"PAPA, ARE WE THERE YET?"
I hesitated and thought long and hard before posting this; not because it doesn't represent me or what I deal with every day as a man who came to disability after years of living a productive adult life before being confronted by a life-changing event. No, my reticence had more to do with a concern for being perceived as morbid or, worse, the dreaded "D" word: DEPRESSED.
Such is the term many have jumped to when assessing my status updates here on Facebook, the way I talk about my disability with them on the phone, or even conversations I have in person. And, while an astute observation made out of loving concern for my well-being, it is nonetheless inaccurate.
Now, allow me to say it's good that we're all more attuned to depression, its reality in people's lives, and how it manifests in people we care about; we ought to familiarize ourselves with its symptoms and the resources available to those who experience it so we may better connect those people with the care and support they need.
But please believe me when I say that I'm NOT depressed, having known what it's like firsthand. You see, 25 years ago, I had a nervous breakdown precisely because I had lived with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for years without benefit of treatment. It was hell on earth to have my fantasy world demolished by the harsh intrusion of reality on my carefully ordered life, which I had built to accommodate the sources of my dysfunction rather than face it head-on and deal with the difficult experiences and personalities that had contributed to its formation and root in my life.
Today, after years of therapy, self-discovery, and decisive action to live healthy and respectful of others including myself, I have learned and grown beyond the dysfunction that used to trap me. And while it has come at great cost—I've shed comfortable, if not entirely healthy relationships with family and friends along the way, I'd do it all over again. I am not, by the grace of God, the person I was before, and I hope the person I have grown into is more available to his work in this world as a result.
So enough about my history with depression and its root of dysfunction in my life. What I really want to write about today is this experience of disability, which began with my pituitary macro-adenoma diagnosis 20 years ago, a few years into my mental illness treatment. That was an illness of an entirely different nature. This was an endocrine tsunami that would affect several hormone sub-systems, cause diabetes and neurological impairment, and result in chronic fatigue that, by itself, would be debilitating. I lost employment, and along with it, health coverage. I began to pay cash for treatments, eventually being forced to liquidate all my assets to keep up with minimum payments. Broke, I became a frequent flyer at the free community clinic, where I found myself wheeling and dealing with volunteer doctors and nurses for aftermarket insulin and grey-market sources for prescriptions to self-treat my various conditions. Because, you see, I was carrying multiple chronic illnesses with no means of support. I had no income, no assets, but also no public aid. Eventually, I got food stamps . . .
My concerned friends (even those in my own estranged family) are constantly asking me, "So, then why did you move out to Michigan?" And the simple answer is, "TO SURVIVE." The cost of living is lower here. The social programs are better—marginally—in this state, though the Congress and White House are threatening to shrink them further. And, mercifully, I have found good health care support thanks to Medicare, now that I have it. Michigan doesn't even tax food, which is a regressive tax against the poor that politicians still get away with in Illinois (a rant for another day, perhaps). My point is, I didn't move here to hurt anybody; I took responsibility for my life, did the research, worked the problem, and found a solution that worked—maybe not perfectly addressing everybody's ideal wishes, but it makes my life at least POSSIBLE.
It's not even a life I consider ideal from my own wishes, believe me. Reflecting on things as I often do, I am constantly confronted by the lack of awake hours: I am awake only 6 to 8 hours per day, with not enough strength or energy to stand or walk more than a few minutes at a time. My attention span is greatly diminished; holding my focus on a given task takes all my effort and leaves me exhausted and lightheaded. I am unemployable and still medically disabled, of course; I still have unfinished projects including one book of nonfiction and another novel. I need assistance doing the most menial of tasks, especially in winter. And, on top of it all, I can't seem to earn a modest living to supplement my Social Security check, which I've learned is much more than many of my neighbors get, so I feel bad even saying that.
So, yes, I often ask for your prayers, and even share with you that I'm asking God to take me home. Because you see, this world is not my home; we were all created for a much different life than this; we're only journeying through this world for a brief moment, and in my body, as the Apostle Paul called it, this tent I tabernacle within this life, is broken and fits all the less suitably in this world. And, while it's not my decision, but my Father's call, that shall summon me home—I am expressing my readiness to go. I am asking him not out of depression, not because I have given up; but as a child asking his Father out of sheer exhaustion: "Papa, are we there yet?"
Dom De Bellis is an entrepreneur, author, public speaker, coach, and minister of the Gospel. When he's not serving his church or Boy Scout Troop, he is helping people in cities grow organic food.