For all the years we were on the radio and long before that as podcasters, the fact I had a mental illness was a taboo subject for us.
We did not talk about this.
Because our names were on book covers, magazine articles, satellite radio, and the Catholic speaking circuit, it was too embarrassing (and potentially harmful) to admit I wasn’t always “right in the head.”
What I’ve come to learn, however, is that I’m not alone with this issue, and this issue needs to be discussed.
But as a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse (from outside the family) and now as an adult suffering from PTSD from a more recent traumatic event, I believe it’s imperative that traumatic issues are brought to light so true healing can be provided, not just for me, but for the nearly 8 million adults suffering from PTSD during a given year.
Not your typical PTSD candidate
As a 50-year-old, 6-foot-five, 250-pound bald dude, it’s embarrassing to admit that I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder basically because I was lied to and deceived by people I trusted.
As a result, I’ve been suffering every single day from PTSD for nearly four years now.
I’m hopeful, however, that after all these days, weeks, months, and years of pain, that healing is finally just around the corner.
A strange new acronym
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a technique for addressing trauma and PTSD that was first used in therapy in the late 1980s.
It’s designed to mimic REM sleep when your eyes rapidly dart back and forth. It’s then when your brain processes all the thoughts, events, and memories of the day and transfers them to long-term memory.
But for people like me with PTSD, some of those vivid memories – particularly the traumatic ones – don’t get processed properly and remain stuck, sometimes for years, in the frontal lobes of your brain.
During an EMDR session, a therapist uses his hands, tapping, a light bar, or other methods to cause the patient’s eyes to move as they would in REM sleep. At the same time, the patient deliberately brings to mind clear images of the traumatic memory.
Doing so causes the memory to be “reprocessed,” moved out of the amygdala (the fight or flight part of your brain), and moved to long-term memory where it belongs, and where it ceases to cause ongoing pain.
Honestly, it sounds kind of nuts.
But last week I finally had my first EMDR therapy session.
I briefly explain EMDR in the video below (filmed in my truck immediately before and after my first session). It’s worth a quick watch before continuing.
Jennifer and I also discuss this in more depth on this week’s podcast.
If it had not been recommended to me by a Catholic therapist, and conducted through a local Catholic therapy group, I probably would not have been open to EMDR.
Even still, it wasn’t until a priest asked me in the confessional if I was in therapy that I stopped my nearly two years of procrastination since first hearing of this therapy and began the process of working with a new therapist with the intent of eventually using EMDR and dissipating my PTSD once and for all.
Losing the life we knew
While I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since about the age of twelve, I could usually manage it. Most people – even close friends – didn’t know I wrestled with this relentless demon.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that the problem was exacerbated by a confluence of events at my last full-time job and the previous symptoms exploded with the onset of a whole new set of ailments.
Ironically, all of these events happened shortly after the publication of my last book, Tied in Knots: Finding Peace in Today’s World.
About a month after that book was released, every bit of peace I had was obliterated.
Since then, PTSD has made it impossible for me to enter a typical office workplace. I can’t handle crowds or unfamiliar situations. I avoid gatherings, even with people I have always loved and trusted.
I can’t do it.
And the shame of not being able to do all I once could is relentless.
I’m startled by everything some days. I jump if dishes are put away too loudly. Sudden movements constantly put me on edge. I have to wear noise-canceling headphones on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.
Our income is less than 70% of what it was just four years ago.
Fortunately, though, I can still gladly do random side work when it becomes available (voiceovers, writing gigs, editing, online speaking) and we have an amazing (AMAZING) group of supporters on Patreon that we call “co-producers” who help us continue our efforts in developing Catholic new media, which we’ve been doing since 2005 when podcasting first landed on the scene. For the last few Advent and Christmas seasons, I’ve designed coffee mugs and ornaments, the sales of which help us get through the holidays. I can do all this from the safety of home. But many months, it’s not enough.
We also continue our work with Rosary Army, which we’ve been blessed to run since its founding in 2003. That apostolate, and praying the Rosary every day, is sometimes all we can do.
I don’t know how many times I’ve said we’re living off of loaves and fish. During this time, God has been so very faithful and merciful.
Unfortunately, because of the nebulous and hard to describe circumstances of the onset of this disorder, it would be difficult to obtain long-term disability. And honestly, I don’t want to be on disability.
I want to be well.
Was my trauma really that bad?
Usually, the psychiatric disorder PTSD occurs in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event such as combat, a serious accident, rape, or threats of serious injury or violence.
But according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, in the U.S. alone, 70% of adults have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.
To make it more clear:
That’s 223.4 million people.
According to Psychiatry.com, when it comes to PTSD in particular, approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults are affected each year. One in eleven people will experience it within their lifetime.
For me, PTSD was the result of trauma in the workplace, though it has become evident in recent years that a traumatic incident from childhood still needed resolution, as well.
For you, or someone you care about, it’s very possible that trauma or PTSD is a reality because of something the world would consider to be “not a big deal.”
Before this month’s-long incident that started in late 2017, I had no idea that something like workplace bullying/mobbing even existed.
The fact that the trauma happened to me in a way that’s hard to describe so that other people understand what transpired has in many ways paralyzed me for several years now.
The PTSD and COVID Connection
Another point of interest during these times of ongoing pandemic is the existence of considerable evidence suggesting that the severe case of COVID I endured earlier this year was made worse by the altered state of my brain chemistry as a result of PTSD.
According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, a systematic study based on the health histories of over 61 million American adults found that people with a recent diagnosis of a mental disorder have a significantly increased risk for COVID-19 infection and tend to have worse outcomes than people infected with COVID-19 who don’t have a mental disorder.
No wonder I ended up in the ER twice for COVID-related issues including pneumonia and long-haul symptoms.
PTSD and Loss of Identity and Work
Other areas of difficulty have included an overall loss of interest in so many things I used to love. Writing is tough. I can do it but at a snail’s pace. This post you’re reading now would have taken me a couple of hours to write a few years ago. I’ve now worked on this post over the course of an entire day and onto the next.
I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since all this happened. I have ideas, and even bought two blank canvases last December, but this PTSD freezes me every time I even dare to think about painting (strangely, I can draw on my iPad, but painting is impossible right now). I would like to paint again.
This is the area that – more than anything else, I think – propelled me to seek the treatment necessary that would lead to the hope that EMDR might finally rid me of the paralyzing impacts of PTSD.
The greatest fallout for me as a result of PTSD is not necessarily the significant financial hit of the past four years, though that was substantial (as stated above, we took a nearly 70% pay cut after I resigned rather than return to my former hostile workplace). And it’s not even necessarily the weight gain, lost muscle mass, and other health issues that have cropped up since my diagnosis.
The worst part for me has been the disconnect from the area of work, ministry, and apostolate in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has been such a vital part of my life and identity for going on twenty years. We keep plugging forward, but PTSD has left me always doubtful, always skeptical, always waiting for the floor to drop out from under me every time I try to do something that may benefit our family or others.
That pesky final straw
As we shared on a podcast in January 2018, in the midst of the ongoing trauma, we didn’t even realize at first what was happening with me. But I was spiraling quickly. At first, we blamed my downturn not on the active, ongoing trauma at work, but on my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression.
After 10 weeks on disability and participating in an intensive outpatient program, it became much clearer – not just to me, but doctors, medical staff, family, and friends – that my newly amped-up issues weren’t from past trauma, but the trauma that lead me to eventually resign from that job in May 2018.
But even after nearly four years of trying to recover, there have been many days where it feels like things just keep getting worse.
Since fall 2017, I’ve suffered from persistent nightmares, fluctuating periods of both insomnia and oversleeping, terrible debilitating withdrawal from drugs wrongly prescribed to treat my symptoms, an inability to work for long periods of time, and much more. My wife and children – endlessly supportive – have been living with a shell of a husband and father for the last four years.
Sidenote – Jennifer and I will celebrate our 26th anniversary next month. When we took our vows of “in sickness and in health,” neither of us could have imagined that a sickness that would descend upon us was that of mental illness. She has held this family together in ways that have amazed me. She’s been impacted as much as I have by all that’s transpired. If you’d say a prayer of thanksgiving for her, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Interestingly, in the years since the workplace event which caused my PTSD occurred, more and more press is coming to light about the reality of workplace trauma.
While I hate that an increasing number of others are suffering similar scenarios as my own, there’s comfort in knowing that I’m not alone and that perhaps assistance will become more readily available for others in the future.
Many Catholic dioceses, for example, have Catholic-based therapy groups available for a low cost. Do a search for “Catholic” and “Therapy” and your diocese and you might be surprised at the help available.
Unfortunately, often the first things used to combat this epidemic is copious amounts of prescribed pharmaceuticals, often to no avail. I’ve been on the full gamut of antidepressants, along with companion meds like lithium, CBD, and more.
Some of these – like Cymbalta – make a person so dependent that oftentimes the withdrawal is worse than the original problem.
There are countless Facebook groups and online forums of others desperately trying to get off these meds that often make things even more debilitating.
My agonizing withdrawal from Cymbalta took nearly six months, and though I’m approaching two years since weaning off that medication, I still suspect my body is paying the price.
I’m currently on zero antidepressants and instead have done quite well simply through vitamin supplementation (lots of magnesium, vitamin D, and others).
Though supplementation has helped, the core problems of the trauma continue to erode my ability to live life as I had before the events at my past job.
In early June 2021, a lifelong family friend was approaching the end of his life. My mother asked me if I wanted to join her in driving to Florida to say goodbye. Because of my anxiety and depression issues, I simply was not able to muster the ability to do so. A couple weeks later, our friend died.
That was enough to make me finally take steps I’d been avoiding.
This needed to be resolved.
The EMDR Experience
I spent the last two months gorging articles and YouTube videos about EMDR.
Will it work?
What should I expect?
What if it doesn’t work?
But when I got home after that first session, one of the first things my wife said was, “You look different.” In fact, she said I looked like I was glowing.
Later, when I showed her the video above, she pointed out how different I looked immediately after the session.
Unfortunately, the first EMDR session – even though we went over two hours – barely touched on the trauma caused at my last job. We’ll get to that in the next week or two, I imagine.
The first session was focused on early childhood, partially with the hope that we can unroot the destructive source of my lifelong depression and anxiety. We’ll tackle the job issues after that.
I was cautioned by my therapist that after EMDR to expect vivid dreams, and possibly nightmares (which is something that has plagued me on and off for these last few years).
What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard I slept the night after that session. I don’t recall any specific dreams, but I felt like I was dreaming everything all at once. Given that the R in EMDR stands for reprocessing, and the idea is to reprocess traumatic memories and move them from the amygdala to long-term memory, I truly believe this process has begun. The weeks to come will confirm if that’s true.
Hope in Healing
As he always has throughout my life, I’m convinced that God will use this difficult period to bring about amazing things, not just in my life but the lives of others. This is the primary reason for sharing this experience with you.
Recently I’ve spent much time meditating on Jeremiah 29:11-14:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Being fifty and not knowing what I’m going to be when I “grow up” can be horrifying.
So I take great comfort in that passage from Jeremiah.
I’ve busied myself over the last year with doing things I’m actually capable of doing right now, among which is rebuilding many of the things that have been consistent for so many years, as well as creating several new initiatives including:
- We launched a whole new website and platform for Rosary Army and have seen a considerable increase in requests for Rosaries as well as requests for resources on how to make and pray them.
- We released a second podcast this year called Catechism Class.
- Designed and released prints and mugs of all 20 mysteries of the Rosary and other designs
- Launched a series of low-content books on Amazon under our Book Nook Publishing imprint
If you’re so inclined to support our work in any of these areas, either as a co-producer on Patreon or by picking up one of our products from our store or Amazon, I’d appreciate it.
But more than anything, if you know someone who might benefit from this info, please pass this on.
Given the stats listed above, there’s a high likelihood someone you love is struggling with trauma today.
Trauma is more real than I ever imagined before, and my desire to use this trial to help others grows stronger every day. It would be an enormous consolation if others began the path to healing as a result of all I shared here.
Thanks for taking the time to read.