A friend of mine read my last blog entry and sent me a message. She said that while it covered the facts, it didn't really give her a feeling for what it was like to live with the isolation of living your life in hiding, or of the marginalization that comes from not hiding. She was right. My last entry focused on an intellectual approach. For this entry, I will tell a few stories.
Hiding My Truth
As I mentioned before, I am not only bipolar, but also a schizoid personality. A schizoid is someone for whom social interaction does not process the same way it does for others. We don't enjoy company. We are drained by social activities. We would much rather spend time alone. We don't feel connected to people the way others do, and don't even experience emotions about others in normal ways. Basically we are inside our own heads so much we just aren't interested.
Imagine me at an office Christmas party. It is a small software startup, about 150 people. I am so uncomfortable that my skin crawls. I have attempted to look festive by wearing a bright blue hawaiian shirt. It is a sad failure, out of step with Christmas themes. I have nothing to say to anyone else there. I have made a few almost-friends at this job, but am alone. I spend the entire event without speaking to anyone. In compensation, I eat too much.
A month later I find a set of photographs from the party on one of the servers. They are all of me, the fat woman, eating. Apparently they have been passed around by management as a joke. I am hurt in a superficial way, but am not really angry or even very bothered. I mention finding them to someone I work with, and am astounded at their defensive reaction. It becomes a thing. The guy who took the photos and put the joke together is fired, a fall guy for something every last manager shared. I don't feel like a part of the thing, nor do I feel closer to anyone I work with. I stay isolated.
A few years later, at a different company, we are coming up to another Christmas party. I am in the middle of an episode of deep depression. I can barely manage to get to work, and find the effort of being cheerful and friendly for the length of my shift to be exhausting. The idea of dressing up and going into the office on my day off, in light of my prior experiences, seems completely overwhelming. I am aware that most people enjoy these events, but I revile them. I do not go.
The boss is livid with me. I am raked over the coals. Apparently the Christmas party was a mandatory event for some reason, and I have broken a cardinal rule. Or perhaps I simply have not been very successful at covering up the fact that I observe the people around me like fish in a tank (for the uninteresting ones) or at most as characters in a novel (the interesting ones). Perhaps my enforced cheer has been noticed and they think I am hiding something more dangerous. Since there is no truth between us, we can't talk about it. Two weeks later I am fired. I will never know why.
Not So Boldly Telling All
Because of the nature of my illness I rarely manage to keep a job longer than 18 months or at most two years. Hunting for a job with depression is an almost insurmountable mountain. Depending on where I am in functionality, I have three careers with separate resumes that support them. When I am high-functioning, I work as a technical writer. At a middle level, I work as either a staff accountant or a bookkeeper. When I am in bad shape, I will take any kind of office work or shit job I can get, and there aren't many I have not tried. Put it this way. There are some industries that will hire almost anybody.
So a few years after that Christmas disaster, I have what is the pinnacle job of the technical writing career at a major software company. Unfortunately I tank into a deep depression and become completely unable to work. I take disability leave. I tell my boss the nature of my disability. She reacts as if I had confessed to eating babies in my spare time. She recoils visibly. I want to tell her that it isn't catching, but I have not got the strength.
I stay off work for two months getting stabilized on a new medication combination. When I come back I am no longer a real person to my team. I am excluded from team projects, e-mail, plans for external outings (not a loss, obviously), and meetings. Other teams will no longer work with me. If I go to talk to someone I am supposed to be working with, by the time I am back to my desk my boss has had a complaint about me bothering people and wasting their time. She brings these complaints to me and supports them. She sends me a series of accusatory e-mails where I am everything from incompetent to obnoxious to obstructive.
Two months of that treatment and I am ready to kill myself. I have internalized every last accusation and feel them all to be true. I am humiliated by my failure, nearly to the point of death. It is the worst outcome by far of any work situation. I wind up on long term disability for a few months. In the end, we agree to part ways without prejudice. They won't tell on me and I won't tell on them.
I will never work as a technical writer again. My career is over. I will never be able to believe in myself enough again to look at something and say, yes, I can explain how to use this to people. I have been beaten not only out of work, but back into hiding.
Back to Basics
From that point on, the work I do, the jobs I have, involve moving around to places where I'm a stranger, where it is less likely my references will be checked. I do whatever I can to earn a living. Sometimes there is nothing. I spend a little time living in long haul trucks, then couch surfing. That would be okay if I were 25 but isn't so much fun at 45.
The places I work tend to have high turnover. The construction industry is really good for this. Workers generally hire on for the length of a project or two and then move on to a different company. Office and support staff tend to be turned over the same way by management. This fits with my time cycle. I come on, impress, become employee gold, they realize there is something wrong with me, I leave. Over and over. Eventually, after one last layoff, I realize that the choice now is to just kill myself or to stop and find a new way to live. By now I am 53. I cannot do it any more.
Five years on I'm settled into the first stability I have ever had as an adult. I have been living in the same place for the longest time since I left my childhood home. I am mostly glad I decided to live, and vastly grateful that I managed to pay into Social Security every year from the age of 15 to the age of 53. Most of all, it is good to live without hiding.
So, I can hear you thinking it, this is all about work. How did your disorder change your personal life? What about family and friends? Well that is an entirely different kettle of fish, which will have to await another day.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.