I initially didn’t want to promote this entry too much, and I even considered deleting it. After I first published it though, it ended up getting a whole lot of positive response. Although it’s kind of personal, it speaks to issues like depression and handling life, and it might possibly resonate with a person or two out there. Maybe it’ll provide some inspiration. Hopefully, it’ll give some perspective, and someone reading it will understand the issues just a little bit better. Maybe it’ll do some good for someone.
Not long ago, I had a really awful job. I was a teacher in a self contained classroom for students with behavioral challenges. The kids I taught were absolutely unable to get their education in the mainstream. They weren’t just disruptive or high needs. They weren’t Tom Sawyers. They weren’t the kids from Our Gang. These were kids who were looking to hurt people. These were kids who threw chairs. These were kids who’d set their brothers and sisters on fire. Now, there were a lot of complicated reasons as to how they got there. These kids were in real pain. But their goal was to make other people just as miserable as they were. That was how they coped. They felt bad. They wanted other people to feel worse. It was an environment filled with constant violence, screaming, spitting, and restraints. People there got stabbed with pencils. I once took a chair to the head. Picture a prison without the bars or any real thought to safety or security. That’s the place I worked. It was a physically and mentally downright unhealthy place to be, and I worked there for three years. My job was to try and teach these kids to read and do some math.
If you’re expecting a feel good story about how I made a difference in their lives, this ain’t that kind of story. Sure, there were fun times here and there. I taught a really cool science class. But any notion of making any appreciable improvement to that situation is naive and unhealthy. The place was what it was. It was never going to get any better. Thinking you were going to fix it only led to crushing disappointment. The best thing you could do was learn to cope.
And I coped badly. On the drive home, a bag of candy orange slices or some Doritoes gave me just a little bit of joy. A few beers would dull my nerves later on. Other than that, I generally ate good food, but I didn’t pay any attention to portions or nutrients. On a couple occasions, I had it in my head that I was literally eating my last meal. They were good and they were big. It didn’t matter at that point.. And knowing my problems would soon be over, I was able to intensely enjoy them. I assure you, nothing will taste so good as your last meal. Suffice it to say, I was having some really, really dark thoughts. Long story short, I was a wreck, and I ballooned up to 300 pounds. Now, I was never an athlete, but I used to be pretty active. Gradually though, I didn’t have the energy for anything like that anymore.
It hit me hard one day when I tried to bike into work. Biking used to be something I did. I used to bike 15 miles to work and then back every day. I used to bike centuries. That day, I couldn’t do it. I was too heavy and I was too weak. Biking used to be central to my identity. People called me Biker. Working that job, I had basically been robbed. For some, that would have been rock bottom. For me, it just made me feel worse about myself, and I sank even deeper.
I eventually switched jobs, which absolutely turned out to be the key. Living in a rural area, it was more challenging than it would seem. I worked that job for three years, always looking for something else. But, now out of that school, I am so, so much happier. Today I run a simple resource room in a rural, public school. I basically help the slow kids with their Math and their English. It’s cake. I make absolutely no judgement on antidepressants or other drugs because I know that they help a lot of people. A clinician I saw a couple of times really, really wanted me on some. I never got around to getting them prescribed though, and I ended up not needing them. After I started doing something different, everything suddenly became manageable. The vast, vast majority of my problems were situational. Getting out of that job was magic.
So now, I’m working at mitigating the damage. You may have read my entry on restoring Grampy’s boat? It turns out that rowing and paddling are both great for heavy people. Your weight and joints are supported and you can go along merrily at your own pace. And, about a year ago, I started lifting weights. Between all that, and working out on a heavy bag, I’m down about fifty pounds. I’ve lost a lot of fat, and my new muscle tone is noticeable in the mirror. And I eat a weight lifter’s diet, protein every three hours with a whole bunch of carbs right after I work out. I’m not quite where I want to be, but I’m closer to being there than where I was.
Finally, I’ve decided that I want to get back into backpacking. It’s another thing that I used to do that I couldn’t not long ago. The plan is to walk Maine’s 100 mile wilderness again. It’s the most remote stretch of the Appalachian Trail, 110 miles between the towns of Millinocket and Monson. I’ve done it five times before, so I’m very aware of the challenge. I feel like I’m in good enough shape that I could pull it off if I started tomorrow. But for comfort, I’ll spend the winter getting better. Since I’ve gotten good results with the weights, I’m going to mainly keep using those. I’ll keep the heavy bag in the rotation since it’s fun. Come April, I’m going to switch gears. With the warmer weather, I’ll start running and building up some wind. When the time comes, I should be able to walk the length in style.
Your problems are probably worse than mine. I just worked a couple years with some batshit psychotic kids. I never saw actual military combat and and my childhood wasn’t traumatic. While I managed my issues, yours may be harder. Still, when I looked up the symptoms of major depression, I could check off every one. I had weight gain, constant heartburn, anxiety, suicidal ideation. . . I saw myself in a hopeless situation with no end. Thinking of killing myself brought me peace. Today, I lead a normal life. I’m happy. And it isn’t just a facade or just me trying to convince myself. I genuinely get a lot of joy out of life. The point is that whatever you’re going through may only be temporary. I’m one guy. I went through it. And now I’m past. Maybe it’s possible that you can get there too.