Some of you know this, but some of you don't and I've debated about putting this out there for public consumption, especially if I ever hope to get a job in academia, but I think that in the interest of full disclosure, I should share my full story. I hope I don't regret this, but if I do, well, that's ok.
It's been a rough year. It's been the worst year of my life. Today is the one-year anniversary of the day we put Tank to sleep. It seems like that touched off a downward spiral from which I didn't think I would recover. I'm still not sure I will. My job situation was...not the best. My finances were a wreck. I'm no longer friends with someone who I grew up with and had been my best friend for over 30 years. Dewey got sick and I had to put him to sleep after watching him fade from his happy, loving, silly, amazing self into a shell of what he once was. Princess had a stroke and died in my arms. Zeke had a heart attack because of the trauma of Princess' death and died ten days later. On top of all of this, I was rejected from a job that would have been perfect for at a private high school out west. I really wanted that job. I had a campus visit and everything and they really liked me, but it still didn't happen.
To say I have been depressed is downplaying the situation. I have cried every single day since I put Dewey to sleep. The daily crying actually started before that but I can't even remember when because crying is so completely normal and part of my daily life that it's all a blur. I had a physical at the end of March and told my doctor I was depressed again and needed help. She is my new doctor and seemed doubtful that I needed anti-depressants and perhaps I was just scamming her, but once she asked me a few questions, it was very obvious I was severely depressed and, of course, I started crying, too, because no one likes being depressed and it's a very hard thing to admit you need help. She recommended therapy in addition to the anti-depressants. That was no surprise. This is not my first depression rodeo, guys. It's something I have struggled with on and off for over a decade.
(Side note: Shit. That's a long struggle. I didn't realize it's been that long, since I had years of not being depressed, but, yeah, it's been close to 12 years now.)
The doctor's visit was nine days before Princess died. After that, there were days (too many days) that I cried nonstop for hours, only to cry myself asleep, wake up, and start crying again. I couldn't fall asleep unless I cried myself to sleep, which wasn't a problem, because I was so aware of the fact that Princess died in my bed, while we were trying to fall asleep. I'd wake up in the morning and cry because she wasn't there to nudge me awake or cuddle closer in an effort to keep me from getting up.
I didn't tell anyone any of this. My parents, who I still live with, knew I was struggling and that I randomly burst into tears a lot, far too much, but they didn't know the extent, still don't know the extent. I only started talking about it because of my dissertation. It always comes back to the dissertation, right? I've tried to work on it, really I have. There were days when I even wrote a couple of hundred words, but those days were so few that it didn't make a difference. Guilt over not writing, not being able to write, not being physically able to sit at the computer and work on it worsened the depression. I had to tell my supervisor and the graduate chair of my department, especially once the grad chair emailed me to ask for a paragraph about the progress I've made to send to my committee. The idea of any progress would be laughable if it wasn't so awful. So I confessed. Everything. I told her and my supervisor almost everything I wrote above (leaving out some of the details because they really didn't need to know the triggers, just the effects). I asked if it would be possible to take another leave of absence, but for medical reasons, so I could focus on getting better because I don't think I can write until I get better enough to get out of bed on days that I don't have to get out of bed. I didn't know if this was possible because of the year I took off after moving home from Canada. I think a year is the limit or at least three semesters consecutively is all they grant. My supervisor, the grad chair, and the rest of the committee once they were informed of the situation, were all very supportive. The grad chair wrote a letter of support for me, as did my supervisor. The rest of the committee will if it is necessary, though I hope it's not necessary. I don't want to get kicked out of the program this close to the end, but that's what I've been afraid will happen. I've obsessed over that possibility, further deepening the depression because how could I be such a loser to get kicked out so close to the end? How could I spend so much time, not to mention so much money, only to have no degree to show for it?
That's what depression does. You focus on little things, things that upset you, things that have happened or things that might not ever happen, and you play those little things over and over and over in your head until you are convinced that the very worst case is what will surely happen because that is what always happens to you. You know, deep down, that all of that obsessing is not rational, but rationality has nothing to do with it. That is how depression screws with you. It turns you into a puddle of self-doubt and anxiety and completely removes your ability to fix yourself or to get help or to force yourself to get off the couch.
I finally got off the couch. Well, I got off my couch and onto a therapist's couch. I started seeing a new therapist a few weeks ago. It took so long because I just couldn't. I couldn't handle telling someone how miserable and messed up and lonely I actually was. I couldn't confess that this was a depression so deep that I didn't think I would ever drag myself out of it, that I didn't know how, that I didn't know if I even wanted to because what was the point? I haven't had a lot of sessions yet, but it was a relief to start therapy, to have a place where I could cry and say the things I haven't been able to say for months, to have an outlet for all of this misery that I've had to cover up because who wants to hear that? Who wants to be dragged down to this level of hopelessness? No one. I told no one because I had no one to tell, but now I do and it is helping already. It's also helped writing this post, though I've cried almost the whole time I've been writing it. I'm not even sure I'll publish this post, but, if I do, I promise not to write about the depression a lot because that would just be the worst blog ever, but, like I said, this is a full disclosure blog. I think, and there's been a lot of talk about this lately, that academia is a hothouse for depression and too many people, in academia and out, refuse to discuss it because there is a stigma attached. Maybe if more of us share our stories that stigma will go away.
Tomorrow is my 37th birthday. I don't think I've looked forward to a birthday as much as this one since I turned 21. All I want for my birthday is to put this miserable year behind me. I want the depression to go away. I want my happiness back. I want my life back.