This is (hopefully) the final installment of the Push series. Maybe it’s time for pulling? Pause.
Why at 3am on a Saturday of a week where I’ve been burning at both ends on four to five hours of sleep each day? Because my creativity likes to say “fuck you” to common sense. Let’s write a two-thousand word blog for two and a half hours! Sure thing, brain.
I started an office job with a local company in the summer of 2011. I was scraping by on my own accord for seven years, spending 60-70 hours a week grinding to find and finish work, chasing down payments, and barely making good on my bills. It honestly wasn’t all that bad — I made two of my closest friends during that time period — but I felt vindicated that my hard work paid off when I got that job. I was salaried with excellent benefits, and I was being valued as part of a team, and I did it all without a fucking college degree. Take that society!
For the first year and one week of that job, I felt accomplished. I was solving complicated problems that I probably didn’t have the correct skill set to complete, but I made everything work. I was a legitimate hacker, just researching and iterating code snippets to rush out finished products. It took its toll on me, and I fell into a period of burnout, which coupled with my perfectionist-OCD-side convinced me to run from the job without anything else lined up. Smart.
The ironic thing about leaving a job that way is that you’re confident you’ve made a wise decision, but instead you were irrational and put yourself in a very bad head-space. You became convinced that you weren’t good enough for the job to begin with, and you were quitting before they found out you were a fraud and they fired you. Obviously I was doing quality work because my 30-day, 90-day, six-month, and one-year reviews were stellar (receiving what were described as atypical raises at each meeting). What I learned to be true about depression also applies to burnout: your default mindset changes and you fall into a perpetual cycle of defeating yourself.
I had money saved up for bills for a couple months, so I wasn’t entirely worried about it. I just had a year of experience with a real company, with real results, and I left on good terms. They told me I was eligible for rehire during my exit interview and wished me the best. I was going to be fine. Six weeks later Gram died.
There’s multiple posts in my head about my relationship with Gram, but you just need to know that she was my rock. She was my number one. Her death took a big piece of me, less than two months after quitting a job in an emotionally distressed state. It was the first time dealing with grief in my adult life, and I was woefully ill-equipped. That’s when I switched from burnout to depression.
During my deepest depressive states, I pushed the people closest to me away. This was a point of contention with my mother, and we experienced a long estrangement. I offended her by not meeting an arbitrary level of communication that she considered necessary for a healthy relationship, and she shut me out. Counter-intuitive, right? She thinks you’re not talking to her enough, so she decides not to talk to you at all. Welcome to my complicated maternal consanguinity. Anyhow, around Thanksgiving, I really pissed her off by not being thankful enough for a box of candy or some shit, and she stopped answering the phone and responding to emails. I’d still get notifications from her asking for help on Farmville though! Gotta love that passive-aggressiveness, right Punk?
In January 2014, I called my aunt and talked to her about how annoyed I was with mom. She confessed that Ma was saying much of the same thing, but hers was more dramatic. She kept saying I must hate her, and that she was sending me messages on Skype and I wasn’t responding. To her credit, Skype wasn’t open, and she did send me some emoji once in a while.
I got off the phone and poured my heart and soul into an email, bearing my depression to another human being “out loud” for the first time. It’s still in my gmail’s sent box, and I have it open in another tab. Reading this is pretty interesting. Here’s an excerpt describing what I was going through, because this is way better than any retelling I could muster now.
I don’t hate you. I’ve had this problem where I fall into myself and I lose track of time since I’ve started working at home again. It happens when I just sit in the same space for hours on end, for days on end, without any change. I get into this rut where I just sort of exist without really doing anything, and then something snaps me out of it, and I’m sad with how much time has passed without me knowing.
I know you’re going through the same feelings, and I’m sorry that I’m not more attentive and on top of reaching out to you so you have an outlet. There’s no conspiracy to leave Skype off so you can’t call me, it either crashes or I forget to open it when my computer restarts when it installs new updates. It’s one of those things that until I realize it’s missing it’s not missing.
There were times in the past where Gram would have to call me a few times a day for a couple days in a row to snap me out of a funk. Now that she’s gone there really isn’t anyone doing that. It just fixes itself organically, and it takes an indeterminate length of time to do so. I’m working really hard to catch it as it happens, but it’s not like there’s a flashing, light-up sign that goes off when it starts to manifest. I know it hurts you when you reach out and I don’t respond immediately, but I need you as much as you need me. So I really want you to pester me to the best of your ability when you feel like it’s gone on too long. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just spirals on me and I don’t realize what’s happening.
I’ve asked Dorena to be harder on me about pushing me to get into a routine to regulate myself, but she has her own problems and she’s totally imperceptive to when I’m having problems. I’m hoping, in some small way, that putting this into writing, and sending it to you, makes me focus on the warning signs more.
She didn’t even respond, and writing that email didn’t do much to help my progress. C’est la vie.
Reading this email again, and knowing what I do presently, I was surely depressed at the time. I didn’t self-diagnose it as such until I spent a lot of time researching the condition and trying to get past it. Trust me when I say these two things:
- It is incredibly difficult to self-diagnose your mental-health problems. Your mind biases itself against exposure, often times convincing yourself that you have different problems (or no problems at all) to steer you away from what is really happening. It’s hard to notice the nuances of your condition, where professionals are able to accurately assess your issue through analysis. Ignoring any medical condition is dangerous. You can miss something physically wrong that’s masked as an abstract description of an ailment on WebMD. Always seek professional help. Do not do it alone. No matter how minor you think it might be, do not do it alone.
- All of that said, I am not a typical person. I am extremely self-aware, and I’m very logical. I can recognize and ignore my own biases, so I was not flippant with the term “depressed.” It took me over two months to come to the conclusion that I was actually depressed by collecting data on myself and comparing it to various scales. Yeah, I was doing just enough bullshit web work to pay for full-text medical journal articles to research my own condition. I’m that crazy.Fun fact: my therapist was able to determine I suffered from persistent depressive disorder within ten minutes. It took me two fucking months. Stick with the people that do it for a living.
I kept reading papers on depression and treatments, and formulated a plan to get out of it. I first chronicled that I was making improvements in April 2014, speaking about my depression publicly for the first time. Look how confident I was that I had it figured out! I titled the first post about it “The Final Push.” I thought that writing and sharing that would hold myself accountable. The issue with accountability is that it only matters if you’re vested. Putting something out there for more people to see doesn’t do anything more than get you a little attention for it. The only other boon is that your mother will read it, breakdown, and reach out to you for the first time in over six months. Oh wait, no she won’t, she’ll hint to your aunt that she’d like for you to call her, then rip you apart for half an hour about how much you’ve destroyed her heart. Good times.
That conversation was an entrance into reconciliation and we worked hard on our relationship through June. Weekly Skype calls… Nearly daily emails… We were going ham.
Then it fizzled out again in July. My distraction from my depression was spending money on ValleyCats tickets, and I had a few games in a row, so I didn’t have availability for a Skype call on Independence Day. I figured I just pissed her off and said “fuck it” at that point. We put a lot of effort into it, but it was her turn to suck it up and move on. She could reach out to me when she was damned ready on her own.
A week went by, and my rationality restored. I started to reach out again. I started with Skype messages and emails, and she’d respond inconsistently. Sometimes the messages were aloof, but I didn’t make much of it. Then there were two weeks of radio silence. I was defiant and called my aunt. My plan was to get her to sink her teeth in and get Ma moving again. I’d fucking guilt her into talking to me, damn it!
Joette told me that Ma wasn’t doing so well. She fell and hurt her leg going outside for a cigarette, and she was moving sluggishly, sleeping a lot, and avoiding her computer. She said it wasn’t anything serious, but she’d let me know how she was doing if she didn’t reach out to me soon.
A few days later, Joette was outside mowing her lawn. She saw Ma get dropped off from dialysis as she rode the tractor to the backyard. Ma’s routine was to sit in the garage and smoke before going inside to take a nap. Jo’s yard is pretty big, and when she came back around the front of the house an hour or so later, Ma was still sitting in the garage, unresponsive. Joette called the paramedics and sent her to the ER. Ma had a stroke, but the early prognosis was that she’d require therapy but it wasn’t earth-shattering.
I was nervous, but my instincts to help kicked in. I anticipated flying down and staying for an extended period of time to help with recovery and get her settled again. I wasn’t doing anything else, so why not? I’d get to be with her every day, we’d fix our relationship, and maybe it could get me out of my depression once and for all. Six hours later, Joette called and intimated that things were worse than anticipated. She thought that Punk and I should fly down that night to see her, just in case.
We couldn’t get a flight that night, but there was a flight at dawn the next day! Good luck trying to get any sleep after shit like that hits the fan. Our trip was pretty fucking awful, too, even outside of the reason for travel. The plane was delayed by about half an hour in Albany before takeoff, and we only had a 45-minute layover in Charlotte. More stress! When we landed, no one gave a fuck we were on the way to see our dying mother. Passengers on the flight wouldn’t move for us, and there was “nothing they could do” in regards to calling the gate and telling them we were on the way.
Punk and I were so fucking blown out we couldn’t figure out which direction to go. We wound up going down the concourse the wrong direction, and really freaking out. We were noticed by a great guy in a golf cart. He asked if he could help and when we told him what was going on, he waved us aboard warmly, and said, “Come! I will take you!”
There’s no horn on the airport carts. Instead, he made the beeping noise himself. He would start low, holding the long e, “beeeeeEEEEEEEP!” Then, he’d alternate the extended beep with a very rapid staccato version. “BEEEEEEEEEEP! beeeeEEEPPP-beep-beep-beepbeepbepbepbeeeeeeeeEEEEEPP!”
It’s a sound we’ll make to each other three years later and laugh like fools. It was one of few moments of levity that day. We made it to the flight right as they were asking for the last group of passengers, so we got to Jacksonville right on time, shortly after 8am. We went straight to the hospital, and spent the next ten hours there, with only a short break for lunch at McDonald’s.
Ma died that day, and I muddled through life for the next five months, much the same way I had the previous two years. I’d have decent days where I could function, but more than not I’d be a shell of a being browsing Reddit, YouTube, and 4chan for hours of useless distraction. I battled myself again, and thought I had figured it out for the second time at the end of January 2015.
I wrote another post detailing my efforts to get back out of depression. This time around, I knew exactly what I needed to do to get through it, but all of my hard work was shattered by Ma’s death, and I zoned out again.
This time it took me ten months to snap out of it enough to seek professional help. There were two months of soul searching to realize that web design was probably not a viable path for me any longer. He encouraged me to pursue an employment opportunity in the direct-care field, and it changed my life!
On January 25th, I will celebrate my one-year anniversary. When I first started I was faking my confidence. I overcame my squeamishness with bodily fluids, jumped feet first into an entirely new field and built my catalog of positive reinforcements back up, and became an assistant manager. I’m in school like I planned to be, and I’m working on getting my own car. I’m driven (heh, car puns) again, like I haven’t been in nearly six years.
It feels good, and this feeling will not go away again. Moving forward, I will provide the assistance people need to get their lives back on track. I am my own example, and I am proud of myself for coming this far. I know there is still a long road ahead of me, but I embrace the challenge and look forward to the day when I can call myself Keith J. Frank, Psy.D.