As my brother would say, when you find yourself in the middle of a catastrophe, it’s likely because there’s been failure on multiple fronts, and that was the story of my depression. Over several years there had been spectacular tragedies and slow deaths, things I thought I had assimilated – multiple fault lines running through my life, encouraged by an overwhelming, numbing exhaustion, until I could no longer hold all the pieces together enough to make it feel mostly good. It was mostly very bad, with a dead-end-ish, hopeless cast.
On Labor Day four years prior I was nursing what I thought was a cold, only to end up in the emergency room at 3:00 am, bizarrely unable to swallow even my own spit, my throat hurt so badly. (I still felt like a wimp showing up at the emergency-room check-in saying, “My throat hurts.”) They gave me tylenol with codeine that I could barely get down, and thick numbing gel I had to swallow, which made me throw up. I went home and rested and saw my doctor but didn’t get better – for months I was exhausted with a low-grade fever, attempting to work part-time but mostly not able to work. The dishes piled up all over the kitchen counters, the laundry was too large a task to comprehend. The doctors couldn’t diagnose the exact strain, but assured me that what I had was in the Epstein-Barr/mono class of viruses, that it might take me six months to get back to work, but that I wouldn’t be permanently impaired.
I went back to work fulltime after four months. I refused to consider chronic fatigue, but the fatigue lingered in spite of my determination to will it away. I had developed chronic insomnia and learned to survive without sleep. If I was able to get to sleep, chances were that I would wake up and feel as though I hadn’t slept at all, as though my body refused to rest. This wasn’t the incredibly frustrating insomnia that disrupts life for a week or month, this was ongoing, seemingly permanent, life-altering. I walked about semi-catatonic, attempting to suppress my out-of-control emotions, trying to go through the challenging daily rituals – getting up in the morning, getting dressed, getting to work on time (a near impossibility), doing something productive, making dinner. Batteries of tests showed nothing substantive that could be causing the problem, so exhausted me tried futilely to get more sleep, to go to dance class with my lethargic muscles, ever hopeful that things would once again be normal, forgetting what normal felt like.
Work haunted me; there were days I drove to work in tears. It’s a familiar, soul-killing story – being given responsibility without authority, being held accountable for things one has no control over, having to deal with aggressive, incompetent coworkers whose superiors wash their hands of the situation. In this case, the organization was a large Christian non-profit and the mismanagement was all in the name of God – which, to me, was devastatingly sad. Before that I had been let go from a six-year stint at a Christian dot-com, by my self-absorbed, near-compulsive-liar boss who slandered my reputation as he shoved me out. I spent a year unemployed before arriving at this job I hated and yet desperately needed to pay the bills. And though I knew in my head that none of these were entirely or even largely my fault, I was contaminated with insecurity. (to be continued...)