"It’s only as scary as you make it. Reach out to somebody. Get that therapy session set up."
Steve Karlin told his mental health story at the 2019 Annual Conference on May 14 in Ames. This post has been edited for length and clarity:
I stand before you as a stupid and stubborn man. Pretty much my entire life, I’ve known that I have depression. I didn’t know that I had Attention Deficit Disorder. I thought I did, but I was able to find that out. I am a 1986 graduate of Iowa State University and I am still a stupid guy who is learning and I show my stupidity on a regular basis — on 5, 6 and 10. That’s unintentional and I apologize for not wearing a suit today. I just took one off at 11 p.m. last night and I couldn’t bear to put one on.
As far as the whole stupidity thing goes. I did have one very important moment of public stupidity and that was on Facebook. That’s where we all go to try to convince the word that we are as cool and caring of a person who we want to believe we are, right? Well, I went there for another reason last fall and that’s because I was incredibly frustrated with myself after coming to probably the most important realization of my life.
I’ll just go straight to the Facebook post:
I LOST IT TODAY.
Lynn and I were sorting through old pictures of the kids today and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Maisie is 21 and Lucy is 18 and it wasn’t until a few months ago that I became much more like the father I have always wanted to be. I have suffered from depression my whole life and I was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I am seeking counseling and treatment for both. It’s working very well and I now have an entirely new outlook on life. Tears began rolling down my face when I began thumbing through the first picture album. By the time I was halfway through I was done. I was overcome with emotion and sobbing. It dawned on my right then and there exactly how much my depression and ADD had negatively impacted my life as a spouse and my life as father to our two beautiful children, until I got a handle on it. I could have been more patient all those years, should have worked harder to erase the ever present negativity from my mind but my mental illness wouldn’t let me. My relationships with my wife and our kids have always been good but they could have been so much better. Today and from now on I am committed to making them the best that they can be. I am so happy and thankful that I have the opportunity. I am not seeking sympathy or praise in telling you this. I am simply telling my highly personal truth because I don’t want anyone else to live as long as I did with conditions that are so correctable. If you think you or someone you know may have a form of mental illness, please seek help. Life with it under control is wonderful. Please don’t be like me and wait so long. You won’t regret it. Thank you for reading this.
Thousands of people saw that. And my kids weren’t real happy with me because they wish I would have talked to them about it first but they’ve come to realize how important it is because they follow my KCCI Facebook page and they’ve seen the reaction to it, too.
My wife has been incredibly supportive, but it is very humbling to look back on nearly 25 years of marriage and with our lives with these two kids and think that if I had just taken steps earlier in my life to get this under control, everything could have been better. I’ve always had good relationships with my wife and kids, but after receiving treatment and going through therapy — and oh, you know, therapy. I’m going to talk about my problems — I grew up in a family where they said “Just tough it out" and “You should be able to push yourself through it" and “You should have the inner strength.” And maybe that was the biggest thing for me was admitting, well, maybe I am not as tough as I think I am. I can’t figure out everything.
So I went to therapy and I’ve been going for about nine months now and I am a totally different person. And it’s because I’ve been going there and I can talk with somebody who has no skin in the game. They simply listen to what I feel or my horrible, horrible difficulties in life and help me find a pathway forward. The result has been remarkable with the therapy and with my one medication that has no side effects other than it puts me in a place where I can be more happy.
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I say weird things to my therapist like “I can now empathize with people,” where before when I was sitting around a group of people and they’d be talking about their problems, I would say and I would do the right things, but I wouldn’t feel them. As weird as that may sound, I wouldn’t feel them deep in my heart, in my soul, and now I listen to people and I can feel it.
My relationships with people are much deeper. It’s just amazing what revealing this to myself has done to my entire world and the people who I come in contact with everyday. That’s my personal side and that’s what’s been really great for me about this. Honestly my whole life has changed.
But the public side of this, at first, I thought “Uh, why should I put this on Facebook. It just looks like you’re seeking sympathy” and all that, but I think in the back of my mind I knew when I wrote that, that I could help people. And we all want to help people. And this has been unbelievable. The things that people have written to me. The things that they have revealed about their own lives or relatives or people they know who have problems with mental illness and the struggles they have had. It has made me realize that I am lucky.
MAKE IT OK: End mental illness stigma
It took me finding the right therapist and that therapist being smart enough to put me on the right medication to get me to a very good place. There are people who have struggled with this through the process for decades. And its just unbelievable to me that a simple Facebook post could do that.
And the number of people who have said to me that they have sought counseling or that they are in the process. A number of people I have stayed in contact with and I am certainly not a counselor, but I can be a sensitive ear and who has empathy. And just help encourage them to continue with the problems they have. But a lot of people have sought counseling. A lot of people have said “I'm going after this. I'm going to take care of this for the first time in my life.”
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I have a good friend, one of my very best friends in the world and he showed up at a speaking engagement. I didn’t even know he was in the audience. And he said “Steve, because of you I am going to go seek counseling.” And that’s incredibly gratifying.
But the message I have to share is that it’s only as scary as you make it. Reach out to somebody. Get that therapy session set up. Admit to your family you have a problem. My wife’s a physician and I don’t know how many times over the course of our marriage, my wife said “Steve, I think you’re depressed. You should see somebody.” And I said “I’m good.” Well, that was stupid. And it just took way too long.
Steve Karlin (left) and Lyndsey Fennelly (right) pose with Healthiest State Initiative Executive Director Jami Haberl. Steve and Lyndsey both shared personal stories at the 2019 Annual Conference.
But please if you know somebody, if you’re in the position to encourage somebody to seek therapy or get help for a problem, please do it. Because the old expression is true. All I am doing is telling the truth — and the truth can indeed set you free.
Steve Karlin joined the KCCI team in 1989 and anchors the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts. Steve has won many awards for his anchoring and reporting from the Associated Press and the Iowa Broadcast News Association. Steve received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for best feature story in 2007, three regional Murrow Awards for feature reporting and three regional Emmys for best newscast anchoring. Steve is a graduate of Iowa State University, but he grew up in Iowa City and is still a diehard Hawkeyes fan. Steve lives in Des Moines with his wife, two college-aged daughters and two dogs.