Real men. Real disease. Movember
“Mental illness is a war with many casualties” – David Weiss
November is a great month. Spring is slowly making way to summer. Christmas is close enough to leave a taste of holiday excitement in the air but far enough away that you don't have to think about presents just yet.
And guys grow out their mustaches, a touch of free entertainment on your morning commute.
Those men are "Mo heroes", and while they may be teased, they are also respected for actively raising awareness and funds for men's health issues like prostate and testicular cancer.
As well as cancer, one of the main areas of focus for the Movember foundation is suicide prevention.
One man dies from suicide every minute somewhere in the world. In Australia, an average of five men each day take their own lives. It is the biggest killer of men under 45.
One in two Australian men have had a mental health problem at some point in their life.
One in eight will experience depression— more than 6 million men annually.
But you won't hear them talk about this very much.
It might be an issue of stigma, a sense of embarrassment. Despite these very loud statistics regarding men and the issues of suicide and depression, in 2014, 41 per cent of men who contemplated suicide felt they could not talk about their feelings, and two-thirds of mental health patients were women.
David Weiss belonged to the other third.
"Doctor, it has been three years. Will I ever get better?" he recalls asking one of his psychiatrists during a visit after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
He always had to ask himself how he was feeling, because people like his mother, father or his doctors always asked him. Sometimes, often, he would say, "I don't know", because he truly didn't. Other times he would say this:
"I still see shadows everywhere. They seem to watch me. Whenever I close my eyes I see myself without a head. Sometimes it feels like invisible knives are swirling around me. The medicine is making it hard for me to walk, and often I feel like I am falling when I am just standing still. The suicidal thoughts are getting better. Just ideas, no actual plans."
David describes days of sleeping, playing Xbox, sometimes reading and listening to music. Going for a walk outside was out of the question— he could barely stand.
He sat at home watching a movie or pushing buttons on a controller and wishing he were someone with more serotonin and less norepinephrine in his brain. "Or is it the other way around?"
Sometimes he just moved from the bed to the bathroom to the recliner and back to bed. Sometimes he got anxious wondering, "Do suicides go to Heaven?"
After 24 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy, his doctors classified him resistant to the treatment. He was also resistant to medication.
Speaking to a different doctor later in his struggle, David mentioned he was noticing some improvement. He said he was finding it easier to pray.
"You believe in God?" the doctor asked him.
Again David had to say, "I don't know", because he didn't. Why would he believe in a loving, powerful God when he had spent so much of his life in pain and mental turmoil, only ever able to obtain temporary relief from medication and his mother's head massages?
But, David says, "My faith in God has always been an important part of my life".
It has been a long, difficult journey, and he says he needs to remind himself often how fortunate he is to have "a loving family that supports me, gifted doctors who understand mental illness, medicine that manages my condition, and a God whose mercy never ceases".
David doesn't know why he is suffering. But he knows this:
"Though my illness persists, I have finally met the God I had heard about but never truly experienced. A God who heals. A God who loves. A God I cannot logically explain to my psychiatrist. A God who manifests His genius by salvaging good from the evil in our lives.
"Someone unlike me. Someone unlike the well-meaning inquisitors who judged me and sought to spiritually cure me. Someone I never would have discovered without my affliction.
"A God who calls himself Emmanuel — God with us."?