For close to 40 years, Stan woke up each day feeling as if he were going to die.
"Mornings were like doomsday," he recalls, describing his depression, alcohol use disorder, and prescription drug misuse.
"It was like everything was just dead … that you're going to die today, the kids are going to die … the sun isn't shining."
But now the 58-year-old Vietnam veteran says he wakes up with a zest for life he hasn't felt since he was a kid.
He's gotten sober. He kicked problems with morphine and methadone, which were prescribed to him for pain. And he's coming off the antidepressant medicines he's been taking for more than 30 years.
Getting there hasn't been easy.
Stan's depression began after he came home injured from the Vietnam War. He started drinking heavily. He had nightmares and hallucinations.
No one talked about PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] back then, he says. "They called it something like a psychotic, depressive reaction. It just gradually got worse and worse."
Surgery for his injuries led to a medical retirement and the end of a hoped-for military career. The depression, medicines, and alcohol made it hard to keep a job, he says, which made him more depressed. And angry.
Alcohol made him dangerous. He was jailed or hospitalized several times for violence. His body is covered with scars from vehicle accidents and surgeries. And he's been through several drug and alcohol rehab programs.
A trip to a hospital in 2006 made him realize what he was doing to himself and his family.
"I was dying of drugs," he says. A doctor told Stan he had severe PTSD. "I always thought that was seen as a weakness."
He went through drug rehab one more time. Six months later, Stan walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting again. "I'd been to AA before, but this was the first time I was willing to do anything to recover. It's changed my whole life," he says.
Through AA, Stan's done lots of soul-searching. He's made amends with those he's hurt over the years, including himself. And for the first time in his life, he's started down a spiritual path.
He says that talking things out, whether it's been with other veterans or at AA meetings, has helped him. But depression can make talking hard.
"When I'm depressed, I'm so far down that I can't reach out to people to tell them I'm depressed. It's literally like a hole I can't get out of."
Now, he says, the "noise in his head" is quieting and his nightmares have stopped. Listening to music helps. And for the first time in years, he can read and focus.
"It's a miracle that my life has turned out the way it has."
Stan's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Stan, to protect his privacy.
For more information, see the topic Depression.
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Lisa S. Weinstock MD - Psychiatry