I’ve been thinking about writing this for awhile, but haven’t been ready. I’ve decided to take the plunge.
Apparently I have depression. (I’m going to come back to the ‘apparently’ in that phrase). I used to work in a toxic work environment where I was constantly gaslighted by colleagues and the administration. I was an easy target, because I didn’t have a huge ego and I tended to be more apologetic. Also, for seven years, I was working toward tenure and I watched two colleagues in my department get shafted for going against the grain, and one time when I wasn’t invited to the department meeting in which one colleague was discussed, I was told “we didn’t invite you because we knew you’d support him and didn’t want you to risk you tenure.” Yes, overt threat. Another time I was told if my evaluations didn’t come up, I’d have to be let go. This after I’d been out for pregnancy leave and one of my colleagues, angry at the fact that I had the gall to leave detailed daily course activities and assignments (I thought this was helpful), told my students that my syllabus and approach was crap. The result of that was that all the students showed up in my office telling me my class was garbage, I was doing it wrong, demanding too much, and I had no choice to change it or face (illegal) sanctions from my department.
It didn’t help that I suffered from Imposter Syndrome. “First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”
My first instinct is to point out that I’m not a high achiever. But if I were to look at someone else, I’d say with the same qualifications, somebody else would have been a very high achiever. I’ve BA, MA, and a PhD. I’ve written and published in my academic field and I’ve been a successful professor. I achieved full professor rank in approximately seven years. I had a sabbatical in my 14 years at UMW. I have published 13 novels, with two more coming in the next three months. I have two children and a solid marriage (married 25 years). I am a pretty good cook, I’m a good friend, a good writer, and a good person.
I say that, but squirm in doing so and I would readily argue or not say those things under just about any circumstances. It wouldn’t be the bragging factor. It would be the Imposter Syndrome. Even with depression, I can’t claim to fully have it. That’s the ‘apparently’ from the first sentence. I even have Imposter Syndrome when it comes to illness. I’m not really that bad, that sick, and, and depression only exacerbates IS because at its core, depression makes you feel like a failure.
But let’s go back to my history. Toxic work environment that got progressively worse. The depression started setting in during the last few years at UMW. I started becoming short tempered with my family, I wanted to isolate, I slept a lot–when I wasn’t having insomnia. I cried and my stomach was constantly in knots. There was more. My doc put me on citalopram, which helped with the anxiety elements. But while it took the edge of, it didn’t really tackle the depression issue. I’ve always been a pretty happy-go-lucky person. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. Only as time went on, I started sweating everything.
Finally we moved and I left that job. Immediately I felt better. Part of it was living out of constant winter. Part of it was just not facing that toxicity. Then my son got ill. For a year and a half, he went through innumerable tests. He suffered horrendous bouts of vomiting and incredible pain. He started having psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. He was given a ton of medications that did no good. We saw so many doctors. Finally we got a diagnosis and a program of treatment. It worked. It wasn’t instant. By the time his two-year sick anniversary rolled around, he was doing really well.
I was not. With the relief of seeing him improve, I started sinking down. I still don’t want to call it depression. It didn’t feel as hopeless and dark as I’ve heard ‘true’ sufferers endure. But there’s a spectrum and it was very difficult for me and it is depression. I just don’t like suggesting that I was anywhere near as someone who really suffers. Back to Imposter Syndrome.
Writing is a profession particularly susceptible to IS. Writers see bad reviews and internalize them. Good reviews don’t make near the impact they should. We doubt ourselves constantly. We constantly think what we write is crap. We always worry. Add into that the fact that many of us don’t make a living wage, then money stress starts to grind at us. It’s easy to constantly doubt your abilities, even after you have published a lot of books.
Depression rides IS like a racehorse. You tell yourself to suck it up and deal with it. Stop whining. Stop crying. Just do it, for goodness sake. It’s not life and death. Why can’t you just pull your shit together? Then you feel the need to hide how your feeling. And that need only contributes to your internal understanding that this is shameful and should be hidden. If anyone found out, they’d know you were a worthless piece of trash.
Oh, and did I mention that changing hormones can mess with all of that?
So there I was, totally submerged in IS and depression, and unable to see it. I knew that this wasn’t me. I went in for my yearly physical and I guess I must have mentioned something. The doc suggested Wellbutrin. I balked. She called in the prescription and said try it and see if it made a difference. It was a beginning dose.
It actually did make me feel better. There’s an initial euphoria where you just feel energetic and happy. This felt wonderful. But then I started feeling more anxious, more doubting, more short tempered, and generally returning to the depression. I saw the doc and she said I should try the next level dose. I refused. Said I’d like to see how this played out for awhile longer. It was that suck it up, stop whining, pull on some big girl panties mind set. It didn’t help. It only made things worse, because when your brain chemistry is fucked up, you can’t just tough your way out of it. A week later I called and said, let’s do it. For any of my friends, I would have urged them to treat themselves. I have an illness. It has to be treated for my own sanity and health.
That dose seems to have done the trick. I find myself having moments of short temper and out-of-proportion anger, but it dissolves in minutes. I let it go. I am not nearly as impatient. I’m far more sympathetic. I am more myself. I like being myself. That last one is weird. I didn’t realize that I didn’t like being with myself very much. I didn’t enjoy myself. Now I do. I also don’t beat myself up for all the things I used to. I don’t attack myself.
The reason I decided to talk about this is because of the shame factor, and that urge to hide. To fake it. To wear a mask and pretend that you’re normal, because somewhere you feel that there is something terribly wrong with you. And not wrong as in illness, but fundamentally wrong/broken/failed. Not quite human. So I’m defying that. I’m saying I have depression and I’m saying that is really what it is. I’m still working on the IS. No medication is going to cure that. But the other . . . I’m more and more myself every day.