Three years ago I had, in old-fashioned terms, a nervous breakdown. I started having flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse, and instead of taking the appropriate steps (honestly, I didn’t even know what those should have been), I cracked like an Easter egg. My perfectly crafted life with the husband, the kids, and the job began unraveling. I would come home from work and sleep until the next morning. I would make it through the workday only to step into the house and break down into tears in the entryway.
Retracing my mental steps, I can see a pattern of depression that stems as far back as my adolescence, maybe even my childhood. But this overt display of marbles falling out of my ears onto the floor, where I was slipping and sliding all over the place avoiding them – well, this was excessive, even for me. The depression rooted itself so deeply into my very soul that I was unable to think beyond a pain that was unexplainable. Where had it come from? Why wasn’t it leaving? What did it want? I had nothing to give to it. Nothing to feed it. And as a result, the root which needed nutrients fed off of my thoughts, my emotions, my joy, and my freedom. I was trapped. And so I began formulating a suicide plan. I was so aware that this was not a normal thing – to even have the song I wanted played at my funeral picked out – that I sought medical intervention via my GP, who promptly put me on antidepressants and fast-tracked me in to see a psychiatrist. I wish I could say this is the ‘happily ever after,’ but the story just gets dumb from here.
The psychiatrist, who was aware of my suicide plan, and who even knew I wanted the song ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John played at my funeral, only prescribed more drugs and sent me on my way. Oh sure, I had a follow up visit, but I had told him about ‘Tiny Dancer’! Doesn’t that warrant a little more digging, or a few more interventions? I was not even put on sick leave. I do have to take responsibility here and admit that I should have pushed for time off, but I was just starting my career as a nurse (I know, right? A fricken nurse!) and I didn’t want to rock my professional boat. Other than the crying on my front porch at the end of my workday, I was functioning well on my unit. I was showing up for my shifts on time. I was even picking up extra shifts and doing overtime. I was a rock star when it came to tending to the needs of other people. Due to the fact that I was almost always in bed, my kids had taken to watching TV with me in my bedroom, and it sort of bonded us even more as a family. I was fighting hard to yank out that root that was sucking the life out of me, but I wrestled that son of a bitch to the ground anytime it got too close to anyone that I loved or who was important in my life, such as colleagues and patients. The medication slowly began taking effect. But at no point did any of the health professionals who were treating me suggest that I be hospitalized or at the very least take a leave of absence from my place of employment. It’s like nobody understood what the underlying effects of leaving depression untreated, or treating it as little as possible, would do in the long run.
Fast forward three years, and that untreated depression has not only wrestled me to the mat, but it’s got me in some weird leg-lock, and I really don’t know how to get out of this. This is worse than the root. The root I could stave off by yanking or clawing at it bit by bit with my fingernails. But the depression that was a pro at wrestling, that one took me down, and I could not get up. I can’t get up. I thought I could. When I was put on sick leave a couple of weeks ago, I seriously thought it would only be a couple of weeks, because come on! Nothing had been done before this, so surely a few weeks off would give me the strength to jab a few times, hop around in the ring against my opponent Depression. But it had never occurred to me that so much damage had been done from leaving this illness untreated (or barely treated) that now, NOW, my psychiatrist (a good one) is explaining that it’s going to take more than a couple of weeks to train for this event. I was stunned when I got the news. I hate when writers use this analogy to describe shock and awe, but my lower jaw hit the ground. Almost literally. Because how could I be sick now after all this time? Yes, I’m having crying spells again and my anxiety has ramped up, but can’t more medication be prescribed? After all, that’s what was done three years ago when I had ‘Tiny Dancer’ on a CD.
Honestly, I think mental health professionals know as much as anyone else when it comes to dealing with this nasty shit. Do you order your patient to go on sick leave when she lets you know she wants ‘Tiny Dancer’ for the funeral march, or do you ignore her, believing instead that she’s just being a smart-ass? I don’t have the answer to this, and clearly neither do several mental health professionals out there. This is uncharted territory, folks.
About Sandra Charron
I’m the mother of four children working as a registered nurse on a postpartum unit. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder two years ago, and in my constant search for information as to how to handle life with this illness, I write whenever and wherever I can in an effort to advocate to end the stigma associated with mental illness. I speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.