Shaun Doyle is an adoption advocate, a husband, a father, an incredibly talented singer, an out and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, and someone who lives with depression and anxiety. Earlier this year, he delivered a candid sermon to the congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo. This is an excerpt that highlights the important role of gratitude in his journey.
Yesterday I went to throw on what I call my “cozies”- sweatpants and a t-shirt. I reached down to tie the drawstring and it wasn’t there. There are no drawstrings in any of my sweats anymore. That’s because they were all cut out when I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital not even a mile from my where I live. Drawstrings of any kind were forbidden, as were earrings, plastic knives and even the staples in a magazines. Those had to be removed too. No sharps of any kind. They even had me vigorously shake out my hair in front of two nurses who were examining me from head to toe, lest I harbor a hairpin or chisel or saw in my tresses. The absence of the drawstring brought me back to the day I decided that I couldn’t do “THIS” anymore, especially on my own. I needed help. I needed to be in a hospital.
“THIS” was literally months of depression and anxiety that turned me into a person I didn’t know- a person no one knew.
Hospitalization helped. Intensive therapy – private and in groups – plus the less formal ‘talk time’ with other patients who were there with me, and the endless supply of love and support from my family and friends.
My time there was done. I cannot explain to you what it was that made me so sure of this, but what I really wanted, for something to crack this depression, had happened. Hospitalization broke it wide open. I was laughing again. I had turned my focus to gratitude. I realized that all of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, are broken somehow. Everybody has a story. Mine was no better or worse than anyone else’s.
For the rest of the day and into the evening, I had what they call in the business, racing thoughts, or rapid thought patterns just a’zooming through you mind so fast that normal thought can’t get a word in! What if I got home and went right back to bed? What if I get fired? What if the anxiety returns? What if my meds don’t kick in? What if I’m not the old me? So many “what ifs.” Deb (a woman I met at the hospital, a fellow patient) reassured me. “So, maybe all of that could happen. Live in this moment. In this moment, you are becoming well. You’ve outgrown this place and it’s time to go. Your life is waiting for you out there.” To quote my friend Scott, “with little exception, most people named ‘Deb’ are as cool as hell.” My Deb was no exception. She finished by saying “And maybe you’ll never be the “old” you again, but a new you-one who comes out of this braver, stronger and filled with gratitude.” Another friend had said to me “Remember, the ‘old Shaun’ you are trying to get back had all that baggage you’ve worked so hard to get rid of. I want to tell you is it is okay if things never get back to the old way. We all grow, change, and evolve.” I’ve got some REALLY smart friends.
My dad said “you know who else was really great at the hospital, the man you had to sign in with at the front desk. When he looked at the visitors list he looked up at me and said ‘Mr. Doyle, your son sure does have a lot of visitors. Don’t worry; once he realizes how loved he is, he’ll be all better.’ You have REALLY wonderful friends, Shaunie.” My dad is never wrong. I do have the most staggeringly awesome friends, and this man was right; as soon as I started to remember how loved I was, I began to heal.
Gratitude has managed to help me start to undo every negative feeling I had. By returning to gratitude every time I get anxious or start to get depressed, those feelings begin to disappear. Being in the hospital made me grateful not only for my friends and family, but for fresh air, for how soft my own pillow is, or how nice it is not to have to eat dinner knowing that at any moment, a speed freak might bogart my SunChips! When the anxiety returns, and it does, I just start a tally of everything I’m grateful for. It’s so very simple, but how often we forget how fortunate we are.
I have chosen to focus on what I do have, rather than what I do not. Accepting that I just happen to be a guy who has depression and anxiety, and accepting them when they come a’ knocking ALSO helps me to undermine these feeling. Instead of fighting them, I try to make room for them, and allow them to come and go without a struggle. That really messes with this two-headed beast called anxiety and depression. I have lived with this monster for my entire life, and only now am I learning that depression lies.
It’s been said that you can’t feel great joy without feeling great pain. Having this illness has made me who I am today, and I’m glad about who I am. If you are going through something like I went through, remember that there is NOTHING to be ashamed of. Get help. Talk about it. Talk to me about it. You are not alone.
Just remember that together, we can begin to recover from even the deepest depression and maybe even laugh along the way.