In 1993 I graduated with honors from vet. school at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. I enjoyed and thrived in the academic arena and was eager to start my new career after 13 years as a critical care nurse. During graduation, I was approached and offered an entry level job as an associate veterinarian in private practice. Incredibly, the job was in the county where my parents grew up and where my extended family lived. I was thrilled and relieved to have found my first job so easily. Really no work on my part, just say yes and move back to home base.
Over the years I learned how to be a good vet. and about 10 years ago I took over the role of chief of staff after the practice owner retired and sold the practice to a veterinary corporation. My staff consisted of two other vets., nine vet. techs, and four receptionists. I was happy. We did good work and enjoyed each others’ company greatly. We were successful and well thought of. And we were friends.
When my closest companion, my dog W, died in 2008 I became ill for the first time. It’s hard to remember all that happened during this time, but I eventually sought psychiatric help in 2009. I was initially diagnosed with BPD (likely secondary to the self harm), and my diagnosis eventually changed to MDD. I started anti-depressants and talk therapy. But it didn’t help me and I was eventually hospitalized with a suicide attempt in Dec. 2009 for meds. and ECT.
Initially, my corporate managers were encouraging and assured me that my job was secure – “just concentrate on getting well.” I did try to heal but on my second hospitalization in June 2010 a shift occurred in their “compassion” and while hospitalized I received a letter informing me that, unfortunately, my job was no longer mine and I was dismissed.
Two and a half months later I was discharged to face a frightening and confusing future. Jobless and on my own. As my depression deepened I slowly withdrew into my own space and my world collapsed and shrank smaller and smaller.
To their credit, my former friends and colleagues tried to maintain contact and periodically extended invitations to me to socialize – a wedding, an outing to go bowling, drinks and a meal. During this time I continued to worsen despite a variety of meds, a couple more admissions and several courses of ECT. As I continued to decline, I found interacting with my peers too difficult to maintain. Not surprisingly, their offers of kindness and support began to evaporate.
Now, four years later, the only people I talk to are my immediate family and my therapist. I haven’t worked a day and because of memory loss issues after repeated ECTs I came to realize that I was no longer safe to practice medicine. During the last few years I have kept my veterinary license current and could legally go back to work at any time – stupid pipe dreams.
Like many other people with mental health issues I really believed that one day I would/could return to work. My family and therapists have expressed theirs beliefs that I could work if I wanted to. But they don’t know how much of my mind and intellect I have lost. I know that the longer I am away, the farther away I am from any chance of returning to my former life.
I, of course, know that I have failed. Failed to be strong enough in the first place, failed to bounce back, failed at therapy, failed to improve despite treatment, failed to meet life’s challenges. I am on Social Security disability and despite efforts on my therapist’s part to get me out and “doing something”, my failures have lead to my world shrinking away. Depression – you are a heartless bitch.
Today I received some innocuous literature in the mail for a veterinary conference. I was struck with the realization that this is no longer my life. I won’t be going back.
My therapist said recently – “You may not get your old life back, but you can have a new one.” I know better, it’s over.
So, what have i gained because of my illness?
* I have gained first hand experience of the mental health world – so very odd and artificial and confusing. Experience of hospitals, medications, ECT, psychiatrists, and therapy.
* I have learned about expectations – of others, of myself. I have learned about failure.
* I have learned that other people, while good intentioned, can only wait and watch while you eventually fall further into the hole.
* I have always loved medicine and I have now gained the knowledge that that world is no longer open to me.
* I have learned that despite all the time, money, effort, and patience I have spent on recovering my life that I am forever changed.
* I have discovered that I am not strong enough or clever enough to beat this.
* I have learned that wanting is not enough.
* I have gained an appreciation for British comedies and Bugs Bunny cartoons.
* I have learned that I alone am responsible for myself and that I can no longer expect any real changes. I can’t see my life becoming anything different.
* I learned that sleep is not a guarantee.
* I learned that the occasional squirrel will eventually trust you enough to take peanuts from your hand.
* I learned new and brutal ways to self harm.
* I learned that overdoses don’t reliably kill.
* I learned that psychiatrists don’t want anything to do with you if you won’t take their drugs – “don’t come back.” They don’t talk to people anymore and don’t seem to want to get to know you.
What have I lost?
* I lost my sense of belonging in this world. My chosen role.
* I lost my ability to think critically and rely on my mind.
* I lost the respect of my colleagues, my family, and myself.
* I lost my friends.
* I lost my financial security. Disability provides about one-quarter of my former income. I was stripped of my sense of personal accountability – Social Security determined that I was incapable of handling my own finances and forces me to send my monthly bills onto my sister who, alone, has access to my account. (Thanks so much, sis.)
* I have lost my sense of humor.
* I have lost my way and I have lost my life.