I am currently sorting my minimal possessions, preparing to move, as the house (not my house) is on the market. I came across a printed copy of a blog post from a deleted blog from around 2008 (15 years ago). The blog was when my name was a pen name (now my legal name).
Only a few snippets of my writing survived.
I wrote the blog post when I was diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression and generalised anxiety disorder (later changed to bipolar 1 disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD).
I will type some of it below, as I will toss it out. I called it Struggling to Find My Niche. Minimally edited (including omission of some parts). The first scene (memoir) was adapted for a scene in my semiautobiographical novel, Pet Purpose: Your Unspoken Voice.
What I wrote 15 years ago:
'You stupid...stupid...STUPID girl!' he sneered.
He stomped his feet and waved his arms like a child having a tantrum. With his bony frame in a white lab coat, grey tufts of hair and glasses, he was the (stereoytypical) mad scientist. I stared at him hurling insults and suddenly realised how absurd he looked.
I had a trump card: I was leaving because I was accepted into teacher's college. This fool no longer had any power over me.
I laughed. Out loud. Previously, this pathetic man would have made me cry with his condescending, belittling, caustic comments. This time, I was calm and his attacks failed to penetrate.
Flustered, he stalked into his office and slammed the door.
By far, the most stressful factor for me is authoritarian, bullying bosses with overinflated egos.
Extreme stress is the catalyst for the re-emergence of my mood disorder. I have had several relapses of depression. Each relapse is linked to escalating stress: bullies; surgery; chemical exposures; autoimmune disease. Ever since I first suffered depression while studying chemistry at university, I have had a low threshold for stress.
When the depression is managed, I am a conscientious worker and no one can guess I have battled such an affliction.
Secondary school teaching would prove to be an unwise move.
I survived the first year, with an eighty percent teaching load and a reasonably supportive school with excellent resources. During the year, my doctor deemed me 'cured' of depression and I weaned off antidepressants. I gradually became more and more exhausted as the year wore on.
I changed schools for my second year of teaching. The new school was smaller with friendlier staff. I was now on a one hundred percent teaching load with two-hundred new names to learn quickly (I find name recall demanding). Unfortunately, the school lacked resources. I was run down, exhausted and was even starting to resent the students.
I had one particularly taxing class of fourteen-year-olds. Their mission was to provoke the teacher - they were constantly noisy, rowdy, back-chatting. One day (just weeks), I did the unthinkable - tears blurred my vision - I was going to cry in front of the students! Embarrassed and angry with myself, I left the room.
After a few minutes, I heard someone ask, 'Where's Miss?'
'I think she's crying,' said another. A few of the girls, including the chief troublemakers searched me out. They were apologetic and started weeping too. They hugged me and dragged me back to class.
Silence: quieter than an exam. Concerned faces, expectant eyes.
'I chose teaching because I wanted to help people, to make a difference; but to get treated like crap, it's not worth it,' I said. There were a few smirks but most of the students were sincerely remorseful.
I took several days off to reassess whether I could continue teaching. When I returned, a boy jeered, 'Heard you had a nervous breakdown, Miss.' Straight for the jugular.
I supervised a test. My mind was foggy; the roll took forever to work out. I felt panicky: I wanted to escape. I can't do this, I thought. My confidence was gone. I now loathed teaching - all the pressure and constant people contact sucked the life out of me. I had to finish - now.
I was sobbing in the deputy principal's office. I confessed that I had been off medication for depression for several months. She said that to teach, one needs to be 110% fit, as teenagers sense weakness. I knew I couldn't go back.
My boss arranged for me to be paid out several weeks of sick leave and sent me flowers and homemade plum sauce. Recuperating at home, I felt mixed relief, despondency and disappointment.
After three months back on antidepressants - still fragile - I tried to find a job. I had the delimma of possessing tertiary qualifications but the inability to handle stress. (Potential) employers were suspicious of why I had qualifications but was working 'below my capacity.'
My other dilemma was whether to disclose my mental health issues; as I noticed that if I disclosed, I did not get the job. I learned I was not legally obligated to disclose but if something happened, then the employer could cry foul and use it against me. So it was a no-win situation.
I gained employment in an office doing accounts, which I concluded was repetitive and boring. It was lower pay than teaching but it was better than not being paid at all. My depression resurfaced when I became pregnant. Any impairment of cognitive function and mood was conveniently blamed on pregnancy hormones.
After having my baby, I taught piano part-time from home and also worked part-time as a laboratory technician at a high school. I was fortunate to have supportive bosses who provided guidance, valued my unique contribution and trusted me to execute tasks in my own style.
Unfortunately, my health continued to deteriorate. I now had a pain disorder (fibromyalgia) as well as a mood disorder. To make matters worse, we were suffering from mortgage stress.
Reluctantly, I gave up my two part-time jobs and returned to work full-time (as a lab technician). I was again working with chemicals. This coincided with a disasterous antidepressant change (an attempt to manage the pain disorder) with distressing side-effects.
My supervisor and I clashed immediately. She was very controlling and alternating between micromanaging me and abandoning me. I felt guilty that my son was in day care full-time. I became extremely anxious and depressed and quit my job, devastated we would have to sell our house.
I had worked with chemicals for years. Even at university, when I suffered my first episode of major depression, I noticed I was much more sensitive (to chemicals) than other students. One time at work, I became dizzy and nauseus testing a pine concentrate. I bolted outside, gasping for fresh air, my heart pummelling. I was moody, depressed and suicidal for days - all from an odour.
I am now working part-time as a merchandiser. The people contact is minimal, I don't have a horrible boss breathing down my neck and I have flexibility. I choose the days and hours I want to work. I work during the day when my son is at school.
I didn't disclose my history of depression when I interviewed for this job. I wanted something part-time and flexible during school hours. Health wasn't even discussed. My boss knew I had qualifications but accepted my reasons.
I don't utilise all of my talents at work. I didn't expect to be rearranging shelves having a university degree. The reality is: I can't handle stress. Yes, I feel frustrated at times that I am not in a challenging and well-paid job.
Depression in the workplace is very difficult - and not just for the person suffering from it. Relapses can strike when one least expects. Looking back, I was more vulnerable when working jobs that didn't suit my personality type. Teaching requires a lot of people contact. I am an introvert and trying to act like an extrovert exhausts me. Working for bullies is soul-destroying.
I need to work part-time for my self-esteem. Autonomy, flexibility and creativity are important to me. I would like to continue merchandising and to try freelance writing; perhaps some health articles for magazines. I feel inspired to write and share my insights. I ponder writing ideas when I am driving my car for work. Maybe, I've found my niche.
What my medical records said
I obtained archived medical records when preparing for my Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) assessments. I had another assessment last month (awaiting outcome). As part of decluttering, I am getting rid of old medical records.
This extract was from 2002, when I quit teaching (gosh over 20 years ago now):
'Considerable stress since starting work as a teacher...past history of depression...started at university...further episode of depression whilst working as a lab technician...treated with (SSRI class antidepressants). Return of symptoms of insomnia, tearfulness, loss of confidence and broke into tears in front of her class two days ago...feeling quite tired and doubts her ability to cope with full class load...Has given up her teaching job. Diagnosis: depression.
So where am I at now?
My health got a lot worse after some massive triggers, including divorce. Which led to my primary diagnoses being changed from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and PTSD. I still have impairment, despite treatment (medications and therapy).
My son is now a young adult. I work part time, as I have very limited capacity for stress. As a merchandiser, after several attempts at other jobs in between. I've also self-published a few books in storytelling form, sharing my insights. Plus, I paint, here and there.
Just doing the best I can, despite limitations.
Disclaimer: the author of this blog is not an expert by profession and her opinions should not be taken as expert advice.