My name is Jordan Mathes and I battle severe anxiety and major depressive disorder.
That one sentence has taken me years to admit and say publicly. Most of you will be shocked to hear this fact about me, which is a testament to my ability to hide this debilitating mental illness for so long. That’s not to say I haven’t been a strong advocate for ending the stigma attached to these awful diseases. In fact, if you know me at all, you know that I’ve been preaching the dire consequences to this stigma for quite some time. However, I’ve finally realized that my lack of willingness to be honest about my mental health has been feeding the exact societal stigma I have been extrovertly fighting for years. How can I possibly lecture in such a way when I’ve been cowardly hiding my own fight for over a decade? That ends now. I want to tell my story. If it helps start a dialogue, or better yet, give courage to those like me to tell their own story, then this vulnerability will be worth it.
My story starts during high school; the ever so popular adolescence stage. During my early high school years my passion for baseball, the sport I love so much, became diminished to the point where I wanted to hang my cleats up. Off the field, things in my personal life became even worse. I started to evolve into someone I didn’t recognize when I would look in the mirror. I became reserved, distant and all too comfortable fading into the background in public settings. At night, the thoughts in my mind would take over, turning me into someone I was scared of.
I would cry myself to sleep on a daily basis and beg to any higher power that would listen to fight off the emotions that were controlling my inner self.
I chalked these episodes up to just being a young adult. I convinced myself that “everyone goes through this”. It seems like society wires us to think in this ill-informed manner. I was obviously wrong. But I coped for as long as I could. However, like anyone would during such a long period of taxing times, I became worn down and eventually broke.
I was comfortable enough with my own health — mental and physical — that I realized I needed help. I started to go to counseling and was prescribed a daily dose of Lexapro — the ever so popular anxiety and depression medication. For the next several years, this two pronged approach of medication and therapy had little effect in fighting off the anxieties that had long crippled me. This entire time, I fought alone. Mostly due to being terrified of how society would view me if the truth came out. The terms “Weak” and “Crazy” kept bouncing around in my head like a wrecking ball. I believe this inability to open up to my loved ones was the biggest element in my mental health crumbling to depths I never knew existed after my collegiate years.
After completion of my undergraduate degree, I moved to Kansas City with three of my closest friends and enrolled in graduate school at the University of Kansas. During this time, those same enervating thoughts that controlled me during my adolescent years finally returned. But this time they came back with a vengeance. I became physically and mentally unable to function at any sort of normal level.
I can remember the day I hit rock bottom in vivid detail. I couldn’t speak, move or even think straight. My heart was racing and my mind was frenzied with panic and irrational thinking.
I was a 23-year-old man being brought to my knees by my own head.
I curled up in bed and begged for comfort. After many hours, my roommates returned home to see my break down in full force. They sat with me for what seemed like days. They sat in silence as they watched their good friend become a victim of his own mind and body. I pleaded with them to take the hurt away. I begged them to make things right, even though I knew they were unable to understand what was happening. How could I possibly put into words the complexity of what was occurring in my head? However, they didn’t back down. And neither did I.
The darkness I have felt at my lowest points is an all-consuming sensation, which I don’t wish upon anyone. There are simply no words to describe the disposition I was in during these times. But I committed to myself that I would win the fight of a lifetime. Because that’s exactly what this fight is: a battle for your life. After several years of turbulent ups and downs — 8 therapists and higher dosages of Lexapro, I had an epiphany: “Jordan, you’re taking one step forward and 5 steps backwards”. I had to figure this out. Things simply weren’t working.
It was this realization that forced me to look at my mental health in a completely different light; with a dramatically different mindset. As a former athlete, up until my Junior year of college, I understood that the same mentality I used on the pitcher’s mound was exactly what I needed to conquer and win my own fight.
This is a competition. However, this time the opponent is myself.
This new outlook was a true game changer for my life and my fight with depression and anxiety. Every night I kept a stat book of sorts. Did I win the day? Or did my mental illness come away with the victory? If I did lose the day, I would write detailed accounts of my experiences so I could come back and make note of certain trigger points. This proved to be my “game film” of sorts that allowed me to analyze these stressors so I could learn more about my competitor and how I could be better prepared for the next fight.
During my athletic days, I understood that more knowledge meant being able to outsmart my opponent. This was especially true as an undersized pitcher that had to use my mind more than my natural born abilities to perform at a high level. Due to this, I immersed myself into the world of mental health research. This research led me to Genomind, a Pennsylvania based corporation that focuses on producing widely accessible genetic testing specifically focused on mental health. Genomind is one of several organizations perfecting this new science, called Pharmacogenomics, which was developed by the Mayo Clinic in 2013. A simple cheek swab is sent to their lab where they’re able to analyze how your body’s genetic makeup will aid or negatively affect the breakdown of common mental health medications within your body. This blew my mind.
“You’re telling me there is a test out there that will assist in telling me which medications will work with my body?”
Yes, please! No more medication roulette. No more waiting for months when I’m prescribed a new medication to see if my mind is being benefited or further derailed. No more praying that the 10th medication in three years will finally be “the one”. As excited as I was to find a local psychiatry office that could perform the test, I was also disheartened at how this mental health breakthrough is mostly unknown. “Shouldn’t this be on the front page of every national health publication?” I asked myself.
Shortly after my test was performed, the results were in. Of course, the numerous medications I had been taking for over a decade were in the “use with caution” column of the results. No wonder I wasn’t making significant progress; I was taking a rather useless medication for my body.
After consulting with my psychiatrist, I was prescribed Trintellix — one of two medications listed on my test results that my body should have a positive reaction with. Within three weeks of my first dosage, my mind begun to feel free for the first time in a decade. The proverbial fog had been lifted. I was back to a baseline that allowed me to experience the good AND inevitable bad days of life. The difference this time around is that those bad days weren’t crippling my mind and body. Instead, I was able to overcome. Don’t get me wrong, this genetic testing isn’t the only solution — nor should it be your only way of conquering your personal battles. I still find solace and strength in counseling, talking openly with my family and friends during my bad times, working out to increase my endorphins and eating a healthy diet that gives my body the nutrients it needs. Further, I rarely drink anymore and have started to practice meditation and mindfulness. However, this new science gave me the ability and more importantly, the proper tools, to fight again.
I have won that fight. So far. But its ongoing and demanding. There are simply no days off in this battle. It requires a greater amount of determination and persistence than I ever thought I possessed.
More importantly, it requires a vulnerability with the ones you love, which will in turn give you a comforting shoulder to lean on when your will to push forward has been broken. That is why I’m writing this; I want to help others that are losing that will. I want to be on the frontline of the battle to end the societal stigma attached to mental health. This is a health epidemic and its time we, as a society, start treating it that way.
So what can you do? It starts by talking openly to your friends and family, especially those you might suspect are going through tough times. My friends and family saved my life, which is something I don’t say lightly. Their readiness to drop everything and attempt to understand my pain is something I will forever be grateful for.
And finally, to those of you like me, I want you to know that I’m here for you, and always will be. If you’re struggling and the darkness starts to take over, open up to those in your life that you trust. If you think you have no one to talk to, then talk to me. I don’t care when or how; call, text, message, whatever it may be. I will always be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and fight like hell. I will never let you battle alone. That is my promise to you.
Stay the Course.
About the Author
Jordan Mathes is a born and raised Midwesterner with degrees from Truman State University and the University of Kansas. Jordan is now a Kansas City-based Entrepreneur; primarily focused on the food, beverage and hospitality industry. Currently, Jordan spends the majority of his professional time focused on building Tribe Street Kitchen, a new global street food concept located in the River Market District of Downtown Kansas City. Jordan is an avid outdoorsman, conservationist and mental health advocate.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Mental Health League. This content is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK) or go to speakingofsuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Please follow our Community Guidelines when commenting below.