By: Scott Burlingame, Executive Director
In what may be one of the biggest honors in my life, I have been asked to speak at the 10th Annual Minot Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Saturday, September 14th from 10 AM – 2 PM at Oak Park in Minot. I have been asked to do so because I am a person who lives with depression and anxiety.
According to the North Dakota Department of Human Services, North Dakota’s suicide rate is higher than the national average, with 144 lives lost in 2018. It is the second leading cause of death for North Dakotans ages 10 – 34.
Depression can look very different to different people. For me, when I am sick, I am overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness. I have extreme trouble sleeping, often jarring myself awake with nightmares several times a night. I am hungry all the time, which leads to weight gain, yet food never tastes good.
My anxiety presents itself in an urgency to be perfect. I want to be the perfect employee, the perfect father, and the perfect spouse. I put huge amounts of pressure on myself to out think anything that could possibly go wrong in my life. I am obsessed with trying not to disappoint anybody, especially those whom I care about.
I learned at an early age that I needed to find ways to numb myself and became very good at it. I numbed myself by learning, because if I had knowledge, I had power. I numbed myself by giving to others, not out of a noble sense of self-sacrifice, but rather because I wanted people to need me. I numbed myself with trying to be a great employee. I wanted to be smarter, harder working, and more passionate than anybody else. I numbed myself by sacrificing my needs and wants for those around me. I did this because I felt my needs were not that important, nor did I believe anybody cared about what I wanted. I was very good at numbing my depression and anxiety, until I wasn’t.
The thing about numbing your emotions is you cannot selectively numb. When I attempted to numb my feeling of being alone, I numbed my ability to feel like I was part of something. When I tried to numb my anxiety over trying to feel perfect, I lost the ability to feel excitement over the great things in my life.
A little over a year ago, my life was a mess. Most people, even those close to me, did not realize how bad it was. I functioned like I always have, however, inside I was broken. I learned to mediate. Mediation is scientifically proven to have a variety of health benefits. For me, learning to shut my mind down, even for a few seconds, allowed me to reset my brain.
I also learned to practice mindfulness. To me mindfulness means allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. If I am nervous because I have a newsletter article due in a few minutes, allow myself to feel it, recognize why I am feeling that way, and allow the feeling to fade.
I also learned to be a better advocate for myself. I have learned to be deliberate with finding ways to spend time doing the things I enjoy, with the people whom I care about. I also accepted the fact that I could not fix myself without some professional help. I began to see a therapist and to take a prescription antidepressant. The therapist allowed me to work through some things that were causing me pain and provided me with the tools I needed to practice better self-care. The antidepressant helped to adjust whatever chemical in my brain was making me the way I was.
A year later, everything in my life is better. I still love my job, and I think Independence, Inc. is one of the premier Centers for Independent Living in the country. I am proud because our team is awesome not because we need to be perfect.
I have an amazing support network. My wife and kids, my coworkers and my friends are there for me when I need them. I have learned to embrace all the great opportunities in Minot, and that has provided me with a community I feel part of. I am blessed to be a part of the Independent Living Movement on a local, state, and national level.
Practicing mindfulness has also allowed me to feel the good feelings. I have learned that it is okay to feel good when things are going well, and more and more often, I find exactly that happening.
Make no mistake, I am still broken. I fight every day to maintain my mental health, but I am better.
The thing I want people to understand is, it is okay to be broken. It is okay to need help. We are all loved in ways we can never fully comprehend.
You are never alone. If you need help, call the Suicide Prevention LIFELINE anytime 1.800.273.TALK (8255).