One year ago I sat in my doctor’s office speaking very slowly so I would not cry. I was supposedly there because I had been experiencing nervous tics for months. My right shoulder spasm forward and my head would jerk right. I could suppress them with effort but they were getting worse. My kids would occasionally yell, “Let’s be dad!” and would flop their shoulders around. The previous night I had run an IEP meeting with eight people and had jerked so hard that I smacked the table and everyone looked at me. I spent the next hour running the meeting in a cold sweat with my left arm under the table gripping my right sleeve so I could not tic again.
My doctor said, “You’re a psychologist. You know this is stress related and there is nothing neurologically to treat this, so I need you to tell me why you came in.” I finally quit, said “I need help” and she wrote the script for an anti-anxiety/antidepressant.
Everyone has reasons. I had taken the fall for a seriously messed up situation at work. It was humiliating. After a year of thinking, I could have done a few things different, but the truth is, I was the fall-guy. Additional work changes followed that left people saying “Why are they doing this to you?” I had lost a couple friends and had a lot of personal things going on. What they were is not important. Do I wish a few breaks had fallen another way? Yup. Do I wish some people would have done some things differently? Absolutely. Do I blame any of them? Nope. This is on me. Everyone has reasons.
The point is, I became depressed, frustrated and anxious. Every day became something to get through. Even with sleep medications, my insomnia raged. Several days, I was in my buildings at 5:30 AM when my report time was 8:40. Not because I was so far behind, but because I was not sleeping anyway and I thought I’d put the time to use. Plus it gave me a refuge. Alone, I was able to take a break from forcing the smile and going through the act for my kids, my family, and my co-workers. There was a constant tightness in my chest, constant exhaustion and an overwhelming feeling of being completely and totally alone.
I struggled to keep it together in front of my kids. I lied about having after school meetings to buy time before I had to go home and put on a show. Some nights I would say that I was going out with friends but since I really had no options, I would just go sit somewhere. Maybe a bar. A coffee shop. Mostly a lot of parking lots. Maybe buy a beer at a gas station so I would have the smell on me when I came home. Mostly I’d sit in my chair.
I felt a failure as a professional, a husband, a father, and a friend. I felt like everything I touched at work, at home, and with friends crumbled.
I tried to keep the act up at work but was failing. Make a joke, move to the next thing, fake a smile, keep moving. Staff with whom I have no personal relationship began coming to my office for the sole purpose of seeing if I was OK. I was only at my new school a month when a staff member said, “I know we don’t know you but do you always look this sad? You always seem so lonely.” The statement that hit hardest, and for which I’m most grateful, was “Erik, I love working with you. You are great at your job and you are one of the kindest, most caring and incredible people I know, but I hope you do not come back next year. Whatever is happening to you is too hard to watch and I hate seeing it.”
And I ticked. And I was not fooling anyone. And I quit. And I got the pills.
I hate looking in the mirror and knowing I need to take those damn things. I hate that I could not beat it. I definitely have a genetic predisposition toward this type of thing but I always believed myself stronger . I hate that stupid orange bottle.
I hate that the price of my life insurance went up. I hate checking new boxes on health forms. Yup. Got that. I hate that my kids now get a little something to write about when they get older and are asked, “Do you, or any member of your immediate family have issues with depression or anxiety?”
I hate that when something does not bother me or if I handle something differently, people joke about, “Meds help!” or “That’s the meds.” Yeah, they help but I am fixing how I see things. All the positive changers are not because of the stupid little white pill.
I can not stop eating. My will power with food is shot and those meds make me very hungry. I am twelve pounds heavier than I was last March and that is with busting my butt with running. I am not overweight but I hate the fact that I have to really work at controlling my food.
I miss my drive and competitiveness. My running has suffered some because I do not quite have the drive to fight through things anymore. True, I do not have the obsessiveness with improvement, but I am also much more likely to skip a run or say, “Wow, I am freaking tired. Screw this, I’m taking a break.”
Almost everything. Things slide off my back much easier. I do not replay scenarios in my head and wonder how I could have handled it better. I’m generally less nervous about work and personal issues but I am far from zombified or affectively flat. I doubt most people notice much of a change.
I look forward to things. I am excited to go places and to do things. I’m not getting through things on my calendar. I am more grateful of what I have and less resentful for what I am lacking.
I feel like I am back. I feel like I used to feel. I feel like myself, if that makes any sense at all.
This will sound crazy, but I swear the world is brighter. About three weeks after making my decision, I had to literally stop on one of my runs because I could not believe how bright green the leaves were. I stood there looking around at the flowers, stream, and trees and marveled about how brilliantly colored everything was. How had the world looked so dull? Smiling like an idiot, I knew I had made the right decision. I had let myself slip so much that, for about eight months, I had become unable to even see the world correctly.
The only reason I am writing this (besides to fulfill this resolution) is that I am embarrassed and I think the only way to get over that embarrassment is just to put it out there. I am guessing some people will look at me different now. I’m guessing that when I have a bad day the “Is he taking his meds?” question will be thought. Whatever. This is me. I do not have some imbalance or disorder that I can not help. I have some thought patterns that get me in trouble. That is on me and I can, and will, fix them. Apparently, I just need some short-term help. I just needed to break the cloud of emotions to be able to clearly see what thoughts and behaviors were getting me in trouble. I know what they are. Now I can fix them. Then I will get off the med. Soon enough. Just not now.
Hey, thank you to those who stuck by me. Thank you to those of you who made time to listen. Thanks to those who took notice and said something. Thank you to my since-retired office mate who spent the school year gently checking in on me and listening. Thanks to the person who told me I had become a self-absorbed asshole who does not know how to treat people. Thanks to those who had the courage to tell me they were concerned. Thanks to those who love me.
This is me.
*as always, feel free to hit that “follow” button or share this*