Depression: Surviving a deluge of crises

Many truckers have a difficult time talking to one person about their emotional problems. Former owner-operator Don Kiefer, now 38, spilled his anxieties to an audience of thousands and found it to be a turning point in his battle with depression.

In 1995, after Kiefer lost part of his stomach and esophagus to ulcers, his doctor advised him to find less stressful work, so he left his Los Angeles Police supervisor job and founded a small trucking company in 1998. In 1999, his wife underwent six months of chemotherapy for breast cancer, taking him away from his new business. In 2000, he declared bankruptcy. His psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression.

“I started thinking something was definitely wrong,” the California resident says. “I was focusing on the negative all the time.”

In April, he got a job as a company driver at Knight Transportation and loved it, but his troubles were hardly over. That same month, his 9-year-old daughter spent four days in intensive care after being diagnosed with diabetes. Kiefer injured his back and was off work until Knight let him go in July.

Kiefer says his wife Michelle threatened to leave this year unless his attitude improved. “My wife was getting very tired of me walking around with my head down,” Kiefer says. “It doesn’t just affect you, it affects your entire family. All you do is talk about negative things.”

He first called a hotline that directed him to a local mental health center. Talking to a psychiatrist helped, but he still had a long way to go.

Then in June he took an opportunity to appear on Iyanla, a syndicated television talk show hosted by Iyanla Vanzant. Kiefer shared the stage with Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live.

Beck’s advice to take action toward goals helped. Kiefer applied for jobs and returned to exercising. “I began focusing on my responsibility for my family,” Kiefer says. “If I’m not taking care of my family, then they can’t take care of me.” Truckers who saw the show’s Sept. 19 broadcast have given him positive feedback, he says.

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In September, Kiefer landed a job as transportation manager for a plastics company. Depression is less of an issue than before, he says. “Everybody expects overnight results, and it doesn’t happen that way,” says Kiefer, who hopes to return to driving. “But I may come back stronger than before.”

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