2008: California, Here I Come…But, Just for Six Months

plan vs reality

Between the fall of 2005 and 2007, I had slow but steady improvement in my depression and work performance. When our director, Alan, was suddenly terminated, that progress stopped. I knew that if they would go to the lengths to terminate someone who had worked for the department for 20 years, then they could certainly fire me.

Going on my experience under the previous directors’ leadership…or lack of…I KNEW I had to begin a job search in earnest so I purchased my first laptop that I could use during my lunch break when I stayed in the office.

Having the laptop at home was both a positive and a negative. On the positive side, it was easier to access because I could have it downstairs with me. On the negative side, it was easier to access. I spent more time on the computer when I was not at work.

In January of 2008, I started chatting with Donna through a website, SparkPeople. (This is not a dating site; rather it is a site where you can track your exercise, food intake and weight loss as well as participate in different message boards.) It was an instant connection and very soon the “love” word began appearing in our regular conversations. Everything was wonderful between us except for one problem…Donna lived in California and I lived in Indiana. We used this to our advantage to REALLY get to know each other before making any commitments.

The new relationship ‘high’ that gets you through the day when you’ve stayed up way too late talking on the phone made it easy to dismiss the signs of depression. My focus was on Donna and not the depression symptoms. I believed I had that part of my life under control.

That was far from what was actually happening. Despite being happy and ‘in love,’ work was slowly getting more and more stressful. I did the best I could to keep up, but my absences began adding up. And, it was becoming clear that I was next on their ‘list.’

At one point, I was instructed that when I missed work, that it was my responsibility to reschedule my students that had to cancel their appointments. This was another attempt to create a policy just for me. This was NOT the policy in the office. The front desk had always done this AND nobody else was being asked to do this. After some back and forth with Human Resources, the original method was left in place.

With summer approaching, Donna and I began talking about me moving to California; but it would be no earlier than Fall 2009. This would allow me to chair the regional conference of the National Academic Advising Association in May and then move. At least that was our plan.

In August 2008, the stress of work was really taking its toll on me and my attendance REALLY suffered. It was getting to the point that I was calling in more than I was going in. Then one day in early September, I was told that I would have to give a presentation about various majors in the College of Science. At this point, I was not working with Science majors. Instead, I was working with students who wanted to major OUTSIDE of Science. At first, I was not bothered by having to do this; but that evening, I realized it was actually a ‘test’ and something they were probably using to gather ‘evidence’ to terminate me.

This could have pushed me to prove them wrong; but it did the opposite. The negative thoughts took over and on the day I was to give the presentation, I called in to work. It turned out I would not return to work again. A few days later, I had a meeting with a representative from HR and my current director. I entered the meeting with three letters of resignation in hand: one for the end of the week, the end of the day, and immediately. Given the conversation of the meeting, I chose to resign immediately.  I had tried to hold on to be terminated so I could collect two weeks of severance pay, but the stress was overwhelming by this point.

With work no longer a reason to stay in Indiana, Donna and I decided I would move to California as soon as I could have shoulder surgery and make arrangements to move my belongings. I arrived in Oakland, CA on November 22, 2008.

Throughout the year, I had dismissed the depression because the ‘high’ that love brings concealed the depth of it. Once I arrived in California, this became very evident to me. I had already decided to take the month of December to adjust to the drastic change in environments.; but as January approached, I could feel the anxiety growing. The thought of job searching was beginning to worry me.

I felt so isolated in California. I LOVED being with Donna, but I left everything that was familiar to me. The only constant I still had was my 10 year old Chihuahua, Comet. She brought much comfort during the day while Donna was at work.

In late January 2009, Comet suddenly became very ill. After a trip to the vet, I learned she had developed a blood disease that could be treated if she tolerated the medication. She did not. A few short days later, I had to put Comet down. She had been my life and the reason I had not attempted suicide to that point. This was completely devastating and sent me on a very fast downward spiral.

Before I had moved, I had promised Donna she would not have to take care of me and my depression the same way she had a previous partner. Because of this, I felt I couldn’t share just how deep my depression was at the time. I would stay in bed and only got up and dressed when I thought she might be on her way home. We had to make a ‘chore chart’ to try to get me to clean around the house…key word being ‘try.’

After a few arguments, I finally got so desperate and told her I needed her help. I was so depressed I couldn’t even focus enough to figure out where to look for help in this new town. I had not been to a therapist or psychiatrist since I left Indiana in November. I no longer had insurance and was also out of medication. Thus began my use of community health centers.

I found Sausal Creek Outpatient Stabilization Clinic on 26th Avenue in Oakland on April 22. It wasn’t in the best neighborhood; and you had to ring the bell to be let in because they kept the doors locked. Once you entered you were required to stay inside until you saw the doctor. I could tell by listening to the others waiting that some were homeless and mainly looking for their next ‘fix’ of whichever medication they were abusing. My demeanor was so depressed while others were nearing a psychotic episode. I felt so out of place but also exactly where I was supposed to be.

I also began seeing a therapist at the Women’s Therapy Center in El Cerrito. I finally had someone I could share all the thoughts I had been keeping from Donna. Even though I paid a minimal fee, I had to limit my visits due to lack of income. I was going through my retirement funds faster than I had planned. A significant part of it went to try to save Comet. Now, not only was I stressed about being so depressed and not wanting Donna to have to take care of me, but I was beginning to get behind on my remaining bills.

In early May I met with a psychiatrist at North County Crisis Response Program. This was in a much more typical setting and I felt like I could really work with her. Again, I would be paying based on income and medications would be covered by the program. As someone with a Masters degree, I was very uncomfortable receiving this kind of public assistance but I knew I had no other choice. I could not mentally afford to NOT receive services I so desperately needed.

After a quick visit to Indiana to participate in the Indianapolis 500 Half Marathon (she ran, I walked), I decided maybe I would move back to Indiana in hopes of finding a job…ANY job. This was the year the recession hit.  It had hit fast and hard in California and the colleges were not hiring. Even though I had not applied to any non-academic jobs in California, I thought I might in Indiana where I would be back in familiar surroundings.

This idea started out in my mind as a temporary move. I had every intention that I would move back to California within a few months. Donna had different thoughts. As we discussed this back in California, she informed me that we were pretty much done…at least for the time being. This meant I needed to pack all of my belongings…again…and we would make arrangements to move them from her place in a couple of months.

So, exactly six months from the day I arrived, I left California to move back to Indiana.

Courage

 

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