Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? I can assure you, it is not.
This last bout with depression was horrifying. I have been to depths never experienced by me before. Me, who was first diagnosed with major depression at the age of 16.
This episode started in summer of last year. By late January and into February of this year, I had become convinced that I basically had no value to anyone on this earth. Sadder than that was the dawning belief that I had no value to God. I had become convinced that suicide was an option, because surely God had given up on me years before and didn’t much like me. I knew I was going to suffer the eternal punishment of hell anyway.
Every day and nearly every interaction seemed to confirm these beliefs. In retrospect, I am realizing things that I didn’t even realize then. I was so cognitively impaired. Feeling stupid and impaired was something I was not familiar with. I was suddenly the dullest person in every conversation. I could not find simple solutions to simple problems, and then simple problems turned into complex problems that I could not even face. And the longer I couldn’t face them, the more terrifying they became. I had stopped paying my bills. One example is a lien on my house for a $28. bill I had failed to pay – it cost hundreds of dollars to clear it.
My boss was abusive and confronted me about my depression as if it were a crime. I asked her if I could lose my job and she hedged and said “well, there is something we can do if you continue this way….” Later I realized that she had spoken to HR about doing a “fitness for duty” evaluation and if they had found me unfit, I would have lost my job.
I was desperately seeking help from my healthcare provider. I hadn’t seen a psychiatrist for years because I hadn’t taken medications for years. During those years, I felt I was “managing” my depression, and my therapist agreed with me. My long-time psychiatrist retired. It didn’t worry me because I didn’t need one! Until I did. Then I had to go in, while feeling horrible, and meet a new psychiatrist. At first, about a year ago, I didn’t look too bad. I was prescribed an anti-depressant that worked. It looked like everything was going to be OK.
One day in October last year, my boss confronted me (as if I had committed a crime) about her feeling that I was being a bit ADD. She said I had my cell phone on my desk, usually lit up, two or three things on my monitors, and other work going on. I thought I was being highly functional!!! Like a fool, I took heed and e-mailed my psychiatrist that someone had observed that I was a little bit ADD. That immediately got extrapolated by my psychiatrist to mean that I was having a hypomanic episode. I was taken off the medication that was working for me.
I was prescribed a “mood stabilizer” much to my horror. I do not have bipolar disorder. I was 6o years old at the time – that is certainly a very very late onset. I had never had a manic episode in my life. I have never talked too much, had grandiose thoughts, stayed awake at night, etc. Ever. Not even when I was being hyperproductive on the job – and at home also.
The psychiatrist didn’t ask to see me. He just prescribed this mood-stabilizing medication. I gained 8 lbs. within one month. I felt horrible. I was back to being depressed – and gaining weight to top it off. I started calling and trying to get back on an antidepressant. This is when the feelings of hopelessness truly settled in.
The more I got upset, the more these folks on the phone (all RNs who had never laid eyes on me) decided that I was being manic. And drug seeking a drug that would make me more manic, which is what a person with mania wants to do when they are manic. One of them told me “you are not helping yourself with the language you are using.” It wasn’t the use of profanities, it was me telling her that I felt so bad that I didn’t know how I could continue. It sounded like hyperbole to her.
I would call on my way to work, but not get anyone on the phone. They would call back while I was in my cubicle at work. I could not talk with them. I would walk up to the roof, holding the phone and trying not to speak until I was out of the building. That sounded bizarre, I am sure. I tried to explain, but then it started to sound like I was paranoid as well as manic. More than one of them said “you sound like you are angry.” I would say “I AM angry.” Then realize that was another tick mark on the list of manic symptoms. There was nothing I could do to convince anyone that I needed help and it wasn’t the mood stabilizer I was on.
After I complained about the weight gain, an RN left me a message that said a doc had reviewed my chart and that I had been gaining weight since 2005 (I have no idea how she could have come to that conclusion), and that an 8 lb. weight gain in a month would be consistent with that. Not a side effect of a drug. No. One. Would. Listen. To. Me.
Until late February, when I got a new psychiatrist who actually wanted to see me and make an assessment, live and in person. He told me my chart made no sense to him. After a few minutes with me, he told me that he agreed with my diagnosis – major depression, recurrent. With anxiety. Terrible anxiety. He heard my story of the months prior to this and was horrified by how I was treated. He said we would work together to get me well. And when I was well, he wanted me to talk to a manager about what I had been through trying to get care. I knew that someone was listening to me. He actually thought I was going to get better! He prescribed an antidepressant I had taken with success earlier in my life.
At about the same time, I got in to see the therapist for the empl. ast. pgm. (sorry, don’t want google searches yielding this blog). She was a young social work intern. I had to get over that at first. But I listened to her because I was desperate. She could share many of her experiences with me. She suffers from ADD, and was convinced (like my boss) that I also suffer from ADD. (When I consulted my psychiatrist about having ADD, he said that was low on my list of problems at the time, and that the medication I was taking is also prescribed for ADD.) But she was so very helpful to me. I knew someone else was in my corner.
In March, my regular therapist returned from a 3 month absence for a knee replacement. I was able to get in to see him. He has known me for years. We have a great rapport. The last time he had seen me, I was just starting my descent. This time I was at the nadir of despair. He had never seen me like this. He was trying with all his might not to cry. I could see the tears and I could see his chin wavering. I know it is pretty sad to make your therapist cry, but I was so relieved to be seeing someone who knew me and knew that I was unbelievably ill. He also said I would get better. He said I would bounce back. I was encouraged but doubtful.
I should have been hospitalized. I fought that with all my might. And having worked in a psychiatric hospital for so long, I knew how to avoid it. Danger to self? Of course not! Danger to others? nope. Gravely disabled? never! The reason I didn’t want to go to the hospital, which I knew would lead to the end of my career by a medical retirement (disability) was the hope that I would be able at some point to go back to my old employer. The hospital where I had worked for so long. Every day I felt that hope slipping away. I knew that if I went out on disability all bets were off.
I have laid the groundwork for the beginning of my recovery. I will never minimize the help of medications and good therapists and doctors. I was eventually blessed with good therapists and a wonderful psychiatrist.
At this terrible time, something else was going on. It was Lent. I had a new church, a very traditional church that actually fed my soul. I found it in October, really miraculously – but that’s a different story.
For Lent, I gave up purchasing clothing. I had never realized what a sickness my penchant for new clothing was until I gave it up. It was so enlightening.
But I also endeavored to say the Rosary every single day. If you are not very familiar with the Rosary, I will tell you that it is not just mumbling prayers while counting on your beads. That’s a large part of it, but it isn’t the whole prayer. The whole Rosary involves meditating on the Mysteries. They are Biblical. There are the Glorious mysteries (on Sundays and Wednesdays), the Joyful mysteries (on Mondays and Saturdays), the Sorrowful mysteries (on Tuesdays, Fridays, and ALL of Lent).
At the beginning of Lent, I thought “Oh Lord, please let me meditate on something other than the Sorrowful Mysteries. I am so depressed.” But I did it anyway. They are:
- The Agony in the Garden
- The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Crowning with Thorns
- The Carrying of the Cross
- The Crucifixion
When meditating on the suffering of Christ, I was struck by so many things. A this point in my life, I was struck by the psychic pain that Jesus suffered. I had always focused on the physical. But as I knelt, day after day, and meditated on this, I thought of the psychic pain.
- Being betrayed by one of his disciples, and ignored by the others, who could not stay awake one hour with him even though he asked them to.
- Being stripped and beaten publicly to within an inch of his life.
- Being mocked by the Roman Soldiers as they placed a crown of thorns and a purple robe on him. Being utterly rejected by his own people who loudly proclaimed “Crucify Him!”
- Being forced to carry his own cross. He was utterly depleted by loss of blood from the scourging and his face was disfigured. He met his Blessed Mother as he trudged this road, causing untold anguish for both of them.
- Being nailed, like a common criminal, to a cross, where he was allowed to be asphyxiated by his own weight on his lungs. He was naked and mocked by all but the small group of followers at his feet. In the middle of this, Our Lord took mercy on the thief beside him and said “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He introduced John as Mary’s son, and Mary as John’s mother.
This is how Our Lord Jesus Christ died. In disgrace. As a common criminal. Without a shred of mercy. His death demanded by his “peers.” Betrayed by his own disciple. Mocked.
He willingly did this for me and for you.
And so, my life was so horrible because I had a bad boss and a crappy job? Because I was suffering from depression? I did not minimize these things, but I considered other atrocities and my problems were not even on the scale.
I thought about St. Maximilian Kolbe, undergoing untold suffering and giving his life for a stranger at Auschwitz.
I read “The Song of Bernadette.” If you have never read it, please do. I thought endlessly about Bernadette and her dismal life.
I surrendered to the job, and to the boss. I surrendered to my financial problems. I surrendered to my depression. I very forcefully put a smile on my face every day and tried to be of service to others. I stopped being angry all of the time because I realized it was nothing but pride. I started going to confession for the sins I considered too tiny before. Every time I talked unkindly about another, I was in the confessional on Saturday confessing it. I didn’t want to do any of those things. But I did. And funny thing, I started to feel better.
When I stopped expecting this life to treat me fairly. I realized demanding the “fair” that citizens of the US grew up believing in during the 50s and 60s was probably a recipe for unhappiness and a sense of injustice.
I finally surrendered completely and decided to retire. I was done. Done because I realized that God had blessed me with good health, a beautiful family, and many other blessings too numerous to name. What had I given him back? A stressed out, multi-tasking, workaholic who was miserable. I decided I could give Him something better.
Two weeks later the phone rang, with a job offer that was a dream. I couldn’t believe this could happen.
Now I am in that job. It does make a difference to be treated like a human being. I wish I were better than that, but I am not. I like what I have today. My mental health is fine for now, depression is at bay.
I no longer believe I have this little kernel of depression within me that I can “manage.” I think of it now as a foreign invader. I do not care to walk hand in hand with it as I imagined I did before. I don’t know what will happen, because it is unlikely that it has gone away for good, but I am incredibly grateful it is gone for now.
I don’t expect that everyone will read this, but if you have, I thank you. It has been a long journey, and some of you have been so very important to me. You have mostly all been kind and loving when I thought I was dying (and indeed I believe I was). Some of you (you know who you are) wrote me loving e-mails and read my long miserable e-mail responses. Thank you.
Thank you God.
And thank you God for psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and medications.
Thank you God for AA and your loving intervention. Through all of this, NOT ONCE did I ever consider having a drink. For a drunk like me, this is indeed miraculous.
And especially thank you for getting me back to where I belong in a career I love and feel happy about.