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.
I returned to work after a month off in early December 1999. I felt a sense of optimism that life was beginning to move forward after a temporary standstill. That feeling was short lived once the stress of work returned. On the last day of the year I wrote:
I hope and pray that I can get some added “get up and go” in 2000. I have great ideas and intentions. I just don’t follow through.
As I continued to process the experiences of the year as we often do on New Year’s Eve, a strong feeling of anger began creeping in on me.
Outside, I feel “calm” so to speak. Inside, however, I look at myself and it scares me. I see myself with so much pent up anger/energy that I just want to tear everything up in the house.
I see myself just knocking tables over, pushing things off the entertainment center. I would put my hand or foot through the fireplace glass. I would pull everything out of the cabinets in the kitchen. I would knock the bookshelves over and tear up some books. I would rip clothes. I would tear apart plants.
How do I get rid of all these feelings?
As late January rolled around, work stress began taking its toll. In a reaction to poor communication between my supervisor and me, I stormed out of his office and slammed his door. I honestly thought I might lose my job that day. My inability to control myself was very troubling to me.
I feel like no matter how much work I do on my issues; I will still have days like last week. It is part of me. How do I deal with that? If there needs to be accommodations, what would they be? Is that right, or do I just have to “deal with it” and take my chances? How can I keep going on like this?
I believe I was beginning to recognize the depression as being a disability, but did not really know exactly what that entailed. Was it valid to call it a disability that required accommodations? I had already received an accommodation for it by being assigned to the current position; but would I need, or did I even deserve, other accommodations to make work less stressful? In the end, I wouldn’t think about it as a disability again for about a year.
Despite this, the depression and the symptoms I was experiencing did not let up.
Late February: I am really drained tonight. It’s not that I worked hard (I hardly worked) it’s just that I didn’t have much energy to begin with. Being depressed just drains you sometimes.
March 17: Two more days off and then it is back to work. I have had a good Spring Break, fairly productive. At least until today. I have just felt different today from the rest of the week. I have ended this day ‘blah’ and with a heavy heart.
March 21: Well, I missed the last two days of work.
This pattern of calling off from work immediately after a holiday would become a regular pattern for me down the road. I wish I could say that it was because I wanted another day or two to play; but it was far from that. Those extra days away from work were spent in bed trying to gather the energy needed to return to work. There was subconscious anxiety about having to face the work-related stress.
April remained a stressful month and I had A LOT of contact with my therapist to get through it. I was facing the possibility of having my paycheck docked because I was using all of my sick and vacation leave by calling off or taking time for therapy appointments. My therapy sessions were very focused on how to deal with the disagreements as professionally as possible.
This allowed me to go into May feeling a bit more balanced and really ready to make improvements in work areas.
May 10: It is a really sad thought when people start commenting about how happy you look and you know they are saying that because they haven’t seen you laugh and smile more than once a week or so in a long time. One friend mentioned that she could see in my eyes that I am doing so much better.
Previously, my therapist had introduced me to The Healing Runes by Ralph H. Blume. The book comes with a bag of stones with different symbols on them. You focus on what is heavy on your mind and draw a rune. The book then has an ‘interpretation’ of the symbol. I like to describe the Healing Runes as a way to help you place focus when you might be feeling overwhelmed. More often than not, the interpretation will have deep meaning. On the same day as above, I drew the rune of Courage.
The Rune of Courage announces that the cycle of sorrow and pain has finally come to an end. Be at peace with your healing. You have walked the path of Courage; now it is time to go out in the world and live the life you were born to live.
Damn, if the joke wasn’t on me again! It wasn’t that I felt the pain and depression had left, I just felt a little more optimism once again; and drawing the Rune of Courage had been my proof.
June 26 – Well, it has been quite a while since I have written. Maybe it is because I am scared to face the truth.
Last month, I was notified that they were not going to renew my contract after August.
Just when I thought life was getting on track a bit, it slapped me in the face and I never saw it coming. I had been so consumed by the depression I wasn’t able to put the clues together.
In mid-July, the Information Technology guys would come to my office to back up my computer. No reason was given, but I’m guessing they thought I was going to destroy work product that would be needed once I was gone. (That was kind of accurate, but not on a large scale.) I had a stack of my own personal disks where I was saving samples of my work that I wanted to carry out of the office with me. They saw this and immediately demanded that I leave them.
Once again, I had an irrational reaction and became physically defensive. I do not recall the specific details other than the fact that I knew in my head that I would not be walking back into that office during regular business hours again. The next day I was notified that I was placed on administration leave with pay for the duration of my contract.
The next month was a bit of a blur as you might expect. I vaguely recall thinking about a job search, but feeling so hopeless that I did nothing. It was at that point that my sister that lived in Indiana invited me for a visit and suggested I consider moving north.
I mentioned previously that my self-harm method was picking on my face. This is a picture of me from my visit to Indiana in September. I am smiling, but I am anything but fully happy given what I had done to my face.
As if I didn’t have enough on my plate with being unemployed and majorly depressed, I had a gall bladder attack while in Indiana. I returned to Texas immediately hoping to have surgery as soon as possible. It would take nearly two months before I could schedule the surgery due to issues with my COBRA insurance.
Once I recovered physically, I was able to begin the moving process…with some trepidation of course.
Late-December: I am making progress, but I also feel as though I am just standing still when it comes to my overall future.
On December 21, 2000, my Chihuahua Comet and I drove the U-Haul out of Midland, Texas and began our 1440 mile trip to Indiana hoping to make a fresh start and create happier memories in the new year.