Seeking Me

As many of you know, I was very sick with Covid last year in March. It lasted for months and caused recurring issues both mental and physical. I’m considered a Covid long-hauler. I developed anxiety, my ADHD and depression was exacerbated, and constant brain fog and fatigue set in. In October of last year, I was admitted to the hospital for severe head pain that doctors, neurologists, and dentists couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I went through a couple of misdiagnosis, one leading me to have a biopsy on my temporal artery. I gotta pretty cool scar on my temple now. I’mma tell my grandkids it’s from a knife fight while taking down an evil empire. Finally, during my 3rd ER visit in about a month, where I was in so much pain I literally wanted to die, some answers came. I had an abscessed tooth that had gotten severely infected. The tooth that dentist’s said, “…might be it but we don’t have any openings for another 2 weeks.” They said this to me while I was sobbing in pain.

During my hospital stay recovering from the tooth extraction, one particular nurse I connected with, noticed something odd every time I went to the bathroom. My heart rate spiked upwards to 140 bpms or more and I was short of breath and fatigued after moving less than 10 feet. This nurse decided I should get an MRI. Thank goodness she spoke up because they found a blood clot on my lung. Mind you, this whole time I was working for the first time in over a year. In August, I started contract work as a career coach for a major outplacement company. During my training and up until my hospital stay, I was helping people optimize their chances for gaining a career that moves them forward; teaching interview and networking skills and LinkedIn optimization. I did this on a rotating cocktail of different pain meds. If I missed a dose, the unbearable pain would come.

I was recruited for another position, one closely aligned with my career goals and for an amazing company. I did their orientation meeting from my hospital bed and started the next day, October 14. I was very pleased with this new position. The learning curve was steep but I soldiered on. Fast forward to Spring of 2021. I’m finally getting a grasp of what I’m doing at work and have this amazing team. I get hired on as a permanent employee and am finally getting paid my worth. I’m considered a senior member of the team so I am the go-to for certain information. The same weekend I get hired on, I move into a new apartment. The stress is tremendous. I make decisions I regret and chastise myself for them. I haven’t lived on my own in about 20 years. I’m back to living in the kind of apartment I would’ve loved to have in my 20s back in Ohio. In my 40s in Illinois, I saw it as a step backward. My wife and I had separated a while back but at this point, we were (still are) the best of friends. I have a girlfriend who was extremely supportive and took care of me when I was sick with Covid and the infection. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

In July, my department went through a major reorg. I was moved to a different team. There was confusion regarding my role and what I needed to do. At this point, I was very concerned about cognitive decline, much like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon. I spent everyday trying to figure out what was expected of me but I was so confused. I wasn’t understanding what was happening in meetings. Sometimes, I literally couldn’t even comprehend what was being said. I started making mistakes and missing deadlines…forgetting key information needed for a document. Requests of me started to pile up and I’m being pulled in every direction. Soon, I find myself crying more than often. My “office” was in my bedroom so in between trying to understand what is happening in my job, I would lay on my bed and cry. That’s it. Just cry. Then, I’d start to work again and cry. During the few social things I did with family and friends I was masking my depression so thoroughly nobody noticed. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t burden them with my pain that I felt no one could help me with anyway. I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping. I stopped showering and brushing my teeth. I retreated from my friends and loved ones. I stopped posting on social media. I remember being disappointed by 3 people in one day and just saying, “Fuck it. I don’t need anybody!” I didn’t want to see anyone. The only person I barely had energy for was my son. My house became a cave. I kept it dark. There were times when I didn’t even go outside…hell, I didn’t even know what outside looked like. I couldn’t tell the passage from day to night. I felt empty…a shell. I was numb. I was so numb that suicide wasn’t even a thought. It was too much work…a chore. The only thing I could manage was laying in bed and playing a jigsaw puzzle game on my phone. I didn’t even have the energy to watch TV.

One day in August, my former manager asked me what was going on. She mentioned how my work had suffered and I seemed to be pushing my work off to someone else. That night I cried in anguish. I was in so much emotional pain that I felt like I couldn’t call a friend and subject them to my misery, so I called a crisis hotline. For the first time ever, I called. I’m so glad I did. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in pain, call. They are trained to deescalate you and you don’t have to be suicidal to call. I needed someone to dump my emotional pain on that could take it and be objective. A day or two later, I had my psychiatrist appointment for a med check. I told her how nothing had changed. I didn’t want to see anyone and had effectively isolated myself from everyone. She suggested I go through the mental health hospitalization program through Linden Oaks. I’d heard of this place as I had supported 2 other people through the program. I still wasn’t sure. You hear stories, sensationalized but still scary stories about being locked up in a psych ward involuntarily with no-one listening to your pleas that you’re sane. Granted, these stories I heard came from movies and TV shows (Season 2 of AHS or the story of Nelly Bly!) but the fear and stigma was there. I talked to my therapist and a trusted friend in the mental health field and they said do it…so I called. I made plans to get an assessment on a Saturday. My girlfriend came over on the Friday before and asked why not tonight. “Because it’s on Saturday!” and then I can put it off even more… I am a master of talking myself out of doing things that scare me. She gently persuaded me to get an assessment that night and went with me. There wasn’t an opening right away so I had to wait a couple of days. When I was asked if I could start on August 17th, and before my brain could tell them that I couldn’t start that day because I had already made a haircut appointment for my son or I was planning on doing laundry that day or I couldn’t possibly start anything on a prime number…I said yes. I started an outpatient partial hospitalization program at Linden Oaks.

The first few days was rough. I was kind of excited because I desperately wanted to feel better. A couple of days in this place and I’ll be right as rain and ready to conquer the world. The first day, I was just taking it all in, comparing my crazy to other’s crazy. Basically, determining if I belonged. I felt like a had some insights right away. Oh man! This is gonna be a breeze! I’m so glad I agreed to do this. The 2nd day, I get up thinking I’ll learn something new and maybe I’ll only be here a couple of days. I’ll have all the skills I need to be a functioning human being. The third day is the first time the glow wears off. While sitting in a skills class, we learn “The Top Ten Ways to Build Self-Esteem”. What?! I already know this. I took the damn Buzzfeed quiz. How the hell is this going to help me with my real grown-up issues. Where’d they get this list, Teen Beat! I was angry. True anger. I spoke to my appointed therapist about how stupid this all was and that I needed real help and this wasn’t getting me anywhere. Then, she did something that endeared her to me and brought me down a peg or two. She challenged me. My anger didn’t fluster her at all. She challenged me…caught me in my bullshit and made me angry for a different reason. I jokingly asked her if she spoke to my outpatient therapist who also challenges me and doesn’t let me bullshit her. I went back to group with a different mindset. I’m about to experience growth and awareness like I never had before.

I learned a lot about myself. I learned that what I thought was my personality, was actually unhealthy coping skills. I learned my deep seated trauma is affecting my relationships and how…if…I let people love me. My depression was being constantly fed from lamenting the Shani I could’ve been if my life hadn’t changed for the worst when I was 4 years old. I was angry. I still am. I’m angry and saddened by the adults in my life — family, teachers, doctors, coaches — who couldn’t see that I was a child in pain and afraid. I went for years undiagnosed and unmedicated for ADHD, depression, and Bipolar II (the lite version). I constantly felt undeserving because I couldn’t do certain everyday things like my peers. I couldn’t be “normal”? This program helped me see I wasn’t a despicable, broken monster constantly failing and disappointing people…but a human being whose brain needed help creating the right chemicals and did everything it could to survive childhood.

I have a long road of healing ahead of me. I’m terrified. I’m terrified of feeling. I’m terrified of what a mentally healthy Shani looks like. My mental illness drains me, but it’s what I know. I’m comfortable in it because it’s familiar…but it’s also keeping me from realizing my true potential and accepting my worth.

I am blessed to have the most amazing support system! Family, friends who are family, friends who live hundreds and thousands of miles away but are as close as a text or a phone call. I have loved ones who knew me at my worst throughout the years and still care for me. Friends I’ve known for a short time but have made an indelible mark on my heart. I love you all.

I hope my experience helps someone. I hope this helps you realize you’re not alone and what you feel is valid but not the truth. I know so many of us live in pain and berate ourselves…give yourself some grace. The hardest thing to do is also the most rewarding…ask for help. We only have each other. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

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