Full disclosure

This is going to be a very difficult post to write.  However, when first I decided to write about my illness, I did so to increase awareness – to let the rest of the world see what goes on inside an otherwise healthy mind afflicted with a mental disorder.  I remain committed to that, even in the extreme cases.  So even though I’m dreading spilling my heart/insecurities through the web, I realize the need to do so.

I am not writing this to canvass for sympathy, though I know some of you will feel moved to leave some.  It will be received with thanks.

To be chemically depressed is like having a monster in your brain trying to take it over.  The monster is never dead, but you can keep it chained in the corner by taking certain steps.  Sometimes it tries especially hard to get loose.  And even for the most well-managed loon, sometimes it does break free.  When that happens, it changes your opinions.  Things you believed to be true just the day before – that life was worth living, that there was hope for things to get better, that you’re not extremely obese, evaporate as the monster sinks its tentacles into your mind.  You literally lose track of ‘you’, and with it your ability to realize that the monster is lying to you.

This happened to me on Friday.  It’s not merely a feeling of unhappiness, or hopelessness – it is a matter of full out panicIt is like being tortured.  You just get to the point where you’re willing to do or say anything to make it stop.  Pain makes us do stupid things, and I was very much within its grasp.  I grabbed my meds, poured out a fistful of them, and swallowed them.

Your immediate reaction is probably that that was a stupid thing to have done.  I agree with you.  It was an idiotic thing to do, but for all my faults I don’t believe myself to be an idiot.  That is sadly the debilitating power of mental disease.  Looking back, I cannot fathom how I felt compelled to do something so irrational.  But when your mind is in that state of desperation, you just want to do something.  You have to make it stop no matter what.  Like I said, you stop being ‘you’.

I immediately felt tempted to swallow the rest of the bottle, but thankfully there was enough of me left to go hand my meds off to a friend and instruct her to give me one in the morning and then to pass them off to a co-worker on Monday.  In about half an hour the symptoms of serotonin shock began to set in.  Thirty minutes later and I was again alone on a bed, shivering, sweating, dry-heaving, and trying to ride it out.  At first my pulse raced and then really slowed down.

Thankfully, a friend had noticed that I had left the mess hall and came looking for me.  She stayed with me for a while, taking my pulse when I was shaking too much to do it.  At one point it was five beats over ten seconds (30 bpm).  She begged me to let her go and get the camp doctor and I kept forbidding her from doing so.  My reasoning at the time was that I didn’t want to be a burden.  I wish my friend had ignored my pleas.  Thankfully, after a few hours, another friend showed up who was perfectly capable of disregarding my request.

Within another few hours I was in the ER.  After another 3.5 hours I was out of the shock but in an ER bed being plugged into a bunch of machines.  Even though it had been about 12 hours since ingestion, my heart rate was still hovering around 40 bpm.  By this point I was still nauseous, but no longer shivering or exhibiting any other symptoms.  I was back in my right mind, but they took special care to make sure my heart was going to be alright.  They took enough blood that they may as well have taken it with a garden hose.

I am loved, and that makes a great difference.  I had a veritable entourage of compassionate friends who really care about me in the ER at my side.  I am grateful that so many are pulling for me, and I hate being a burden on them.  I never meant to hurt anybody, including myself.  I’m just sick.  I’m not weak – I’m sick, and as much as I hate it I’m grateful for people who realize that if I could trade anything to be well, whether that be my mind or a host of other comforts, I would do it in a moment.  But that option isn’t on the table, and so with the most wonderful support group in the world I just try to get back on top of the monster and keep it tied down for good.

Some people don’t take mental illness seriously because they cannot see the injury…at least, you can’t see it until the end.  On Thursday I deadlifted 275 lbs eight times.  I’m at least in moderately good shape.  Yet come Friday night my invisible disability had reduced me to this.

Mental illness is a physical disability, just not obviously so.  Those afflicted with mental illness should be treated before this point.  This condition does not discriminate.  Because of the inability of the victims to will themselves better, people all around you could be moments from a scenario just like this one.  Once more, I was lucky that I have good people around me looking out for my well-being.  Were I left on my own, things would be very different.  They would be sinisterly different.  Make sure those around you are not left alone.  Go and get the doctor when you need to.  Be that support group and help them fight, and know that there will be times when the monster takes over – that is when they’ll need you most.

Thanks for reading.

PERSONAL: Happy birthday, Hitch.
You guys are wonderful.
PERSONAL: Sorry to disappoint you, Julian.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Today's session.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Josh Nankivel

    Keep fighting the good fights JT. You shall overcome. And thank goodness for great friends!

  • UA

    whoa. I enjoy reading your blog and glad you are ok. Writing this post AND publishing it was very brave and must have been scary. Thank you for sharing this with us. glad you have friends like that!

  • Patty

    You’re one courageous dude, and I love you.

  • Skye

    Hey JT! I know exactly how you feel. I have severe depression and i just want you to know that no matter what there is always a reason to keep on pushing on. I know how bad it sucks and i’m so glad you are ok. If you ever need someone, i know you have a lot of people helping, but i know exactly how you feel and i am here. Good luck my friend. Stay strong. There’s so much beauty out there.

  • http://xeroankh.blogspot.com xero ankh

    *tiger hug*

    you are never a burden on anyone unless you suck the life out of them. and i don’t believe you suck the life out of anyone.

    <3 i'm so glad you're safe.

  • http://en.allexperts.com/q/Atheism-2724/indexExp_111189.htm Jeffrey Eldred

    I’m so glad you are alive, JT. If you need to “burden” someone else with the steps necessary to save your life, you will repay it with your wonderful personality thousand-fold. I hope you are feeling better.

    Also, thank you for blogging about this. Some people live their whole life without letting anyone in.

  • Cathy Miller

    J.T., thank you for sharing. You have been such a positive influence in the time I’ve known you and I thank you for that. That “off the shoulder thing” in your photo above – intentional? We look forward to seeing you in Alabama when all that gets worked out. PLEASE let me know what I can do to help you with your work with High School kids. Need a spokeswoman to help share the idea that nonbelief is OK, that education is important and that we humans have to be there for one another? If there’s a way to do that, I’ll be there!

  • JulietEcho

    I’m glad you were able to seek help and that you eventually listened to the concerned people around you. When we can’t trust our own minds – which is incredibly scary – then having trustworthy people to advise you is invaluable. As hard as it is to face times like you did this weekend, you demonstrated strength by grabbing onto the ropes people threw to you.

  • Kelly

    Thank you for this post. I’m so glad you had the courage to write it and are doing well enough to do so. Your posts on mental illness are so touching and inspiring and human! I’ve passed many of your posts on to friends who face a similar struggle because you say these things in ways that help others to understand or to feel less alone. In your previous post, you said about Jen McCreight:
    “This is the effect of putting a successful face like Jen’s on mental illness. It speaks even more highly of Jen that she has excelled at all she has done despite the illness. She has greatly assisted in dissolving the stigma on mental illness and, in doing so, she has made the lives of many more valuable, more enjoyable, and she may have actually saved a life.”
    The same must be said of you, JT. You are amazing! I wish you a speedy recovery.

  • Larry

    If it’s of any consolation JT, this scenario is extremely common. Almost everyone I know can relate. Some simpy suffer and others take somekind of action. You’re exceptionally respected whether you realize it or not. I don’t see how anyone can do what you do and not have a measure of “fear of fame”. Your talents have reinforced my confidence in people in general, thus lending a curing measure to my own inabilities. It’s like the talents of an exceptional teacher, there is no way of knowing if or where the influence of that teacher ends, if ever. I consistently pass your wisdom on to others, and many of them do likewise. This is a consequence of those who become ledgendary in their own time. Seriously, you’re like the Elvis of common sense. No way around it.

  • Leslie

    Thank you for sharing your story. You stand on the shoulders of others that have been open about their secret suffering. I work as a therapist and am constantly amazed by my clients, many uneducated and isolated, that tell me in clear guilt free voices they they have attempted suicide, have been molested or raped, or have some other life experience for whom our society has poorly judge in the past. Secret sufferings should be shared because the act of keeping the secret can be harmful to the individual.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/anotherworkingstiff Pandy

    Burden, schmurden. We love you! Don’t ever hesitate to call or text me, either.

    Next time, though, you’re going to play Mao. And like it. Or else.

  • Nikki Gillespie


    You are never a burden. I have been where you are and I hope that through what you have seen in me that you can put that monster back in it’s place. It is not easy and as you can tell, you have a whole group of people willing and able to be there for you. We will be your cheerleaders when you need us. Keep fighting! We love you!

  • Hemant

    Glad you’re ok! No scaring me ever again. I have big plans for you in the future. The high-schoolers of the world need your guidance! :)

  • Katie G.

    Today was one of the days my monster reared its head and I questioned the point of my furthered existence. Reading this reminded me that swallowing a handful of pills only ends in pain and embarrassment. The struggle will continue but for right now we’re alright. Thanks JT.


  • Jenessa

    Get better soon! Anytime you need someone to talk to I’m here =)

  • TerriF

    I’m glad you made it through and it’s even braver to share your experience to the world. I don’t know if you remember back when I was your director for the One Acts. At that time I was symptoms of a disorder that was being misdiagnosed. Ever wonder why I seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth… well I basically went bat shit crazy. It’s hard not feeling like yourself and having no control what so ever. It’s even harder to admit that something is off. It’s beyond harder to admit to your friends and loved ones. I’m very proud of you and just realize that you are making great strides to make this world a better place. HUGS!

  • Vincent

    Thanks for this. You are, without a doubt, a positive part of the overall human equation, and I’m glad you’re still being averaged into the collective intellectual, empathetic, and humanistic bell curves of our species;)

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Paul

    I won’t be patronising and say “it gets better” cause I know full well that’s not always the case. But I do know it can get better. I still remember the day my life turned around and I found new strength to help me beat my own demons. A trip to the Trocadero arcade while my brother and I were visiting my dad in London had an unexpected side effect – my antidepressants triggered a seizure while I was playing Gunblade with my little bro, who was terrified and thought I was being electrocuted. My dad met us in the hospital and I still remember the utterly destroyed look on his face when he saw the self-inflicted scars on my legs as I stood in front of him in my hospital gown.

    From that day forward I vowed things would change, I weaned myself off the meds and my new-founds reserves of, well whatever it was, put me back on track. It’s an ongoing battle and I still have low points but when they appear I know what they are, I know what to expect and I know how to deal with them. If I falter I just think back to my dad’s expression.

    Here’s hoping you find something similar. As other posters have mentioned you’re doing really great work and helping to make the world a brighter place for others. We love you for it so try to hold on to that whenever you find yourself at a low point.

  • Denton Margeson

    Ah so THATS why that one guy was like “Fuck look at the BPM what kind of cardio do you do!?” haha love ya JT hope you’re feeling better. :D

  • http://writefelice.blogspot.com felice

    I know this all intimately well, and there are only a few things I think I can say worth saying, after putting the pills back in the bottle a few times:

    - “I hate being a burden” is an empty statement, which is not to say it doesn’t also infect my brain on an hourly basis. The nature of our respective disorders makes us view the world and how we exist in it in a distorted way. Knowing what it feels like to be on both ends – as the comforter and as the one in need of it – it is quite clear to me that the comforter is no more burdened than they would be with a friend without an illness. It’s been my pleasure to be a first-responder for the ones I love. It’s nigh impossible, but try to give yourself as much sympathy as you would give another.

    - I know the feeling of “you are no longer ‘you’”, and I only wish to add (because I myself forget this very often), you are not synonymous with your illness. Depressed and Anxious Felice is not Felice. Depression and anxiety are things afflicting Felice, who is her own person beyond the illnesses she lives with. And, surprisingly enough, this also holds true for JT Eberhard.

    I’m glad I’ll be seeing you in a month, and I owe you a lot of hugs as soon as I get there. You can hold me to that. :)

  • http://entequilaesverdad.blogspot.com Dana Hunter

    I know the beast sometimes won’t listen, but tell it anyway: you’re no burden. Not at all. And damn it, you give enough that it’s a pleasure for people to give a little back.

    You ever need someone completely outside your circle to talk to, yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor, and I will be there with a quickness. Can’t promise I’ll always know the right thing to say, but I can listen.

    This won’t defeat you. Might win a few battles, but not the war. And because you are one courageous son of a bitch, some people who would have suffered alone and in shame will realize that mental illness isn’t a shameful thing. It’s got physical causes just like any other illness, and it’s a bitch to fight, but absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

    Until there’s a cure for this shit, I just hope treatment will give you far more good days than bad. Keep on keeping on, and when you can’t keep going yourself, just let your friends and fans carry you for a while. It’s our honor.

  • Alexandra

    I needed to hear this. You described a lot of how I’ve been feeling lately, and what I’ve had trouble explaining to other people. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and struggles with us, it’s done exactly what you intended it to do. It has shown me (who very much needed to be reminded) that being high functioning and “loony” are not mutually exclusive, that creating and nurturing a support system is paramount, and that asking for help is a sign of strength not one of weakness. Love, respect, and thanks from Vancouver, B.C.

  • Niki

    Dearest, sweetest JT..

    I know your pain. I am attempting to keep my own monster chained in the corner. I am proud of you, for writing such an honest account of what you went through.

    Far too often people suffering mental illness suffer in silence..because of the way we are viewed by a world that can’t understand. Everytime you open up and show your heart and mind and experiences…you help ALL of US.

    thank you..for all of us.

  • http://www.chuckwolber.com Chuck Wolber

    I am glad you are ok JT. It was great meeting you at CQ Ohio this week. Take care.


  • Frank

    I can relate, JT. Depression at it’s worst is, for me, absolutely terrifying. It’s unbearable and feels like it will never go away. Of course it always does, but then it always comes back as well. The good thing is that you’re learning and will continue to learn how to cope with the recurrences, possibly stopping them in their tracks or at least lessening their impact.

    l’m glad you made it through this crisis intact. You’re a huge asset to the atheist/skeptic community! Take care of yourself.

    Also, it’s great that you have such an extended support system. There are many who suffer from severe mental illness who do not. In the case of mood and anxiety disorders at least, I think this can have a huge influence on whether one is a high or low functioning person with a mental illness.

  • Mike

    Very well said. I’ve got a whole boatload of other mental health goodies – all mild to moderate, but there’s only so much room in the boat, if you know what I mean. And one of my secondary hangers-on is depression. And very much as you put it – it’s weird. The problem is that it’s so damn hard to notice when the metaphorical monster has gotten loose.

    I’m proud of you for catching yourself half-way through taking those meds – that is the bit that always gives me hope. That even in the grips of mental illness we can have a brief reprieve – or sometimes just get enough perspective on our actions – to be able to at least call out for help.

    I’m glad you made it through to another day. In my opinion, humanity needs more people like you.

  • Mriana

    I know I’m a year late, but I’m glad you were well enough to make Skepticon. It’s funny, I was dx with anorexia when I was 10 or 11 y.o. and I also had depression. When I left religion about 8 years ago, my depression (except for SADD) and symptoms of an eating disorder slowly disappeared. I tried so many different antidepressants over the years and most made me sick, so I refused to take them. The only one that did not make me sick was Zoloft. I only took it for a couple of years. I almost went back to it a few years ago, because when I first stopped believing, I did have a bout of severe depression, but something happened. Part of it was a lot of work on my part and the other part is that I found a really good psychologist to help me through it. It’s a long story and I don’t know if what helped me would help you, because, while depression is a chemical imbalance, as you know, not everyone’s causes of depression is the same. However, with me, the one thing that was never addressed was my religious up bringing and how it contributed/enabled some of the abuse I went through. Not too many psychologists are willing to deal with that aspect of depression, but are starting to be willing to address it. I got lucky because I got hooked up into a good network of people who led me to that psychologist, who helped me a lot and a lot of it was anger turned inward from all the abuse and trauma I experienced. Once all of it was dealt with I started doing better without medication. However, I know that doesn’t work for everyone. I only wish I could help, JT, but I do wish you all the best and hope you get better soon- including finding the right meds and counseling (if you’re in counseling) for you. Yes, I did read the one where the medication was causing you problems concentrating and all. Just don’t do this again! You are an intelligent and precious person JT and you have a lot of life ahead you. I think you can and will contribute much, as well as eventually find the good life that helps you feel better- with or without meds. I think you’re on the right path though and will help many people. If you ever want or need to talk or ask questions, JT, just drop me an email or catch me on FB.