I stand here, the end of May in the yard of my rented farmhouse. My three sons are standing around me. They are young and have the whole world in front of them, all of the awe that children have. They are six, two, and one, wide-eyed and curious, taking in life the way it should be. And, of course, they notice the butterflies. There are three of them flying in the air. And we run and we chase them. We chase these former insects now in their full beauty, trying to capture them, but not really because that would take away from the fun, from their beauty. So, we chase.
And as we chase, I forget where I am—fully engrossed in the moment. I am one more young child simply trying to touch the untouchable. The butterflies get away and we laugh and fall in the grass and simply enjoy the moment.
As I sit in this moment, I look up and see the window to my bedroom, the one I share with my wife. That room was the scene of a much different moment just a year earlier.
* * *
“I can’t live like this. I can’t live with you,” my wife said, barely able to look at me.
I was crushed, destroyed. I looked at her and knew she was serious. She had never threatened divorce before. She had always said that we would make it, but I had finally become too much. My depression was destroying not only me, but her as well. She was afraid it would take my kids down too.
I have battled depression for my entire life. I had my first anxiety attack when I was seven. I have always had thoughts that the world would be better off without me, but when I was eleven, I started to indulge in suicidal ideation, meaning that my thoughts became more pointed and vivid. I had thought of how I might harm myself, how I might end my life. As a teenager, I thought this was normal—I mean, we always hear about how moody and weird teens are. They are not supposed to have these thoughts, though. No one is. But, the counselor that my parents sent me to saw me as everyone else did…a good student, a good kid, not a problem, maybe a little moody. I was told to go and that I did not need counseling.
When I reached college, I began to have sleepless nights caused not by study or partying, but because I was so fidgety and my mind moved so fast. My suicidal thoughts became more and more vivid to the point that I did not know if I could control the urges. I finally went to a counselor who immediately sent me to get meds. I was misdiagnosed as having a depressive episode. My anti-depressants caused my mind to race so fast, that I could not keep my legs still, and my hands twitched constantly. I could not live like this and yet I could not stop taking my meds. I was not depressed anymore, anyway.
For the next several years, I battled my demons but kept them hidden. I fell in love, got married, finished a master’s degree and was in the middle of finishing my doctorate when my depression began to overtake me again. I went to my doctor who prescribed another anti-depressant. It did nothing. He upped my dosage. I still felt nothing but pain. He upped my dosage once more. My pain, hurt, suffering increased. I was dying inside and doing so quickly. My wife saw it. My doctor upped my dosage again.
Finally, we came to the point where she told me that she could no longer live with me. She might love me, but living with me had become so unbearable that our love could not sustain it. She issued me the ultimatum: “Get help or I’m leaving.” I told her that I was simply doomed to my depression, but I called a counselor and saw him the next week.
When I saw the counselor and began to talk, he stopped me and asked if I had ever seen a psychiatrist.
“No, no one has ever said I needed to,” I told him.
“Having the experience of an anti-depressant not working on you should have caused your doctors to send you to a psychiatrist rather quickly,” he replied. He also went on to tell me that I was not simply in the midst of a depressive episode (“episodes” do not last years). I had something else and I needed to be seen by a psychiatrist. I called my doctor immediately and after a fight, he agreed to send me to a psychiatrist.
After two sessions with my psychiatrist, she diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder with an anxiety disorder on top of that. I was depressed, but also anxious and my depression came with hypomanic episodes. It felt good to have a name for what I was going through, to have something to fight, to deal with. I knew I would never get rid of my bipolar II, but I would continue to fight.
* * *
Ten months later, I sit in that yard, with my three sons, and enjoy the moment. I am not cured, am not ok. I still have much to deal with in my life and with my diagnosis. However, I am on the track to getting better, to recovery, to managing my symptoms. I know that my life will not be perfect but moments like this, times when I chase butterflies, make it all the more important to fight for my life.
My wife walks out and yells, “Lunch, boys.” We get up and run inside, fueling to chase butterflies another day.
BIO: Nate Crawford is the Executive Director of Here/Hear, a nonprofit that works to give hope to those with mental illness and their loved ones. He is a regular contributor to The Mighty and blogs at www.herehear.org.
You can find more stories like Nate's in The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles.
The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.