Hope for the Hopeless

This blog post may be the most important thing I have ever written.
In this post, I go in-depth about my battles with depression and suicide, in the hopes that it would bring an insider perspective on an epidemic that is plaguing our country. I also wanted to shine a light on things that most people who haven't struggled with depression and suicide don't know about, because most people who have don't know how to articulate them. With that being said, I warn you, what you're about to read may be extremely hard to take in, but it needs to be said.

For almost 10 years - the vast majority of my young adult life -  I struggled immensely with depression and suicidal thoughts. When I say I struggled, I mean I was in a knockdown, drag-out fight for my life, and depression nearly won. I tried killing myself twice, and fortunately, failed to do so. Then, I planned out my third suicide attempt - I marked the day I was going to do it, I prepared how I was going to do it, I wrote a suicide note, and I said all my goodbyes. By the grace of God, it was intervened - you can read about that in my first blog post, "You Can Run, but You Can't Hide." 

The battle may have been won, but the war didn't stop there. For a few more years, I was in and out of depression, and I had countless suicidal thoughts.

This war made me increasingly frustrated; mainly because I didn't know why it kept happening to me. I would feel great for a few weeks, then it would hit me... hard.  When it did, it made me constantly tired, and it made getting out of bed a nearly impossible task. To make matters worse, when I finally mustered up the strength to get out of bed, I would spend the rest of my day getting beat up by guilt and shame for sleeping in and "wasting the day."

This became a repetitive cycle; much like the depression.

On top of all of that, I didn't want to be around anyone. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to withdraw, hide in my bed, and sleep until I was dead. But I couldn't do that, because, at the time, I had a job that forced me to be around hundreds of people every day. Not only that, I was a leader at this job; numerous people were depending on me to be my best. There were days where I would show up to work, and sit in the parking lot and cry until I had to go inside. Then I would put my mask on, and pretend for 9+ hours that everything was ok. Behind the fake smile and charisma was an immense amount of pain. 

By putting that mask on for years (I was wearing it long before that), I became an expert at hiding my pain.

I was so good at wearing that mask and hiding my pain, that not even the ones closest to me knew I was hurting. One of my best defense mechanisms was deflection; I would keep all of the conversations about who I was talking with, and if it ever drifted back towards me, I would quickly shut it down with short answers, because I didn't want to tell them the truth.

I felt like a burden, so I didn't want to bother anyone with my pain. Plus, I didn't want any more advice; I was so sick of being talked to instead of listened to, and I was so tired of hearing, "I'll be praying for you," (with no follow up) and "You need to read your Bible more," and the worst one of them all, "Snap out of it! You need to change your thinking!" (as if anyone has control over their thoughts; we'll save that conversation for another day).

The worst part of all of this was, I believed in God, and I believed that He loves me (I still do). The problem was, I believed in all of His promises, but I didn't believe they applied to me and my life. I believed all of the miracles, signs, and wonders He performed truly happened, but I didn't believe He could perform any of them for me. I believed in His grace, but I didn't believe He forgave me for every awful, despicable, regretful thing I have ever done. Ultimately, my unbelief kept me from walking in the complete freedom Jesus paid for with His blood [See John 8:31-36]. 

I hate to write this, but there were several nights where I would pray and cry out to God for Him to kill me. I felt like a failure. I felt like I disappointed Him and everyone around me. The guilt and shame were so overwhelming. The loneliness was even more overwhelming. I didn't want to live anymore.

Now I look back at that time with enormous regret.
How could I ask God to take away one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me?
How could I waste so much precious time being miserable?

How could I be so blind to all He has given me?

The answer is identification. I didn't know who I truly am. Most importantly, I didn't know Whose I am. Being a "child of God" was a foreign concept to me; it wasn't real to me. Up until that point, my identity was wrapped up in what I did; mainly, baseball. My value was defined by my performance and my accomplishments. When my baseball career ended (just like every earthly thing ends), I spiraled out of control. When I stopped winning awards, and my name was no longer in the headlines, I felt insignificant. Identity crisis ensued.

There has always been a God-sized hole in my heart. For too long, I thought baseball filled it. When that was taken away from me, I tried filling this hole back up with everything you could imagine; work, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, money, and depression. Yes... depression. As much as I hated being depressed, I secretly loved the attention that came with it. It gave me a chance to flex my manipulation muscles, so I could get the love, care, and attention I longed for as a child. Moreso, the attention I got from it made me feel worthy again. But just like baseball, all of these things - even the attention - we're short-term.

Everything changed 5 years ago when I met my spiritual father, Dr. John Saurino. We met through the job I had that I talked about earlier; I coached him in a bootcamp class. Over time, our relationship grew. During that time, I was also coaching his sons. One day after our bootcamp class, he invited me over to his home to celebrate his daughter's sweet 16th birthday. I happily accepted his invitation.

There was something about Dr. Saurino that I wanted more of, but I didn't know what it was until the night of his daughter's birthday party. 

When the night of the party arrived, I went over to his home and was immediately amazed - not only by the sheer beauty of the home but also by how the home (his family) functions. It was something I had never seen before. To be honest, I was in complete shock the entire night. I just sat back and observed in awe.

All throughout the night, when Dr. Saurino wasn't trying to entertain his daughter and all of her friends, he would show me around his home and proudly explain what each room was and why they built it that way. During the tours, he made sure to let me know (several times) that "all of this was because of God." My struggling, workaholic brain thought, "Sure... It's really because you're a doctor and you work very hard." He also kept saying, "Every good and perfect thing comes from God [See James 1:17]," as if he could hear my doubtful thoughts.

At the end of the night, as I was leaving, he gave me a binder that had "A Priest in the Order of Melchizedek" on the cover (I thought the exact thing you're probably thinking right now - What is a Melchizedek? - Hint: It's actually a person, but we'll save that conversation for another day). It was a Bible study he created. As he was handing it to me, he said, "I've never given anyone this on their first night here, but I really think you need to read this." Then, after a short pause, he continued, "If you don't change what you believe, nothing will change tomorrow."

Eager to see what was inside, I started reading it that night. Then, the following night, and the following night, and the following night, and the following night, and the following night... I kept reading until I got about halfway through the believing section of it. Then, I slammed it shut and put it away for almost a year because it challenged what I was taught when I was a child and have been conditioned to believe my whole life. What he wrote seemed too good to be true; much like what He wrote.

It's a tragedy that we always seem to resist the things we need the most. 
Even though I resisted the Bible study, it had already started a work in my heart; a work that would eventually become a complete transformation from the inside out.

From the night of Dr. Saurino's daughter's birthday party on, every time I saw him, that quote, "If you don't change what you believe, nothing will change tomorrow" somehow worked its way into all of our conversations. So did God.

The way Dr. Saurino talked about God and His Son, Jesus Christ, made me realize what it was about him that I wanted more of - his faith. (I still have yet to meet someone with as much faith as him). To be honest, at first, his level of faith pissed me off. It seemed like every problem I brought to him, his answer would always be, "Everything will work out." The issue I had with that simple, yet profound statement was, my 'Type A' personality needed detailed answers and extensive plans that I could follow to a 'T' to solve my problems. But he hardly ever gave them to me. I never understood why, until now. He was teaching me to trust God. Most importantly, he was teaching me Who God is - my Heavenly Father.

I never saw God as my Father. To be honest, I never really saw Him as a Father, period. I always saw Him as this entity in the sky that ruled over all and judged us all according to our works. I was dead wrong. Since I didn't know Him as a Father, let alone my Father, I had a very hard time seeing myself as His child. And since I didn't have a good relationship with my biological father, I had a very hard time understanding the true dynamic of a father and son... until I witnessed it firsthand through Dr. Saurino and his sons.

When I finally let go of my identity as an All-American baseball player and fully surrendered to my Heavenly Father and embraced being His child, I finally experienced the real life change I had desperately wanted most of my life. As my relationship with my Heavenly Father grew, the God-sized hole in my heart began to fill. And for the first time, I started healing. On top of that, the way I saw Him and the way I saw myself all changed.

I also changed the way I saw my past. I no longer allowed it to define me. By doing so, I finally let go of the shackles God broke me free from a long time ago  - generational curses, the cycle of alcoholism in my family, my childhood and everything that happened in the house I grew up in, all my mistakes and failures, and all of the regretful, shameful choices I have made... all washed away.

My mind was renewed [See Romans 12:2]. My soul was set on fire [See Jeremiah 20:9]. I went from being depressed to being an overcomer [See Romans 8:31-39]. I went from brokenness to fullness [See Colossians 2:10]. I went from wanting my life to be over to living life more abundantly [See John 10:10]. I went from being a slave to sin to being made righteous and free indeed [See Romans 5:1-11]. I went from being hopeless to being called according to His purpose [See Romans 8:28]. I went from being lonely and isolated to being adopted into a new family [See Ephesians 1:5]. I went from being miserable to having joy (that can't be taken away from me) and peace beyond understanding [See Philippians 4:7]. I went from thinking that I was just another ordinary person made in an assembly of people to realizing that He fearfully and wonderfully created me [See Psalm 139:14]; and according to Him, I am His masterpiece [See Ephesians 2:10]. I went from praying and crying out to God for Him to kill me to praying for Him to show me opportunities where I can use the gifts He has given me to help others who are going through what I went through.

Most importantly, I stopped looking for my worth in my work, in women, in the opinions of others (even the ones closest to me), in my accomplishments, on social media, etc., and I started seeking my worth in His word. Do you know what I found? I am worth His Son.
Do you know what that means?
God loves me so much that He gave His one and only Son as a living sacrifice to die for me, so I could spend eternity with Him on His Throne in His Kingdom [See John 3:16 and Romans 8:17]. His Son is how much I am worth to Him. The good news is, that's exactly how much you are worth to Him. But until you believe that to be true, nothing will change.

It's been said that the only thing that can define a thing is its creator. Do you know Who your creator is? Do you know what He says about you (not what your pastor/family/friend says He says about you, but what He actually says about you)? Do you know how much He loves you? Until you do, you will continue to circle around the same mountain, you will continue to make the same mistakes, you will continue to be shackled to the same chains that have held you and your family in bondage for too long, you will continue to do things that only provide temporary validation, and you will continue to identify yourself with works, positions, accomplishments, and opinions that do not define who you are.

I know this is simple for me to write, but it is not easy to live out... at all. Believe me when I say I may be made new (I'm almost completely different from who I once was) but this transformation did not happen overnight, and it probably won't happen overnight for you. I still struggle with some things; mainly, doubt and unbelief in certain areas of my life. But what I want you to gain from this blog post is: God pulled me out of a living hell, and He is more than able to do the same for you!

He has plans for you (that far exceed your own); plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future [See Jeremiah 29:11]. He is the Father for the fatherless [See Psalm 68:5-6], and the Hope for the hopeless.


KNOWLEDGE APPLIED

If you read my book, Pitching Against Myself, the words "Knowledge Applied" are very familiar to you. If you haven't, let me explain what they mean:
I believe wisdom is one of the greatest things we could ever ask for and receive; far greater than money, treasure, gold, and rubies. It came before everything [See Proverbs 8:22-31]. And it can be simply defined as "knowledge applied" - hence, the section title.

As Dr. John C. Maxwell, one of the greatest leadership teachers of all time, once said, "Knowledge without application is useless." The purpose of these blog posts is to inspire action. I want you to not only gain perspective and value, but I also want you to take something (if not, many things) away that you can apply to your life to help you become who you were created to be and walk in the freedom and purpose God intended for you.

With that being said, I'm going to end this blog post with 3 things you need to do right now to help you overcome depression and suicide. If you're not struggling (thank God!), I also added 3 things you can do right now to help those you know who are struggling to overcome. 

3 THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO OVERCOME:

1. TELL SOMEONE
I know it's the very last thing you want to do, but you need to do it. Being vulnerable is incredibly hard, but it's absolutely necessary. Only vulnerability will get you out of what pride got you into. As cliché as it sounds, you are not alone in your fight; you are never alone; the reason why it's cliché is because it's true. There a lot of people (a lot more than you realize) who need you in their life, and want to see you succeed - allow them to be there for you.

Please break the silence, before the silence breaks you.

2. HAVE THE COURAGE TO ASK FOR HELP
You can't overcome this alone. Really, you can't.
The only reasons why I overcame depression and suicide was because I went to a trained Christian counselor, leaned heavily on my friends and mentors who walked it out with me, and applied the wisdom that my counselor and mentors taught me.

Depression and suicide are so much bigger than you and me. But they are not bigger than God and the community of love and support He provides for all of us. 

If you're unsure of where to start, please reach out to me. I would love to help you! Or, you can call The Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 - they have trained professionals available to talk with you 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per week. It is free and completely confidential.

3. CHOOSE WHO YOU SERVE
It's ok to not be ok, but it's not ok to stay that way. You may be consumed with depression and suicidal thoughts, but that doesn't mean you need to agree with them. You are only one responsible for the health of your soul.

Your emotions lie to you. More importantly, they do not have the power to dictate your actions - only you do! Every day you have a choice to make - serve the depression and suicidal thoughts (which are not from God), or serve your Creator and do what He tells you to do. Your obedience is always better than your emotions. And I promise you, your emotions eventually catch up with your obedience. 

I want to encourage to pray without ceasing, read the Bible every day, speak God's promises over yourself (even if you don't believe them to be true), and replenish your energy by resting, exercising, and eating healthy. All of these things nourish your soul. If you don't do them, no one will.

I also want to remind you of the truth: God is always for you even when you feel like your faith is broken. You are loved even when you don't feel loved. There is hope even when you don't feel hope. There is a future for you even when you can't see your future. Your struggles don't make you less than, they make you a human being. There is not a single human being to ever live who didn't struggle, even the person you look up to and put on a pedestal. 

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP OTHERS OVERCOME:

1. CONNECT
We can no longer put the responsibility on the people who are hurting to reach out to us. We need to reach out to them. Connection is the only solution to this mental health epidemic we are in. We need to reach out to the ones who used to be around a lot but haven't been around in a while. We need to reach out to the ones we assume are hurting. We need to reach out to the "strong ones," the ones who pretend to have it all figured out, because we know everyone struggles and no one has it all figured out. We need to reach out to the ones God has placed on our hearts to reach out to - we've all had those moments where we "randomly" think of someone and wonder how they're doing; the only way to find out is to reach out! 

We can't stop there. We need to lean in. We can't accept their answer of "I'm fine," when we know they are hurting. You may feel like a burden asking, but it's so worth it. My life was saved twice by people reaching out to me, and not accepting the answer I gave them when they asked me how I was doing. You can be that person for someone else!

2. LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
I recently overheard someone comparing depression to "the feeling you get when your dog dies." My dog, King - who was my best friend growing up - died when I was in the midst of the worst battle with depression in my life. I promise you, depression is much worse than your dog dying.

If you don't understand depression, if you have never struggled with it, if you have never been consumed with suicidal thoughts, then stop talking and start listening. When I was struggling with depression and fighting back suicidal thoughts, all I wanted was someone to listen to me, without judging me, without condemning me, without looking down on me, and without telling me to do what I've already tried to do countless times before.

There is an infinite difference between listening to understand and listening to respond. I know you love the people who are hurting, and I know you deeply care for them, but sometimes, it's best to not say anything at all, and just let them talk. You may think you're helping them by giving them advice, but you're actually doing more harm than good. Believe me when I say, your presence is more than enough.

3. BE VERY CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS
Our words have so much power. Actually, we can't even begin to comprehend how powerful our words are, but we all have felt how powerful they are. If I were to ask you what the worst thing someone has ever said to you was, you could probably think of it instantly. The opposite is also true.

Encouragement is one of the greatest gifts we could ever give. The problem is, we don't give it nearly enough, because we're too worried about ourselves. We all love to be encouraged, and the best way to be encouraged is to encourage someone else.

If we have something good to say to someone, we need to say it! One word, one sentence, one text message, one phone call, one conversation could completely change someone's day, and maybe even their life.

Your encouraging words could be the reason why someone gets back up. They could be the reason why someone keeps going. They could be the reason why someone gets out of bed in the morning. They could be the reason why someone has hope. They could be the reason why someone doesn't commit suicide.

If there is only one thing you take away from this blog post, please let it be this: Pain is not the enemy. Struggles are not the enemy. Hardships are not the enemy. Anxiety is not the enemy. Depression is not the enemy. Suicide is not the enemy. Hopelessness is the enemy. Isolation is the enemy. Our lack of connection is the enemy. We need each other. 

 

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