The Friends of Depression at Work

Gears Working

(Here’s an edited journal entry from early days of this blog when I was trying to survive depression at work.)

I keep looking for a ray of humor in the ongoing torture of trying to work when depressed. This has not been easy. In fact, I’ve been falling into dark memory holes and getting a little lost there. So to regain perspective, I’ve been trying a new tactic, stepping back and struggling to see myself as an observer might, if only as an experiment in cognitive therapy.

The first thing that comes to mind is a man staggering down a hallway, bumping into one wall that says Disabled then hitting the opposite one that says Successful.

Disabled

Like most people, I don’t want to think of myself as disabled. After all, I’m working everyday at fighting the effects of depression. Changing the way I think in order to filter out its thoughts and feelings is part of what I do. So why do I need another d-word, sanctified by law no less, as in, mental illness under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I can argue for “accommodation.” I just have to tell them I have a disability. But I don’t want to. Why invite my needle-mind to get stuck in another cracked groove? (Disabled, disabled, disabled …)

Successful

Everyone wants to be successful at what they do, recognized for their contributions, well rewarded, feeling they’re making a difference in the world. But remember I’m looking at life through a lens of depression, feeling and reacting to my work in the midst of a struggle with this illness. At the moment, I seem to be hitting success like a wall and bouncing away.

I try to see myself headed to work on a typical day, not disabled but bent on success. Now part of my recovery is being realistic about what I can do, and the thing about heading off to work is that I’m never really alone. The depressive, the D-Man, goes to work with me everyday. And he has a friend, the obsessive – the O-Man. He’s there too.

Depressive Man

On a good day, D-Man isn’t wearing his dark suit. No, he can be more like that lazily bemused character, the Dude, in The Big Lebowski. This shaggy ex-hippy radical doesn’t like to push himself by walking a lot so he gets up on my back, and I lurch around with him. The Dude keeps up his Oh, man, what’s the point, man, I mean, what’s it all about anyway monologues.

I feel a little chain around my neck that O-Man likes to pull on by means of a 3-foot straight rod. He’s not so amusing – more like that mechanical killer with the glasses in Sin City. He walks in straight lines so I often have to reach forward to grab his shoulder (don’t forget the Dude is on my back so this is a difficult maneuver – I often miss) to keep him from colliding with a wall or something more dangerous.

With these two, it’s hard even getting out of the car – we’re usually trying to go in three different directions. But I manage slowly and with great determination to yank them all with me and stand on the parking lot pavement. Then there’s the issue of walking through the office with all the nice hello’s to my truly friendly co-workers. They look at us a little strangely, but I smile as if everything’s perfectly normal.

I barely avoid a desk here, a wall there as I grab at O-Man’s shoulder, and ignoring the odd comments from above and behind my ear. What the…! What are you doing, man? I mean what’s this place? I mean…it’s … I don’t know, man. Hey, she’s cute! Need any help over there?

Obsessive Man

I manage to corral us into my office room and shut the door. I’m already tired from walking around with these two burdens. The Dude finally slides off my back and starts shuffling through my papers, especially the ones with the most urgent tasks marked in triple underlining. Oh, man, what is this? Weird! I follow the Dude’s glance and, sure enough, everything I am supposed to be working on is totally out of focus – nothing is clear!

Everything else in the room stands out in sharp relief, but all my papers are fuzzy and impossible to decipher. What is the point of trying to get anything done with this mess? It has no meaning whatsoever – why bother? It’s all useless. I am about to toss the pile of blurry paper into the trash when the phone rings.

O-Man answers, listens carefully, then stares fixedly at me through those impenetrable lenses of his. I take the phone, listen to a client ask for some information that he needs. I assure him it is coming and hang up. Then that paper comes sharply into focus, and that file folder and that triple-red-underlined reminder. I realize that I have forgotten my promise to have this done two days ago!

And he is the client I have been losing sleep over, convinced he despises my work, worried sick that he will complain to the director and give her one more reason to stick me forever in her niche of the incompetent. My mind is sizzling. I thought I was done with this, but the knife-like reminder is burning a hole in the center of my mind all over again. Try as I might, I can’t stop thinking about it. …

Healing is the Real Job

So there I am, depressed for success, ready for a dynamo day at work, struggling to be realistic about what I can do. It’s better if I can forget words like “disabled” or “success,” or quite a few others (“normal” and “happy” come to mind) and just think about all the time it takes to divert D-Man and O-Man. I have to put a lot of energy and precious work time into trying to stop listening to them, trying to get a clear and relatively objective picture of what I’m trying to accomplish. (Of course, my first step is to think of them as them – trespassers I need to fence out of my mind.)

It doesn’t help to beat myself up about falling short of my dreams of success or waiting for someone to praise me or give me a raise to feel good about what I’m doing and who I am. It’s a daily struggle. I still do good work, but it takes a bit longer.

There are those days when I can’t get into the car, much less out of it, and adjusting to this reality is another step in recovery. After all, healing has to come before everything – that’s my most important work, my real job, and for now, all the success I need.

…….

How do you manage to get through a work day?

7 Responses to “The Friends of Depression at Work”

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  1. Dan Lukasik says:

    Thanks for posting this blog again. As a lawyer who struggles with depression, I am always trying to keep depression at bay as I try to work. Sometimes I am successful — sometimes not. Besides the physical symptoms of depression that beat me up on bad days, I am also merciless towards my self. The overriding feeling is one of deep, deep shame: That I just am not “ill”, but have done something “bad”. When I’m not in a depression, this type of thinking seems to me like another person was thinking these thoughts. This experience to me is one of the most confounding aspects of depression as I try to cope at work.

  2. Lilano says:

    It struck in my first year out as an intern. Started out absolutely fine and then for some inexplicable reason, memory loss, poor concentration, inability to complete basic tasks, feeling like my brain just could not absorb any new information- I was 21. First year living out of home, finally independent and looking after myself. Out of nowhere, it hits. I get a poor performance review midway through the third quarter, anxiety hits and suddenly there’s this hypercritical voice in my head that constantly screams at me. Now, 2 years on, enrolled in a postgraduate degree, I am starting to slid down that dark abyss .

    The bitterness is still with me- looking at all the other people in my year group, now in their third year of full time work. People who invested less time and energy into studying and making contacts or networking- all of whom are just going about their daily lives with no clue of the struggle and torment I felt over the second half of that first year out. It feels so unfair.

    Yet I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Losing control of your mental faculties is the absolute pits.

  3. Hi John

    Don’t know. Just kind of clamber through the day. Writing. And hugging my Snuffles for some “Bearapy” (a term I coined). Then it makes me happier and then I get through the day…

    Noch Noch

  4. Judy says:

    Boy, does all this sound familiar! Sometimes I don’t know how I got through the day, except that most of the time, I could work by myself and didn’t have to deal a lot with my co-workers. I could do fine with my clients, but their perception of me was different (at least I thought it was) than that of the people I worked with. The situation I worked in just pushed all the wrong buttons and I felt like I was in danger almost every day, at least with the manager I worked under for the last 12 years. Twelve years! I can’t believe that I stuck it out that long. I had a lot of support, though, and just kept counting the time until I had the “numbers” to retire and get my pension. One of the things that probably helped me was my dark sense of humor. I fantasized about writing a comic book about our office but couldn’t quite do it. When the TV show, “The Office” came out, I tried watching that but it was too much like reality and made me anxious instead of making me laugh. I am thankful every day that I don’t have to go there any more.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Judy –

      It is amazing how long we put up with the wrong work situation. In my case, depression made it easy to believe I had no other choice – yet every situation I got into was one I created or worked hard to get. For some reason, I never turned it around to think that I can start again by using that energy and creativity to change my situation. Things seem so impossible when you’re depressed!

      John

  5. Lisa says:

    Music. That’s what got me through my last job. Still gets me through now, though it’s probably more out of habit than anything at this point. I listen to what makes me feel good at the moment — might be soft tunes and chants intended for yoga practice or meditation, or it might some some Euro tech dance beats. Sometimes, folk music keeps me hopping through the day.

    For now, I feel mostly recovered, but little bits of depression sneak up and smack me on the head once in awhile. Usually those moments indicate another part of my life that needs work, so I observe them and make more adjustments and allow my mind to walk that darker path. It’s OK to walk it. We come out better at the end. Thanks for your great writing, John… 😀

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  1. Storied Mind says:

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