Monday, July 18, 2011
There are times in our lives when we all too suddenly lose sight of the road ahead. At the time we are hard pressed to find rhyme or reason. The path that we thought we were confidently striding, minding our own business, taking determined and purposeful steps gradually changes. The once familiar surroundings start to almost imperceptibly shape shift. After a while, nothing looks or feels the same as it once did. Things have changed in an insidious manner. The surface of the path quietly alters.
The recognisable patterns in your life start to dissolve and the regularly anticipated lumps and bumps we meet on the journey, remove themselves to the shadows. The clear and familiar path becomes harder to define. The way forward un-noticingly starts to take a slow decent and before you know it, you are sliding on your arse toward the depths of unknown darkness.
Your surroundings become unfamiliar and spotted with a murky blackness. The comfortable confidence you had starts to leave, as the road a head is no longer clear in its form and, the light is rapidly leaving. Suddenly you find that all sense of your usual normal life is unrecognisable and you find yourself in a thick black morass.
It is not until after you have clawed your way out of the morass that you wonder to yourself. “What the fuck just happened?”
In some ways the morass is comforting. It blocks out the reality of what is happening to you and the response that you are having to your surroundings. You begin to shut down, in an attempt to manage the uncomfortable and unfamiliar sensations and feelings you are experiencing. You try to continue doing the familiar, which becomes harder to maintain as the playing field has changed. Your internal sense of self has altered and the self confidence and purpose you once knew starts to wane.
You begin to question the reality of what is happening to you and the purpose and value of what you thought was a worthwhile pursuit. Your Life suddenly changes.
When these feelings start to occur as a response to actions by others in the workplace it compounds the situation. This was the case in my work situation that began 12 years ago now, and that lead me down the path to developing a Major Depressive illness. The tale isn’t all bad but I would like to tell you how this episode in my history has had profound and lasting effects on my life and my sense of who I am and what has become of me as a person now.
Let me indulge you with part of my story…
You work hard in a career that you love.
One day you are approached by your manager and told that allegations have been made about your behaviour in the workplace. You are not privy to the nature of this alleged behaviour or, by whom the anonymous allegations have been made. You ask for further information and clarification and are told that the information you seek is confidential and cannot be disclosed. You are then instructed by your manager that your behaviour must change and that your behaviour will be monitored.
You are left wondering. Any further attempts to redress and resolve the allegations are actively thwarted by this manager and subsequently senior management.
In a situation like this you feel that you are being singled out and targeted. Initially you think you are just being paranoid but, as I have learned, just because you feel like this at the time, it does not mean that people are not actually out to get you.
The process is slow and insidious. And initially you don’t notice the subtle changes. It becomes harder to get out of bed and go to work. You loathe the sound of the alarm clock in the morning. And drag yourself to work with a sense of fear and trepidation as to what might unfold during the course of the day. You become super conscious of your own conversation and behaviour and of what you say and to whom you say it to. You become so preoccupied that it affects your ability to function productively in the workplace.
You stop socialising with your work colleagues. You stop participating in the usual social chit chat occurring at work. There are days, weeks even, when you go to work and hardly speak to colleagues for fear that what you might say will be taken in a negative light and fed back to management. You just go about your own work.
It is a very difficult situation to be in given that you are meant to be in a leadership role.
You spend breaks on your own. This is, you think, is a positive way of dealing with a difficult situation. Given, that you have nothing to guide you as to what the actual allegations are. You feel it best to keep communication with others to a minimum. You think that by not to speaking to others, from fear of further accusation, and as a coping strategy for a severe case of not knowing who to trust anymore, you minimise the risk of further allegations. Well unfortunately, no.
After a few weeks of this conscious withdrawal, you are again approached by your manager and informed that they now have complaints from your colleagues that you have become “withdrawn and non communicative”. It seems that you can’t win. The old adage “You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” looms rapidly on the horizon.
Self doubt starts to creep in. All sense of feeling supported leaves you, along with your faith in your own competence and abilities. You start to question yourself. Your ability to trust takes a beating. You start to avoid situations and people that would not ordinarily phase you or cause concern. You withdraw into yourself further. The clouds of ruminations and questions start to grow to build. They start to consume you. You can see no way of resolving the situation despite your efforts to the point where your faith in the concept and process of natural justice becomes sullied. You feel broken and stop caring. Already the negativity starts to feed upon itself.
Then, while these events unfold around you, you sustain a severe injury from an assault in the workplace and so, are suddenly removed from it.
But being away from the place you might think would help the situation. It does not. The unresolved issues remain and are now compounded by your physical disability. You have more time on your hands to ruminate over the situation. At the same time you are trying to cope with the restricted movement and pain from your injury and the disruption to your life that that in itself causes. The difficulties that you face are compounded and the pervasive sense of isolation grows exponentially.
Nothing in your life gives you pleasure anymore. Not even the little things. You feel empty. Everything you attempt to do becomes a struggle. The feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness become all encompassing. Your energy levels plummet. As much as you try to will yourself to sleep you can’t and you don’t. The nagging thoughts and worries continue to swirl about in your head like a movie that keeps replaying over and over in vivid digitalised colour.
You feel that there is no purpose to your life. The overwhelming psychological and physical pain is all consuming. It hurts to even breathe. Nothing you attempt to do has any purpose. Nothing in your day matters. You spend days in your bed, drugged out on pain killers. You don’t shower or shave for weeks at a time. Just getting to the toilet has become a major and painful event. You stop eating. You don’t answer the phone. The bills start adding up. Your life it seems is not your own any more. Mole hills become mountains and from seemingly out of nowhere come the thoughts that you would be better off if you were dead.
At first you dismiss these thoughts as being ridiculous. But as time drags on, the pain continues and there is no sight of resolution, the thoughts linger. Each time you experience them you start to consider them as a valid option and fantasize about how you might go about their realisation “Who would notice if I just strung up that rope from the tree in the garden”…”Who would really care?” … “No body would find me for days… weeks even”…Yes, avenues to suicide play on your mind. And, because you are in such a bad place, start to look like a viable though, somewhat in hindsight, misguided options. Although you have the thoughts, the energy to carry them out is absent which makes you feel even more of a failure. So, there you sit and sit and sit. Alone and frozen in a shroud of desolate inactivity.
These thoughts of ending it all consume your day. You sit for hours and hours within this mire of confusion and pain, oblivious to your surroundings. Eventually you realise that another intolerable day has gone, and in insufferable night of not sleeping again has come and you have achieved nothing all and are looking at a repeat performance tomorrow. Friends fall by the wayside and start to withdraw from your life, probably in their own sense of helplessness to your situation but unwittingly reinforcing your feelings of being a bad person, and affirming your feelings of being a worthless, horrible, useless and hopeless human being.
You feel like you are someone who is not to be associated with and someone, who is profoundly at their core, unlovable.
At the time, you can’t see that this is the depression speaking. It re-enforces your lack of self worth, fuelling your self loathing. Egging on your negativity and clouding your reality. It is a spiralling black hole.
Thoughts of you returning to work become a physical and emotional impossibility. Despite the never ending roundabout of meetings and ever growing piles of correspondence in what now, seems a futile attempt to resolve your untenable situation in the workplace, it becomes evident that you are fighting a losing battle. Sadly, the effect events have had on you professionally and also personally go unnoticed by the workplace. The ranks close and you are “persona non grata”. Use by date is passed and you are unceremoniously thrown out on the scrap heap of life.
The lack of any resolution to the situation at work is, in your mind, confirmation and feeds your sense of failure as a person. Just the suggestion of a return to work is enough to bring on panic attacks and aide your slip back into the depths of darkness. The only option that remains for you is, to walk away. You resign.
Having finally made the difficult decision to resign and not having the energy or resources to take matters further you think that your mental state will improve and your depression will resolve. Removed from the cause you think that your life will instantly change and things will go back to normal…
But, you would be wrong. Very… very wrong.
Depression is like that. My depression has been like that. And the story above is true and I know this because I lived it.
I was diagnosed with a Major Depressive illness ten years ago now. It started as a result of the story related above. It is a condition that even 10 years down the track I still struggle with from time to time. The events and feelings described are no longer as severe or as pervasive and persistent as they were back then.
Medication has helped me immensely, although, the trials of finding the right one for me has not been without its own ups and downs. Some worked for a while and others had no effect at all. It was pretty much a game of “hit and miss” for a long time before I got on to one that really worked for me.
But my depression is well controlled now. I just have to get my life back on track.
It is only now that I am starting to realise the huge impact that the ups and downs of the journey over past ten years have had on my life, and the lives of those around me.
It is also a time to reflect upon and recognise the times now in my life when the leftover feelings from this episode in my past, come racing back to colour my view of the current events occurring in my life.
I am finally able to start processing the great sense of loss and grief that has been at the core of the past 10 years and begin to look at creating a more positive and productive future. I feel like my life has been on hold for this time without direction or real meaningful purpose. It is like I have been treading water for that length of time.
It is not until I can put myself into a space, (one often dimly lit by a single candle, after flailing about in the dark feeling for the box of matches, I know I placed in a safe place just for the occasion), am I able to dissect the events and changes leading to my current state. But once the candle takes flame I know that things will get back on track. I have had similar dark times since the initial diagnosis and eventual loss of my career, but not to that extent in severity.
I know now that once I can start to unravel the dark morass, and try to gain some hint of perspective and insight into how I got there, I realise that life will and does get better. I just need to find a better spot for the box of matches….
I cope by trying to make light of the situation. “Laughter is the best medicine” according to “Doctor Digest” Well… I bet that bitch never grappled with depression!
It is quite odd. But always having prided myself on being quite the resilient soul in the past it comes as a huge shock to suddenly find that the slightest of things send me into a downward spiral. It is also difficult to accept that depression still at times now stops me from managing life situations in what used to be, my normal healthy robust way of tackling life.
These responses stem from situations in my past, mainly related to the career that I had for twenty years. A career that I worked very hard at to establish, that I truly loved and I was respected in. I was known, for being very competent, knowledgeable, practical and professional with an ability to impart this knowledge to others. A position in which I earned the respect I had in a career that was in hindsight one that helped me to identify who I was as a person, (though at times to the detriment of my personal life) but also with a total focus on a career that eventually came to an end and in response to the process of that downfall, (or lack there of) the development of a severe depressive illness. ( I never thought I would develop depression!)
The details of the demise don’t particularly matter now, but on reflection, led to a profound sense of loss on my part. My professionalism was challenged, false accusations were made and I was left without any course of redress. It was as if everything that I valued and thought about myself was being challenged. Not only being challenged but was challenged.
My whole world was crashing down around me and by the end of that time I was left feeling powerless to change the situation despite my efforts. It left me feeling very bitter and very, very angry.
At the same time coping with physical injury, along with the emotional turmoil caused by being challenged on every level, I was left holding an overwhelming bucket of loss. I’m not just talking loss on a material level here but also the emotional losses.
Of course I lost the home that I had worked hard to purchase, in a place surrounded by natural bush and native animals that I loved. I’d also lost a very nice income. I’d lost the lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed. But these are mostly material things, and in the “Big Picture” really don’t mean a lot. The things that do matter are on an emotional level.
I lost the career that I had made for myself over many years, and as I have said, had helped me to identify myself as a person.
You may well ask “why not just continue that career in another location?” Well to be honest, the damage had been done. My credibility had been damaged. The positive reputation I had developed amongst my peers had been undermined. The impact effected me on such a deep level that and I am still unable to even contemplate returning to the profession. I was emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
I lost colleagues and friendships forged in the workplace. Some through active harassment from management and others (with good reason) that I felt I could no longer place my trust in.
I had also lost my daily routine of getting up and going to regular employment.
Physically I was still struggling with resultant back problems and poor mobility which impacted on my social life. Weight gain from the medication, lower activity levels caused by the depression and physical limitations all impacted on my ability to go out socialising and meet new people. I became a hermit.
Fortunately my true friends and family stuck by me. And I thank them with good regularity. I don’t know how I would have survived without their love and support.
But the loss was more profound on a personal and emotional level. There were so many questions. Sadly the fog of depression tends to provide a buffer to the harsh sensations that would ordinarily be felt in such circumstances. On an emotional level I was left without an identity. It had been removed from the world as I knew it and, not of my own choosing.
My self confidence and self worth were shot. And they are taking their time to re build. The events that I thought I had managed well and move on from reappear. Not literally, but in the form of their shadow, their impact having affected me on a much deeper level than I thought at the time. It is when I find myself in a situation that although quite novel holds at some level a sense of déjà vou.
For me these times present when things are seemingly staring to go well in my life. Suddenly I experience a huge sensation that things are going too well for me. I’m happy and I might just make a success of what it is that I am doing. Then quite unobtrusively, self doubt creeps into the corner of the room. It stands there silently, questioning my positive thoughts and ideas of wellbeing. It taunts “This will go nowhere, your wasting your time and effort” and self confidence starts to take little steps backwards in response and starts to falter. “He’s right you know. Remember what happened to you in that career you had? Maybe they were right! You are a failure!”
I am getting better at listening to the negative self talk these days and challenging it. In the past I would have gone with it and self sabotaged. These days I persist with the task and the reward is completion and defeat of the nagging destructive defeatist within.
The emotional rollercoaster remains. Self doubt, hopelessness, worthlessness and failure all turn up on the doorstep to cheer you on. Self confidence goes. In between are periods of relief at not still being stuck in that toxic work environment. Although physically no longer stuck there the toxicity of the experience remains.
I had no view of what the future might look like. I had no idea of who I was any more. It was a daunting concept. I had to go back to the fundamentals. What did I want to do with my life? What could I do? What was I able to do? I still have physical and psychological issues to consider.
But as much as it is difficult to deal with loss, it also provides the opportunity for positive change. To review your life up to now and explore where it is that you would really like to be heading. I still feel like I’m in limbo. I’m much happier now, I still don’t exactly know where my life is heading but it certainly isn’t back into the arms of severe depression.
I have a few ideas to work on. The road ahead is becoming a little clearer and starting to take form. I am continuing to discover who I am and am not being defined by a role or career. It’s is a huge relief just to be able to go with the flow.
I’m starting to feel good about being Me.
to be continued....