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.
The trip from Texas was a bit of a stressful one. That winter there was a huge ice storm across Arkansas and snow in the Midwest. I was forced to drive across Louisiana in order to avoid Arkansas. Then when I got to a hotel for the night, I managed to lock the keys in the U-Haul…with Comet! I was so relieved to finally arrive at my sister’s home on January 1, 2001.
I took it kind of easy through January. As February came I tried to get more serious about a job search. I had already completed my paperwork to substitute teach, but I had yet to call and say I was available. I had been able to quit picking on my face in October because I knew I had a couple of months before I had to even think about work. Now, I had begun picking again because I knew I needed to get serious about work. The effects of the stress were beginning to show even more as I developed a case of shingles.
Money worries are the biggest stressor for me that can quickly send me over the edge. This was especially true as March approached and I was getting further behind on car payments. Feeling proactive, I phoned the lender to inform them payment would be on the way as soon as I received my tax refund. This was a HUGE mistake! They informed me that it didn’t matter because they were already looking for my car!
Fight or flight? My only option, as I saw it, was flight. I hung up the phone, grabbed a few things along with my car keys and headed out the door. I didn’t have a plan and I only told my sister I was leaving…not where I was going. I just knew I had to get lost. I filled the car with gas and started driving.
My mind was racing with all kinds of possibilities on where to go…or what to do. One second I was thinking of driving to New Mexico and my favorite spot there; the next I was thinking about killing myself. Back and forth my mind went as I found myself driving south. Next thing I knew I was 90 miles south in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Before I could really figure out even a plan for the next few hours, I began a letter to the therapist I had just left behind in Texas.
March 1, 2001
If you are actually reading this, I apologize. That means that I have done something that is irreversible.
I know that you have always told me that I am strong and that suicide is taking the easy way out. I also remember the impact my ex-teacher had when she committed suicide.
Right now, I am just tired. It seems like the harder I try the more I fall. I feel like such a dunce and idiot right now.
I’ve been in Indiana for 2 months and have only applied for 4 places… When I would seriously consider doing something about working, I couldn’t sleep at night and I even developed shingles. I can’t live like that. I could never afford to live on my own if I went on disability. Besides that, I would have to get Medicaid and I don’t want to be a burden to society.
I see no other way right now.
After writing the letter I spent time walking around Wal-Mart. At one point, I was comparing the amount of sleep aid in the various pain relievers. I had decided pills and alcohol were my way out. For some reason, though, as I wandered around the store, the idea of filing bankruptcy entered my mind. This, of all things, is what kept me from attempting to kill myself.
The next day, after some much needed sleep, I was able to think a little more clearly. I began that journal entry by stating, “Well, here I am again. I have reacted stupidly again.” Besides making plans to learn more about bankruptcy, I also was able to see disability as a viable option. It was no longer something to be ashamed of, but an actual solution to help me. As I saw it, “I had to do something. Whenever I am pressured about my responsibility, I flip out.”
Again, the words from my journal express what I was feeling best:
March 2, 2001
At some point, I decided I couldn’t go back. I was/am tired of being behind on payments. I’m tired of dreading having to go to work. I’m tired of the overall “sad” feeling.
It is more than just thinking I don’t want to live anymore. I was making the actual plans. The only thing I had to live for was my new unborn niece/nephew; but even that wasn’t enough in that moment.
Each time I have thought of suicide, I have gotten more and more detailed. I just know it is going to happen one day. I just don’t see a way around it. It is only a matter of time.
After 10 pm
What the hell am I doing? Nobody knows where I am.
The thought of going on disability really sucks. I just imagine what relatives will say that don’t fully understand depression.
That’s another reason I think about killing myself…it is so hard to find people who really understand depression and what it can do to a person. I understand that part of it is just my thoughts, but I just really do not feel “right.” “Normal” things stress me out.
I went on to share some observations about being ‘homeless’ for a couple of days. I questioned whether I would be able to handle it if I really were homeless (perhaps my subconscious knew something about the future that it kept to itself).
In the end, I would return to my sister and brother-in-law’s home the next day. I know that we talked, but the only part I really remember is how much I had upset my sister in her late stage of pregnancy. Either I didn’t bring up applying for disability, or the idea was dismissed because nothing more was said about it at the time.
A couple of weeks after returning to West Lafayette, I was hired on at Office Max part-time. This brought some much needed confidence as I felt I was worthy simply because someone hired me despite having taken some months off from work.
At the end of March, my niece, Sara, was born. Her arrival also brought some much needed purpose to my life and work. I had to stay alive so I could work more so I could afford to spoil her!
While I still struggled to get the depression under control…without medication…things did begin to improve. Since I was only working part-time and only had limited responsibilities, I was not as stressed as I had been at the community college. The simple fact that there was improvement without medications or therapy (no insurance, so no money for either) was an indication to me that maybe I would not be able to work a full-time professional job again. This saddened me, but I was also able to see that it might benefit me mentally in the long run.
That is why, when I was contacted in May to apply for an academic advisor position at Purdue University, I held no expectations at all. Join me next time for 2001…Looking for a New Beginning: Part 2.