People have told Pete Wright that, from the outside, his life looked trouble free: loving wife and kids, fulfilling career, all the signs of success. On the inside, Pete has struggled for years with chronic depression. He shares the story of his journey, from a place where he once attempted suicide to discovering joy in the everyday details of life.
Guest: Pete Wright
- Wright attends Matthews United Methodist Church, which has a mental health ministry named Hope for Minds & Hearts.
- Matthews UMC features its members on a video series titled "GodStory." Wright shared his GodStory recently.
- Wright credits numerous books with helping him on his journey, including "Darkness Visible" by William Styron.
Popular related items on UMC.org
- "Silent no more: One pastor shares mental health struggles"
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This episode posted on May 19, 2023.
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The following episode discusses mental illness and suicide and may be distressing for some people.
Before we get started with today's podcast episode, I'd like to tell you about a new resource called Safer Sanctuaries Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities. This comprehensive resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries continues the tradition of safe sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. To learn more, go to safersanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433.
People have told Pete Wright that, from the outside, his life looked trouble free: loving wife and kids, fulfilling career, all the signs of success. On the inside, Pete has struggled for more than 30 years with chronic depression. He shares the story of his journey, from a place where he once attempted suicide to discovering joy in the everyday details of life.
Today's episode is dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Vance Lowe.
Crystal Caviness, host: Pete, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.”
Pete Wright: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here today.
Before we continue our conversation with Pete Wright, I'd like to share more about “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities.” For Christians, resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus Christ safer. Sanctuaries, which continues the tradition of safe sanctuaries ministry that has guided churches for more than 25 years, contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan in your church or organization.
By framing the work as a life-giving community and proactive endeavor, communities are empowered to develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. Now let's continue our conversation with Pete Wright.
Crystal: I thank you for being a part of this important conversation. We are recording this episode during Mental Health Awareness Month, and our hope at “Get Your Spirit in Shape” is that by having honest conversations about mental health, that we can work to destigmatize and raise awareness about mental health challenges that are in our homes, in our churches and in our communities. So, just to get started, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself?Pete: Sure. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of seven children, the last. My mother was a first generation American. Her parents came over from Ireland, the turn of the century. And being the last child, I had a great seat to watch all the ponies run ahead of me. We grew up in a Catholic church and all of my brothers and sisters went through Catholic high School. My parents were pretty much done with Catholic high school by the time they got to me. And so I went to a public high school after that. Went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Crystal: You're currently a member at Matthews United Methodist Church in the greater Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Tell me a little bit about how you made your way to The United Methodist Church.
Pete: Sure. Mary, my wife and I were married in the Catholic church that I grew up in. She didn't really come from a tradition of being a churchgoer, but had a strong spiritual yearning. Our first several years of marriage were sort of a home in a way. We'd go to Catholic church one week and, and then we'd go to whether it was a Lutheran or Presbyterian service the next week. But that all changed, started to change really, when we had kids. And, well, I should say it really didn't start when we started having kids. It started after my depressive episode that we decided to go, we had to go as a family to one church.
Crystal: Well, we're going to talk about that, your depressive episode as you referred to it. So you have been open in sharing your story that includes struggling with a chronic depression diagnosis. Can you tell us about that? How that happened that you found yourself with that diagnosis, kind of what led up to that? And we're going to talk about your healing journey as well.
Pete: When I was 28, my wife and I and our young daughter at the time, Lindsey, moved to Dallas, Texas, to take a job. I was on a fast growth track with the company that had hired me to move to Dallas. It was somewhat higher pressure, but really the pressure was being put on by myself. At the time, my, we were leaving Cincinnati, my friends held a party for us going away and my mother was there and told me that she had lung cancer. And, it was very difficult. My mother and I were very, very close. She, well, she was always a member of the Catholic community. She was an inspiration to me. She held interdenominational, interracial prayer groups in the, our home in the 1970s, which was pretty out there. And it was a charismatic Christian.
I attended church, not necessarily church meetings, but prayer meetings with her where I spoke, saw people speaking in tongues and prophesizing and realized that their, the spiritual body is not just going to church. So when we moved to Texas, I had this job, and we also had another child on the way. At the end of the two years, in June of 1991, my mother passed away and I had a huge sense of guilt for not being there, for her. Being the youngest, you're always the favorite, or at least that's what the older ones say. And at the same time, my work had come to a fruition and I was really making progress with the accounts I was trying to sell to. But a customer took something I said out of context and put the company in a very bad light.
And I offered to resign. And I was so cocky I figured that they wouldn't accept it, but they did. And so now I'm in 30 years old looking for a job and I had five job offers within about six weeks. But I also noticed that I lost 30 pounds within six weeks. My hands would shake. I couldn't control it. I wasn't interested in eating. I didn't know what was happening. And so I took the lowest paying job, because I saw the greatest potential in it. I went to Los Angeles for training, and while on training, back in the hotel room, I tried to commit suicide.
Crystal: I really don't even know how to, you know, I mean, for you to be at that place, at that dark, dark, hopeless place. I don't even know how respond to that other than to say how brave you are to admit that and to talk about it. And you have been, for a while. You tried to commit suicide, did not succeed in that. Was that a pivot for you? Or was it much slower to come out and to kind of start saying, what's going on?
Pete: Well, Crystal, I think it was both a pivot and a process over time. I came back from LA to Dallas. I told my wife what happened. Her father got on the phone with me. Both my wife and my father-in-law insisted that I'd be hospitalized, which I was for two weeks. I don't think, without their insistence I would've done that. Because clearly I was not thinking right. And clearly there was something medically going on. You don't lose 30 pounds in six weeks without having some issues. But I had never experienced any episodes of depression from a clinical standpoint. And that's one of the things I think our society is struggling with, is that our vocabulary isn't accurate in describing the difference between feeling down or sad or disappointed versus depression, which is really a medical condition that can be addressed and cured and allow people to live a joyful life going forward.
Crystal: Is the culture, because we don't differentiate between those two, does that set us up to be dismissive of a depressive diagnosis as of something that you're just feeling down right now? And others may dismiss it, or we may even dismiss it ourselves?
Pete: It is compared to other diseases. Like with cancer, doctors now have the optimal technology to see where the cancer is. And so people that aren't familiar with clinical depression, it's never something that a doctor can physically see. And they can diagnose it based upon attributes and things you're experiencing, but it's not something that was easy to see. And if you've never had experience with it, and then you're also confusing it with normal ups and downs of life that can lead to it being a little bit dismissive. And it, it was more so with our parents' generation because they use words like, suck it up, you just need to have the courage, gut check. Those are things that really don't have anything to do with depression.
Crystal: You know, you used a word earlier, you said you're able to live a joyful life. And I can imagine if we have any listeners right now who may be struggling with depression, they may think joyfulness is something, joy is something that seems so elusive. Can you talk about your path to getting to a place where you can sit there and say, I'm able to live a joyful life?
Pete: Well, it's been 32 years since that episode, and I could say honestly, that I couldn't have written a more joyful and exciting life than I've been able to experience. The day after trying to commit suicide in the year or two afterwards, there was always doubt in my mind about not that I was going to ever try again, but there was, was doubt that I would start feeling like my old self. And it's a process. And I've come to realize, it sometimes sounds trite, but when one window closes, another one opens. And looking back on the last 40 years, I've seen that play out time and time again. When I was in college, my best buddy and I ran for president and vice president of our fraternity, and I lost, and I was very disappointed. But I moved out of the fraternity house and my future wife was my next door neighbor, and his was too.
Pete: So that is so much more important than any little election. And then when I, I look what happened with my depressive episode where I needed to be hospitalized, what it probably did for me was wake me up to some things that I had going on with me and my views of what success were. And it probably prevented a greater downfall later on in life. So I started a new job. The gentleman that hired me at this company, hired me. I was there one day, and then I had to be hospitalized for two weeks, and he held my job for me. That's phenomenal to think about really. In the first year I was the top salesperson in the company, making more than the chairman, but that doesn't fill that, that can't be your only source of happiness. And I think that people who have a loved one, friend that they think might be becoming depressed need to really intervene, because in my case, I didn't know what it was, what was going on. And I, I don't think without my father-in-law's insistence and my wife's support and insistence, I would've done the right things. I would've just probably blown it off or tried to muscle the way through it. And that's not courage. That's stupidity.
Crystal: You know, you shared something with me earlier that doctors can address the physical and mental parts of the disease, but it's the church that can address the spiritual. Can you elaborate on that?
Pete: Sure. And the health professionals are critical to recovery and addressing this, whether it's psychiatrists who are really the only ones that can prescribe antidepressants to psychologists and therapists who try to clean up some of your thinking that might have gotten misaligned. And then your MD is the person that really monitors that. But that, that takes care of the physical part of it. And some of the mental, but a lot of the mental and the spiritual have to be addressed through your church and faith. And I was fortunate. It didn't happen day one, but it, it happened probably from a base of my mother's mentorship in Christianity to us getting to a point as a family where we found a church home in Matthews United Methodist Church. There are lots of different ways that you can build the spiritual healing that's necessary and build your faith, whether that's with Sunday school, where you can also be a teacher as, as well as a participant. I've always found that teaching leads to a deeper understanding of the material. Or fellowship and friendships that occur in church. And of course, the sermons. We've been very blessed with our senior pastors. And our pastors have opened up the church to be as inclusive as possible and non-judgmental. So that's important.
Crystal: Before we continue our conversation with Pete Wright, I'd like to share more about Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities. For Christians, resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus Christ safer. Sanctuaries, which continues their tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry that has guided churches for more than 25 years, contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan in your church or organization. By framing the work as a life-giving community and proactive endeavor, communities are empowered to develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. Now let's continue our conversation with Pete Wright.
Crystal: You have talked about this in your church with your church family, so clearly there was a safe space created for you to be able to do that. Can you talk about the ministry that happens at Matthews United Methodist Church around the topic of mental health
Pete: I had been thinking about giving my testimony, and the reason is not because I felt any guilt. This was a disease that I didn't control. But as I've gotten older, I think it's a responsibility now to share this. There's a genetic component too potentially to people that suffer through depression. And I have adult children now, and they didn't know this story until last weekend when I gave my testimony at church. But a safe place happens at church because of the leadership, the pastors and being inclusive and focusing on societal or spiritual mental issues. And we have a fabulous group at Matthews United that focuses on mental health and, and all, and counselors that have been trained to assist in that process. And I think that's really important because lay people like my wife at the time, or even my father-in-law, although he recognized some of the things going on, there's lots of people that don't. And so it's a really, really important ministry,
Crystal: Pete, for churches that don't have mental health ministry or really just are not even having the conversations. I mean, I believe that mental health challenges happen in every family. I don't believe, honestly, that there's a family that escapes that one way or the other. But how can a church, how can church members start having those conversations? How, what kind of, what kind of responses or what kind of questions are actually helpful?
Pete: Hmm. I've never thought about that, but I do think it's an issue of bringing out from the dark what mental health is. We're fortunate that we're much better off in talking about these types of issues than our parents' generation. I think having the dialogue, having a ministry that's available for people to it, it might be their son or daughter that's going through it, a church member. And so they need to talk to somebody about that and eliminate and reduce the stigma. I was talking to a close friend today that I shared my testimony with and he was surprised. He said, from the outside, everything looked perfect. And I, he said, you know, you can't confuse that and I appreciate your courage. And I said, no, no, it didn't take courage to either try to commit suicide or to talk about it. It's just something that happened. It's a disease and it can be addressed.
Crystal: But a lot of people don't talk about it and choose not to. So there is, there is an element of that. You did have the courage to do that. And so what's the response been? I mean, this is new for you telling your story. So what are people saying back to you?
Pete: They're glad that I failed because I've had 30 plus years of friendships and my siblings, and they've all been very positive. My family members, my brothers and sisters knew what happened, maybe not in the same detail, but, or been very supportive. My friends were surprised. But 1991, it was a different era, a little bit of, there wasn't the constant communication that goes on with cell phones that goes on today. And that's a plus and a minus. I think you can reach out to people now more easily than when you had to worry about long distance phone call charges. But there's also some destructive influences too from social media and even before social media. It's the biggest challenge I think people face is trying to compare themselves to others. And God has created us all uniquely and to have our unique path and to help us move forward with that. But sometimes we also lose track of that by trying to be the best salesperson or trying to win this accolade or that award. And at the end, those things don't really matter. It's the love of family, the love of friends, and if you are reaching out to help others,
Crystal: You know, in the past 30 plus years since your depressive crisis, tell me about your personal relationship with God. Did you feel God was there with you? Was that not part of the, the relationship at that time? What's that look like for you?
Pete: No. God was always there. I've never gotten angry at God or denied God. Sometimes I've wondered why things happened, but it's not God's fault by any means, or He wasn't with me. He was always there with me. I did seek some help at the Catholic church that we were attending in Dallas or partially attending. But just because somebody is a minister and a spiritual guide doesn't mean that they understand all the physical things. And it really is a physical thing because essentially clinical depression is a lack of serotonin in your brain. It's a chemical reaction to something. Typically it's some kind of a trauma. In my case, it was losing my mother and losing a job that I had put a whole lot into. And so my relationship with God has been good. I’m a sinner like all of us are. I'm never perfect and never going to be perfect. But I think that when you're 30 or 25. And teenage suicide is a growing issue in this country, partly because of the social media aspects and people not getting to understand what is really going on. It's not the outside of that person. So my relationship is deepened. It was always good. That's probably what saved me in many ways. And it's been a support throughout the last 32 years. And I would say that our church has deepened my relationship with God.
Crystal: Is your depression, in that it is a disease, is it something that you're dealing with on a regular basis and there's a consistent intentionality to your self-care?
Pete: I would say for me, my experience was I had this significant event that happened and I was in the care of psychologists and taking medicine for a few years and then I didn't need it. And then I had founded a company when I was 40 and sold it. And it wasn't a failure, but it wasn't a great success. And my partner left the business pretty quickly after we sold it. I stayed and I could start seeing some signs coming back, nothing anywhere near, but I could recognize it. And so I immediately went into the doctor and so I’m on antidepressants today. And what the doctor said to me is that sometimes their understanding is an event happens and someone is treated and they never have an issue again. Other times it's a, a low grade, long lingering thing, condition, which is not what happened with me. But they have said that if you've experienced it once and you saw it coming again, it's just safer and better for you to be on a low level dosage of antidepressants.
Crystal: As we finish up today, Pete, is there anything we didn't talk about that you wanted to share about your story? There's so many pieces to it and I'll definitely, we have an episode page and I'll link to your Godstory on that page, which tells, gives more details to your story. But is there anything you wanted to share with our audience?
Pete: Sure. I would say for the family members who have a family member they think is, might be going through it, don't give up on them. You have to carry them through. You have to be insistent. It's not a choice on their part. And there's plenty of help that's out there. Although I would say it's pretty hard these days since the pandemic to get the help people need on a mental capacity, just because of the availability of psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists. The medicine is very critical to stabilize at the beginning and then give the patient the ability to walk through and go forward. And I know you asked me sort of about self-care too. For me it's daily prayer. First thing I do in the morning, last thing I do at night. And I, you need to learn perspective on things, but not by through comparison to other people.
You have to really understand the role that you have. It might not be the role that you think you should have had, but what God wants you to do. And the Lord's prayer is really important to me. In the last three or four years, I have received a different interpretation of the phrase in there that “yours is the kingdom, yours is the power, and yours is the glory.” And I, I started to think back to my early thirties and think that all humans in some way, either they, they want kingdom, they want power or they want glory. And for me it was probably more the glory and the kingdom, but never really interested in power. But it's all His and we're all here a short time and we're here to help each other.
Crystal: Yeah. In the south we have a phrase in “that'll preach, Preacher” <laugh>.
Pete: I have never heard that.
Crystal: You really just alluded to it, so it may be a redundant question, but the last question we do ask all of our guests on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” is how do you keep your own spirit in shape? You've certainly answered that question and how you've talked about your self-care, but is there anything else that you want to share in answering that question?
Pete: You have to have a sense of humor to get through life. A and you have to be able to laugh at yourself and your fallacies and idiosyncrasies. But life is rich, but it's also short and you need to enjoy it and be joyful and look for the small things that are really precious, like a new grandson, a new daughter-in-law. So those are the things that make life special.
Crystal: Indeed they are. Thank you so much, Pete, for being a guest on “Get Your Spirit in Shape.”
Pete: Thank you.
EpilogueThat was Pete Wright, a United Methodist in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, who shared the story of his journey with depression. To learn more about Pete's story, go to umc.org/podcast and look for this episode where you will find helpful links and a transcript of our conversation. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me at a special email address just for, “Get Your Spirit in Shape” listeners, [email protected]. If you enjoyed today's episode, we invite you to leave a review on the podcast platform where you listen. Thank you so much for joining us, for You’re your Spirit in Shape.” I’m Crystal Caviness and I look forward to the next time that we are together.
Today's “Get Your Spirit in Shape” episode is sponsored by “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities,” a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. This resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan. To learn more, go to SaferSanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433.