Caution: This post contains a few intensely personal details. If you are not comfortable with this, I would urge you to stop now and visit another post. Thanks!
This month’s Inspired by Song! contest theme is “Sounds of Summer”. Since I wrote a lighthearted piece already last fall about the summer after I graduated from high school (1988 – Memories and Music), I knew I needed to pick another year for this topic.
When I was 14, I struggled mightily with depression. Junior high is a difficult time for many of us, but mine seemed to have a different quality. I was private-school educated all the way through my education, and when I finished grade school, all of my friends went to different places, scattering like leaves in the wind.
My home life, rather than providing a sanctuary of calm, was pretty dysfunctional back then. My stepfather was very verbally abusive (and occasionally physically so), and he seemed to revel in picking fights with me starting at around age 11. He enjoyed embarrassing me in front of my friends, and picking at me just enough to elicit a reaction.
So, when I was 14, I decided that I didn’t want to live anymore. Looking back through the haze of the ensuing 23 years, I realize how ridiculous this seems now, but I was in a lot of mental pain which seemed to have no immediate relief in sight. My mother wanted to get me the right kind of help (and to get rid of my stepdad). She accomplished both, thankfully. They divorced in 1984, but I had a lot of residual anger toward her and the world in general, but since I stuffed it deep inside a lot of the time, I ended up truly depressed and moderately suicidal. I wanted help.
My mom checked me into the Baylor Hospital psychiatric unit in Dallas in March of 1985, since I couldn’t stop talking about wanting to die, and talking about how sad I was all the time. I just realized that this is the first time I have ever written this, and it has brought fresh tears thinking about how blessed I am to be alive now. I know my wife and three children think so. To think that I was so close to ending my own life is shocking. God carried me through that time.
So, I spent three months in a psychiatric facility back then, and some of the things that I saw will likely never leave my memory. I saw a very sweet young schizophrenic lady of about 30 who was probably the most mentally ill person I have yet encountered. She wet her pants regularly, so we had to be careful where we sat. I saw a 16-year old friend who had slashed his own wrists because he THOUGHT his girlfriend didn’t want to see him anymore. It turns out he was wrong, and they ended up together later, but he almost died that day. I met another young man of 19 whose stepfather found him slowly bleeding to death in the bathtub and didn’t call for help. People were often placed in four-point restraints, and one catatonic guy was undergoing electroshock therapy.
But I also saw a lot of hopeful things, too. Genuine healing was occurring there, and I saw some people leave with their lives changed for the better. One of these people was me. I left in June with a newfound understanding of how to talk to people, and how to express myself and my feelings better. I was able to make a good number of friends when I returned to school, and I looked back on what had happened as a learning (and growing) experience. I am thankful to my mom for recognizing that I needed this type of help.
By now, I am sure you are wondering about the music I mentioned above. Well, bear with me. I am getting there.
While at Baylor, I had to attend group therapy a couple of times each week, and two of the guys in my group were there because of somewhat rampant drug abuse. One of them had done so much cocaine that his nose used to start bleeding on the foosball table when we would play. I still remember their first and last names to this day.
At any rate, they introduced me to some music that I hadn’t heard before, including Psychedelic Furs. Here’s a sample of one of the records (yes, we didn’t have CDs back then) that I enjoyed:
Another guy who was my roommate enjoyed classic rock, so this song always takes me back to that summer as well:
When I was out of the hospital and back at home, I remember hanging out trying to get some sun and listening to U2’s “October” tape over and over again.
One memory of my time in the hospital is crystal-clear, and it relates to music as well. For those of us in the adolescent program, they had a unique punishment when we broke the rules. We were forced to “sit chair”, which is exactly what it sounds like – sitting in a straightbacked chair all day, with 5 minute breaks each hour and breaks for meals and therapy sessions. I only had to endure it once, because my doctor thought that I had treated my mom and grandmother disrespectfully by leaving to go outside to the courtyard during their scheduled visit.
To this day, I disagree with his decision. However, there I sat for days on end. The memory was of “Apocalypse Now” being on the main TV, which was around the corner from my field of vision. This song by the Doors was playing, and I will likely NEVER hear it without being transported to that moment in time:
For those of you who know me as a happy family man, you are correct. I overcame a lot of demons that year (and again in my early 20’s) to become the person that I am today. I am thankful to God that he has richly blessed me, my marriage, my kids, and my career. I have overcome a lot of anger and sadness. I don’t believe in resting on the past as a crutch for our present actions. I am truly happy and content now, despite the struggles of my youth.
If you actually read this whole post, I applaud you. If not, no big deal. Either way, it was interesting to explore this, at least for me.