My Recovery: Mark Welch
— I have always been a strong and hopeful person full of faith. I faced many obstacles in my life, always getting back up and kicked the dust off my feet and moved on. I relied on one of my favorite Bible verses, Romans 8:28, which says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
In 1988, I took a leap of faith and opened my own health club. Anyone who has started their own business knows the financial and stressful pressures you are under. During the next 12 years, our business had many successes and survived many obstacles. Also at that time, I added four more children to my family, became a certified personal trainer and nutrition counselor, provided for my family, tried to be an active father and husband, worked with Special Olympics and even helped in the start up of a few churches.
Even though life was very stressful, I was always positive about the future. In a threeyear period when a series of dramatic and life changing events occurred, however, it seemed like my life was spinning out of control.
Hurricane Floyd destroyed our business, leaving us in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We lost an investment property that had our life savings tied up in it. And then, hardest of all, we lost our oldest daughter in a car accident in February 2003.
The next 10 years is a “blur,” as my life began to rapidly spiral down. For those parents who have experienced this loss, you know that no parent wants to outlive their children. Needless to say, I was devastated, without hope or purpose. As time went on, I sepa-
rated myself from loved ones, stopped attending church, slept excessively, stopped exercising, developed awful eating habits, and eventually turned to recreational drug use to take away the pain.
So you ask yourself: How does a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, family man, provider, born-again Christian become severely depressed and addicted to recreational drugs?
Trauma, both physical and emotional.
We all have experienced it and we all suffer from it in some way. And research has shown it does affect our brains.
During that 14-year period of my downward spiral, I did seek medical attention, a lot of it. For anyone who experiences that tightness in their chest, upset stomach and restless thoughts, they know firsthand what anxiety feels like. Anxiety is real.
First I started on an anti-anxiety medicine, which helped take away all those symptoms, but it also took away my drive for success. I became numb, nothing bothered me. At times I was a walking “zombie.” I visited psychiatrists and counselors, and even went so far as to have 11 electroconvulsive therapy sessions to try and zap my brain back into balance. If you don’t know what ECT treatments are, watch the movie “One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest” with Jack Nicholson. It is a procedure where your brain is hooked up to electrical currents, causing seizures to try to “re-ignite” neurotransmitters in your brain.
This just continued my hopeless trail. They zapped my personality right out of me. The ECT treatments took away my ability to remember current things along with events that happened in the past. Once again, I lost more of myself. The doctors didn’t know what to do, they just kept increasing dosages of my medication, and adding new ones. I was now at the point where everyday tasks such as taking a shower became a struggle.
It was after this that I decided my family would be better off without me. I had no hope for a future. I could not find any purpose for me but continued pain and suffering for my family. I was worth more dead than alive — so I thought. I still believed in God, but I thought he had turned His back on me.
Through a series of events that I created, my intention was to end my family’s burden. I loved my wife and seven children so much, and I would never want to do anything to hurt them. But I thought I could cause a situation that someone could end my pain. Little did I know that there were lots of people praying for me — especially my wife! They prayed for God’s intervention from my horrific plan. Then one day when life became too unbearable, God answered their prayers.
God intervened by send- ing me to the Cecil County Detention Center for seven months, then seven weeks at the Department of Correction in Baltimore City and finally seven months at Poplar Hill pre-release unit in Salisbury. It was during that time that I started to heal by coming off the incorrect medications that were destroying my life. Again, I had a will to live and a purpose in my life. My family still loved me and needed me. God was not done with me yet.
On Sept. 26, 2014, I was released from Poplar Hill prerelease unit and reunited with my loving family, especially my wife who had diligently prayed and supported me throughout this time. It was after my release that I finally searched for some real answers to my problems.
In October 2014, I had my first SPECT scan. A SPECT scan shows the over and under-active levels in your brain. I learned when dealing with the brain and trauma, psychiatrists are the only doctors who do not look at the organ before making a diagnosis. They still use the same techniques they were using 100 years ago.
With a new focus, my physician could immediately see the actual problem. My new diagnosis was a head injury from falling down a flight of stairs when I was a teen, which fractured my skull and left me in a coma for three days, combined with several football concussions, boxing and post-traumatic stress disorder. Evidently, it was a deadly combination.
I was prescribed an anti-seizure medication that actually “put the fire out in my brain,” as my physician described. I’m sure there are many of you reading this today that understand that feeling.
I found that the medications that were prescribed to me over the past 10 years caused more harm than good. In six months time, I no longer struggle with depression. I still have some anxiety, but it is anxiety that keeps me motivated to be successful. I feel all my feelings, good and bad. I am not a zombie. I have gone back to exercising, taking care of myself and restoring broken relationships. I have also successfully become a licensed insurance broker and have picked up where I left off 16 years ago, resuming my wellness coaching practice. I have a desire and will to live and desire to help other people. I continue to strive to be the family man I once was (even better), and I attend church faithfully. My wife and I will be celebrating our 27th anniversary this year!
Looking back following my daughter’s death I wish I had understood what actually happens to your brain when faced with tragedy. I would have sought mental health professionals with elite knowledge of the brain instead of seeking out drugs, both legal and illegal, to numb my pain. Instead it took me down the wrong road.
To anyone reading who has experienced trauma, depression or addiction, or may just feel they have a mental health issue, or know someone who does, I want to offer a word of hope. Mental health is just as important as heart health. If you don’t take care of either of these organs, it can be deadly.
The good news is that it is curable when diagnosed and treated properly. You must look at the brain in order to know what area is out of balance, why is it out of balance, and know how to get it back in balance. And medication alone is not the only cure. There are other factors just as important to keep your brain healthy: get the junk food out of your diet, exercise to increase dopamine levels in your brain and utilize real nutritional supplements that can prove the quality of their product.
Unfortunately, society today judges people with mental health issues unfairly. I do carry shame for the things that I have done, the people that I have hurt, and for that I am truly sorry. Some people have forgiven, and some have not. I cannot change that.
What I do believe is quoted in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.”
One of the excellent programs I highly recommend is Celebrate Recovery. It is a faithbased recovery program for people who have experienced trauma, addiction and families with mental health issues. For more information on Celebrate Recovery, call 443-350-6694.