Trigger warning: this post includes mention of suicide and severe depression.
When my son was born, I was lucky not to have post-partum depression. Oh, I had a a few days, right after his birth, of mourning for the little girl I’d envisioned and that he didn’t turn out to be. But Dennis Rodman saved me.
It was 1995. The Bulls had won their fourth NBA title on the backs of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman. At the time, Rodman was merely outrageous, content to do things like date Madonna and wear a wedding dress while promoting his autobiography.
Sitting on my back porch, looking over a garden full of pink and white roses, I cried. My husband had to be talked into this child; how would he agree to have another? I would have no daughter. No female bond. My son would grow to be a man. We wouldn’t have manicures together. He would never wear my wedding dress. And at that moment, with the vivid image of Dennis in a dress, I stopped. “Oh, my god,” I thought, “I hope he doesn’t.”
No, my children seldom trigger depression. My deepest dives are centered on work.
Sometimes my depressions take the form of rage. I have raged at work, at friends and at colleagues. I can see myself, in the halls of one of the largest public relations firms in the world, screaming at the agency accountant. That I was screaming on behalf of a client seems to be the only reason I wasn’t fired. And I can see myself, still working for the same agency, screaming at my boss—who was also a friend—in a Chicago subway station on learning my promotions had consistently been blocked by another supervisor. Were these instances that warranted anger? Yes. Did they warrant rage? No.
Then there are the depressions that make me want to disappear, at best, or die, at worst.
I’ve written of my worst—the closest I’ve come to suicide—before. It’s still hard to type the word, let alone think it. The trigger? Feeling trapped in a meaningless job and regretting every career decision I’d made.
Obviously, I recovered. I found another job and then, another. But the work-triggered depressions never left.
What leads to the depressions is a complicated mix of anxiety, projection and negative self-talk. The result is paralysis. In one particularly vicious cycle, when I owned a landscape design business, I spent three weeks unable to do anything but the most essential care of my son. When he was in school, I slept. Of course, it is impossible to design someone’s backyard when you are asleep. As the promised delivery date slid past, I sank deeper and deeper. And the deeper I went, the more I beat up on myself. The more I beat up on myself, the more convinced I became that I really was worthless. And the less able I became to stop the slide, get out of bed, call the client, finish the design. When running the business became too overwhelming, I closed it and concentrated on caring for my children.
Forutnately, work doesn’t always lead me into depression. On the contrary, I can be passionate about my work. I’m passionate about Crazy Good Parent. I believe I’m doing good work and I’m enjoying doing it. My husband sees it, too. We both think this is what I am supposed to do right now.
I feel the darkness slinking around the edges, though. “There’s so much to do. You’ll never get it all done,” it says. And then someone who has as full a plate as mine (at least that’s how it seems to me), does something wonderful and I’m filled with self-loathing. “If you only worked a little harder, you’d have more followers”. “Get back to working on CGP when you come home from work, instead of watching The Voice.” “You’d get recognition, too, if you weren’t so lazy.”
Sure, the reasonable me kicks in—usually with an assist from my therapist—and I get back to taking life one step at a time. But then my husband will express concern about his ability to keep working. And he’s older than me, and his friends are retiring, and I make next-to-no money. Or my daughter will need 16 baby teeth filled. Or my son will say that he’s cracked another $250 cymbal. Or the dog will get sick. That’s when the hamster wheel in my head spins out of control again.
I want it to stop. Permanently. I want to wake up and have a normal amount of insecurity about my work. I want to be happy for others’ successes and not use them as a chance to beat on myself. I want to be able to pick up the phone and call someone without rehearsing the conversation for three days beforehand.
But I want something I can’t have. I will never be that neurotypically neurotic person who has her ups and downs but makes it through the day ego mostly intact. I’m going to have to get through the anxiety and self-loathing as best I can. Recognizing the triggers is a good start.
How does your work affect your mental health? How does our mental health affect your work? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.