Friday, October 26, 2012

Depression and (time permitting) recovery: a post about my non-zombie life

This is me shortly after my time in the hospital. Smile, darn ya, smile!

This will be a very different kind of post on the Dead 2 Rights blog. Depending on my whims, it might be the first in a series of very different posts. I don't know right now. I've just been through an experience and wanted to write about it, and I figured this place was as good as any.

First, some introductions are in order. My name is Joe Blevins. Although I've lived in Illinois for the past 11 years, I was born in Flint, Michigan in 1975 and lived in that area until 2001. I am 37 years old, live alone in a one-bedroom apartment,  and currently make my living at a market research firm in Chicago. Single. Never married. No kids. Since 2008, I've been contributing regularly to the Mail Order Zombie podcast as a character called "Wayne Kotke," and I've been writing this blog under his name since October 2009. In fact, we are just about coming up to the third anniversary of this blog. If you'd like to wish me a happy anniversary, please feel free.

I also suffer from anxiety and depression, and this week I was hospitalized for those conditions.

Let me explain. Depression is something I've had in my life since I was a child. It's always been a part of who I am. If I have a sense of humor, that humor is informed by my depression. As silly as they are, my posts on this blog and my segments for MOZ are manifestations of my feelings of inadequacy and sadness. They're my attempts to channel those emotions into something positive. I'm not sure how well it has succeeded, but if you have derived any pleasure whatsoever from my work, that is deeply satisfying to me. Thank you.

I'm not exactly sure where the depression comes from. I was raised in a stable and loving middle class home, and I have no major illnesses, handicaps, or chemical addictions. I was bullied and ostracized frequently as a child in school, though, and I think this is where a lot of my fear originates. I have a deep, stubborn distrust of others and a formidable fear of rejection, so it is difficult for me to make connections with other people. It's fortunate that, either thanks to geographical convenience or participation in extracurricular activities, I always had a support system of friends through those troubling school days. 

Your blogger in high school
However, all of my problems intensified in 1993 when my mother died of cancer. I was in my last year of high school at the time, and I was closer to her than to anyone else in my family. My only sibling, an older sister, left home a year or so later and wound up getting married and starting a family in Indiana. I was left alone with my father, who was shattered by my mother's death and still to this day has not totally recovered.

Post high school, I spent a very dark decade living with my father. During that time, while my friends went away to school and started their lives, I lived at home, commuted to college by car, and wound up working at a nearby call center as a customer service rep, a job for which I was especially unsuited. After high school, I lost touch with most of my old friends and never bothered (or risked) making new ones. This was the beginning of my still-ongoing reclusive stage.

In February 2001, I attempted suicide by taking every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet. After two harrowing days in the ICU and one very scary night in the psych ward, a locale that haunted me for years, I returned to working at the call center and living with my father. But this arrangement would not last long.

In August 2001, despite a lot of guilt-tripping from my father, I moved to Illinois in order to take a teaching job. Even though I was happy to be out on my own and living independently for the first time in my life, I soon realized that a person's problems travel with him when he moves to a new location. My old issues of fear, anxiety, and depression prevented me from being a good teacher, and I failed miserably at the profession for two grueling, discouraging years. By that time, I was so overwhelmed by fear and sadness that I didn't feel I could accomplish anything.

After a few miserable months of unemployment and inertia, I managed to land a low-paying temp job in an office environment in November 2003. All I wanted at that point was a place to hide away from the world, and a cubicle at this company would provide that. So I stayed with that temp job until it turned permanent, and that's where I've been for the last nine years. Although it was extremely boring and repetitive, it was also quiet and stable. Best of all, I could do the job with very little human interaction.

I have not exactly "thrived" in this job, but I have survived for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, though, my social life was nonexistent apart from my participation in a local community band. Even there, I tended to be shy, sullen, and withdrawn. Still to this day, any public performance fills me with fear. Don't get me wrong. The band has brought me a lot of happiness, and I have met some genuinely nice people there, but I don't know if I'll ever be 100% comfortable with it.

In the last few years, my workplace environment has been changing rapidly and frighteningly. The financial crisis has meant rounds and rounds of brutal layoffs, all of which I have (thus far) survived. A few months back, our company was bought out by a rival. Not only has this meant more layoffs, but existing jobs have been consolidated. One person will now be doing the work of two or three. This is how my most recent crisis occurred. 

This Monday (October 22), my supervisor was taking a vacation, and I was attempting to fill in for her while simultaneously doing my own job. I genuinely felt I could handle this, but the day was plagued by technical errors and computer setbacks that I could not solve. I found myself talking in endless, circular arguments with coworkers, and eventually my brain just stopped processing information. 

After 11 hours without a break and with many problems left unresolved, I simply left the office and took a commuter train home. I could not sleep that night and began having unspeakably dark thoughts. Remembering my horrifying experience from 2001, I decided to call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at around 2 in the morning on Tuesday, just a few hours before I was supposed to wake up for work. I spoke with an operator there for about an hour, and she advised me to go to my regular doctor and get a referral to a therapist or counselor. 

I called in sick on Tuesday and was attempting to make my way to my doctor that morning. I don't have a "family doctor" per se, but there is an immediate care facility that I have used for colds, earaches, etc. I must not have been thinking very clearly at the time, because I literally did not get beyond the first block before having a minor fender bender. Even though neither car appeared damaged, the other driver was apoplectic and immediately called the police. 

When the officer arrived, I desperately told him my story. He summoned the paramedics, and they took me to the nearest hospital, where an ER doctor made the decision to hospitalize me. This particular place was out-of-network for my insurance, so I was transferred by ambulance to a behavioral health center in another town. (Does it help my story at all if I tell you that the ambulance drivers were two extremely dim-witted guys who initially drove me to the wrong hospital and bickered back and forth about which streets they "should have tooken?" Sad but true.)

Don't worry. The stamp washes right off.
From Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning, I was a patient at the behavioral health center, which seemed to be part of a much larger hospital. If you're thinking it was like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Shutter Island, you've got the wrong idea. It was more like being held captive at a combination of a summer camp and a Motel 6.

Yes, it was humiliating to have to surrender my belt, shoes, and wallet. And yes, the food was terrible. (It is the tilapia that will haunt me from this experience.) Most of the people were quite nice, though, and there were only one or two people with obvious mental illness. The majority of the patients were like me -- average-looking sad sacks who just seemed burned out and overwhelmed. We had group meetings several times a day, and I was an active and cheerful participant in nearly every one of them.

The comment I heard the most from my fellow patients was: "You seem so positive! Why are you here?" Honestly, I didn't know. I mean, I could retrace my steps and understand how I had gotten there, but somehow it didn't quite feel "real" to me. I used the opportunity of the program to work on my social skills and made a point to introduce myself to as many staff members and patients as possible. The patients, especially, were generally bright, funny, and friendly individuals. Perhaps some of us will stay in touch.

In any event, I "graduated" the program with flying colors. My doctor was very impressed by my progress and moved up my release from Monday (October 29) to today (October 26). Having no relatives or friends in the area, I took a $40 cab ride back to my apartment this morning. I am now supposed to be taking Xanax, Celexa, and drugs for sleeping and for lowering blood pressure. My blood pressure shot up about 30-40 points while I was in the program even though I was outwardly very calm, upbeat, and composed. Maybe it was my body's way of protesting.

I am home now, back in my little apartment, and I am quite comfortable. It's nice to be able to write on this blog again, since patients were not allowed to use computers while they were on "the unit." My hospitalization is behind me now, but this problem is not merely part of my past. I still have to conquer my depression and anxiety, and this time I really want to do it right so that I can finally start living my life to the fullest. (I know that's an odd thing for a fictional zombie to say, but there you go.)

Phew! This was a tough post to write, but I'm glad I got it out there. I'm trying not to be embarrassed  about my condition, and I want to be able to talk about it openly and honestly. I'm sorry if this was a little heavier or more depressing than you wanted, but here's a song that might make up for it. I think this song is going to be my personal recovery anthem.

P.S. - Here's a Zomby from before my hospitalization. Enjoy it before the happy pills cure me of my creativity.