The series of entries that follows was written previously, shared wi’ family I trusted. I decided to publish them now.
Please read this post first for Content Warnings.
Part 4 of 5; No One Is An Island series
Ask not for whom the bell tolls…
It came to a head, as runaway things tend to do. My epiphany came when it dawned on me that I had no enthusiasm for a yearly event I always looked forward to. When the joy and happiness I usually have was replaced with nothing I knew something was terribly wrong. Much more wrong than I had initially concluded. This was a far cry of being in a funk and even further from the first time I ‘broke.’ At least then, I was still feeling things and ironically, enough such that I had so badly wanted to not feel anything. I started stepping back; seeing the bigger picture, seeing the entirety of the problem- it both astounded and horrified me. That’s when I realized I’d been clinically depressed for at least three years and dealing with it on my own. I had been so focused on fixing what was wrong with me at work, that I completely missed the warning signs. If I could just get ahead, work the weekends off-book to gain ground- I just needed to keep focused. And that’s the buggery thing about depression; that spark, that little flicker of energy to get motivated? Stolen. And on top of it all, to know that you can do better and never seem to get back there? There’s not a rage-seized scream that could encompass the feeling fully. It took reading a book a day, on a beach far away in December, and genuinely not wanting to come back, for me to realize something was wrong. It wasn’t the ‘I enjoyed my vacation (which was also my Christmas gift) so much I didn’t want it to end’ feeling. It was I wanted to stay and I didn’t care about returning to my life. It was close to ninety degrees on that beach on any given day and that realization made my skin prickle.
I had jokingly given the workplace the alias The Dungeon, mostly because I’d freeze in there year round. Now it felt like one…a place where the mental lashings were unyielding, thinking they could motivate me to break even on my work. Instead, my screen practically taunted me as I stared at it, screaming at my brain to work, desperately trying to hone in on the task at hand and getting nowhere.
From there, other realizations finally started to bypass the filter in my head that kept me in the dark and miserable. I started identifying behaviors and feelings that weren’t part in parcel to who I am. Things like the massive conjuring of will to come into work. Realizing that there was a time I used to get a shock of twinging incredulity at the idea of even being a minute late through the door, and the only thing I felt was the mental lashing I gave myself because, ‘Oh look, you failed at something so simple as getting to work on time. But that’s what you do isn’t it? Fail. Again. And Again. Now you’re going to have to stay late and make up that time. Isn’t that funny, you’re going to try and do something other than fail..again.’ The idea that maybe my lateness was indicative of a problem didn’t even register, it was smothered by the well-crafted lashing I’d give myself. I’ve been employed in some fashion since I was fifteen, and this was the first time I had ever felt that way about my job.
There was also another larger component- my own goddamned head. By the time my epiphany came, my mind was a treacherous thing (as you may have deduced). It started with a statement that slunk by me because I didn’t know it was something that needed addressing. That a boundary needed to be firmly set. It snowballed from there cumulating in the dwindling confidence of my abilities in anything. I had jokingly given the workplace the alias The Dungeon, mostly because I’d freeze in there year round. Now it felt like one. I was heading into a place where I was a complete and utter failure and reminded of it constantly, a place where the mental lashings were unyielding, thinking they could motivate me to break even on my work. Instead my screen practically taunted me as I stared at it, screaming at my brain to work, desperately trying to hone in on the task at hand and getting nowhere. It grew to feeling like that I shouldn’t bother going, who was I kidding, I wasn’t a member of a team, that I wasn’t needed for any particular skill, just used because the hiring process was long. That was my mindset. My outlook had gone so despondent that if I managed a small measure of traction in the right direction, it was immediately discounted. No one cared- why should they? When I couldn’t seem to deliver? No one cared, a part from god why can’t she be someone else’s problem. It manifested with my tardiness; it wasn’t just a few moments and a fleeting thing- it was more of a constant and could be up to the tune of almost an hour. Surely, someone would have said something? Surely I would be nailed for it on my evaluations, right? Why wasn’t I being taken to task for it? Eventually it was discussed, but it took a while, almost a year, and notably after I argued policy- then suddenly I had been counseled a number of times in that one ‘conversation.’ I’d hoped that I could use a near deserted office in the late hours so I could really gain some headway, dig myself out from under- put a positive note on a late arrival. Perhaps early on maybe, but in the deep of my depression? Unrealistic, particularly for someone that wasn’t aware of how deeply depressed she was. And the fear, oh man, the fear. It had its hooks in me too. I never thought for a hot second that I wasn’t being treated like a human being, or that having the feeling that I was just something no one knew how to return for a full refund or exchange for a non-defective item was a problem- that’s how badly I was contorted. What I cared about the most was I used to be capable. I had it in me to be capable. Either my other supervisors phoned it in to the same tune for the first four years, or Six was one of those ‘I worked for a horrible boss’ stories people usually garner. And here’s the kicker, I made it easy for Six because I didn’t know better. I hadn’t dealt with someone like Six to see a person like that a mile away. I didn’t know how to civilly stand firm and not feel that I just put a target on my back. I realized far too late that I made the mistake of not setting a boundary, because I didn’t know I needed to set one. And I suffered for it, for four years, blind to the notion that it was a problem, that the work environ was toxic and that bullying a brain that was already in trouble wasn’t a healthy way to broach the problem. It would not surprise me to learn I wasn’t the only one that felt they were a verbal punching bag. And given how I felt, how cognizant I am of how any mental difficulty is looked down upon, it would come as no surprise to learn there were others and none of us knew we weren’t alone.
I think what got me was the compassion in her eyes. I had fully expected judgment and got something else entirely (and much needed).
I felt foolish and stupid and imbecilic. I don’t know how much of that was my mind twisting it into poison. I talked to my doctor, the one who watched me get so healthy after we figured out how my body worked and subsequently watch me grow unhealthy over the years. I told my doctor I’m certain I’m depressed and have been for a long time; did she have anyone she could recommend? I still remember the look on her face when I answered her question of ‘How long do you think you’ve been depressed?’ with ‘probably three years.’ There was a distinct pause before she told me she couldn’t believe I’d been doing it on my own for that long. I think what got me was the compassion in her eyes. I had fully expected judgment and got something else entirely (and much needed).
What I felt when my therapist said what I described to them was reminiscent of the mindset of women with Battered Woman Syndrome was disbelief and dismissal. I understood the notion, that eventually, all the negative things- what you can’t ever do right, how useless you are…you hear them long enough and they seep into your head. Before you realize it, you buy into it, start to believe that you are useless, and then as a self-fulfilling prophecy, you become useless. I immediately discounted it. No, I’m too smart for…
I will say this of myself…I will think over a lot of things. Especially when I’ve asked about something and I don’t understand it. I may never come to a consensus, but I will think about it. And I thought about that. I thought about how my alias for the workplace, which was supposed to be for a smile, was apt. How heavy I felt once I passed through doors into the building. How I lived for weekends, not because of plans but because it meant I didn’t have to be there; home gave me a minuscule chance of feeling something other than the dark, cold, void I was acclimated to. How much confidence I didn’t have in anything. I wanted to cry. I wanted to rage. I wanted to schedule a meeting with Six just to give the biggest ‘Fuck you and the micromanaging horse you rode in on,’ largely because what was the worst that could happen and more importantly it would make me feel something other than despair (for instance: better). There was little worse realizing I’d been hollowed out, slowly, especially after how hard it was to make myself structurally sound the first time I broke. Even when my mostly clinical/objective aspects of myself were trying to be gentle in its honesty, I zeroed in on the wrong things. I zeroed in on the very real fact that in the state I was in, I was a burden. I didn’t do quality work, I was not timely, but whoboy was I organized. That’s something I noticed anyone could freely volunteer, I was organized. I’d lay odds that was because it was the only thing I could control -the state of my workspaces and little else, even my own goddamned head. Everything else? Spiraling beyond character building chaos. Somewhere before the therapist, right before asking my doctor for a referral, in the mire of trying to figure out what was wrong, my survival instincts reared up. I realized the inefficiency of going above and beyond in order to have just done the tiniest bit almost right. I calculated that I got the same response or review marks no matter the hours I put in. Documents that held the expectation of needing multiple heavy handed reviews? I dialed back the thinking, to the point of ghost writing, as my upper management wanted- just edit per the red ink and don’t ask why whatever you did was found to be wrong. To remember that my asking why was combative instead of wanting to learn so I didn’t make the same mistake. I’d been branded with taking everything so personal, taking too long to produce something that there was no letting me alter it, so I stopped fighting it, stopped trying to overcome it. Soon after I stopped caring with the exception of making sure the client was happy. It was liberating, asking of yourself, self…you don’t give a flying fuck anymore, do you? And the answer being: except for the client, not one flying, standing, sitting, or curtsying fuck. That’s when I realized I didn’t have anything to lose anymore either, which gave another layer of liberation. What did it matter- ‘no one cares.’ I got back a bit of happiness, but it was a temporary salve and what of the cost? I lost confidence in my ability of many things, but most notable to me was my ability to put words to paper/screen, something that had always given me joy. By that point, I had so little fight in me left . Truth was, the damage was far greater.
Soon after I stopped caring with the exception of making sure the client was happy. It was liberating, asking of yourself, self…you don’t give a flying fuck anymore, do you? And the answer being: except for the client, not one flying, standing, sitting, or curtsying fuck.
When I talked about my observations, my interactions within the work environ, I was still coming to grips with the idea that this was the year 20XX, that it was the twenty-first century and I was likely the hypersensitive, over-emotional, melodramatic female hung up on imagined slights. That I couldn’t be genuinely upset without PMS being a factor. That someone’s lack of being a decent human being could be the reason I was anything but docile and gentile. It didn’t compute. Then on top of that, I’m told my state of mind is so much like those that have BWS. It was something that made sense and believe me, it was nice for something to make just a tiny bit of sense but it also made me uncomfortable. It felt disingenuous; no one lifted their hand against me. No one was beating me. No one was overtly, physically, harming me. No one was verbally berating me in order to wound and control. There was no specific person that endangered my life or made me feel as if my life was literally in their hands. But I was harming myself and that made me understand what my therapist meant when she said my mindset was similar. I tried to will myself via mental tough love and it only made things worse. I compounded the sense of worthlessness that started in my work environ trying to give myself the kick I needed to break free. It only shoved me further into the dark. As things piled up, I looked for where I could gain time. I was so focused on getting out from under the mountain of work, that I sacrificed the one to two hours I carved for myself to destress and stay healthy. In an effort to gather what time I could to try and level that mountain, I stopped preparing meals in advance. Then I stopped doing things that I enjoyed because I needed that time. What was supposed to be temporary continued. I was had gotten so unhealthy that I didn’t (don’t) want to be to seen. I didn’t need the added weight of judgmental looks as if I had somehow managed to not be aware of how much space I was taking up, let alone how far from healthy I felt. I only went out for work, necessities and going out to meet-ups dwindled to not at all. Oh sure, I wanted to hang with the local geeks and nerds, but when the time approached, I was already thinking, I’m not nerd/geek enough. And then I couldn’t understand why I was so tired come the weekend. Why I couldn’t get myself moving and carve out another work assignment to get some kind of reprieve. Then the home projects stacked up too. When I managed small progress- I found the sentence in my head as, ‘No one cares.’ I devastated my mother when I finally told her everything- not because I didn’t think she’d care. I knew she would and I was dead on about her first instincts. I just didn’t want to hear what she’d do if it had been her. I didn’t want to hear anything that my head could twist into a form of ‘well surprise, surprise- you failed. Again.’ I was still trying to understand not seeing this coming. That in the stead of ‘if you’re an ass, you’ll get what-for for failure to be a decent human being’ and it having jack to do with whether or not it was my week to PMS (which is an inaccurate catch-all for hormones laying siege to you).
When I started looking at those past four years, when I reflected on the personnel turnover while Six was the supervisor (and continues to be as far as I know), on the things I overheard colleagues say in relation to Six or directly to me about Six, I felt some assurance that my observations weren’t painted in bias. They could have been; Six was/is a person I would not deal with, had I the choice. I had witnessed traits and characteristics that would see me not associate with this kind of person. Yet, at that time, Six was my supervisor. There was no ignoring this person completely. Thing is and just as importantly if not more, this is also just one side of the story – how I felt, what I observed. It’s possible what I dealt with is actionable. At one time, I was going to issue a complaint. If there was enough there to merit an inquiry, there would be an inquiry- all of which rode on trust that the policies would be adhered to which included that no one is to talk about it. Hence the ‘was.’ I had no certainty that that discussion would stay within the realms of the inquiry. And since it posed as a very real impact to my future, it wasn’t worth it. When my supervisors changed, when I found a different group to do work for, I could understand why the people that left may not have issued a complaint. You want to be done with it. And since it was the source of a years’ long depression, I wanted to move to healing.