Kevin R Tengesdal’s address with the 2016 Bismarck-Mandan Out of the Darkness Community Walk to help bring awareness to suicide attempts, depression, and PTSD, along with the stigma and silence of men and crisis mental health situations.
On a warm March day in 1988, there I was. A young 22-year old adventurer. Standing alone on a sidewalk under the San Diego sun, waiting for a bus. The Navy had just terminated my short career, discharging me because they found out I was gay. This intimate fact I had only recently admitted to myself, and with my family. Two grim, military police swiftly escorted me off the base, as a rebranded civilian. Riding the city bus to the airport, I was pondering, Who am I?, Where am I From?, Where am I Going? The young man I had been until that year, was gone. A new chapter was beginning in a journey of shadows, to continue for some thirty years.
How did depression and suicidal ideas begin controlling my life? In 1986, I had dropped out of college to start a worthy career with the Navy. Just over a year later, early in 1988, I was home on leave back here in North Dakota. It was then, on a cold winter night, when I was sexually assaulted by a man, and landed in an ER in Minot. Despite my insistent misgivings, the doctor convinced me to file a police report. The Minot Police Department promised that they would not report the case to the Navy, but they did.
When I returned to my ship in San Diego, the Chaplain called me to his office. He let me know that the Captain of the ship was contacted with the report. He also asked if I was a homosexual, a fact I was unable to deny. The Navy directly chose to conveniently discharge me, simply for being gay. First, they placed me in the psych ward for two weeks, to determine my condition, before I was escorted off the base, as a civilian.
Now, as a good ol’ boy from North Dakota, I never had considered the ordeal as something that needed to be treated professionally. I forced myself to move on, and create a new life. It was time to perfect my Christian walk with God. As a virtuous man with strong convictions, I purposefully ignored the events, and tucked the memories into the dark recesses of my mind. For many years I tried to keep the details a secret. At times, I wanted people to know, and yet always wanting to be accepted. As an actor, I am able to craft different masks to hide the torment from others. To protect others. The years saw periods of great darkness, much self-medicating with alcohol, rounds of cutting, and several attempts to kill myself. The first attempt was that Summer of 1988.
Inspired by “Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy”
Nostalgic Glass • Shane Balkowistch
This past Winter, I began yet another chapter, with new promise, and healing. Overall, I had denied how intense my life had gotten — until shortly after my 50th birthday. Mentally and emotionally, I broke and crumbled. Again, it began with a night of trying to save myself from depression and loneliness. When the night proceeded with cutting, I conceded I really needed help, and admitted myself to the ER.
With the failing political status regarding behavioral, and mental health programs here in North Dakota, I had to wait in the ER 12 hours, before a bed opened at St. Alexius. Initially, they wanted to send me three hours east to Fargo, which had the closest crisis bed opening. This is all too common for crisis mental health services across North Dakota, with some of our counties having none.
The psychologist, to whom I was assigned, she had the wisdom to see behind my facades, to read between the lines. Within weeks after that lonely night in the hospital, she diagnosed me with PTSD. This had been festering unchecked from that mess of thirty years ago.
Remarkably, a distressing elbow shattering in July 2013 seemingly broke a crack open within the dank recesses of my mind. With this new breach, the disregarded seeped out. It amplified my social anxieties and depression. Surprisingly, December 2013 was when I ended a long-standing, dependent relationship with alcohol. Through 2014 and into 2015, learning to live life without self-medicating, my emotions experienced life raw, and not numbed. Those were terrifying times.
Starting in March, my psychologist and my EMDR therapist began concentrated treatment for my depression, and the neglected traumas. They worked diligently with me on this life of consequential PTSD created by the sexual assault, and ensuing events in 1988. Over many years, I struggled with several therapists for differing issues, but my life never changed, all because I did not cooperate. Through my psychologist now, we have gained significant recovery. Faith, prayer, and friendships helped. From this therapy, several triggers no longer cloud my life. Shame is no longer controlling my life. Daily, I fight against depression and loneliness from visiting. Through it all, I am no longer a puppet to a fear of living.
It has been said, “Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.” During some of the darkest periods, I had close people in my life walk away. At the same time, some relationships grew stronger. Gratefully, a couple close friends knew how to see behind my masks, keeping me in check. I am deeply appreciative for those friends. Through it all, I remained committed with my faith in Christ. It is an evolving faith of persistently questioning God, always looking to His grace and mercy.
Gratefully, by God’s grace, I weathered through the darkest storms of my life, and I am seeing improvement. God is still in control. God is at work in my life. Each day is renewed hope, knowing that I can deny suicidal thoughts and depression, from gaining a foothold. With a restored outlook on life, I am aiming to share my story.
I am advocating for men who have been, or currently are enduring situations similar to mine. I know there is hope. We men must be open, and authentic with our mental health struggles. I believe that where there is hope, there will be help. We need for us North Dakota stoic men to quit being silent! Enough is enough! We need to work together to end the stigma, and silence of men, depression, and suicide. One to One, let us help each other shatter the silence.
Mental Health America of North Dakota
24 hours / 7 days
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
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