Jeremy Ryan is a fellow blogger and new reader to this blog. His blog is called, New Homo Blogo. There is a link to his blog in the sidebar. This past Monday, he posted about his depression. It got me thinking about my own journey of depression. I’ve talked about depression a few times here, but I’ve never said a lot about when it started or how it progressed over the years.
By now, all of you know I’ve suffered from migraines my entire life. When I was a teenager, I was prescribed Ativan to help control them. Most doctors will only prescribe Ativan for a week or two. Taking this drug for more than two weeks can lead to dependence, tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. It can also worsen depression if take for long periods. I was on the medication for over two years. At the time, I didn’t realize I was also suffering from depression and anxiety due to either not understanding my attraction to guys and/or not being able to come to terms with being gay. I knew I was different and not the most masculine kid; all the bullies at school reminded me of this daily. Then there was my father who hated having a “sissy” son. I remember one time I accidentally grabbed the electric fence around our property, and I screamed. I got into trouble not for touching the fence or being where I shouldn’t have been; I got into trouble because I screamed “like a girl.” Touching an electric fence hurts like hell, and it’s very difficult to let go once you do. While you might think my dad would have been concerned whether I was all right or not, the truth is, he only cared about how I reacted. I know I was yelled at and probably got a spanking because of it. There were numerous instances like this of him wanting me to be more “manly” and not embarrass him.
As someone who was already struggling with anxiety and depression, Ativan worsened my symptoms. I had been taking this potent drug for too long. Eventually, another doctor realized how long I’d been on the drug, and slowly weaned me off of it. This new doctor understood the harm the drug could do. But I still had a small handful of the pills. One night, when I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, I took all the pills hoping to end my misery. Thankfully, it did not work, but it did make me terribly sick; I vomited all night long. After that, the depression got worse. I still didn’t know how to deal with my sexuality or fully understand I was gay. So, I poured myself into studying to get a scholarship and to go away to college which I did.
College was not too bad. I began to deal with my sexuality. I discovered the internet and did a ton of research on being gay and what it all meant. The local Barnes and Noble also had gay books, fiction and non-fiction, that helped. I was finally able to admit it to myself, but it wasn’t until graduate school when I told anyone else. Graduate school was tough and did not help my anxiety and depression. Plus, I did not know how to ask for help. I was poor and in debt. When money issues came up, when I didn’t know how I was going to afford my next meal, when bill collectors called, I would become paralyzed with fear. These money issues would continue to plague me for years especially once I had to start paying off my massive student loans.
After getting my master’s degree and completing my PhD. coursework, I desperately needed a job. The problem was Mississippi used to, and may still, have a law that says if you are a graduate student on assistantship, you can only work within your academic department, and only for 20 hours a week. Since the stipend was less than minimum wage, I continued to depend on student loans to live while also getting an additional job outside of the university. When my assistantship ended, I either needed a permanent job or I needed to move back home. But there was one major problem: this was in the middle of the financial crisis of 2007–2008. I applied for dozens of teaching jobs; all but two cancelled their searches because of budget cuts. I did get interviews for those two, but I wasn’t hired. I had one option left: move back home. So, that’s what I did.
I continued applying for jobs while trying to finish my dissertation. I had a regular routine. I got up each morning, had coffee and breakfast then sat at my computer to research and write. I took a break for lunch then back to work. Around 4pm or so, I cooked dinner for my parents so it would be ready when they got home. While my parents knew I was gay, that had come out a few years before, I was essentially back in the closet living at home. This would not be good for anyone’s mental state. They’ve never accepted my sexuality. I was also struggling with my dissertation committee chair assigned to me when my original chair left for another university. We did not get along. He questioned everything about my dissertation and made my life a living hell. I kept my deadlines, but he wouldn’t keep his. When I would get feedback, it was always unnecessarily harsh and disheartening. At times, I couldn’t continue writing because I was waiting and waiting for his feedback. I got so depressed I would just burst into tears at the slightest thing. I had never gotten along with my dad, and we fought constantly which didn’t help. One day, when my mom came home from work (she was a nurse), I broke down crying, and told her how depressed I was. The next day, she talked to the nurse practitioner she worked with; the NP prescribed Prozac to help with the depression. And it did help.
Things, however, continued not to go well with either my dissertation or my job search. I was stuck at my parents very rural home, and rarely went anywhere. It drove me crazy. At some point, I started blogging in my free time; I was bored, and it relieved some of my stress. I was mailing off application packets once or twice a week. The postmaster at the small-town post office knew I was applying for jobs. One day, he told me a local private school was looking for a history teacher. His wife was a teacher there, and as the postmaster, he knew everything that went on in that town. Since the other job applications were going nowhere, I applied at the private school, got an interview, and got the job. I found a place to live and moved out of my parents’ house. Thus, began a five-year nightmare. I was working so hard and was so tired, my cat and I took a nap every day after I got home from work. The kids, the parents, the headmaster were all awful. Each day was horrible. Also, during these five years, I lost my beloved Grandmama and my sweet cat who was so special to me. Fortunately, though, it wasn’t all bad. I did make friends with some of the teachers. But, if the school had found out I was gay, I would have been fired immediately so I constantly lived in fear. As for my dissertation, I tried to finish it, but due to the problems with my dissertation advisor and having two jobs (teaching full time at the private school and part time at a local university), I was unable to complete it in the maximum number of years allowed.
After about two years in the house I was renting, my landlady decided she no longer wanted to rent it out. I had to move. After my Grandmama’s death, my aunt, who had cared for her, was now living alone and not taking it well. I had been going to see her every Wednesday to make dinner and give her some company. When I needed a place to live, I ended up moving in with her. My aunt didn’t try to micromanage me like my parents had so I was able to discreetly date a few guys. That’s when I discovered the downside to Prozac: sexual disfunction. Most of the time, I could get erect, but I was not able to have an orgasm without difficulty if I could achieve one at all. A friend suggested I talk to my doctor about switching to Wellbutrin; it did not have the same side effect. That helped. The Prozac had not been working as well for my depression anyway, so the change was doubly beneficial.
The school finally got a new headmaster, and I thought things were improving. There was no indication the new headmaster didn’t like me, but apparently, he secretly did. After five years of teaching there and becoming more popular with many of the students and parents, not to mention creating a highly successful drama club, the school hired a football coach who could “teach” my classes. So, the headmaster gave this new coach my classes and didn’t renew my contract. I was devastated, and on the job search again. This time, I chose not to focus on teaching, but to do something else with my history degrees.
It has turned out mostly for the better. I found a new job in faraway Vermont. I would be living 1,100 miles from my family, my boyfriend, and all my friends. Getting far away from my family has allowed me to be more open about my sexuality, but a long-distance relationship was not going to work with my boyfriend. We broke up. Little did I know just six weeks after moving to Vermont, my world would come crashing down. I had a friend I talked to everyday. He was one of the few gay friends I had; we talked about anything and everything. We texted all the time. He was the last person I talked to every night and often the first person I heard from in the morning. He was there for me when my Grandmama died and when my cat died. He had become a major part of my life; I loved him like the brother I never had. At Thanksgiving that year, he had met his boyfriend in Dallas. As he was driving back home, he had a fatal car crash. I learned about it from another friend of his. I had been frantic all day because I had not been able to get in touch with him. I knew he would text if he was ok because it was my birthday. No text ever came. I got an email from a friend of his saying he had died in a car crash on his way home from Dallas. As I read the email, I began to cry uncontrollably. My friend Susan had known I was worried about not hearing from him. I emailed her with the sad news. She immediately called. I just sobbed on the phone.
Because I was still in the evaluation period of my new job, I could not take time off to grieve. I remember sitting at my desk the next day and crying all day long. I cried for weeks. When I went home to Alabama at Christmas, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I explained what was going on and was prescribed the drug Abilify in addition to Wellbutrin. It helped enough that I could at least stop crying all the time. One problem with Abilify though, was after being on it for a while, I realized I would become very emotional, very easily. I would tear up over the slightest thing. I didn’t feel depressed so much as I felt emotional.
Susan got me through a lot of that too. I would regularly talk to her on the phone; she became my lifeline. No one else understood the relationship I had with my friend. She did, and she was a great comfort. When I tried to tell my mother why I was so sad, she just told me sometimes friends die. She offered absolutely no comfort. My best friend in Texas had a new child so she was too preoccupied for me to lean on. Susan became a best friend, and now we talk almost every day. I will never be able to fully thank her for all she has done. She truly saved my life. I had lost the will to live, and she offered me hope and comfort.
Eventually, I got a new cat, Isabella. This was another saving grace. Cats can do so much to alleviate sadness. She doesn’t really cuddle, and she comes to me only on her terms, but she will lay on my hip if I’m lying on my side; that’s as close to cuddling as she gets. Most of the time, though, she is within a few feet of me. That, however, has changed a bit since I’ve been working from home. I think she’s getting a little tired of me. She also hates the air conditioner. So, she’s been spending time in other rooms. With Susan’s help and Isabella’s companionship, I was able to get off the Abilify. The hyper-emotionalism I had felt with it has gotten much better.
I still feel sadness when I think of the losses I’ve suffered in the past few years. When I think of my Grandmama, the friend I lost, or even my cat, I miss them all greatly and do sometimes feel overwhelming sadness. Now, though, I can think of them and remember the good things, and not just feel the loss. For a long time, I couldn’t talk about any of them without tearing up. I doubt I will ever be completely “cured” of my depression. Presumably, I will continue to take medication for it. It’s always close to the surface, but the overwhelming sadness only happens occasionally now.
If you’ve never suffered from long-term depression and anxiety, you are a very fortunate person. It’s hard to describe what a person goes through. Different people have different symptoms. Some of the common depression symptoms are:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge”
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
- Problems with sexual desire and performance
- Feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details
- Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some may experience only a few while others may experience many. Over time, I have suffered from most of these symptoms. The most important thing to know is that depression and anxiety are real. And aside from getting and taking the proper medication, the best help you can have is love and support from those around you.