Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Month 2 - adjusting

The theme for month two of my leave from work to deal with my medical issues was really more of the same and adjustment.

I realized that since I had been working around the clock, I had spent so much time reading technical, uninteresting, dreadfully painful, hundred plus page documents to keep my head above water, that I had actually stopped reading for fun years ago. I used to read all the time - and I mean ALL the time...Goodness sake, I always wanted to be a writer - and you don't want to be a writer without wanting to read everything you can get your hands on.

So I started reading. And reading. And reading. I followed a couple of Oprah's book club recommendations - one in particular was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I was focused on books that would help me mentally and emotionally escape and reconnect to myself. This was a critical read - and the timing was perfect, as my read of the book followed Oprah's online seminars with the author himself. I read the book, and then I watched the seminars online, practiced centering myself, and it helped me absolutely focus on healing myself. It gave me enough quiet space in my mind and in my home and in my hands to breathe, and refresh my mind.

The other book that I read which happened to be coincidental to Oprah's promotion of the book through one of her shows was, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. These two books together, changed the way my rehabilitation could have gone. In his book, Randy spoke honestly and frankly and openly about dealing with his terminal cancer, and determined that his legacy could and would not be just the job or just the cancer. At the same time that I was struggling with my diagnosis, and unclear about my next steps, what became clear in my experience of these two books helped me resolve that I would not follow the footsteps of my mother (who chose to deal with her depression by quitting work, and sticking only with her medication to help her strike the even keel). I knew after having read those books, that I was still meant to do something with my life, that I was still (unhappy and sick as I was), not going to let the depression eat me up, and stick me out on the end of the couch with the potatoe. Coincidentally, Randy passed away not but a few weeks after I finished reading the book. If he had not been alive and doing as well as he was when I read the book, I don't know that it would have had the same affect on me. I am eternally grateful to a man that I never had the opportunity to meet, but whom I admired for his sensitivity to his family's loss and pains in being caregivers, his pragmatism on how to change the course of his legacy, and eternal optimism to choose life when cancer was knocking the hell out of his body.

I also reminded myself that just 5 years ago, I had thought long and hard about starting my own business. I decided then to open my own wedding planning business so that I could put my efforts and time into something that would give me pleasure and that would benefit me instead of the rich man, and that would help my mom find some purpose in her days by being able to work with me. This also meant that I was able to keep my mind sharp throughout my recovery, and that I was able to develop my skills further during sabbatical, hopefully improving my chances of making a career change post recovery.

The one thing that hampered all the progress I was making (which can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing), was the constant pushing from the insurance group hired by my company to track the progress of my condition/treatment...and the constant doctor's appointments. I was seeing doctors or talking to insurance case workers at least every other day. The pressure to push through and just get back to work was incredible, and incredibly painful. And in fact, was a contributing factor I think to the reason why it took me 14 months to finally be able to return.

I think that if something comes from my writing all of this, I'm hoping it will be insurance and corporate reform in how they manage medical leave with their valued employees. Never in my career with this company, had I felt more like a useless, pain in the ass number, as I did when I was at the lowest point in my life medically. I certainly didn't feel support despite their claims that this was their intentions in following up.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Month 1

The first month I was off work was the strangest experience I think I've ever had. I quite literally found myself hiding in the basement in front of the television, mindlessly staring into nothingness. Mostly this was because I felt lost in my own home. Now I know that the reason I felt lost in my own home was, well, because I don't think I'd ever "been" there before.

I spent so much time, trying to balance a big career, with a big family relationship, and a big marriage, and living a big life, that I overlooked all the details that made it worth living. In essence, this is part of the reason why I think depression and anxiety took over. This is one of the ways in which I allowed it to.

So the first week was a drain - on the surface it was time wasted, although in retrospect, it was absolutely stage one of recovery, and time well wasted.

I also had at least 4 doctor's appointments, and started the year long roller coaster ride of trying this medication and that medication to see what would work with what. The biggest challenge in all of this though, was the same problems I had at work, were now coming at me from the corporate group insurance company. Fill out this survey, and that survey, and answer 20 phone calls, and every day, be made to feel more and more guilty for being sick...struggling with my diagnosis...and the only result that would come for me was that all my pent up anger was sustained. In fact I spent the first 9 months being the same level of angry as the day I went on leave. It took me 9 months to forget my password to my work computer. Can you imagine? I do have a good memory, and I was always smart about making my passwords somewhat memorable - but after 9 months of not using it? Don't most people forget these things after a week's vacation?

The more questions and interactions I had with doctor's and insurance companies, the more I had panic and anxiety attacks, and the worse my condition became. My feeling is that the insurance company did nothing but make things harder for me to return to work, through no malintent at all. Why? Because even though they are an independent company, in my mind (as I'm sure it is with so many others), they were representatives of my employer. Since my work was such a large part of the tipping point for me, I saw little in them to trust, or that would make me feel better about their advice or their statements of compassion or in their pressing me to return to work at all. Perhaps in my diatribes, I'll be able to discover how they could have acted differently to promote a healthier, quicker return to work for me...but for the moment, I know that they helped me find deeper places still in my disorder.

Convinced that this was easily beatable, and that I might have been slightly misdiagnosed, I decided that surely there were others just like me in my own community (I know there are thousands), and took out an ad in my local paper (cost me $200 that was hard come by, for a little bitty snippet on the last page in a single issue), looking for others to join me in coffee shop sessions of mutual support. One person (I'll call her M) answered that ad, and due in large part to things I learned from her, I believe it helped me to resist what depression and anxiety can ultimately do to kept me motivated to stay on the work at the living thing, cuz if I had chosen to give into it, at that delicate, precipice of a moment as it was, then it would win. I would lose my battle, and I'd never work again. That first month was critical for me, and her answer to my little itty bitty ad in my local paper, could very well have been the first step in saving myself. I can only hope that I helped her as much as she helped me, although I'm not certain that was the case.

I also found a community based support group - one that I attended once, but quickly realized it just wasn't going to give me what I needed. No matter what I put into it, I would not be getting the right result for me. The main challenge I found in that environment was simply that the people in the room were not like me. Many of them were clinically depressed, and their depression had robbed them socially and professionally...or perhaps they were depressed because of the latter two reasons. Without taking anything away from the good people or the goodness they realized from that community of supporters, I found that I spoke a different language. While it sounds awfully horrible to say (and indeed I've tried writing the statement a hundred other ways already), I simply operated in a whole different social cast than the people who were sitting around me. So even on a good day, I think we'd have a challenge speaking the same language. Add to this that we were all depressed, highly emotional, and anxious, and the mix was like watch oil and water avoid one another in a glass bowl.