient of so many more positives than the negatives I have identified. In a nutshell, I have been blessed.
I have gleaned wisdom from the words of Christopher Reeves, after he was paralyzed, when he simply stated that he had accepted the cards he was dealt and was doing the best he could to play them. I am coping, striving, growing and stumbling. I press on, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed. I honestly believe the goal is well worth the trials. Not to say this is an easy thing to boast of when I am at my worst. Interestingly, I have noticed this: the darker the trial, the clearer the goal. In no way am I comparing myself to Stephan when he was being stoned to death, but there is a great object lesson to be learned from this tragic incident. Immediately before he died he saw Heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. What a glorious vision he was given. The Good Shepherd yearns to restore souls and invites all to spend eternity with Him.
Just visiting for the first time from Unforced Rhythms. I recently began to experience severe anxiety and panic attacks and have spent some time writing about it too. Medication has helped greatly, although the situation that triggered these events remains complicated.
So, so sorry to learn of your anxiety and panic attacks. They can be quite emotionally devastating. Mine came about as a result of multiple influencers, and the circumstances could be summed up as complicated, as well. I don’t believe there is a simple explanation to the type of anxiety we are talking about. I am glad meditation helps, along with deep breathing. However, I encourage you to seek out someone to talk with about what is triggering these and can assist you in managing the symptoms. Don’t be afraid to use mild medication to help you deal with the attacks, and don’t beat up on yourself about why you can’t control them. As you stated, it’s complicated. If you would like to converse more you may email me. Take care, Kelly.
Well I believe everything happens for a reason Michael – I personally get a lot from blogging too. Firstly It is a huge resource which allows me to tap in to passionate people (for that is what bloggers are in my eye – people with something to share – something to celebrate perhaps). In all honesty I tend to prefer the photographic blogs because that is where my passion is but I also follow many very capable writers who are either trying to break through or share their passion. You sir, can write and very eloquently in my humble opinion. I hope you continue to write because as long as you do people will want to read. I have personal experience of the impact depression has upon those who act as carers. So keep writing and keep blogging you are a great inspiration Michael.
Scott, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I, too, believe there is a reason for everything, but quite often we don’t immediately know what that reason is (sometimes we never do). The moments when the light bulb goes on and we ‘get it’ are gifts. I agree about passionate people who blog and post photographs. They simply love what they are doing. I have learned so much from others, and grown personally while blogging. Your encouragement means a lot to me. It is greatly appreciated. Also, it is humbling to know that you understand depression, even if from a different perspective…you know what its about. Keep posting those awesome photographs from your part of the world. I feel like I’ve been there!
Michael, I followed you over to your blog, and I can see so clearly how we relate to each other in different ways. As I read through your story, I saw myself, too, not in the details, per se, but in the essence and heart of what you shared. To some degree, I relate to the depression piece, the anxiety, the “tossed salad” and expecting to have been more certain about life, and yet in that, knowing what your cores are. You write clearly, eloquently, with courage and transparency, and that is something I’m always drawn to. I, too, write the unfinished, in-the-moment pain, and I completely relate to what you said – that it’s not about sympathy or pity – it’s about working through something that’s very real and hoping, in the midst of your sharing, that it will resonate with someone in a meaningful way. Keep writing, Michael. People need to hear your voice.
Amber, your response encourages me. We all need a bit of that these days. I am so glad you relate to my words, as I do to yours. The perspective you share has helped me understand myself better which is a good thing. Working through life, especially when we take along unnecessary baggage, can become burdensome. It is helpful to have someone come along to relieve the load and I thank you for doing so for me. I look forward to reading more of your words. As you stated, keep writing and inspiring.
Great writing and words of wisdom. As you know, we fully understand. The best part to me is how constant and precious God’s presence is to me……even when I can’t feel him there. Keep up the writing, you are a blessing!
Dee, you and Greg are my inspiration. I almost wrote about you two. Perhaps some day…
And, thanks for the kind comment and reminder about God’s faithfulness.
Very well written. I’m sure it was difficult to put into words.
Thank you, Chris. The words flowed fairly freely, although with a bitter taste at times. It was the decision to post this piece that was difficult. I almost didn’t push the publish button due to self-doubting. In the end, I did and hope for the best.
Wow … very well written. You have a wonderful way with words. Please continue to share.
Kind words from a very kind person. Thank you, Debbie. I will try to continue to write meaningful prose and share the glory of nature. I do appreciate your encouragement!