The Square Peg Problem: A #HoldOntoTheLight Blog Post

I’m pleased to be part of the Hold Onto The Light blog tour this year along with bandita Jeanne and yesterday’s guest, Gail Z. Martin, and many other authors. #HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, horror, and YA authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues.

We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment. To that end, we’re sharing our own experiences with these issues.

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My brush with severe depression came a couple of years after I got out of school.  Work was going well, but some issues in my personal life were becoming problematic.  I now understand that some of these things had been problems for a while, but I’d been able to ignore them in the press of schoolwork and the active social life school offered.

But now I was out of school and working in a community where I didn’t have much in common with most people. I had a few terrific friends in the town and at work, but they weren’t enough to hold back the feeling that things were out of control, that I wasn’t going in a direction I wanted long-term.

I felt like the proverbial square peg in the round hole, and I wasn’t sure what to do about that. And because I wasn’t sure, was somewhat embarrassed about not knowing, and so was operating on the “ignore it and it will go away” theory (never a good idea with a problem, at least for me), I began to feel worse and worse.

I stopped reaching out to my friends. Unless they called me, I went home after work and…well, I can’t really say what I did because it wasn’t remarkable enough to remember. I loved my job, but I didn’t want to live it, nor did I want it to be the main bright spot in my life.

So I drifted along in an ever-darkening funk, faking normalcy–pretty well, I thought–until I lost something at work.  I was given an envelope to take from one office to another, and I lost it.  I had no memory of what I’d done with it after it was put in my hand.  This was mortifying enough, but the next day, I was told the boss wanted to see me.

He was a nice guy, so I didn’t think he was going to be nasty about it, but I knew I’d screwed up.  I opened our conversation with an apology, which he waved away.  “You didn’t go anywhere outside the office,” he said.  “The envelope will turn up.  I’m more concerned about what’s going on with you. This isn’t like you, and I’m hearing from others that you don’t seem like yourself lately.”

So much for my theory that I was faking it well.

I should add here that I’m not a sharer by nature.  I’m not much for talking about my feelings with people I don’t know well, which makes writing this blog post a bit discomfiting, too.  On the day of that conversation, though, I was feeling so overwhelmed and so lost about what to do that when my boss asked, “So what’s going on with you?” I told him how I’d been feeling, which was pretty much that I wanted to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after me.

He heard me out in silence, like the good listener he was.  When I finished, he said, “I think you should go talk to someone who knows how to help with issues like these.”  He fished around on his desk and came up with a business card. “This woman works for the county, but she’ll see you once on her own time and help you figure out how to tackle this if you want.  Shall I call her?”

I wasn’t so far down the hole that I couldn’t recognize a lifeline when it was flung at me, so I asked him to make the call.  While I sat there, he arranged an appointment for me. I wasn’t especially optimistic about this, partly because depression saps optimism and partly because the one time I’d gone to a counselor in school, at the university counseling center, his advice had been the not-so-helpful “You just can’t let it bother you.” If I’d know how to do that, of course, I wouldn’t have been sitting in his office in the first place.

But I’d reached a point where I had to try something, and my boss thought highly of this woman, so why not?

His friend saw me two days later.  I talked nonstop for an hour, sharing with her the things I’d told him, things I hadn’t told anyone else because I felt as though I should be handling things better, letting out all the things that had been bothering me. She listened and nodded and was sympathetic but basically let me talk.

She couldn’t see me regularly because I lived in the wrong county and also made too much money to qualify for their sliding scale.  At the end of the hour, she gave me a list of people in private practice she thought could help me. As I was leaving, she said, “I want you to call me Monday and let me know whether you’ve found someone.”

I’d seen enough TV shows and read enough books to realize she actually wanted me to call her Monday to be sure I was still around Monday.  That was a bit of a jolt.  I wasn’t suicidal.  At least, not yet.

But I did find someone, also a woman, and I did call my boss’s friend back on Monday to let her know and to thank her.  I thanked my boss, too, for looking past the immediate problem of a lost envelope (which turned up four weeks later, stuck in a reference book) to the bigger problem of my mental health.

When I saw the therapist I’d found, I again talked nonstop for an hour–for each of the first four sessions.  This made me realize that I’d been a lot more bothered than I was letting myself admit.  As I left after the fourth hour, I asked, “Are you seeing any patterns here?”

“Yes,” she replied, “and we’ll talk about that next time.”

We did talk about it next time, and she started helping me analyze the roots of my issues and figure out how to cope with them.  Never once did she tell me I just couldn’t let it bother me, instead focusing on how to defuse the situation and my reactions, which underlined the fact that the guy I’d seen in school just wasn’t very good at his job.

There’ve been a couple of times since then when I needed some guidance about family crises.  I went back to this therapist, and she helped me tackle them before they managed to turn my horizon dark.

I was lucky.  I had a boss who cared about the people who worked for him.  I had health insurance that covered counseling and a friend who loaned me the money for the deductible, which I didn’t have and didn’t want to ask my parents for since I didn’t want to open that proverbial can of worms with them. I learned that just because the first person I talked to wasn’t helpful, that didn’t mean there weren’t people out there who could be. And I learned how to ask for help when I needed it.

Depression is insidious.  It leaches into a person’s mood and mindset and saps all the color and vitality.  All the joy and hope. Learning to recognize it before it gets too strong a grip is vital.

If you think a friend is struggling, ask him or her what’s going on.  If you’re struggling, talk to someone, a friend, a counselor, a minister, whomever you trust.  If that person doesn’t help you, talk to someone else.  I wish you all the best.

Even if no one in your life is affected by these issues, there are things you can do to help. Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Thanks for reading this post.  Now, if you will, tell me what was the best thing to happen to you lately.

 

Comments

12 Comments

  • Pissenlit says:

    *hug* I’m not a sharer by nature either, particularly when it comes to important things. I’m allergic to talking about feelings. That boss of yours sounds like a really good guy.

    It might not qualify as “lately” but about a month ago, I got good results from the scan I had done after my radioactive iodine therapy. And I don’t have to have anymore blood tests or scans till January. That’s good. More recently, I got to cuddle my friends’ baby while a group of my friends tried out some archery this past weekend. Baby cuddling totally trumps archery. That was awesome. 🙂

    • Thanks for the hug, Pissenlit. Yes, he was a good guy.

      Yay on the results of your scan! And on the test-free time it bought you. I hope your results continue to be excellent.

      There’s just something about babies, isn’t there? Sometimes they’re just like little people magnets.

  • Awesome blog post, Nancy! Thank you!

  • Laney4 says:

    Thanks for sharing. It can’t have been easy for you to put these words to paper, let alone dealing with the above. I’m glad you found someone who could and did help.

    My best thing lately is that my son found a truck. He had run into my daughter’s car when she braked for an amber light in the rain, and his car had slid into hers when his brakes didn’t grab as well as hers did. Both are fine, but his car was a write-off (which often happens with older cars). For a week I’ve been driving him to work and back and looking for trucks afterward, and he found one on Friday. I am glad not to be chauffeuring him around anymore. (Mind you, I’m still chauffeuring my husband around because he’s had a broken hip socket for 9 weeks, but hopefully he’ll find out on Monday that he can walk on it again plus drive! So … I’m also thankful that he didn’t require surgery but instead could recuperate at home immediately, because I work from home; otherwise, he would have been at the hospital for 2 weeks and then in rehab 2 more weeks before coming home.)

    We all have so much for which to be thankful….

    Do you remember when Oprah told us about a grateful journal whereby you write out 5 things every day for which to be grateful? I used to do that but now I just think about a couple dozen things every day instead.

    • Thank you, EC. I’m glad your so and daughter weren’t hurt and that he’s found a car that works. Here’s hoping your husband gets good news on Monday! I don’t remember that journal idea, but it sounds great.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Hugs from me too, Nancy. I’ve been there too. My college counselor gave me the memorable advice “You just need to get laid.” (Of course, that was before I tried to go out the fifth-story window. It took my dormmates to get me out of that one.) You were lucky to have such a perceptive and caring boss. I was eight years into a dead-end job, living with my dysfunctional family and going with a messed-up commitmentphobe before I stepped back one day and realized I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be. I literally took my life in my hands and found an excellent sliding-scale therapist whom I saw every week for three years. She taught me how to tell the difference between truth and the lies my brain and my family told me. With her help I got to a place where I could take control of my own life and was able to go for 30 years without medication until the one-two punch of losing my husband and losing my home pushed me over the edge again. But at least this time I knew what to do and where to go for help.

    The best thing that has happened to me lately was going to a fair and winning three months of free Tai Chi lessons on one of those spin-the-wheel things. It has turned out to be a godsend in my hectic life, teaching me how to calm and center myself so I can see things clearly. I come out of each lesson refreshed and energized. Now I try to practice some each day to help keep myself focused.

    • Hugs to you, too, EC. Sounds like your college counselor was way worse than mine. I’m glad you found someone who could help you take control.

      I’m actually having a tai chi lesson on Friday. I’m at a gathering of friends, and one of them is going to lead us through it. I’m looking forward to it.

  • Helen says:

    Hugs to you Nancy this is a great post and talking about these things is one of the hardest things to do and I know there have been times that I have just wanted to crawl into a hole and not talk to anyone but luckily I have so far had the strength to pull myself out and that is because of the family around me that needs me to be there for them and they make me smile 🙂

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Nancy –

    What a heartfelt post! I had no idea that you had gone through such struggles. Glad you found your way to the light on the other side.

    Good things? I held my grandson. That is a marvelous feeling that I know you will experience before terribly long. I’m almost finished that Christmas tree skirt that I’ve been working on for the past eight years!!! Everyone, including me, is healthy and content. And Cleveland is up 2-1 in the World Series!! Go Figure! Life is good.

    • Donna, thank you.

      Congrats on the new grandchild. I hope you finish that tree skirt in time for the holiday.

      A friend of ours is also rooting for the Indians. We, however, are Switzerland. 🙂