On February 16th my doctor wrote me a note for 2 weeks off work. The first time I asked, earlier in the month, he said no. He said taking time away from work and away from one’s regular routine was not the proper treatment for depression. So I continued to go to work every day, even though going to work was part of the problem. It was really hard. Every day I would come home exhausted from the depression. Exhausted from wearing the mask, from second-guessing myself, from worrying about what balls I might have dropped on the job that day. I knew I was making mistakes at work because my supervisor had been pointing them out to me for months. I felt I couldn’t do anything right. I began to worry about my job security and even asked my boss if I was in danger of losing my job. I was assured that I was absolutely not, but that didn’t make me feel any better. I know very well that this is one of the symptoms of depression, and that I was doing this to myself: I felt that I was being judged and coming up short. It wasn’t that the work was stressful; it was the being at work that was stressful. Being watched so closely, dealing with other people and using all of the interpersonal skills that I usually excel at but suddenly found so difficult. Holding anxiety at bay. Wearing the mask, pretending all the time. One day I had a panic attack so bad that I had to pack up and leave in the middle of the morning. Two weeks after that first doctor appointment, I asked again. The doctor was still very reluctant but said I could take one week off. I said that wasn’t enough. I asked for two. What I really needed was two months.
I was able to ask the doctor for the time off because the medication was working. I know that sounds strange! If the medication was working, why did I need time off? Because I was finally able to think clearly enough, to have enough self-awareness to see what was happening, to articulate the desire to be well, to formulate a plan, to advocate for myself.
What I needed – what I NEED is time to recover. I believe that a person has to heal first and then tackle getting back on the bandwagon.
The words I have in my mind are Recuperation and Convalescence (to recover health and strength after illness or exhaustion); Followed by Recovery (restoration or return to health).
How can one recover without a period of recuperation? But this is apparently what I must do.
My plan for my two weeks off was simple. Touch base with the therapist to go over my wellness plan; Take my supplements daily; get a bit of exercise daily (treadmill, walk dog, yoga, etc.); make healthy meal choices; journal or blog about my experience with depression; get enough sleep; clean or tidy one thing in the house daily (because my home is an extension of me – I need to like what I see, and if my house is a mess, so am I); do one thing creative daily (read, play scrabble, knit or quilt, browse craft & cook books, etc.); connect with a friend/spend time around people; compliment myself on one thing daily; remember that I am not perfect – I am human, not superhuman; catch the negative thoughts and re-frame them. Take the time to sit down when I need to and think. Just think. Rest. Recuperate. Take some steps towards recovery.
I contacted Mental Health Services twice about getting into a program/course called Change Ways, which is a course to teach you how to deal with depression. I had hoped that if a course was starting soon, my doctor might agree to extending my sick leave so that I could attend. But Mental Health Services has not gotten back to me, so I guess that is not an option. I don’t think I could ask for sick leave again, and also the busy season is starting up at work soon.
I’ve had several very good days in a row. Days where I’ve felt more like myself. Days where I’ve laughed and seen the beauty around me. I know I’m getting better. I know I am rebuilding my emotional, cognitive and spiritual strength. I know that when I experience that panicky feeling it means I need to pay attention and practice self-awareness. I’m proud of myself for that.
However, after the last 4 or 5 really good days, this morning is again broken as I realize that my two weeks are over. Here is the sun shining in the window and I want to put my head down and cry. I don’t want to go back to work on Monday and face all the “welcome back” and “are you feeling better” comments. I’m not ready to put the mask back on. I don’t want to put the healing on the back burner. So today feels a little hopeless…like a person with a broken leg being told the cast is coming off and they have to run a marathon on it right now…before the leg is healed. “And when will the leg heal”, they might ask, “if I have to walk on it?”
If I jump back into the rat race while I am still broken, will I heal crooked?