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How I Survived the Worst Year of My Life

What to do When Life Beats You Over the Head and Kicks You When You're Down.

hand coming out of the water
photo credit: Ian Espinosa

2016 sucked for a lot of reasons, and not just because we lost Prince, Bowie, and Alan Rickman in the same year. For me personally it was a turning point in my life. Before you read any further, you should know that I’m about to talk about some heavy issues including intense loss, depression, and suicide.

In February 2016 my wife was rear ended by a Mack truck (and miraculously lived, but took a long time to recover), my father died a month later, I lost my job, my three kids were diagnosed with autism (not a bad thing necessarily, just a big life change) and by the end of the year we lost our house. Things were bleak. I was depressed to the point of almost being catatonic, my marriage nearly fell apart, and I had moments where I had to remove myself from a situation because the opportunity to kill myself was easily accessible. I remember one in particular where I locked myself in the closet because we were living on the 15th floor of the building and I knew how easy it would be for me to jump, and how much I wanted to. I am thankful that I still had the wherewithal to know myself and get out of there.

What do you do when life just keeps hitting you and hitting you? Before I lost my job I was a pastor. I had counseled dozens of people about similar topics, and I knew exactly what I would say to them if they came into my office with a similar problem, but it’s one thing to give advice, and another thing to take your own medicine.

I had tried for so long to keep the “it is well with my soul” mentality that I’d preached so many times from the pulpit, but it was becoming more and more clear that it was not well with my soul, and I was starting to get resentful. I was also being bombarded with people trying to comfort me saying, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I am here to tell you that this is bull s**t, and it’s not biblical. God will absolutely give you more than you can handle, and it says it right there in the Bible (check out 2 Corinthians 1:8-9). But this article is not meant to be religious, so I digress.

I was pounded to the ground, my belief system was rattled, and I wanted to die. Now, I should say that I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a kid, so suicidal ideation is something I’m used to. This was different, I wasn’t just thinking about it or considering it, I craved it. I remember listening to the radio and hearing an interview with someone who went to great lengths to stop a family member from killing themselves, and I was crying and shouting in my car, “Just let him die!” because that’s what I wanted. I wanted the people around me to forget about me and let me go. I missed my dad, my sanity, and the life I had pre-2016.

But I had people who loved me and would not give up on me. I recognize that I was one of the lucky ones and that not everyone has what I had. My mom payed for me to go to therapy, my in-laws let us move in with them, my wife would not give up on me even though everything in her and around her was telling her to. I had friends checking in on me. All of this made me furious at the time, but I’m so grateful for it now.

I begrudgingly went to therapy, I put the work into my marriage, but most importantly, I chose to wake up every day. I couldn’t always get out of bed, and I was a shell of my former self, but I woke up. I chose to breathe, to eat, and to sit with my family. Some days it was more than I could bear, but I did it. Eventually I started looking for work, which was a struggle in itself. I have a history in graphic design, which meant I’d dealt with large scale print houses, and so a friend got me a temp job teaching print technology at Humber College while the regular professor was on sabbatical. I applied at another church for a part-time position and got to do that for a little over a year. I was slowly reclaiming who I thought I was. But something else was happening. I was also realizing that I didn’t need to be who I was. I could be something new. My job with Humber gave me access to Lynda.com, so I started taking all their courses on marketing, copywriting, and business. I started my own business where I did workshops with churches and non-profits on how to do digital and social media marketing. Even though I wasn’t preaching and pastoring, I was able to continue making a difference on the back end.

It took over 2 years, but half-way through 2019 my wife said, “Hey, you’re back.” Not the person I thought I was, but the person I really was. The intelligent, charismatic, people loving person who would do anything for his family and friends. I had a creative outlet, I was happy, I was me again. Not me the pastor, or the graphic designer. Me the Jeff. I don’t work for the church anymore, and I stopped running my church based marketing company. Now I’m a business coach, digital marketer, and I work as an autism support associate for a great organization here in Ontario. It fulfills the part of me that wants to care for people, and the creative part of me that wants to help people achieve their dreams. I rediscovered who I was by letting go of who I thought I should be and embracing the absurdity that I’m supposed to be anything other than a person of integrity. I chose to wake up, to eat, and to live. It’s still a struggle some days. I will always have depression and anxiety, and I’m okay with that, because through therapy, family, and the foundation of my beliefs I have the skills to cope with that, and the ability to recognize when I can’t cope. If you are struggling with any of this, please reach out to someone. Google crisis intervention, or suicide prevention, and seek the help you need. Choose to wake up, choose to eat, choose to live, even if you have to do that from your bed for a few months. You don’t need to be who you think you’re supposed to be, you just need to be. The world is a better place for your being in it. I truly believe that now.

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