Meds take several weeks to make their way into your body chemistry. It’s like trying to fit in, in middle school--super weird and scary.
Call 'em shrinks, crazy doctors, whatever. I have never, nor will I ever, regret seeing a mental health professional. In my opinion, it could benefit everyone to talk to someone about your life, someone who doesn't already have a biased opinion of you. They are neutral. They don't pick sides. They listen and simply help you navigate difficult times in your life.
After saying sayonara to the dazed and confused psychotherapist, I needed more help. My depression and anxiety were only getting worse. I needed to find someone else that could provide more than just a question-asking type of counseling. Enter mental health professional #3. (Since 2009 that is.)
That packet from my first ER visit actually came in handy. Sarah helped me research and together we found this dude who has turned out to be a very good match for me. He’s a psychiatrist. He has a degree from Harvard and he is really great at his job. His beliefs in health align with mine and he doesn't push anything on me. He doesn't just prescribe meds. He does a lot more. We work through breathing techniques, meditation (it's not all weird), and other ways to manage panic attacks. Seeing him has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. Marrying Sarah is up there too. ;-)
Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with discussions with patients, help provide a picture of a patient's physical and mental state. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to evaluate medical and psychological data, to make a diagnosis, and to work with patients to develop treatment plans. These treatment plans sometimes include trying certain medications to see if they can help in managing mental disorders.
Yes, I decided to try meds after many discussions with my psychiatrist. At this point in my life I had exhausted every other means. For me, my medication has been a saving grace, in addition to the ongoing support I receive from friends and family.
Meds of these kind take several weeks to make their way into your body chemistry. It’s like fitting in in middle school--super weird and scary. Deciding to see a mental health professional can be scary too. People are judged. That's the truth. I could tell you I hired a personal trainer and you'd probably be like, "Awesome, good for you. Can't wait to see your progress." But I'm willing to bet that not many people react the same way when you tell them you are seeing a psychiatrist. You simply have to do what's best for YOU and let go of any negative opinions people may have. It's not worth your time and energy and certainly doesn't help with anxiety. Toss it aside! Focus on you.
When you find your match, you'll know. It doesn't always happen on the first go. You have to be willing to be open with your psychiatrist. If it's not working, no hard feelings. You move onto another one. Not the most enjoyable thing, but it's VERY important to find someone you feel comfortable with. In my experience, they understand this and will likely help you to find someone else.
I got a two-fer. We spend half the time discussing meds and how I'm feeling and reacting to them, and the other half we talk about life. I started seeing Doc Harvard 1-2 times a week at first. It's a year later and I see him ONCE EVERY THREE MONTHS. This is good. It means that I've learned to manage my depression and anxiety better AND that my medication is working. It means a lot more than that, but you get the point. OH, and I save a lot of money by going less frequently. Ha. I'm not held to once every three months. My psychiatrist gives his personal number, email, and I'm allowed to reach out to him at any time. My wife also has his contact info and is free to use it for emergencies.
She does end up calling him for an emergency...
Hi you. Thanks for being here. Last week we went to the ER together. You already know that I end up back in the ER 11 days later. Before that however, I have more to tell you. If you're just joining me for the first time, I encourage you to start from the very beginning so that you can truly embrace my story.
After that visit to the emergency room I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I've said this before, but I have a hard time remembering all of the details during these distressed moments. Sarah has helped me through everything. I'm just not myself. I fear I may sound "crazy" here, but the super difficult times are like out of body experiences. It's so hard to imagine myself being in them, but then I am. After the fact I just feel so sad and disappointed. How could I be like that?
I finally realized that I needed to put everything else aside and get to a happier place. It's hard to put yourself first. We're all guilty of not doing it. We like helping others and we lose sight of our own needs. It's easy to do. This wasn't just about me though. I wanted to take care of myself so that Sarah and I could healthily navigate this through our marriage. We knew it wasn't going anywhere so our goal was to learn how to manage it together. No more thinking it would pass or that it was only temporary. This was not good and something needed to be done.
And, in order to take care of myself like I needed to, I had to make a very difficult decision. I had to quit my job at NC State, that I had just started in August of 2017. I didn't even make it a full semester there. Talk about feeling like a failure. BUT, I've learned to stop being so hard on myself. I am not a failure. I did what I had to do.
I felt that all of my colleagues at NC State knew something wasn’t right. I interpreted every look and lack of interaction as a sign that they were afraid to get to know me. It’s probably mostly false, but that’s one shitty part of mental illness--it makes you feel as if everything is your fault and you misinterpret a lot! I do not truly know how everyone felt. We barely knew each other. Aside from my interview, which went very well back in May of 2017, only a couple of them saw me teach. I received good feedback. Those that weren’t involved in the interview or my peer review knew very little. There was no time to get to know me or to see the good in me.
I was on a down-spiral at work. I tried so hard to do the job right. My confidence disappeared. I withdrew from social interactions. I couldn’t teach. I wasn’t getting out of bed. I wasn’t responding to student emails. The department chair at the time kept up email communications with me and even sent me student feedback from course evaluations. He was trying to tell me that I was doing a great job. My students said incredible things about me. It just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t function even if I wanted to.
No one ever said anything negative to me at work. I was supported in many ways. For that I thank the department in its entirety. I did try to seek accommodations through the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, but I was denied. They didn’t feel they could accommodate what I was asking for. At that point I had to make a decision. It was a very difficult one, but I said goodbye to NC State. I contemplated the decision constantly. I lost sleep. I cried a lot. I told myself to "Get Over It" and "Suck It Up". There are plenty of people out there who believe that's an effective method in overcoming mental illness. Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn't work.
In the end it was the right thing to do. What kind of wellness professional would I be if I didn’t choose to take care of myself first? I just couldn’t let the students down anymore. They deserved the best and I wasn’t the best at the time.
I knew I’d never get that job back, but I was going to fight to get my life back. If you’re reading this, YOUR HEALTH ALWAYS COMES FIRST. It’s like being on an airplane--you put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
For a while after that I kept reliving the moment I found out I got the job. How the hell did I mess this up? How did I get back to this awful place? How could I put my wife through this?
Things would get worst before they got better...
Last week we were in the shower.
But really, you should go and read last week's post so my opener makes sense. ;-)
That moment in the shower was like standing in mud, not being able move. I felt like I couldn't see anything. No matter where I looked, what direction I turned in, I saw white space. Not walls, just white space that went on for miles. I saw nothing and that nothing was endless.
Welcome to my first emergency room visit.
I don’t know how emergency rooms work. I’m not a specialist on the logistics: who comes first, why is the wait so long, why can’t you get anything for the pain, and the list goes on. I can come up with a few ideas like the lack of ER staff, the severity of an injury, and the amount of people waiting. Having said all that, arriving to the ER in my condition was not given enough attention. It simply was not viewed as an emergency. Only when there is physical, VISIBLE harm, do we get the attention we need. Is there blood? No. Is she breathing? Yes. Then she can wait.
Definition of emergency
1 : an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action
2 : an urgent need for assistance or relief
So then we ask, “Is it life-threatening?” You tell me. What questions do we ask? Are we asking the right ones? My life felt threatened. I was afraid for my life.
When I was admitted to the hospital due to a mental health crisis, it was difficult for me to understand why it took so long for someone to help me. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me or what I was experiencing at that time. Maybe it was because my wife was with me and she seemed to have things under control. It’s hard to feel justified trying to explain it to you because you had to be there. I was crying, uncontrollably. I’m pretty sure I was staring off into some place. I don’t know where. I can’t even remember arriving, talking to any sort of secretary, or even getting into a room. I know I did those things because Sarah was there and we talked about it.
The fact of the matter is, my wife brought me to the hospital because I needed urgent assistance. We were desperate for help. I didn’t know how to help myself and she didn’t know how to help me.
I think that’s one reason why mental illness can be so scary. One day you feel really great, happy, and on top of the world. And the next day you’re in the deepest, darkest hole imaginable. You do not want to wake up and repeat another day like that. That is not normal. Not all people make it to the ER in those situations.
I believe that not all hospital staff are trained to treat mental health crises as actual emergencies. I may be biased, but I’m not alone. Yes, I am fully aware of the wonderful staff out there that recognize and understand a mental health crisis. I will tell you this though. Society has misunderstood mental health for quite some time and that includes hospitals.
After waiting for two hours during this particular ER visit, I was taken to a room where a woman asked me a bunch of questions. I couldn’t even tell you what she said. I mean seriously, I was not in any shape to answer her questions at that moment. My visit resulted in her handing me a packet of information on depression and anxiety. I was sent home. It was like a one-size-fits-all brochure. The lady was probably just doing what she was trained to do, but it wasn’t good enough. I’m not sure what is. I just know there’s a better way. How do you give a brochure to a severely depressed person and expect them to do something with it? Luckily I have Sarah, who assisted me in moving forward.
My poor wife. She felt helpless. I couldn’t console her. We were a hot mess together, but she was determined to help me. She didn’t waste any time. She started doing research on psychotherapists and psychiatrists and psych, psych, psych. I may not have said it then, but Sarah, I love you so much for your strength and determination.
I saw a psychotherapist for a bit, but it wasn’t helping. This lady sat cross-legged in her chair and constantly asked me, “Well, why do you think you feel that way?” I DON’T KNOW LADY THAT’S WHY I’M HERE! I fired her needless to say. Just wasn’t for me. That’s OK. We don’t always find the right shrink on the first go. I’m sure she was a great fit for others.
Between those visits and taking time off of work, things just got worse. I would return to the ER eleven days later. Maybe this time it'll be an actual emergency...???!!!
See you next week. Thanks for being here.
It was so hard to leave South Bend, Indiana. So hard. It was scary. It was scary to just pick up our lives and feel as if we were letting something good get away.
We ended up buying a house in Knightdale, NC. We looked at the house thanks to FaceTime and Sarah’s parents. They were instrumental in this process. When they found the one we wanted we said yes and on went the purchase.
We shuffled around a bit until we could actually move into our house, but we got there. Sarah’s parents looked after the dogs for us, which was a huge blessing. A co-worker of mine at the time from NC State was very generous to us and allowed us to stay with her for a few weeks until we could move into our house. We both were starting new jobs the same week. Everything was falling into place: we had a house and we had jobs.
In the middle of my first semester at NC State I began to curl into a ball. The world around me felt like it was crumbling down on top of me. I had feelings of doubt. I started to feel like I wasn’t capable of doing my job. I couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. WHAT IN THE HELL WAS HAPPENING TO ME?!!!!!!!!!!!
I knew that depression could come back into my life. I just never thought it would come back like it did in 2009. Nor did I think it would bring a friend (anxiety). I try to be positive about things and move forward. You accept the past and move on from it. I've learned now that my mental health is a priority. I mean, it should always be (for everyone I think), but for me it's a different priority. It is a part of me, and my job is to learn how to manage it. That's what I believe at this point in my life.
During the first year in North Carolina, I believe I was frequently misunderstood. Sarah could not fathom why I would ever want to miss work. Here we were starting a new journey and I was screwing it all up. We’ve talked about this in length and part of our understanding of mental illness as a couple has been her realization that she had no clue. She does now and has been the most supportive wife I could ever ask for. And it's not just about me--Sarah has a place in her heart for those who suffer. Mental illness was just a new addition. I love her for taking the time to learn about my mental health and for adapting to my needs. I know it's not easy. I have also tried my best at understanding her feelings and challenges through all of this.
Her parents gave me similar feelings about how they viewed my "situation". I don't necessarily like to speak for others, so I will say that I am not 100% sure this is how they felt, but I am 100% sure of how I felt. I believe that they still are unsure about what to think. And I want to make sure that I make a point of saying that, THAT'S OKAY! It has not been the best of times with them because of misunderstandings. I believe I've been misunderstood and that I've not understood them. Does that make sense? I'm re-reading this and my brain feels wacky. Ha.
I love them of course, with all my heart, but it saddens me that I wasn't able to reach them. I have felt like a complete failure to them. They were so excited when I got the job at NC State. I was even credited for bringing Sarah back home to them. I was happy. Really happy that Sarah would be back in North Carolina and that her family wouldn't be 800 miles away. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to convey to them what I was going through or what depression and anxiety truly feel like. I just know that I don't want others to have that same feeling.
My anxiety only worsened. I drove it into my head that I was worthless. It happened so quickly. I've wanted to be a teacher my entire life, and it took less than a month to make me believe otherwise. Nothing I had accomplished in my life mattered. I didn't care about our house, my job, this place, this state. I just wanted it all to go away. I wished to be back in South Bend. I wish for this, for that...
I was laying in bed for hours, for days. I wasn't sleeping. The scarier part is that it felt like I didn’t even need to--like I was born without a need to sleep. I couldn’t escape feeling that way. I couldn’t force myself to feel better.
Then one day I just broke down. I was in the shower. I remember staring at the wall and crying. Sarah heard me and came to check on me. She asked me if I was okay and I just shook my head and said, “I’m not okay. I’m not okay.” I was repeating myself, crying hysterically, and feeling hopeless. I remember how I felt, not how I was acting. I know that I felt like not breathing. I didn't want to see anything. I didn't want tomorrow to come. I wanted that feeling to go away. At the same time I was so scared of what I thought I might do. I didn't want to leave Sarah. The dogs. My family and friends. In that moment I just struggled with what mattered most. I know what matters most: LIFE MATTERS. But this is what I'm trying to tell you. Depression and Anxiety take over and life doesn't matter sometimes.
Sarah knew, in that moment, that I needed help. Professionally, it was beyond her control, but she did the right thing by taking me to the emergency room.
Back to that “falling into place” feeling. It's awesome! I can honestly say that I've always said everything happens for a reason. Things just fall into place, ya know?! This is one of those times however, where Falling Into Place walked in the door with a mask on. I wouldn't really believe that until later on.
Stay tuned next week for my first emergency room visit in North Carolina.
If you're reading this, THANK YOU for sticking by my side as we jump into a new year!
To make sure we're all on the same page, let me give just a quick review. My last post was actually a contribution from my wife, Sarah. Though this is my story I'm sharing, I'm not the only one involved. I want to reach people who can directly relate, but if my goal is to help rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness, then my job is to include everyone in my story because we each have our own struggle. This is why I asked my wife to write and speak to those of you who may not suffer from a mental illness, but instead, support someone who does. I shared my love story and how much Sarah means to me. She then did the same. We have different ways of expressing that love, especially when it pertains to navigating my mental illness. I hope that you recognize how strong our love is and that you are able to further define what love truly is.
I now continue telling my story. ***If you are just joining me, or if you forget where you are in my story, please take a moment to go back and read a few posts. It makes more sense if your thoughts are organized***
So...on we go...
You already know that I lost my job at the University of Notre Dame once the department was eliminated. It was a strange feeling. I felt like I had no purpose anymore and no clue what the heck I was going to do. My career goals had always been centered around teaching, specifically health & physical education. My position at Notre Dame was very unique in my mind. Not many universities have a physical education requirement for students anymore. On top of that, a Ph.D was not required. My Masters Degree was just right for the job back in 2009 when I got hired. Basically I lost my dream job and thought I'd never find anything like it ever again.
I struggled during my time at Notre Dame--I think we all know that now. My depression got the best of me numerous times, but I had great moments too. I loved teaching! I still do. I had the best students at Notre Dame--kind, compassionate, inspirational, and always willing to go above and beyond. Toward the end of my career there in May of 2015, I obtained a new friend, Anxiety.
Between 2015 and 2017 I did some summer part-time work and then spent six months as a fitness coordinator in a job that I needed financially, but that totally wasn’t for me. I wasn’t for it either. I hated waking up every day going to that job. My anxiety got worse. I started thinking that my degree, my experience, and ultimately my passion for fitness, didn't matter anymore. I wasn't connecting with co-workers. I felt useless. I wasn't enjoying myself. Financially I needed the job, but it could only trump my health for so long.
I was already slowly withdrawing myself from social situations. I was embarrassed that I no longer worked at Notre Dame because I felt like nothing else would compare. I stayed at home a lot in my own little world. I still did things outside of the house, but those fun times became few. I limited my interactions and created my own idea of "getting out of the house".
I wasn’t as depressed as I had been in the past, but it was still there. It came and went. I’ll tell ya though, the anxiety was a new beast. I thought depression was awful. WHY ME? The reality is that you cannot compare the two. Depression can be horrifying, anxiety mild. Anxiety can be horrifying, depression mild. They both can be horrifying, all the time, some times...lots of combinations to choose from. I just wasn't ready to battle both of them.
After almost two years of feeling worthless and being unemployed, I hit the jackpot! At least it felt that way in the moment. In fact, when I got the call from NC State University, Sarah and I jumped for joy in our front yard back in South Bend, IN. Our dear friends saw us from across the street and already knew I had interviewed. They came out to congratulate us. They knew I was looking for another teaching position and the struggle I was having. This also meant we would be packing our things and relocating to North Carolina. It felt great to know I was capable of landing another job in higher education. I was proud of myself and happy that we would be closer to Sarah’s family.
Unfortunately, things didn't pan out like we thought they would.
Stay tuned for next week's post as my anxiety takes over and leaves depression in the dust.
I wish only the best for you in 2019: kindness, compassion, hope, inspiration, confidence, success, and love. Thank you for your support.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.