Thursday, December 01, 2005

Depression: Now you see it

… now you don’t… *warning* this is a heavy entry.

I’ve already gotten some feedback from my blog post on depression! Following this I realized that external observation of someone in depression is very difficult if not impossible.

I appear, in general, as fairly even keeled emotion-wise. Yet I am also passionate and this means I will get vocal, or opinionated, or angry, even vociferous. But I don’t really have a bad temper. Some people even say I simply care too much. Most of the time I appear jolly, yet sometimes branded as abrasive, maybe a little too direct. I often prefer the light-hearted approach and will always try to alleviate tension with a quip. Yet I am also self-assured with what I know. All this is true and it’s all feedback I have gotten from family, friends and coworkers. Yet, I am also very sensitive and sometimes have bouts of self-doubt…

Enough dichotomies? Now the invisible parts.

After a hard day at work™ I like to make it home in one piece. Literally. Here is some reality that went on in my mind: I had to cross a bridge to get home every night. And every night I would think how easy it would be to jump the Jeep over barriers and into the water. Luckily, during my darkest times, the bridge was under construction and since I didn’t know if anyone might be working beyond the construction wall, I’d opt not to swing the steering wheel.

At work or with friends, I’d be jolly and helpful, and passionate.

I’d get home and fall to my knees as I passed the front door, although exceptional, this happened more times than I care to remember. Exhausted, yet physically fit, as if the connections between my mind and body had completely frayed away. Sometimes I’d curl up into a little ball on the floor by the door. This would last several minutes, unable to move nor even cry. Then, I’d kick into old-habit gear and get up as a zombie, numb, automated.

At work or with friends, I’d be dedicated, strong, self-assured.

During my burn-out, sometime during 2002, I have a favourite story. I went to the store, Maxi I believe, with my wife to get some groceries. As usual, she would go off for the food, as I checked out the DVD stands. I’d usually read up each title searching for something good to watch.

On this day, possibly in March or April, I was locked up solid. I was simply standing in front of the DVD rack. Some time later, maybe 20 minutes, maybe ½ hour, probably a lot more, my wife comes back to find me standing in the exact same spot where she had left me. I had not moved. At all. Not for upwards of 20 minutes.

I barely remember her talking to me, and I don’t remember answering. She grabbed my arm and gently led me away. My body was fully functional. I packed and carried bags of groceries, walked to the truck and loaded it. But my mind was frozen. Needless to say, she drove home. I’m not sure if my speech was affected, and I don’t want to know.

When I shook back out of it hours later, I was still in a daze, but alert enough to know something had gone terribly wrong. Fear of what had just happened didn’t even enter my thoughts until several months later!

At work, well… I was off on disability.

And that, my friends, was a crash.

I was on short-term disability at work since February and was consulting with nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologist and a therapist. I was also speaking with family and friends. But I was specifically trying not to unload on coworkers.

My performance review at work indicated I had snapped in May of the previous year, and by November I was urged to consult with the Nortel nurse. It was obvious then that I was no longer the jovial and helpful guy I once was. By January I tried to explain the situation to my staff as best I could under the circumstances. Again, I was specifically not looking for support with them, I had my support structure in place, but I hate ambiguity and so I told them what was going on with me. I think this was well received, if it wasn’t, so be it.

I realize now that I leaned a little too heavily on one of my staff, a mistake. I don’t really regret the mistake since this happened before I had built up all my support. I unloaded a bit on her before I realized I was doing this. Eventually, I finished building my support structure but by that time it was too late with her, so I do regret that these events pushed her away. I really liked this woman.

As a testament to my organizational skills, and now knowing I was on borrowed time, I actually set up a project plan for my burnout! The only thing I couldn’t factor was my recovery time, never having done one before, and since documentation was sorely lacking. The only thing available is a list of symptoms, and then a declaration: it is what it is. Nobody says shit about how you recover nor how long, so I was unable to factor this into my plan! Talk about being misguided.

I tried to come back to work, on a partial basis at first. I had gotten enough rest at home during my leave to feel up to the challenge. Boy was I wrong. The only thing that had changed was my level of rest. The stress, the burnout, the work and the environment had not changed at all.

Unfortunately, I was still thinking that I could power-through this minor inconvenience. If only I could kick my own butt enough to move ahead, all would be well. This is what I knew. This is all I knew. Ignorance is not bliss, not by a fucking long shot.

So I went back to work. Jolly, helpful and hopelessly doomed.

In my favour, my subconscious was a lot smarter than me. It would simply shut me down every hour or so. I would fall asleep, bang! No amount of concentration would make a difference, in fact, the higher concentration, the faster I’d fall asleep. This got to be seriously annoying, both to me and to my co-workers. Unless I’d pack massive amounts of sugar and pop, I’d fall asleep in minutes even during the most important meetings.

Furthermore, I was outright dangerous. In fact I remember, driving in to work once, I looked both ways at a stop sign, and saw no oncoming traffic. A little voice from my subconscious told me to look again. There it was, a car not 100 feet away that I had not seen a second ago. It obviously had been there before from the position in the lane, but it simply had not registered.

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and got a C-PAP machine. Other than waking me up in the middle of the night with massive stomach cramps, this did nothing worthwhile for me. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure as well a few years earlier. It’s unclear whether the apnea caused the high-pressure, or vice-versa, and whether either caused or was caused by stress. In any event, the sleep problems I was having were very directly related to the depression. The harder I tried to reintegrate, the worse the sleep.

But I was pulling my weight at the office. Those I worked with did appreciate the good job I was doing. Go figure.

I tried to change my way of thinking about the job, the work, and my responsibilities to and from the company. To this effect, I made a pact with one of the senior managers to meet once a week. These sessions were very useful and edifying for me, maybe I’ll expand in another blog entry. The jury is still out on how truly effective they were, since I was laid off a few months later anyway.

Throughout my reintegrating my job those people that knew me from before noticed that I had changed. It was probably a bad thing that I didn’t have any staff. The motivation I got out of being a manager was conspicuously absent. My cynicism was out of control and my sarcasm ran deep and vengeful. My professionalism took on a new face, cold, even unfeeling at best, uncaring at worst. Suddenly I found myself looking out for Number 1, whereas this had never entered my vocabulary before.

Recovery was very much dependant on changing my own outlook. I was partially successful, but in hindsight way too damaged to continue the fight. To use navy terms, I was patched up by welding some steel plating over holes in a ripped open hull. Half my deck guns were out of commission and the bridge was an unholy mess. I should have gone back to dry-dock.

The sleeping was a signal, and my attitude was a symptom. Getting laid off was simply the best thing that could happen. It allowed me to be myself and with myself for a little while, unencumbered by the stresses of work. I would regain composure and start on the road to recovery.


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