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Ep. 77 - Time To Come Alive: “Wrestling Depression” With Dr. Skip Mondragon, Physician And Author

Not Quite Strangers | Dr. Skip Mondragon | Depression

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Time To Come Alive: “Wrestling Depression” With Dr. Skip Mondragon, Physician And Author

What do you do when you experience an emotion that is unwanted? Do you sit with it? Do you ignore it? Do you fight it away? Maybe you wallow in it. How might you identify and also manage some of those emotions? That's going to be the crux of our conversation. Welcome. I'm excited that in each episode, we have a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with somebody who will help us to be more conscious, more connected, and creative. This episode is no different. I have a wonderful guest. His name is Skip Mondragon.


Skip, if I'm not mistaken, we met when you magically appeared at a Toastmasters meeting, Fiesta Bilingual Toastmasters. Shout out to that group, the club in which I'm a President and you came in as a club coach to help us grow. What really struck me the most about you, Skip, was, first of all, incredibly enthusiastic and high energy. You gave a speech during one of our club meetings where you talked about your wrestling background. You seem so classy and refined that you put your wrestling persona, and we absolutely loved it. Not only that, but I've come to know you and your passion.


You're also very highly skilled. You are a Physician. You were an officer in the military for many years. I am so grateful that you have brought not only a big personality but also big knowledge and skills to my life and into the lives of those in our club and those that we know. You are now here bringing all that to the show. Welcome.


Thank you, Valerie. It is my delight. I have been looking forward to this for a period of months now.


I know he talked about this a while back.


I am so excited to share with your guests.


I love that. What I shared about you does not begin to cover who you are. What would you like for my guests and our guests to know about you?


First and foremost, I am married to a lovely lady by the name of Sherry. I met her at Oral Roberts University in August of 1978. I went there with no intention of being involved with a girl. I said, “Girls, who need them?”


Sounds like heartbreak.


Indeed. I had been very much in love with a young woman and when that relationship ended, my heart indeed was broken and it had taken a period of years for it to mend. It had recently been mended. I went to Oral Roberts University as a transfer student. I had started my college career at the University of Notre Dame and had been out of school for a few years. Now I was transferring to Oral Roberts University.


My thought was, “Girls, who need them? They take your money, they take your time and they take your heart.” I thought, “What money? I didn't have any. Time? Forget it. I got to study and get into a medical school. That heart? No way. I am not giving my heart away.” I met Sherry my first week at ORU and she messed up my plans.


Darn that Sherry, how dare she? You got to tell us what was the moment when you realized that your plans were shot?


It was an evolution in terms of that. Early on we were the respective study chairman, if you will, academic chairman on our brother-sister wings. In those days, the ratio of men to women at Oral Roberts University was almost exactly 50/50. They paired up each men's wing with a respective women's wing and we would do activities together, typically sit together, share meals, and go to games together. Once a semester, we go on a retreat together.


It was an opportunity to spend a lot of time together and we were the academic chairman for our wing, so we would get together, plan study groups and pray for our wingmates. Within a few weeks, I saw her heart, her love for God, her kindness and compassion, and I thought, “This lady is smart.” I was attracted to all of this, not to mention she was pretty good-looking, too. It was all of this combo.


We started spending more and more time together. We'd often linger with folks after supper, drinking coffee, chatting, and laughing. We started going to Friday night chapel together. Within a matter of months, I was very much in love with this lady and I asked her to marry me. We knew it wasn't going to be possible for a few years. We got married after. Sherry finished a year before I did even though I transferred it in as a junior and she was a junior. You require a lot of specific General Ed courses that are unique to Oral Roberts University. I had a lot of credits going in. It took me three years to finish up. Sherry graduated a year before me and went on to grad school after I graduated, and then we got married.


Clearly that was the beginning of very many things. Years later, when you think back to who you were at that time in your life and who you became, what are some of the highlights?


I remember I applied for an AHPSP scholarship with the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program. I didn't have a way to support a wife as a medical student and a way to pay for medical school, either. I didn't want to go into debt. I applied for this scholarship. I had early admittance to the ORU School of Medicine. I applied for this scholarship and did receive it.


I received the early acceptance. Sherry ran around with the acceptance letter saying, “We're going to medical school.” I told her, “Honey, before all else is said and done, that will be the understatement of the year.” When I received the scholarship, I could say, “Okay, honey, now we can schedule a wedding because now I know we can get married. We're not going to live high on the hog by any means, but we can get married.” With her fellowship that she had at Tulsa University and the paltry sum that the Army gave me, we were able to afford to get through medical school and free.


She definitely got your time. She got the money.


She got my heart. Medical school was rigorous, to say the least. I made some wonderful friends and had some magnificent professors. Residency was brutal, but again, wonderful teachers there. My mentor Dr. Andre Ognibene was a retired Brigadier General and former Commander at Brook Army Medical's Center in San Antonio, whom I was horribly intimidated by for the first several weeks that I was around this man. I'd go to say something. He'd ask a question. I'd go to present and I felt that I was saying gibberish. I come home at night and I tell Sherry, “He must think I'm the most idiotic intern he has ever seen.”


I was doing a rotating internship, a transitional where you spent a few months in different disciplines with the idea of going on physical medicine and rehabilitation, but I fell in love with Internal Medicine, Adult Medicine. I went to Dr. Ognibene or as we used to call him Dr. O, the Big O or just sometimes The O. I went in and I said, “Doctor Ognibene, may I speak with you,” and he said, “Sure, Skip. Come on in and have a seat.” I said, “Dr. Ognibene, I'm interested in Internal Medicine., but I'm concerned because I don't know if I can be a good internist.”


He looked at me. Usually, he peered down at you with these glasses, but he looked at me and he said, “Skip, I think you could be a good internist. I think you could be a very good internist. We'd love to keep you in the program and have you graduate with us here.” I stayed there rather than doing my transitional year and going into the Army. I graduated and learned under Doctor Ognibene, the most amazing bedside clinician, perhaps the most amazing doctor I've seen in action in all of my career.


Before we move through your medical career, why medicine? Obviously, you invested so much time and energy. You and Sherry were a team making sure that you got through medical school and then obviously moved into Internal Medicine, but before all of that, why was medicine where you were aiming towards?


Going through high school, I was an excellent student and others would tell me, “You should be a doctor.” My thoughts were, “Are you crazy? They work too hard.” I was thinking about physical therapy or something along those lines. I saw the life of doctors and I thought, “They work so hard and so many hours. It's a difficult life.”


I had in mind physical therapy or something along those lines, however, as my senior year rolled around, I began to think, “It's a much easier step if I went pre-med and didn't get into medical school rather than thinking about physical therapy and trying to then to get into medical school.” With that, it was also the sense there that it would be a wonderful way to blend the idea of service and science with caring for others with the love of Christ so that this blend of science and taking care of people with the gifts God had given me.

Not Quite Strangers | Dr. Skip Mondragon | Depression
Depression: Medicine is a wonderful way to blend the idea of service and science with caring for others and the love of Christ.

What was it that people sign you in high school that they felt medicine was the way for you to go?


I think it was my academic prowess and my care for others. I was a kind person. I was a very diligent worker. I understood I'm not as necessarily smart as some of my classmates, but I outworked them. I outshone them. I would outperform them and similarly with my wrestling career. I was in this gifted as a lot of other wrestlers, but you were not going to outwork me. Therefore, I outperformed many fine wrestlers because I was willing to work hard. I was so diligent and so dedicated that perhaps that's what they saw. Nobody's ever asked me that. I never thought about it.

You can outperform people who are smarter and stronger than you by outworking them.

You saw something if they were really aiming. They're really helping you move in that direction. I got to admit, Skip, yes, intellectual prowess, I absolutely see it. Obviously, in my experience with you in Toastmasters, you're so eloquent. I can see your kind heart and your willingness to help people. The wrestling really threw me off. It really threw me off when you spoke about it and shared your passion for it and your experiences. How did wrestling come to be such an important part of your life?


I grew up and my father was ill with mental illness. He came back from Korea a broken man. My Auntie Mary, his older sister or my older cousins who knew him well, and those who knew him say the man that came home was not the same man that went to war. The only thing my father would say when he would visit was “Son, I hope you never have to go to war.”


In my mind, based on his behavior, I believe he had Bipolar disorder and would become psychotic. He was given the diagnosis back then, schizophrenia, but I can remember deep morose. He'd become morose and could lock himself in a bedroom for a matter of weeks. He wouldn't come out, lights off, just smoking in there and never come out. He would be in and out of the VA hospital and we didn't see him much when I was growing up.


That being said, I'm the third of eight children. Two older sisters, four younger brothers, and a younger sister. My mother, with my little grandma, me Abuelita, raised us. Thank goodness for my Abuelita. She was the stabilizing force in the midst of a lot of chaos. I was very small for my age. Typically, I was the smallest kid in my class. We moved a lot. I was the new kid on the block. I was marginalized, and we moved to different areas.


Being Hispanic, the new kid on the block and being very small, I was bullied. It didn't help because, at least when I was growing up as a boy, your status was oftentimes based on your athletic prowess. I didn't know how to catch, kick or throw a ball. I failed at tetherball.


I remember in fourth grade, my mother was teaching on the Zuni Indian Reservation, and every matter of months, our teacher would take us out to the chin-up bar. She would test the boys on chin-ups and the girls on bent arm hang. The guy said, “Get up there.” What I finally realized many years later in retrospect is a lot of the boys were older than me, but that being said, some of the guys get up there and do their pull-ups. There were two of us in there, one kid and myself, and I would dread when my name would be called. My teacher called, “Skip.” I jump up to the lowest bar. With all my might, I couldn't do one pull-up. The shame, snickers and laughter, that would go on.


With this lack of prowess and any kind of physical activity, I couldn't run well. None of the sports, basketball, football, you name it, I wasn't good at it. I didn't have an older brother. I didn't have a dad I didn’t have anybody to teach me those skills. When I was thirteen, my mother had remarried. We had moved back to Denver and things became much more stable.


I went out for the wrestling team and for the first time, I would compete against guys my own size. After a few practices, I thought, “I can be good at this. I think I can really be good.” I went all In and I started beating kids on the mat. In fact, I was the only eighth grader who made the varsity team. The 85-pound class, mind you. The lowest class.


Varsity is varsity, Skip. 


That's right. I want you to know even though I was a very good wrestler and even a better wrestler in ninth grade, I'd get so wound up the night before matches that I spend the whole night tossing and turning and thinking about the match. I wouldn't get any sleep. I dragged in the next day and couldn't perform. It took me two years before I won my first match.


In the summer after ninth grade, I entered a freestyle, one of the Olympic-style tournaments. It was a state tournament. I won my first match. I won my second match. I won my third match and then my fourth. I was pitted in the finals against the kid who had been the defending Champion for that tournament the year before and I beat him.


I came away with not only my first wins but my first ever medal, and that further fueled that desire because that's what I've wanted all along. I went on from those inauspicious finds or beginnings. I was a two-time district champion. I was a state runner-up and I was an honorable mention All-American in high school. As I say, “I knew I wasn't as gifted athletically, wasn't as strong, but I worked very hard.”


You got in the grind. What was the impact on your relationship with the bullies?


After I got into wrestling, even though I am small and wouldn't be any bigger, the bullies left me alone. As an adult, I used to laugh and say, “Darn, where were the bullies then?”


You were going to take them down.


I want to get them on the mat. As my little Abuelita would say, “I would give him a good beating.”


What did happen then? Why do you think they disappeared?


One, probably the way I carried myself, I think, even though a small. I think that when you have success in something like wrestling, which I saw, you make wimps out of some great athletes who came and got on the mats. They might have been stars in basketball and football, but they got out on the wrestling mats and were wimps.


They found out they used to complain about, “Football and the conditioning we have to do in basketball.” They came out and tried wrestling, and then the conditioning that went on after practice, they were complaining, whining, and so forth. You carry yourself differently. I think it was mainly that confidence and the way I carried myself and they knew I wasn't easy pickings any longer. They weren't going to pick on me. I wasn't going to stand for it any longer. It was that idea. Do you want to bring it on? Go ahead and bring It on.


Your energy completely shifted. I want to call back to something you were sharing: how there was no one, no male figure in your family, who could have taught you some of the sports, to be more athletically inclined. You mentioned your father had been diagnosed with some mental health issues. What happened to your father? You mentioned that your mother remarried. What happened?


My father was in and out of the VA and he was also alcoholic, in addition to his mental health issues. Eventually, my mother actually separated from him because he was he would abuse her and an incident happened where not only did he abuse her, but he threatened her life. I didn't find out about this until I was in my mid-30s. My mother never spoke ill of my father, ever.


I come to find out he would put a knife to her throat regularly and say, “Yes, I could kill you, Esther. I'm going to kill you.” It got to the point where she would just finally tell him, “Gene, If you're going to do it, just do it.” When she was praying with my youngest brother, he threatened to throw out a two-story window. If it weren't for my Auntie Mary, her older sister who was pregnant then with her youngest, that stepped in front of him and said, “Gene, you're going to have to go through me,” I think he might have.


He would be violent. She said, “I could endure that but when he picked up your sister threw her across the room, it was no more. We can't live like this.” We would see him on occasion and unfortunately, he died when I was thirteen. He was on an experimental drug with strict instructions, “Do not drink while you're on this drug,” and apparently did so. My mother had already remarried the year before, and of interest, my Daddy-O, my stepfather, had been friends with my dad before he met my mother.


They were high school classmates. In fact, in high school, my Daddy-O had asked my mom to marry him, but my mother said, “Larry, no. I'm in love with Gene.” My Daddy-O who had gone through a very tragic and difficult divorce which he did not want, but his wife divorced him and so they met up and they had a wonderful and blazing romance and a wonderful marriage.


It's unfortunate that your father didn't have the opportunity to see the man that you became. That’s where you took off at that age in your eighth grade. Skip, you wrote a book. What is it called?



Let's talk about that. What is it? We clearly got the wrestling. We got the medical school. Let's talk about the depression part. Where does that come in in your life?


That comes in at the end of my 26-year career in the Army. Of note, I didn't come to understand this until I was on another podcast with a gentleman by the name of Al Levin. He has a podcast, The Depression Files, and he asked a question, “Have you had depression all your life or is this something you've contended with?” if you had asked me that question, I would have said no, but when I conjutated on that, I thought I had had a low level of depression all my life. It's just underlying current.


That being said, during my last year in the Army, I suffered major depression. I know it was a confluence of a lot of things that occurred in my life that finally hit a breaking point to where I was curled up under my desk, in my office, blinds drawn, door locked, phones turned off, lights turned off and asked myself the question as I lay there in a fetal position, “Skip, what are you doing? How did you get here?” For the next four hours, I wrestled with that and began to look back and put the pieces together.


What are the pieces?


Horrendous insomnia, this deepening blue mood, social withdrawal, and withdrawing rom nature. These recurrent horrible, negative thoughts. “You're a failure. You don't deserve to be a colonel. You've let your family down. You've let the Army down. You've let your department down. You're a fake. Who's going to want to hire you?” These tapes are turned over in my mind 24/7. You can imagine what it was like when the lights were off, it was dark, and there were no outside distractions at night. Wrestling with those thoughts, shame, guilt, loss of confidence, my joy was gone.


My body aches and pains were amplified from old wrestling injuries, overuse injuries, the osteoarthritis, muscle tears, etc. These were all amplified. The old slights were amplified. I struggled with bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. I thought I had dealt with things over the years that I had to wrestle with every day to say no to these things. I began to see and realize that these things have been going on and progressively getting worse. This was on April 14, 2014. I finally admitted that I had been in denial because I'm tough. I'm a man. I'm a wrestler. I'm a soldier. I am a war vet. “Skip, you are depressed. Go get help.” That day, I did go get help.


You are depressed. Go get help.

I have a question, Skip. So far, you've shared you had a challenging childhood, the bullying that you experienced growing up. You had a family that there's family trauma that you shared. You had a successful wrestling career. You met the woman with whom you gave her your wallet and your heart. You mentioned 26 years in the military and then being curled up in the room with the blinds drawn and the lights off.


What you described as all these different pieces were a lot of the symptoms. Depression, all the experiences, and the recurring thoughts. What happened in those 26 years? I feel like there's a little gap that you shared about going to the medical school and then at that moment in time where you're curled up in the ball. What occurred during that time or what are some of that highlights in those 26 years that you feel triggered some of that?


We left medical school. We arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on a dreary, dark, dank, chilly January 2, 1989. I only knew one man and his family. I moved into a house, and within a matter of days, I was supposed to have time to get my family settled and very quickly, the chief of my department said, “Skip, I'd like you to come to work.” by all rights, I should have had ten days to get my family settled.


Knowing what I know in retrospect, of course, I could have gone to my Deputy Commander of Clinical Services, his boss, and said, “Colonel, this is what's going on. I need to get my family settled.” Being the dutiful captain and not knowing what you don't know, I tell Sherry, “Honey, I'm sorry, but Colonel asked me to come to work.” I went to work. This was a form of bullying and that's what I understand.


I was thrust into this very quickly and busier. Sherry said, “If we thought medical school was hard and we thought residency was hard, that first year in the Army was even worse.” Within five months, one of my senior colleagues was preparing to leave for a fellowship in Infectious Disease and then our most senior colleague, they're an Internal Medicine, he decided to leave for a Civilian Nephrology Fellowship.


They turned around to me and said, “Skip, you are now the Chief of the Internal Medicine Service. You are now the Chief of the ICU, Intensive Care Unit, and you will be our only Fort Sill-based internist for the summer.” It was the most stressful and worst summer that I've ever experienced. It was horrendous, the stress and the sleeplessness and the anxiety put on me and Sherry.


We weathered that and to make matters worse, my two new colleagues coming in, one was delayed because of some academic issues and the other was granted Permissive TDY, in other words, leave by his superior, which should not have happened. That should have been granted or denied on my end, the receiving end, not by his and because he was due to report shortly after July.


He didn't report until the third week rather than mid-July. It might even be the end of July. It was a horrendous summer. That kind of experience. The next year, I deployed with 47th to Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm. Sherry was pregnant with our fourth child at that point. We had a son born in medical school who has an exceedingly rare blood disorder. It's called Blackfan Diamond Syndrome. There are only approximately 50 people in the US that have this disease.


I deployed four times in total. I spent 30 months in combat zones. Of course, you see trauma there. You deal with mangled bodies. You dealt with a soldier who committed suicide. You pronounce soldiers dead. You deal with this. You lose time away from your family. That’s three and a half years out of my family's life. You don't get that back. Time with young children, time with teenagers, anniversaries, birthdays, other celebrations, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter celebration. No, you don't get those things back.

Not Quite Strangers | Dr. Skip Mondragon | Depression
Depression: In the Army, you lose time away from your family, and you don't get that back.

Knowing your family is struggling, your wife's having to contend with all of this and then the call schedule. You get called away from meals. You could call the way on a Sunday afternoon. You get called away when you're playing with your kids or you tell the kids, “I can get called anytime now.” Sure enough, you get called and you end up at the hospital the rest of the night.


It takes its toll, that lack of sleep and that demanding schedule over the years, that trauma that you see, that you experienced. The last year or so, we had some issues with our Cardiac Cath Cab and our Dialysis Unit, not because of me but because of some problems there. We were having to divert patients to other institutions because of the issues there and it affected our Graduate Medical Education Programs. I took that on personally. I'd had three surgeries and six months that I had delayed before I got out of the Army.


Your own surgery? You had to have surgery?


Right, because I delayed having those and with that, it disrupted my routine for a matter of weeks each time. All of these things accumulated, the stress over the years, concerns about our kids, a son who started abusing drugs at the age of fourteen. He ended up spending three stints in the Texas Department of Corrections. Another son with some mental health issues, so you can see.


Thank you so much for painting that picture for us. You and I have spoken about this. My father was in the military for 27 years. My younger brother is a Marine who retired. He was in for twenty-plus years. My godfather was also in the military. It's interesting because when I've spoken with them about aspects of their military life, all of them have had very difficult situations. The moving, missing time with family, training. My brother was deployed four times. My godfather was in Vietnam.


Yet, one of the things that I've noticed and none of them tend to share, at least not out loud with me, is what kind of support. When you describe what you describe, you have a whole different level because you are the support for the military. You were in the fields dealing with the death, dealing with the injuries, dealing with the illnesses and all of that.


One thing I don't hear from the people in my life who've been in the military, it's the kind of support that was available to them to deal with some of the traumatic stress. What they experienced, what they saw and how they had to then lead other people. I'm curious about for you having lived through all of those things, having to support other people. What type of support were you receiving or what support did you look to?


Primarily my faith and I would seek out the chaplains. I would seek out fellow christian believers. That was my main line of support and at home, I'd reach out via email and the calls when I could do that with my spouse or others, but primarily my spouse. We would stay in contact, and of course, I wouldn't share any of the details with Sherry regarding things, but we would pray together. The Christian brothers that were in the field. We would have Bible studies together. The chaplains when they were available. I typically made good friends with our chaplains. Chaplain's lead a very lonely life also when you're deployed because they don't have a support system. We became a mutual support system, which I cherish and that was my main support when I was deployed.


Skip, when you think about now, you're curled up on the floor, windows shades drawn, lights off. When you're having all of those thoughts, what was the moment when you either sought support or when you knew that you needed to do something so that you would transition out of that state? What happened? 


It was finally when I could admit to myself, “Skip, you’re depressed.” I hit such rock bottom. I was completely depleted emotionally, physically and spiritually because my modus operandi, my way of life, had always been, “Be tough, cut it out, work hard. Just keep at it.” That had been my way of doing things. The harder I tried, the worse I got. I was just utterly spent. I had no further resources left and could no longer deny that I can't do this. I'm not as tough as I thought I was. I can't do this on my own.

Not Quite Strangers | Dr. Skip Mondragon | Depression
Depression: My way of life had always been, “Be tough, gut it out, work hard, just keep at it.” The harder I tried, the worse I got.

Skip, I'm curious about something. I've not had that experience myself. What was it about admitting that you were depressed? Up to that point, what did it mean for you to acknowledge it or to label it depression that you had avoided it? What was the meaning behind labeling what you were experiencing as depression that you had avoided it for so long?


I'm a caregiver. I'm and have been throughout my life. I cared for my four younger brothers as long as I can remember. I am the peacemaker and caregiver in my family. I was a caregiver for my family and for my extended family, if you will. I'm the caregiver for my family, for my wife, for my patients. I am the strong person. I'm the tough wrestler. I'm the soldier. I'm the one there for my team. I'm the one there for my department. I'm the one there for my patients. That view of myself, I'm tough. I had to finally get through that shell and that image of who I am. That identity, if you will. I think it was that, that kept me and denial for so long.


Thank you for sharing that. It's interesting, as you were talking, although, I wouldn't say that I've experienced depression, I remember a time where I'm the only girl. I have three brothers. My dad was in the military, mom was a schoolteacher. We are a, “Get it done,” kind of family. I also grew up being the tough one who take care of business, look to for taking leadership, not only at home and at school but in my life. That's kind of how I've always shown up and it is exhausting.


I remember after my divorce that was going to therapist to work through some of the angst that came up for me. He asked me the question, “Valerie, where does the sadness go?” He saw everything else, but he's like, “What do you do with it? You are obviously expressing all of these things that are sad, but where does that go?” Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I just kind of kept it nice and tight, locked down, dealing with it, just push it through. I acknowledge and it resonates for me, what you're sharing. Clearly, not to the extent that you experienced it with all the other things that you were taking care of and the level of responsibility that you had. Thank you so much for sharing that.


I imagine there are a lot of people out there who are the caregivers who are the “Get it done” or the grinders, the peacemakers who are having to take on, especially in and now in the middle of a pandemic with all the racial tensions that are cropping up all over the United States. Emotions are being exacerbated, and whatever conditions were there before are probably doubled, tripled, and ten times magnified now because of everything that's happening. Once one decides to acknowledge now and admit that depression is what's happening, what happens then? What does someone do to move forward?


Seek help. That's what you do. Once you've admitted it, get help. I went down to my primary care clinic because I knew they had a psychologist and asked for an appointment. However, the appointment was going to be for the next week. I made the appointment and when I got back to my office, I thought, “I don't want to wait until next week,” so I called the Chief of Behavioral Health.


It helps that I was Chief of the Department of Medicine and we knew each other by our first names and interacted regularly. They're a privilege that goes with being a colonel. I called him and I explained what was going on. I said, “Can you arrange for me to see somebody?” I called back and said, “I arranged for you to have an appointment for this afternoon with so and so.” That afternoon, I went to see this very astute, kind, and gracious clinical psychologist.


That got the ball started rolling. They did a very thorough intake interview, including asking questions about suicidal ideation, of course, my extensive background, my family's background regarding mental illness, addictions, etc. My own medical history and these type of things. At the end, she said, “My chief and I have been talking and we think for ongoing therapy. There's someone that we believe you'd be a great fit for and that's Lieutenant Colonel Mike Perry. We've arranged an appointment for you to see him next week.” Lieutenant Colonel Mike and I met and we hit it off from the beginning. Mike is very distinguished and comes in very tall, self-confident, but gracious African American man, and Mike and I hit it off from the beginning. He's a Christian man, a family man, humble and he was my therapist and helped me greatly.


You had therapy. You had the support of the chaplains.


Lots of TLC from my wife. She's always been my number-one fan. She has always been there to encourage me and support from family, particularly my brother Chris and my mom. At the recommendation of Mike Perry, he recommended that I see my primary care physician and have an evaluation if there was anything medical going on. She did a thorough evaluation and looked for other causes, medical illnesses. First, things like hypothyroidism and other underlying diseases that can cause depression.


She did that, evaluated for those, came back and said, “I don't find anything here. This is a Major Depressive Disorder. What do you think about medication? I would recommend it. What do you think?” I said, “Yes, I agree.” We started medication. The medication, the psychotherapy in concert and then eventually, I did see a psychiatrist and was under their care. I began to resume some things there, get back some routines, get my sleep because there were nights when I would hardly sleep at all or anything, maybe get an hour or two asleep at best. Things have just gotten out of control, completely out of whack.


Skip. as we wrap up our conversation, what advice, what wisdom might you share with others who find themselves reflected and some of the history that you shared experiences that you've had? What advice or wisdom would you give them?


If you experienced some of the symptoms I experienced, insomnia, blue mood, social withdrawal, guilt, shame, these horrible negative thoughts running through your mind, perhaps irritability, anger, go seek help. Absolutely, if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, do not delay. Don't suffer in silence any longer. Help is available. You are not a wimp if you seek help.


The most courageous thing you can do for yourself, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to go get help. Don't delay. You’re suffering and your family and loved ones are suffering because you are suffering. Get help. There's a variety of organizations. Valerie will have those that you can seek out for help. Books and other podcasts that help you along the way, but first, see a professional. Get started on your road to recovery. Do not lose hope. Remember, you are not alone. I got better and so can you.


Don't suffer in silence. You are not a wimp if you seek help. The most courageous thing you can do for yourself is to get help.

Skip, what are you grateful for now?


I am grateful that I went through this experience. Yes, I initially prayed, “Lord, deliver me from this darkness.” I began to pray, “Lord. What would you have me learn from this? How might I use it to help others?” I am compelled to share this message with others. My mess became my message that I can help others and I am honored and privileged to do so. I'm thankful that I get to share with others what I've learned so that they can get the help they need and no longer have to suffer in silence.


Thank you so much, Skip. We're grateful for you. Your mess being your message. I think all of us have that. Everybody has some mess and, like you said, it is to learn from, to grow from, and then to give it away. Thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your life with us or at least letting us peek into the windows of your life and share some of the more vulnerable spots especially. I can just imagine somebody out there needing to hear exactly what you had to say, when you had to say it and how you said it. I'm so grateful to have had you as a guest on the show.


It's been my pleasure, Valerie. I hope we can do it again.


Absolutely. Tell us about the book, by the way. Where do people find that book?


They can find it on Amazon. They can go to Amazon and they can type in Wrestling Depression Is Not For Wimps, or they can type in Skip Mondragon and they will find my book.

Not Quite Strangers | Dr. Skip Mondragon | Depression
Depression: Don’t lose hope. You are not alone. I got better and so can you.

We should also add you’re a practicing physician, correct?


Yes, ma’am.


If people want to connect with you personally or be treated by you because they just fell in love with everything you just said and who you are, how may they get that information?


Right now, I am between jobs, I must say, and I will actually be doing something different. I moved on from The Hope Clinic, where I worked in Waxahachie and I will be doing clinical research for the time being. I’m trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up.


I'm sure that either way, people want to connect with you, if nothing else, just to understand their mess to help transform it into their message.


They can connect with me on my website at

Skip, once again, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story with us, as well as your hope and message.


It is my pleasure, Valerie.


Thank you. For those of you who tuned in, thank you so much for reading. As usual, please make sure you subscribe to this YouTube channel, Connect to Joy so that you are notified every time a new episode is posted. If you'd like to get it into your email inbox, go to and subscribe and you will receive this in your email. Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day and join us next time.


Important Links

Ursula K. Le Guin: “No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars.”


Family means the world to Dr. Skip Mondragon. In spite of a family history filled with the pain and trauma of mental illness, his mission has been to heal himself and others. Hear how he came to find love, health, and purpose.



  • Skip’s path to excellence in amateur wrestling and medicine.

  • How Skip wrestled with depression and came out triumphant.

  • Skip’s piece of wisdom for people who are undergoing mental health difficulties.


Connect with Donald (Skip) Mondragon


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