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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Restoring purpose: Tom Baker shares journey of overcoming depression

Aug 29, 2017 02:01PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Tom Baker and his wife, Christy, share Tom’s years-long journey from depression to joy.

Tom Baker is easy-going, positive and fun-loving. Today, that is.

It’s been a long, hard road, but now he’s arrived at a point where he can share his journey from depression and suicidal tendencies to a life of joy and thankfulness. He does so with an open heart, to give others hope.

A tough road

Tom met his wife, Christy, 47 years ago through a Denver church youth group. They dated for four years and married in 1974. They moved to California, had three children and were actively involved in church. Tom was enjoying his career with Benjamin Moore and life was good.

Then things got rough.

“In 1998, Benjamin Moore eliminated my job and I lost my identity,” Tom said. “On my 40th birthday I had a major breakdown, and three days later I told Christy, ‘I just want to die.’ That’s the first time she took me to the hospital, and it took about a year for me to get back to myself again.”

Benjamin Moore hired him back in a different position, and things went well for another 14 years. But in 2013, Tom’s younger brother committed suicide. The day after the funeral, his older sister died of a heart attack. Tom didn’t take time to grieve, trying to tough it out, but ended up in the hospital for a second time.

It soon became clear that the couple would relocate to Grand Junction to be with Christy’s parents, who needed end-of-life care. Tom left his job in April 2014. At the time, he didn’t know about Mesa County’s high suicide rate.

“I came from a lousy situation to a much worse one,” said Tom. “I had no job identity, and being retired in a new city, I really had no identity.”

He and Christy took walks through their new neighborhood, but all the while, he was silently figuring out ways to take his own life. He ended up in the hospital under suicide watch again.

“I was so angry when they went to put me in the hospital in Grand Junction and they didn’t have room for me,” said Tom. “They let you sit in the ER for hours because they don’t see the urgency. It was humiliating to be escorted by two security guards to a Denver hospital. They even followed me into the bathroom to make sure I didn’t hurt myself or escape.”

Eventually, Tom was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

“When I get depressed, it’s not for six, seven or even 10 days,” he said. “It’s for a long time. The last time was almost two years.”
A burden for both

Tom was not alone in his depression. Christy was right alongside him, dealing with her own challenges.

Tom was on numerous medications for depression, anxiety and sleep, which Christy had to monitor and keep away from him. Christy’s mom had died; her dad had dementia and she was responsible for his medication, too. She couldn’t leave him alone. She couldn’t leave Tom alone, either.

She’d entered her marriage unaware that her husband had any emotional issues. Tom’s first suicidal episode in 1998 led him to share some things with her for the first time. His depression was far from new.

“Until a therapist asked me about my younger years, I really didn’t understand what I’d done in high school,” said Tom. “I just pushed it aside.”

He was an extremely sensitive teenager. Every breakup with a girl devastated him. He would intentionally hurt himself, then make up stories about what happened so people would feel bad for him. He once overdosed on aspirin and Sudafed, riding out the side effects alone in his room. No one ever knew.

Christy felt guilty hospitalizing Tom when he needed help, even when he begged her not to. A lot of prayer and consulting with one of their sons helped.

“It takes a lot of patience, understanding, empathy and listening because I really have no idea what [Tom] is going through,” she said. “It was really hard for me, wondering whether he was going to survive it. I had my own panic and anxiety trying to keep him from doing anything that would hurt him or making decisions about putting him in the hospital.”

Eventually, Tom recognized that Christy had made the best decision for him.

“I knew it’s what I needed,” he said. “She was very forgiving of me when I wasn’t of myself. I was almost hurt by that because she had the right to be angry at me and she shouldn’t care about me anymore.
I was confused by her loving me unconditionally after the way I had treated her over the years and things I had hidden from her.”

Life lessons

Admitting to mental illness is one of the hardest parts of all for Tom. When he finally accepted it, he was able to open himself up to help. Through a therapist, he learned to embrace his depression and ask God what he should learn or be aware of in each situation.

“When I look back, there were so many small but significant things put in my life that taught me something. Life’s challenges can help us become what God really wants us to be,” he said. “That doesn’t mean he wants me to be depressed or suicidal. Every one of those situations he took and turned around, teaching me something that changed my life for the better.”

These days, Tom has purpose again. He plays the French horn and is involved in his church. He has a 2-year-old grandson, Charlie, who always brightens his day.

“I practice being silent, knowing God loves me unconditionally without a shadow of a doubt. He never said, ‘I’m done with you.’” said Tom. “This doesn’t mean I will never be depressed or suicidal again, but I can’t imagine that now because I’ve never been happier.”

To help someone you’re concerned about

  • Be direct—speak openly and matter-of-factly about suicide
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Be willing to listen
  • Be nonjudgmental
  • Don’t lecture on the value of life
  • Don’t act shocked—this may put distance between you
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available
  • Take action
  • Get help from people specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention

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