May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Throughout the month I will share my own experience with depression. This is the continuation of the journey which would eventually lead me to qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits because of my depression.
Medication and therapy go a long way in helping make the days more tolerable; but figuring out and accepting who you really are as a person helps a great deal as well. The first half of 1997 was filled with questions surrounding my sexual orientation. While I had had questions prior, I had suppressed them each time because I just didn’t have a name for what I was feeling. Thanks to Ellen DeGeneres and her sitcom, that changed. Shortly following the “Puppy Episode” where she came out publicly, I, too, came out.
The euphoria I felt after my first kiss with a woman is indescribable. I literally saw fireworks! Despite my attempts to make myself feel bad like I thought I was supposed to feel, I only felt all the more normal. I felt I was doing what everyone else was doing…loving who they were supposed to love.
This relationship did a great deal to settle my depression for a time. Denise and I would have typical relationship ups and downs throughout that first year and a half. Going into the second half of year two, I really began to struggle again. I began missing work or going in late. What was most troubling, though, was my struggle to contain my anger outbursts at home.
I write this with much shame and humility…I was physically abusive to Denise on a couple of occasions. After the first incident, my therapist wisely had me begin seeing a psychiatrist to better monitor my medications. It was clear by my behavior that I needed more intensive intervention than my physician could provide. I only wish it had come sooner. If you are in therapy AND on medication, you really should be getting your medication through a psychiatrist. Your family doctor can only do so much for you.
Immediately following the second incident, we mutually agreed that we could not live together. Even though we would have separate places to live (I moved off of the property) we still saw each other daily. We were still very much in love; we just couldn’t live together at that time.
Denise and I separated in May 1999.
On 9-9-99, I had taken the morning off for two appointments including one with my therapist at 11 am. As I was on my way home from therapy to have lunch my cell phone rang. It was a coworker of Denise’s. He told me she was in the hospital and I needed to get there as soon as I could. Before I could get there, though, I received another phone call by my supervisor. He informed me; unwisely (because I was in my car driving) that Denise had died. That phone call would be played over and over in my head in the years to come. It took only one minute for the life that I knew to come to a screeching halt.
(I’ll write more specifically about that day at a later time.)
I lived in a fog for the next few weeks. I missed at least a full week of work. Even when I was at work, though, I couldn’t concentrate to get much done other than the day to day tasks. My depression had been confounded by the grief I had been thrown into suddenly. Imagine trying to get through the day while stuck in mud over your head. That was me. Doing ANYTHING was a challenge. Everything felt so heavy.
Almost a month to the date, I recall a thought I had at work. “I think I can finally focus and concentrate enough to do more than just day to day things.” The thought was accompanied with a feeling of optimism and hope. I was nowhere near over my grief of losing Denise and her family, but I felt I wasn’t going to be ‘stuck’ forever.
The joke was on me, though. That evening on my way home, I got a phone call from my mother letting me know that my grandmother had died. Seriously?! I felt I couldn’t get a break at that point!
I muddled through October the best I could. I was still missing some work and not getting bigger projects completed. One afternoon I got an email from my supervisor with a list of projects I needed to complete and specific deadlines in which to complete them. That email filled me with despair. Did he not see that I was barely making it?! Was he purposely trying to push me over the edge?!
I had been considering it already, but I KNEW now I had to take time off from work or I would definitely end up in the hospital. It didn’t matter that I was out of sick leave and wouldn’t be paid for that time. The only thing that mattered in that moment was my sanity.
I asked for and was granted FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leave for the month of November with no pay. I was so ashamed of having to do this that it took me over a week to tell my mother about my leave. She responded with, “Are you sure you can afford it?” I quickly snapped back, “If I don’t, I’ll end up in the hospital.”
The month away from work was definitely beneficial for me. I was able to simply focus on me. After a lot of reflection on November 30, I wrote in my journal:
It is just amazing how LOW a person can get. I don’t think many people understand that. They haven’t felt it or even seen it. I wish there were some way to educate people about how I have truly felt these past three months.
To be so lifeless…so hopeless…so empty. Words can barely describe it. When you reach that point the last thing you want to hear are things like:
- Get over it.
- It’ll be okay.
- I’m sorry, what can I do?
- You need to just get up and go to work and you will feel better.
The next day brought some much needed optimism:
I can’t wait til the day I can look back at this journal and be amazed at how I survived. I know that day will come! I know it will!
And that day would come! It took a while, but it did come!
“Use memories. Don’t let memories use you.” – Deepak Chopra