2005…It Could Have Been the End

Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem.

David D. Burns

This latest major depressive episode had its beginnings by mid-2004. There had been a change in leadership in the office and it definitely was not for the better. The new director, B, never supported me (this is backed by observations of colleagues across campus and isn’t just my ‘thought’). I believe it was because I had very similar philosophies with the previous director, Alan, with whom she did not agree.

During this time, I had an overwhelming sense of incompetence at work. I didn’t feel I was even giving 20% of my student load my full attention. I even felt the students would be better off with a different advisor. Despite having a desire to do and give more, I remained extremely hesitant because I had a looming sense that “it would end soon any way.”

After a student in our discipline committed suicide, it felt as though everything made me think of suicide. In May, I wrote in my journal:

I feel like each time I have these depth of thoughts, I’m shaving a year off of my life. Back in March I said I didn’t think I would live past 50. Now, only 2 months later, I’m feeling like it is more like 40. I’m 33 and don’t expect to live more than 7 more years?! What is wrong with me?

My death is the easiest way to deal with everything right now.

Because of when our orientation program (Day on Campus, DOC) happened each year, I had already missed a couple of years of attending an annual family gathering in New Mexico and I REALLY needed to go and be with family. In December, I told B that I really was uncertain what my mental condition would be come July if I were not allowed to take the time off. I purposely was making my request months in advance so that we could plan around it.

There was absolutely no attempt made to accommodate my request at that time. It was flatly denied. During that holiday break, I was physically making a pro/con chart regarding staying in my position or looking for something new. My depression was deepening and everything seemed so hopeless at work.

A tiny glimmer of hope appeared when B announced she was moving to a different department across campus. (Actually, we secretly did a happy dance behind closed doors!) I thought maybe if I gave a specific suggestion to the interim director, P, my request for vacation would be approved. In March 2005, I specifically suggested that I see extra students early in the program so that the rest of the staff would not be burdened at the end. This time, my request was denied with the reason being that it was office policy that nobody is allowed vacation during that time. This had not been a formal policy to that point.  As a matter of fact, the year before one colleague had taken the last day off for a 50th birthday trip.

You can imagine my fury at being dismissed AGAIN and with an invalid explanation given. This only caused the anxiety and depression to increase with each passing week. I felt like I was under a microscope and that every task I was given was a test of my will. Where I had previously been given some leeway to complete certain tasks, I was now being given very short deadlines. The only thing that kept me going to work was the knowledge that things would slow down in May once the semester was completed. I figured I would take a week or so off at that time to mentally prepare for the upcoming DOC season.

When the time for vacation arrived, I had not completely finished my handouts for orientation, but knew it wouldn’t take much when I returned. There would be plenty of time to get them printed before we began. Little did I know that I would not return in a week’s time…or even a month’s time.

As the week of vacation progressed and time to return to work grew closer, my anxiety increased. I was struggling to comprehend the repeated denials of my request despite my willingness to do extra work up front. It became more and more difficult to get to sleep at night. In my thinking, if I did not go to sleep, that meant I wouldn’t have to wake up and face the next day. Days were spent fruitlessly sitting in front of the TV watching nothing in particular. My thoughts were obsessed with having to ‘face’ work again.

By the end of the week, I knew I could not return. I made an appointment with my psychiatrist to request paperwork for extended medical leave.   Again, I thought I just needed a little more time to mentally prepare for the stress of orientation and that I would return a few days before it began. I still remember trying to explain to P that I didn’t know when I would return. I had reached a whole new low and felt so ashamed that I didn’t have the strength to return to work.

By this point, the thought of suicide was EXTREMELY real. I strongly considered going in-patient. I asked my co-workers to write me letters of support in case I did. That brought disappointing results…and caused more pain and a sense of dismissal when I only heard from a couple of people. I knew it was their busy time, but I honestly thought they cared enough about me to take the time to write me a ‘simple’ letter. I found out later that they just didn’t know what to say. They didn’t understand the depression and were at a loss of words. Knowing this really didn’t lesson the pain, it only explained it.

The lack of understanding depression was made especially clear when one coworker, Meredith, told me of an associate dean, C, asking about me. C wondered why I didn’t change medications or just get a new doctor or even go in the hospital if what I was doing wasn’t working. She even asked Meredith if she thought I would return to work. Meredith had to tell her point-blank, “Criselda is having a hard enough time deciding if she even wants to live.” That was the last C asked of me.

At this point, my face was a mess from picking on it as I tended to do during major episodes. I was barely showering. My leg was scarred from an intentional burn with a fork. I had been so numb from the depression that I needed to know that I could still ‘feel.’ I heated the fork on the stove and held it to my leg.

Knowing that I was in such a desperate place and that she was going on vacation, my therapist, Rebecca had me sign a ‘No Harm’ contract.  To try to get my mind off of suicide and Rebecca being unavailable, I took the trip to New Mexico. I wish I could say it was the best thing for me, but, honestly, I didn’t fully enjoy myself. My depression was so deep that I essentially sat and observed the entire time. At one point, one sister asked what happened to my leg; I lied and said I had accidentally dropped a fork. She saw right through me but didn’t really press the issue.

I ended up taking nearly three months off from work that summer. When I did return, we had a new director, K, and we spoke immediately about my situation. K seemed to have a true understanding of depression and explained some of her own struggles. Finally, there was someone who would understand me again! This was welcomed news as I remained in a heavy fog for at least three months before I really felt like I was moving at a ‘normal’ speed again.

The depression continued to improve over the next couple of years. Besides having K who understood me, the original director that hired me in 2001, Alan, eventually returned as director.

But, alas, as Geoffrey Chaucer once wrote, “all good things must come to an end…”

 

SuicidePrevention

I am sad to report that K understood my depression all too well and took her own life in 2012.

 

It Took Over 26 Years…Part 1

I originally started writing my full coming out story to share with someone I consider(ed) a dear friend of mine. In that process, I realized how valuable it might be for others. Prior to putting my story on paper, I spent many, many hours in prayer asking for God’s guidance in finding the words to write. I asked for God’s guidance also for what he wants for me in my life. Ultimately, here is what I was called to write.

How do I know that being gay is normal and not a sin? Well, my coming to this conclusion is not completely based on studying the bible, but more based on my experiences. I think this is important to consider since homosexuality is not an abstract concept. It is something very concrete and involves real, current, living humans with a face. It involves people you know and love dearly and many, many others whom you have never met.

I remember years ago when many people thought that the rate of child sexual abuse was on the rise. What many studies would end up saying is that it wasn’t the rate that was increasing, it was just the number of people coming forward and speaking up that was increasing. The same can be said for homosexuality. There are not more people ‘choosing’ to be homosexual, it is just that more and more are being brave and speaking up honestly earlier in life about who they really are and their attraction to someone of the same sex. We also have to consider the impact that technology and media has played in us hearing about both of these topics more than we did just 20 years ago.

I think it is important to consider the definition of homosexuality. According to Merriam-Webster, the first part of the definition, which for me and many others is the way we define homosexuality, says that it is being sexually attracted to someone of the same sex. We simply cannot control who we are attracted to in our lives. It is not possible to train oneself to NOT be attracted to someone. We have no control over those butterflies we get when we see someone for whom we have an attraction. Not only that, but to the best of my knowledge, attraction is not discussed in the bible except in regards to lust. And, just because we are attracted to someone, it does not mean that we lust for them in the way the bible talks about lust.

If you are someone that believes that just having attractions to someone of the same sex is sinful, I have one favor to ask as you read through my experience. I ask it not in an effort to try to change your beliefs, but instead to allow you to read this with a more open heart. I ask that just while you read my posts, you put aside what you were taught to believe the Bible says about homosexuality. I ask that you put aside anything you may have read previously and dismissed as being shallow or self-serving. I ask that you read every word. I ask that you picture your dearest friend and imagine it is their story. If you find yourself wandering back to your current beliefs, stop yourself and put that aside just for the day, then continue reading.


First, some background…

I did not fully accept that I was attracted to other women until I was 26. However, since coming out, I have learned that I apparently made comments or asked questions that would lead me to assume I knew something internally much earlier. I believe my coming out was hindered by two main factors: 1) I have many repressed memories that have only come to light as I’ve read older journals and 2) I had heard my mother and a sibling speak negatively about a relative that was questioning their own sexuality and I feared what might be said about or to me.

I am so grateful that I am a sentimental fool. If not for that fact, I might have thrown out my many journals over the years. Thankfully, I have them to bring much needed clarity which helps piece the puzzle together. They also help explain how I got to be the person I am today.

I got very good over the years of ‘filing away’ certain thoughts and questions I had regarding my sexuality. For example, there were times when I would have questions but nobody was there to help sort them out so I just ‘filed’ them for another day. One journal helped trigger the following that I sent to my therapist in 1997:

“I remember when I was younger that I found a ‘girly’ magazine in my brother’s room. I was fascinated by it and even got a little aroused at that time…I can think back to about high school graduation thinking about women. My best friend and I used to have disagreements all the time over this. Not that I was attracted to her, but that I was the least bit attracted to women at all.”

A possible bigger factor that kept my sexuality hidden from even me was what happened at home. Once in high school, I overheard my mother and a sibling saying ugly and disapproving words about a relative that was ‘experimenting’ while questioning their own sexuality. I suppose this really caught my attention because of my own same-sex attractions I had during this time. If they could say these hurtful things about someone else that we ‘loved,’ what might they say about and to me? Could I end up being completely rejected if I shared my own attractions?

As I mentioned above, I was 26 before I finally accepted and understood myself to have same-sex attractions. I will share more in my coming posts how that came to be.

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2001…Looking for a New Beginning: Part 2

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We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. – anonymous

When I had been applying for jobs in Lafayette, I had completed an application on the Purdue University website. Even though my background was in academic advising, I wasn’t directing my search in that area. I did not have confidence that I could withstand the kind of stress that came with that particular kind of job. Instead, I was applying for jobs within the print shops and other ‘non-academic’ jobs.

So, when I received a call in May to see if I was interested in interviewing for a position in academic advising, you can imagine my shock. Come to find out, they performed key word searches on previous job titles and found me by searching the terms “academic advisor.”

I wanted a job that paid more so that I could get a place of my own, so I said, “Sure.” They informed me that they would forward my name to the director of advising for the College of Science and he would set up the interview.

When Alan Welch phoned me, I made up a story and said, “If you don’t mind that I’m not in typical interview attire I can be there in a couple of days.” I claimed that my interview clothes were in the back of a storage unit. Truth was…I really just didn’t want to put on a suit. I had quit wearing dresses and I really didn’t think I would get the job anyhow.

I was not nervous at all the night before. I did NOTHING to prepare. I didn’t think of any questions he might ask, or even come up with any questions of my own. I truly was just placing it in God’s hands. If I got the job, good…if not, I was fine with that as well.

On the day of the interview, I put on some blue slacks and a white striped button down shirt. I got turned around on campus and ended up parking pretty far from the Math Building which made me a few minutes late to the interview. I don’t even remember if I had a folder or anything with me. In my mind, I was just going on faith.

Alan and I had a good visit. I ‘made up’ my answers as we went along. At the end of the interview when he asked for my updated resume, I got creative once again and told him my printer wasn’t working but I could email it to him by the end of the week. Truth be told, I hadn’t even updated my resume. I left the interview with no expectations. I honestly thought I would just get a letter saying they had chosen someone else.

Imagine my surprise when he called to see if I could begin working in a couple of weeks!

Thus began my career as a computer science academic advisor in the College of Science at Purdue University! THIS girl who attended a small liberal arts school in Texas was now working in a highly sought-after field at a Big Ten research university! I was in complete awe!

I began working during the most intense time of the year. The entire month of June is devoted to daily visits from the incoming freshmen. Each day had a new batch of students and parents. By the end of June I would meet with approximately 100 of my new student advisees. I guess because I knew I would have almost two months off before I returned to work, the intensity of June was not overwhelming and I performed fine with no medication.

I returned in mid-August just before classes started and began my new daily routine. It didn’t take long before I realized I would definitely need to get back on medication if I were going to have a chance of being successful in this position. Sometime in September I began seeing my primary doctor and was prescribed an antidepressant again.

The combination of a medication and a great leader in my supervisor, Alan, made for a great couple of years. Alan saw potential in me that I never imagined possible. By the end of December, along with my regular advising duties, I had become involved with the campus advising organization, PACADA – Purdue ACademic ADvising Association, and would take on the challenge of redesigning their website.

This was just the beginning of my involvement in advising organizations. By the end of my career there, I would become actively involved in the campus, state and national organizations. I held leadership roles as well as presenting regularly at the various conferences. I believe I was one of the first to present on the idea of “Computer Addiction” at the national advising conference. (RIP Midge Keller…without your encouragement to present, I might never have had the confidence to begin what has become a passion for me.)

I LOVED my students. Unlike my position at Odessa College, I was able to really build relationships with these students. Some I only saw when it was time to register for classes; but others I saw more regularly. I am very pleased to still be in contact with some of my very first students!

The students are really what made the job bearable as leadership changed hands and more strict rules were put into place. My stress had been held in check for a couple of years because of the flexibility I had been given. Once that was taken away, the daily struggles to get up picked up again in earnest.

By 2004 medication alone was not enough and I began seeing a therapist once again. Rebecca would become a regular in my life…at times, the one thing I could count on in a given week. I was, once again, calling in late for work, or missing work altogether. I would set my alarm for an hour earlier than I needed to get up in hopes that I could convince myself to get up and go in to work on time. I hit the alarm every five minutes for over an hour before I would finally give up and decide to call in to work.

Each time, without fail, that I had decided it was time to quit work, a student would show up in my office and remind me why I couldn’t quit. They did this either by their actions or their words. THEY are the reason I stuck with the job until 2008 despite seriously considering leaving not only the job, but life as well, in 2005.

 

June: Pride Month

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Everyone has people in their lives that are gay, lesbian or transgender or bisexual. They may not want to admit it, but I guarantee they know somebody.  -Billie Jean King

June is Pride Month for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. This month, I will share my struggle with accepting my sexual identity, life since coming out and some of the history within the LGBT community.

For those who have been following me already, don’t worry, I’ll finish my story of my experience with depression as well this month. 🙂

 

Here is the brief history of Pride Month from eHow:

Unofficially, June was known as Gay Pride Month for many years after the Stonewall riots. Gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals would frequently schedule parades or festivals in June to commemorate the event. In June 2000, President Bill Clinton declared June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Nine years later, close to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation that June was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

 

Gay rights advocates march by the White House in Washington, on

Below is the 2014 Proclamation from the White House:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 30, 2014

 

Presidential Proclamation — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2014

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH, 2014

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect — our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.

Last year, supporters of equality celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling which, at long last, gave loving, committed families the respect and legal protections they deserve. In keeping with this decision, my Administration is extending family and spousal benefits — from immigration benefits to military family benefits — to legally married same-sex couples.

My Administration proudly stands alongside all those who fight for LGBT rights. Here at home, we have strengthened laws against violence toward LGBT Americans, taken action to prevent bullying and harassment, and prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals. Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And in the years ahead, we will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities within the LGBT community by implementing the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy — which focuses on improving care while decreasing HIV transmission rates among communities most at risk.

Our commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community extends far beyond our borders. In many places around the globe, LGBT people face persecution, arrest, or even state-sponsored execution. This is unacceptable. The United States calls on every nation to join us in defending the universal human rights of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

This month, as we mark 45 years since the patrons of the Stonewall Inn defied an unjust policy and awakened a nascent movement, let us honor every brave leader who stood up, sat in, and came out, as well as the allies who supported them along the way. Following their example, let each of us speak for tolerance, justice, and dignity — because if hearts and minds continue to change over time, laws will too.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2014 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA