Unseen struggles: Texoma man recounts battles with invisible disabilities

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat

Editors note: The name of the subject of this story has been changed to protect the subject's identity. This story is a part of a series of stories in recognition of National Disability Awareness Month.

When the term disability comes to mind, many might think of a variety of conditions ranging from hearing loss or visual impairment to mobility issues that may cause someone to rely on outside assistance. However, not all disabilities are apparent to the naked eye.

For many years, Walter has coped quietly with clinically-diagnosed depression and anxiety that date back to childhood. For many years, he said his issues were not fully known, but looking back he could see the signs.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18 percent of Americans are living with an anxiety disorder.

“Kind of going backwards, I am late in life, I guess you’d say, discovering what my challenges are that I am facing,” he said. “I can look back on my childhood and see where I had struggles and didn’t know what they were.”

Throughout the month of October, the U.S. Department of Labor and Texas Workforce Commission are working to bring attention to the accomplishments of individuals in the workplace with disabilities. While this may include mobility and other well-known disabilities, it also includes some that are not apparent.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrated 30 years in 2020, depression and anxiety disorders can qualify as disabilities if they have been clinically diagnosed.

Walter’s first experience with anxiety came when he was a small child and went to a cookout with his parents. In the distance, a group of children were playing by a lake.

“We were at a lake, and kids were playing down by the water, not even 30 and 40 yards away, and I wouldn’t leave my parents’ side,” he said. “I wanted to go down there — it sure looked like fun — but I would just sit there with them. Finally, I don’t know if they took me down there, or kids came up, but once we got down there everything was just fine.”

Less than 40 percent of individuals with anxiety disorders are receiving treatment, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website says.

In his teenage years, the anxiety combined with depression. In one situation, Walter said he was falsely accused of something which led to further anxiety, isolation and depression.

“I didn’t know how to go talk to anyone about it,” Walter said. “It was a false accusation, but it sort of took a life all of its own. When we were doing some sports activities everything was fine. When we weren’t, it was a real struggle.”

These struggles continued into adulthood. Walter said the depression could be overwhelming.

“As I got older — and basically finishing up college — being married, I just kind of didn’t like who I was...what I was doing,” he said. “The lows were too low, and the highs weren’t good enough to offset anything.”

For several years, Walter worked in multiple school districts across North Texas, but each job would last less than two years. Now, he works as a truck driver.

“When I was at work, oddly enough, I could deal with things. Just just get going and just find your way through stuff,” he said.

Despite this, Walter said the signs of his issues were still there. One day after classes, he came upon a group of his students who were talking.

“I believe the phrase they used was, 'Coach got issues,’” he said.

Despite apparently coping on the job, Walter said he would expend all of his energy getting through the workday. This would leave him exhausted when he got home. There, he would escape into television, the internet and books as another way of coping.

Eventually, this led to strain with his wife.

“Things just kind of ended up that way,” he said. “It just kind at a point with my wife where she’d done everything she could do. So it was definitely a, 'get help' kind of situation.”

Over the years, Walter would go back and forth about seeking help, but this moment was a breakthrough and led him to be diagnosed. From there, he has continued to get assistance, including medication.

“I am more balanced,” he said. “It took 2-3 years just kind of adjusting to what normal is in this imperfect world.”