Depression Took Hold of My Career – And My Life
Content Note: This article describes suicide and suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one are struggling, consider reading our mental health resources page.
Having been diagnosed with anorexia and depression at 26, I was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder unit where I stayed for 6 months, regaining the weight I'd lost. I'd spent the previous 4 years in therapy with my therapist, Naomi.
After my depression stalled, she referred me to an elderly psychiatrist who prescribed a stimulant instead of an antidepressant. The stimulant waylaid my appetite, I became skeletal and my depression worsened from malnutrition. It was my mother and not my therapist who admitted me to an eating disorder facility.
Depression impacted my career
Following my discharge, I returned to my job as a consumer promotion development manager at a leading packaged goods company. But it was too late. A fervent anorexic had been born. I was readmitted a year later at a slightly higher weight than the previous year. This time, I stayed for 4 months.
This time, I lost my job. (The year was 1989, one year prior to when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.) I was devastated. I'd worked my way up to this position from a secretary and the climb had taken 8 years.
Frequent job changes and drug use
At the advertising agency, I was promoted from a secretary to an assistant to the director of the newly formed consumer promotion department. When that department was eliminated 2 years later, I got a job in Westchester, New York, working for a dog food company. After about 3 years I moved into the consumer promotion development manager position back in Manhattan.
It was during my time at this company, I began to use cocaine, the psychiatrist prescribed the stimulant, and I was diagnosed with anorexia.
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The fury of depression: unable to function
I began to believe something was inherently wrong with me. That I couldn't keep a job because departments kept getting eliminated and I was the common denominator. Never mind that consumer promotion was often an afterthought and typically a 1 or 2 employee department. Last in and first out. I took everything so personally. When I was younger, I cried if someone said my name too harshly.
When I realized I wasn't going back to that position as consumer promotion development manager, I was bereft. I lacked a reason to get out of bed, to shower, to eat, to leave the apartment.
The depth of this depression was unrivaled in its fury unleashed on my body and psyche. Alone, I curled up in my bed, torturing myself for everything I'd lost, certain I'd never get it back.
Day program for depression treatment
My next stop was a day program in midtown Manhattan. When I took the F train to 1 stop further past my old job, I was flooded with memories of what I'd lost.
The day program went from 9 AM through 3 PM. I sat silently in a corner, leaning against the wall. Afraid to participate, I was fearful the other people who attended the program would think I was stupid. I kept my mouth shut and languished in that corner.
The days melded into each other, the trips during rush hour on the packed F train, sitting through endless groups listening to other people's stories of despair and misery. I crawled deeper into my depression, reliving my lost opportunities, and feeling hopeless for my present and my future. I began to feel as though I was a burden to my family, unable to financially support myself, needing to take money from my mother for the smallest expenses.
My raging thoughts with depression
I remained unable to speak up in the group despite these raging thoughts. A dialogue began inside my mind as a harsh voice told me I needed to die. That I didn't deserve to live. That my family would be better off without me.
I was still afraid the ever-cycling parade of other attendees in the day program would judge me for being dumb, but now I feared they'd also judge me for being crazy. Locked inside a broken brain, I prayed for an exit.
Early one morning I awoke hours before sunrise. The voice was my sole companion as the darkness bled from the sky into my apartment. The voice was chanting now, and his commands were loud and clear:
You need to die.
You're a burden.
You're a worthless piece of shit.
Nothing I did drowned him out. I longed for peace. In a daze, I padded to my kitchen and fingered a full bottle of antidepressants. With only a slight hesitation, I swallowed the entire bottle. Relieved that I no longer had options, I trod back to my bedroom, lay down, and waited to die.
In crisis and needing further treatment
When I woke up several hours later and realized I was still alive, I was angry and disappointed. I'd failed again. I berated myself for not being able to do anything right. For lack of anything else to do, I threw on some clothes and headed into Manhattan to the day program.
There, a friend noticed I was acting peculiar, and I told her what I'd done. The next thing I knew I was in a yellow cab with a staff person from the program careening up Third Avenue to the nearest hospital emergency room.
"Every angel terrifies. Though I shouldn't, I am singing at you, all but lethal birds of the soul, in full knowledge of what you can do." –Rainer Maria Rilke, The Second Elegy
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