A mile in my shoes

It is hard to rise above the depression that so easily sets in when faced with the world today. I know this all too well. I have depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Many pastors will not talk about these types of struggles, however, more of them have these struggles than you will ever know.

Many people who are well meaning Christians, say that if I had more faith, if I prayed more, if I trusted God more, I would not have these issues. Some tell me to just lose weight, exercise, get out more. All these things are supposed to be a magic cure for what ails me.

It is not. It is not helpful for people to tell me all these things. It makes me feel even worse. You see, I don’t exercise like I “should” because, like most people with my conditions, there are physical issues involved too. I have arthritis in my spine. The better term, one used recently after my latest CT Scan, is degenerative disk disease. This causes an almost constant pain in my back and has at times affected my ability to walk or even sit for long periods of time.

I also have diabetes. Which means that I have to snack from time to time in order to keep from passing out. Which leads to people talking about how I would not be a fat slob if I didn’t eat so much. People who know me, who see me on a daily basis, know I actually eat very little. Lately, I have lost some weight; so much that my once tight pants are now falling off of me.

I had a lot of issues from my abusive childhood. Sadly, there were many people in my past who fed off of that and they too abused me. Thankfully, they are no longer in my life. However, more damage was done while they were in my life.

Three people sexually assaulted me, one a relative assaulted me repeatedly for many years. He is currently serving a very long sentence in prison for other sex related crimes. The others, I have no idea where they are or what their lives are like.

Recently I decided that I had finally had enough of living this way. So I decided to get some help in dealing with my past issues that caused the depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I decided that I no longer wanted to settle for living on medications when there is a chance that I could overcome my past, overcome the abuse I suffered, and live without having my emotions stunted by medication.

Mind you, this is not to be done lightly. I am suggesting that anyone should try this, let along try it alone. I have trained medical and psychological experts assisting me through this process.  Otherwise, I would be God knows where!

I have good days and I have bad days. I am trying to learn how to deal with emotions that I have not felt for years because of the medications. I am trying to learn to take 5 seconds to think before I react. Like I said, it is not easy. One of the greatest battles I am facing right now is a feeling that I am useless. I feel like nothing I do is enough. I have started volunteering everywhere in an effort to feel like I am doing something worthwhile.

I spend my days in prayer for my brothers and sisters in the church, for those who ask for prayers, for the whole world. I work to try to build a parish with no success so far. But I continue to try. Yet, it still does not feel like enough. Even as I write this, I feel like I am being a drain rather than a help. I don’t want sympathy, I just want people to understand what it is like to be in my shoes.

Remember one thing, I am not alone. Your pastor may be one of the thousands of pastors who struggle with the very same feelings and issues. They do not need your advice, they do not need your pity. They need your love and support. They need your prayers. They need to know they are needed. They need to know that they make a difference. They need to know they matter.

Take a moment to call your pastor and thank him or her. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them how much they have helped you. Build them up before it is too late!

Update on Life

Let first caveat this posting with a couple of things. First, I am speaking only as myself. I am not speaking for the IOCC or any other church or organization. And second, it has been raining and gray for about a week now. This, of course, makes fighting my depression difficult. That said, here we go!

A lot has happened since the turn of the new year. In a lot of ways, things improved. In others, well, not so much. The size of our local parish tripled since the turn of the new year. My health has declined some, but such is life.

My son has blown this school year out of the water. Despite having a teacher that bullied him and all the drama and trips to the school that required, he has managed to keep an A average. He was given the chance to take a high school class via Virtual SC and although it was a half year class, he finished it in 7 weeks! And with an A no less!

My dear loving wife continues to work herself to the bone. As I type this, she is sick with a cold and has been coughing half the night. Thankfully, this is her weekend off. She works so very hard and that makes me feel so very bad that I cannot work to help her. I see her stress over the finances and such which serves to remind me that I have failed my family in so many ways. Of course, having to pay nearly $500 in taxes to South Carolina this paycheck just made matters worse. This is one of those weeks were we have a week to go and no money left. I don’t feel right about asking for help anymore, because it never seems to get any better. I know everyone is hurting right now and why should my financial burden burden others. And one temp solution offered to me I cannot bring myself to use. Only because I feel like it will be a burden.

I have been experiencing more pain in my spine than is usual. Of course, my doctor does not want to up my Celebrex, so I have to manage it as best I can without his help. Add to that the fact that I have a hemorrhoid that has been bleeding off and on for about 3 months now and you see the issues I am having. (I know, too much information!) Sadly, the hemorrhoid has not dropped enough to be removed…yet. And I too have had a cold since Holy Thursday. I am finally recovering, but it has been a daily struggle.

So why am I sharing all this? I have no idea. I felt inclined to let people see the very real struggles I face, that my family faces in the hopes that it may help others. People need to know that as clergy we are not super-humans. We are regular people, living regular lives. We bleed just like everyone else and we cry like everyone else.

Life is a daily struggle and some of us have it easier than others. And some of us have it worse than others. No matter what camp you fall into, you must always get up and put one foot in front of the other.

What I learned from being destitute

This blog post comes after having read this article: This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps.

Although I did not have a Mercedes, shortly before Thomas was born, I lost my job. Little did we know that our son would be born early, a whole month early. That put my wife on leave from her job one day shy of a year at that job. When she could not return to work in 4 weeks (she had a c-section and was ordered to remain at home for a minimum of 6 weeks), they fired her.

We applied for unemployment, I could not draw because the church I worked for did not pay into unemployment. She could not draw because she, “Voluntarily refused to report for duty”. Even though the doctor said she could not return, they took that to mean she did not want a job that bad.

We appealed the decision on my wife’s unemployment. A woman we went to church with worked for the unemployment office and she fought us tooth and nail to stop us from getting unemployment. Then she smiled, tried to chat with us and act so Christian at church on Sunday morning. It made us sick at our stomach.

We ended up for almost a year living off of what the church would give us, what family would help us with and what I could make working like a slave at the Roman Catholic Church. To give you an example, I would work 8 hours picking up cigarette butts all over the 10 acre complex, shovel mulch around plants, take out the trash, Pledge the pews in a 200 seat church, vacuum the rectory, church and offices and the priest would give me $20 for the day. If I was a good boy and worked like that all week, he would give me $100! This was not in the 1960’s, this was in 2000!

Everyone saw us walking around in decent clothes driving a 1995 Chevy Cavalier (that was in great condition) and treated us like we were liars and fakes. I had many church people tell me that they were sick that I was scamming the church. Poor people don’t have good cars or nice cloths. What they did not know was that all my clothes either came from the discount racks at Wal-mart or were my dad’s old clothes that he did not want for one reason or another. My wife’s wardrobe consisted of clothes that she had been wearing for almost 10 years! We were not hard on our clothes and took very good care of them. We could not afford to replace them.

We did what most people do in hard times, we lived off of credit cards until they would not let us anymore. Once we had jobs again, we worked very hard to pay off all the credit cards and collections agencies, but when my health took a nose dive a few months after my wife found a good job, the medical bills finished us off. So we ended up filing for bankruptcy.

I cannot tell you how bad I felt about that, but I am going to try to find words. I was a failure. You know, the man is supposed to care for his family. He is the protector, the breadwinner, the rock of the family. I was none of the above. My health left me unable to take care of my family. I had a heart attack and then found out I had arthritis in my spine. I was barely able to walk without stabbing pain in my back. I walked with a cane and slept very little. It was killing me. And then the depression set in. The pain, lack of good sleep, the constant calls from collection agencies and credit card companies, the stare from people who either pitied us (most of them pitied my wife and thought I was a horrible person) or they thought we were scum, did not help that situation at all. I got to where I could not even leave my house. (This would reoccur later as well when the local priest tried to have me arrested for becoming an Independent Catholic. But that is another story.)

Now my wife was having to work to support the family. I was being the stay at home dad and the failure as a man and husband. Then our families turned on us. Bankruptcy was not the answer, they claimed. My wife’s family tried to convince her to leave me and find a real man. You know, a man that was not lazy. To this day I battle that image of myself.

And the process for bankruptcy was humiliating. The stark reality of how badly in the hole we were coupled with the questions about why we did not get on food stamps (the lady at the food stamp office told me I did not qualify) or unemployment (umm…see above). Then came the review of all our possessions to see if there was anything we could sell to cover the debts. And with that came the realization that everything we owned was crap. The car, although it was in good shape, was not worth enough to bother with trying to sale it. The car I had owned, an 1982 Ford Granada was dead. So it was not even worth anything for scrap!

The one thing that made us feel a little better was the judge at the hearing. She looked quickly over the file, asked if there were any creditors present (there were not) and looked at us and said she was sorry that we had to go through all this and ordered the bankruptcy to be completed. We felt so much better walking out of the Federal Court in Kentucky. That is until we got home and all the crap hit us again.

Like the lady in the above article, we were probably harder on ourselves than anyone else was. However, our families did work very hard to break us up. To this day, they still think I am lazy. They believe being a minister is not a real job. They constantly tell my wife that I should get a real job and support my family. There is nothing in this world I would like to do more.