As I mentioned yesterday, this week I am telling my story. Yesterday, I talked about my struggle with incontinence, not something I really wish to discuss in detail, but I’m prayerful that a frank talk about some embarrassing issues will bless others. Today, I discuss mental illness, a subject that, to be perfectly honest, embarrasses me highly, yet it is a part of my story and an area where I’ve struggled most all of my life.
“The wrath of man is not working the righteousness of God” (Js 1:20). In holy writ, we find several who had a serious anger problems: Saul became angry because the people praised David’s military prowess, thus the king threw a spear at the future king in an attempt to pin him to the wall (1 Sam 18:8-16); Haman became angry when Mordecai refused to bow down to him, and, while he hoped to have Mordecai hanged, Haman himself was hanged on the gallows he had erected for the hanging of Mordecai (Est 3:5; 5:9-14; 7:7-10); and Demetrius stirred the wrath of craftsmen after Paul healed a prophetic slave girl, and a great riot ensued in Ephesus (Acts 19:24-32).
We can look at our own day and see the difficulty in anger. Malcolm Kilduff, the acting press secretary who announced to the world that President John F. Kennedy had died of his gunshot wounds, believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but Kilduff maintains that Oswald attempted to kill Governor John Connally, not President Kennedy. While Secretary of the Navy, Connally signed Oswald’s less-than-honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. If Kilduff — who lived and died less than an hour from where I was raised — was correct, Oswald’s anger changed world history.
While I was parking at the Sevierville Convention Center during Polishing the Pulpit, my wife texted to say that the school where she works had been placed on lockdown because someone had been shot not far from the school, but that the situation was under control and I shouldn’t worry. Only a few seconds later,I received a Fox News alert on my iPhone informing me that Alison Parker and Adam Ward, reporters at WDBJ, had been murdered by Vester Lee Flanagan II, known professionally as Bryce Williams. Flanagan, according to a statement he wrote, killed Parker and Ward because he believed WDBJ and Parker and Ward, in particular, discriminated against him for being a homosexual black man. After the police traced Flanagan’s movement following the shooting, my wife and I were chilled to learn Flanagan’s escape route meant he passed Tammy as she was driving to work that morning. (While Tammy and I both remember reporting by Parker and Ward, I do not recall Bryce Williams as a reporter. Tammy, however, does and recalls that she and I laughed at him every time he was on air because of his extremely poor skills.)
My anger has never changed world history, and I have never considered committing murder. Yet, my anger has changed my life, and it has harmed my family. For example:
- Anger as a kid can be easily overlooked. Part of the maturation process is learning how to handle anger and frustration. Some examples of my anger as a kid:
- Aaron, my younger brother, did something which angered me, what I cannot remember. I do, remember, however, picking up a brick and chasing him through our yard. I shudder to think what might have happened had he been a little slower than I.
- Mom and Dad once locked Aaron and me in a room and let us just about kill each other so that we could get rid of our frustration and anger.
- Dad and I were filling out my FASFA before enrolling in International Bible College (now Heritage Christian University). I only remember that the issue was that we were reading the directions differently (Dad was, more than likely, right in his assessment). I remember screaming, crying, and tearing the FASFA form in half. I was angry, and I wanted Dad to know it.
- In my graduate work, I was writing an exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (the role of men and women in the cooperate assembly and in church leadership). I made a formatting error and was having great difficulty correcting it. I asked Tammy if she could help me, and she was happy to do so. She sat down at the computer, and not being very proficient in WordPerfect, she erased the entire document. An easy fix through utilizing the “undo button,” right? Sure, but Tammy saved the blank document. You would have thought Mount St. Helens had erupted. I don’t remember all that I said, but I know I exploded. I know that I felt great remorse afterward. I know Tammy was too hurt for words.
- Tammy’s dad is a man who loves God and desires to follow His Word. Part of following the Word of God, of course, is evangelism. Bob has a burning desire to help others come to know Jesus, and he has made several trips to Ukraine, and he was making another trip only a few months after Tammy and I married. Bob was flying out of Charleston, West Virginia, on a Tuesday, and Tammy was going with the rest of her family to see Him off from the airport. I was a youth minister, and had a youth activity planned for that morning, and, therefore, I could not go with Tammy and her family. The morning Tammy was leaving to ride with her family to Yeager Airport in Charleston, I exploded in a major way. My thinking? If Tammy spent time with her family, that meant she loved them more than she did me. That’s a far cry from rational thinking, of course, and I now fully understand that. My temper got away from me that day in a very serious way.
I found a counselor in Lexington, Kentucky, a man who worked with a church as a full time counselor. The earliest appointment I could get was on my twenty-third birthday. So, 138 days after my wedding — yes, only 138 days — Tammy and I started counseling because our marriage was in crisis.
Before our first meeting with the counselor, I had visited my family practitioner, and his diagnosis was simple: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and I was prescribed an antidepressant. We kept going higher and higher in dosage, but my anger did not seem to abate — probably because the diagnosis was incorrect. The marriage counselor, however, loved having a guy with a mental illness in his office; I became a pet, a sideshow attraction, and a novelty he enjoyed watching. Thus, he proved to be of little help.
A few months later, Tammy and I moved closer to Lexington. When my anger showed no signs of abating, I was encouraged by a close friend to seek inpatient care at a psychiatric facility. I called to gain pre-authorization from my insurance company, and I was told I had to go through an outpatient facility in Lexington. On my first visit, I saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner who changed my antidepressant and prescribed an antipsychotic. She referred me to a psychologist who helped greatly; when that psychologist moved to California, the nurse referred me to a therapist in the same office where she worked — he also proved to be most helpful.
After I moved to West Virginia, I continued taking an antidepressant, and I did well for a time. When the anger issue arose again, I began seeing a psychiatrist. She reworked my medications, and, for really the first time in my life, I found relief from the anger.
Before the church decided that they wanted to go a different direction, I preached in West Virginia for nearly ten years. Searching for a new preaching position became quite difficult because my difficulty walking had reared its ugly head. My family and I eventually landed at Heritage Christian University for a year and a half. When we moved to Florence, Alabama, we lost our health insurance; therefore, visiting a physician for the prescribing of psychiatric drugs was out of the question.
When having me on the faculty proved to be too much of a financial burden for the University, I landed with the Dale Ridge church in Roanoke, Virginia. I have never worked with a congregation or an eldership which has loved and supported me more than Dale Ridge. But, I’ve had serious anger issues while preaching here. I’ve been able to control the temper when dealing with members of the congregation, but with my family, those whom I value most in this world, I have had the utmost difficulty in controlling my anger.
About a year ago, I terribly lost my temper when my then 15 year-old made an irresponsible decision with money. His mistake was one that any teenager makes, but his mistake caused Poppa (as he affectionately calls me) to become so enraged that all rationality left me. I knew right then and there that I needed some serious help.
I searched the Internet to find a counselor who specializes in anger management. I settled on Dr. Marvin Gardner, a man who holds both a Ph.D. and a D.Min. (I hold a D.Min., as well), and who is a man of faith, having served as both an Episcopalian and Anglican priest. I greatly disagree with his theology, and I’ve had to explain to him on several occasions how properly church leadership operates. But, I didn’t begin seeing him to discuss theology; I started seeing him for my anger.
Dr. Gardner shocked me when I first started seeing him. I did not, he said, necessarily have a psychological issue with anger. Instead, I have a neurological issue with anger. My psychologist says that were it not for my neurological disorder he would diagnose me as bipolar. Yes, I meet all the criteria for that diagnosis, but Dr. Gardner believes the neurological issue has caused the faulty wiring in my brain.
My neurologist has prescribed medication to treat my mental illness. Dr. Gardner continues to do weekly therapy sessions to help me learn how to overcome the issue. I continue to pray unceasingly to God for relief. I pray to Him that I may be a model to others of the power He can have in one’s life.
I am happy to report that I am making great improvement with my mental health. I ask for your continued prayers on my behalf.