Life worth living: Green emerges from dark days caused by anxiety and depression with desire to pitch again

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QUINCY — The book fits in Drake Green’s hands the same way a baseball always has. It also serves the same purpose, too.

It brings him comfort.

Green wrapped his hands around “The Secret Power of Speaking God’s Word” by Joyce Meyer as he sat at a picnic table on a sun-drenched afternoon. He clasped his fingers behind the spine of the 243-page book and thumbed through the contents, landing on one of the pages he’s read repeatedly the last three months.

On it are Bible verses, mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. No matter which one Green reads, it resonates.

“When I get anxious, I just go to it,” Green said. “I carry the book around with me throughout the day, and it makes it really easy on me to calm down and fight through it.”

That’s a fight he learned you cannot win alone.

A year ago, Green appeared to have every opportunity for success laid out in front of him. He had just completed his senior season on the Quincy High School baseball team, earning All-Western Big Six Conference honors after posting a 6-1 record and a 1.08 earned run average. He was headed to play for a premier junior college program.

Inside, though, he was deeply troubled. Anxiety and depression pushed him to the point he took an unloaded shotgun, sat on his bed and contemplated suicide.

It took family, friends and professional help to convince Green suicide should never be the answer.

“It’s an illness. It’s not something you can just run away from,” Green said. “If you do, you’re going to find your life is going to be a lot harder.”

Once Green stopped running, all of that became clear.

Changes in attitude

Outward appearances can be deceiving. They never were in Green’s case. His personality projected an outgoing, happy-go-lucky soul.

“I would describe him as goofy and fun-loving,” said Taylor Frink, a Quincy High School softball player who became a close friend. “He likes to have fun.”

At least he did until the anxiety and depression took hold.

“Since I’ve seen him change, he’s more cut off from the world,” Frink said. “He’s more self-conscious of his own issues. I see both sides in him.”

The changes began more than a year ago during the spring semester of his senior year at QHS. He was in the middle of his best season pitching at the varsity level — he struck out 57 batters in 51 innings and tossed a one-hit shutout against Moline — and outwardly showed confidence, tenacity and determination each time he took the hill.

However, his demons were taking hold. It started with panic attacks at school.

“I’d go in the bathroom and start bawling,” Green said. “The walls literally started to seem like they were caving in on me.”

It affected his attitude and demeanor. Green’s father, Rick, said his son was starting to have anger outbursts.

As Green’s anxiousness worsened, his parents reached out to a doctor, who prescribed Lexipro and Xanax. It provided a short-term help.

“I got through the season,” Green said.

It led into a summer of anticipation.

He and his brother, Derek, both signed to play baseball at Parkland Community College in Champaign, and there was a chance they could immediately contribute for the Cobras. Parkland was going to be the preseason favorite in the MidWest Athletic Conference and seemed to have a shot at reaching the NJCAA World Series.

“I was excited,” Green said.

He left for school in August, but the anxiety issues persisted. Green began experiencing insomnia, and his doctors prescribed Trazodone.

“It made me sleep like 18 or 19 hours a day,” Green said.

He started missing classes and workouts and struggled to function like a normal college student. The Parkland coaching staff and administration saw signs of trouble, so they helped Green take a medical withdrawal from school without losing any eligibility.

It didn’t sit well at first.

“I was devastated,” Green said. “I knew we were going to have a great team this year. I wasn’t going to be able to play. I was going to have to wait until next year. I started getting really depressed.”

The combination of depression and anxiety turned Green into a hermit.

“I had some of the worst days of my life,” Green said. “I’d sit in bed all day, and I couldn’t force myself to get up. My coach noticed it started getting really bad. He was like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out. We want you to get healthy.’

“My heart just dropped. I was devastated. It was nights of crying. I couldn’t sleep.”

He moved home, got a job at a Quincy restaurant and started taking classes online through Parkland with the expectation he would eventually return to the campus.

Those plans changed.

‘I was looking down the barrel’

Green had gone to Champaign in February to visit his brother and some friends, and he was headed home on Super Bowl Sunday in snowy conditions.

An accident involving a semi-truck driver, in which Green’s vehicle was swept off the road, created more issues and more anxiety. It led to an appointment with a counselor at the Illinois Sports Performance Psychiatrists in Champaign, who interviewed Green and performed tests on his brain.

Green was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, clinical depression and generalized anxiety.

“Right there, it was like, ‘Man, oh my,’” Green said. “The most devastating part was thinking I would never play baseball again.”

He felt alone. He started losing faith. He questioned his future.

He thought about taking his life.

Frink sensed a growing problem with Green.

“I took it very seriously,” she said. “I told him everything was going to be OK and that I would help him get help. I know he had been seeing a therapist, but I told him if that wasn’t working, I’d help him find another one.”

Frink never had that chance. She and Green began texting one day in March, and his messages were suicidal.

“He told me he was going to some creek and throw his phone in the water so no one could get a hold of him,” Frink said.

Frink immediately tried to get in touch with Green’s mom, Toni, but she didn’t answer at first. Frink then called the Quincy Police Department’s non-emergency number and described the situation. Shortly thereafter, Frink connected with Toni, and the wheels to save his life — not just in that moment but in its entirety — were put into motion.

“I ended up sitting in my bed, and I texted my best friend, Taylor Frink, and I said I don’t think I could do this anymore,” Green said.

Throughout the conversation, Green had an unloaded shotgun with the shells within an arm’s reach.

He contemplated reaching for them.

“I had a shotgun in my hand,” Green said. “I was looking down the barrel.”

He never loaded the gun.

“When you’re in that state of mind, you really don’t think you should be here,” Green said. “You really think people don’t want you here. I probably would have ended up doing it, and that would have been a huge mistake.”

His three nephews and one niece were on his mind when he set the gun aside.

“I could never imagine what they would have gone through to not have an uncle be here anymore,” Green said.

Toni rushed home from work and talked him out of doing anything drastic. Rick reached out to an off-duty state police officer, who met with the family and talked Green into checking into the Blessing Hospital Behavioral Center.

“Awful. It’s awful,” Rick said of that day. “I think of a kid that age with all the potential and his entire life in front of him. It makes you sick to think he doesn’t value his life.”

Green spent a week in the behavioral center.

“It was really hard,” he said. “There were people who really needed to be there and you’re thinking, ‘Am I one of these types of people? Is my mindset like this?’”

He needed to be there as well.

“There’s two voices in my head, and they don’t correlate,” Green said. “You have the depression where you’re sitting in bed all day. You get up, but you’re tired and just down on yourself. My insomnia, that comes with the anxiety, and it keeps me up all night. I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I didn’t do anything all day. Now I have to do my homework. Now I have to gather all this stuff.’

“It’s tiring. It’s so tiring.”

He learned he needed to cope with it.

He learned didn’t have to do it alone.

“I realized suicide’s not worth it, and a lot of people do care about me,” Green said.

Road to recovery

Green made his first real step toward regaining himself in April.

He began working out again. He started throwing the baseball again. He found a new place to play, signing with the John Wood Community College baseball team.

“At one point, I thought baseball was my whole life,” he said. “Now I realize it’s just a small part. God has blessed me with another opportunity to proceed in something I love and lead me to other opportunities with education. I’m playing baseball for an education.”

He’s living because so many others stayed invested in him.

“I’m thankful every single day,” Green said. “That’s one of those things where you pray to God and thank Him for putting those people in your life who actually do care.”

It starts with family.

Rick Green said he experienced bouts of anxiety when he was in college, and he and his wife have tried to be a constant source of support in Drake’s recovery.

“My dad told me, ‘I’ve always wondered what my purpose was, and now I know it was to help you through it,’” Drake said.

The shared experience has helped Rick give powerful advice.

“One of the things I kind of learned is your anxiety and your depression comes from the things you’re telling yourself. You self-talk,” Rick said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the things you’re telling yourself are lies, which kind of trigger the condition. I’ve tried to reinforce that with him.

“When things are starting to go bad or feeling blue, just try to identify those things that he’s telling himself and eliminate those. You have to find coping skills and coping methods. If there are things taking you down the wrong road, eliminate them.”

Above all else, the Greens have learned you don’t take on the battle alone.

“Seek out help right away,” Rick said. “As parents, don’t try to manage the situation on your own. Seek out help. There are professionals out there who are trained to deal with things like this. If you start to see some of the warning signs, make sure you don’t ignore those.”

Drake is fortunate he had people around who didn’t ignore them.

“Taylor did the best thing she could have done. I feel like truly the Lord had something to do with that, and I feel like he truly put me here for a reason now,” Green said. “I’m not saying I’ve found my purpose. Now I know there’s a serious reason I’m here on Earth. Whether it’s 40 years from now or right now. There’s a reason.”

Today, that purpose is to open the eyes of others to the fact that help exists.

“I can help other people through panic attacks,” Green said. “People really do care and really want to help. If you’re going to hide it, you’re not helping yourself.”

By no means does that mean Green is done battling it. He continues to meet with Alan Obert, a counselor at Blessing Hospital.

“Never,” he said when asked if he’s beaten it. “You’ll always be going through it.”

He’s simply better equipped to handle it.

“We feel like he finally has the correct diagnosis and the correct medication,” Rick said. “He’s starting to feel like his life has purpose again.”

And he’s getting back to where he feels comfortable.

That’s with either a book or a baseball in his hands.

“I can’t wait to pitch again,” Green said.


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