Brent Blonigan has two large tattoos on his forearms, easily visible since the sleeves of his button-down are rolled up to his elbows.
One tattoo is of St. Michael and reads, “Be true to yourself.” Another one says “Born to die.”
“That’s about living in the present, don’t worry about stuff you don’t have control over,” Blonigan said. “Stay present.”
“I’ll probably add a third one here that says ‘no silver bullets,’” he added.
“There are No Silver Bullets” is not only the title of the McKinney resident’s first book, a deeply personal account of his intimate relationship with depression; it seems to be his mantra for life as well.
“It means that in a world of immediate gratification, everybody’s looking for a quick fix, we all want it now,” he explained. “When we don’t get something now, people get angry, some people get depressed, some people get addicted.”
For years, Blonigan was searching for a silver bullet to soothe the dull ache of depression, mostly in the form of antidepressants, adrenaline rushes and buying things. A native of Minnesota, he had a troubled childhood – through age five, he was a nonverbal child. In his book, Blonigan writes of the panic attacks and being “afraid of everything.” He had a fear of being alone and unloved, though he describes his parents as loving caregivers.
“I came from a Catholic background. Lots of rules and regulation, lot of shame,” he said. “I think coming from that background has its good and bad – good that there’s a discipline associated with that and an orientation to help others, but as far as my family’s impact on me, it’s been good and bad.”
For much of his adult life, Blonigan lived in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked for a bonding company. When they sold out, he had an opportunity to take a job with Grayhawk Insurance and Risk Management in Dallas. He’s lived in McKinney for 13 years.
But his depression couldn’t be put on hold because of his job. Throughout his working life, Blonigan has had several major depressive episodes and several hospitalizations, or as he calls it in one chapter of his book, “Back in the cuckoo’s nest.”
His experience with antidepressants was, to put it lightly, not positive. To name just a few, Blonigan has taken Ativan, BuSpar, Celexa, Cymbalta, Effexor, Elavil, Paxil and lithium. He recalls his experience with lithium as being in an “emotional strait-jacket,” functional but feeling no emotion.
“When I used antidepressants I had high expectations for immediate results. When I did not feel better immediately, I was terrified; I was not sure I could wait until the drugs had a chance to work,” he writes in “No Silver Bullets.”
“I don’t accept what’s going on right now as far as the pharmaceutical companies and healthcare,” Blonigan said. “The pharmaceutical companies right now advertise directly to people through TV, through radio, through newspapers, and many of these ads come across as silver bullets. People swallow that stuff up and find out there’s all kinds of side effects.
“I’m not saying stop using antidepressants’ I’m saying, rather than being used as a primary device, it should be used as a secondary device. There’s a time and place for antidepressants. There are no absolutes. What works for one may not work for another. Labels are for cans; they’re not for people.”
What’s worked more for Blonigan over the past several years has been a change from the inside out. He’s gotten comfortable with himself and his illness. He talks a lot about “narrative therapy,” or the power of storytelling; to share your story is not only therapeutic for the storyteller, but it lets other people in the same kind of place know that they are not alone and they have nothing to feel ashamed or fearful of.
“People need to be able to be comfortable to talk about depression and mental health. There is still a stigma,” he said. “There are a number of psychiatrists and psychologists that are starting to write about storytelling and the power of narrative, the importance of the person to tell the story and communicate it.
“Our stories are sacred and we hold them within, but by sharing that story, we’re helping others and we’re helping ourselves.”
Blonigan has also learned to live in the present and not distract himself from pain or uncomfortable thoughts. Distractions are only silver bullets, and they can be anything from a cell phone to television to the internet.
“We’d rather be go-go-go. That’s kind of unfortunate. We run around and try not to think about our fears or inadequacies,” he said. “Why don’t you just slow down and look around at nature?”
Mostly, he’s learned that nothing, whether it’s taking antidepressants or going shopping or eating, does not address what’s in your mind and soul. What’s there is there, and he has to face it head on and make peace with it.
“Embrace the mess. It’s not neat. Don’t try to control it, just embrace it.”
Blonigan will host a book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday at the The Frogg Coffee Bar, 832 Watters Creek Blvd. at Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm. Readers can buy a copy at brentbloniganbooks.com or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.