Baby Steps

I’d like to believe that we were all put into this world to take on a journey. For some, it can be more or less exciting yet meaningful, based on events or people you may cross paths with. Some of them can be happy, sad, easy-going or more challenging. Personally, regardless of how hard some events have been in my life, I didn’t feel like I had the right to be depressed, as I still do believe that there are so many in this world who have it way worse than I do. Not to mention that I always try to focus more on the positive events or experiences, rather the other way around. I’ve even tried to convince myself and others that I couldn’t afford to ever get truly depressed because I had bills to pay and no one to fall back on for financial support. Therefore, I’d have no other way other than to power through everything and as a result of it all, come out on the other end stronger and better for it. Well, this theory of mine has seen its better days because I realized that even I have my limits of how much I can take before I crumble. Oh, and did I crumble…

Self-awareness

Why? Well, towards the end of my vacation in Europe, I started to notice that I wasn’t being myself. In fact, whether I want to admit it or not, I haven’t been myself for some time now. My itinerary was quite a busy one, and the whole time I was surrounded by many friends who I don’t get to see all that often, which kept me busy, I guess. You may be asking yourself, “Busy from what?”

Busy from paying attention to myself.

It wasn’t until I was alone when I realized. I was alone with my thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I had been suppressing for some time because I didn’t like how it all made me feel. It was all just way too overwhelming to handle, and I found it easier to keep myself preoccupied with work, having fun with friends, and being there for friends if they needed it. When I was around people, I’d later realize that quite frequently, my mind would wander off and suddenly I’d find myself struggling—holding back tears without fully understanding why. Okay, maybe I did understand why. But, I thought I could work through it in private without anyone really noticing that I may in fact be still struggling with losing a friend of mine, Chloe, who was like a little sister to me.

This wasn’t my first time losing someone this close, like when I lost my brother, but it was my first time losing someone to suicide. I knew the grieving process would be different but I had no idea how different. I still can’t fully comprehend it all nor do I have any idea how to learn to move on. All I know is that ever since the day I found out, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. I go from being in shock, to being sad and angry, or completely numb. At times, I catch myself also feeling an enormous amount of guilt that I should have known; I should have seen this coming. I wonder if I’d said or done something differently, if the outcome could have been different with a much happier ending for so many, especially Chloe. I’ve been told that it’s normal; that it’s the survivor’s guilt. Honestly, it still doesn’t really help all those feelings to go away.

Upon my return to the United States, when I was trying to get back to my usual routine, as much as I was trying to keep moving forward, I started to notice that I’d struggle more and more with each day to hold my own. It didn’t matter where I was—whether I was driving, running errands, watching movies, playing games, on my way to work, or even at the office—my mind would randomly wander off and I’d suddenly feel sick to my stomach with tears rushing to my eyes. It was becoming harder and harder to hold back and hide from everyone, so on a few occasions, I had to leave work early and make everyone think that I was coming down with something and that I just needed to sleep it off. Well, to a degree, it was all true. Sleep seemed to have been one of my escapes from feeling anything. Those who know me know that I used to sleep about 5-6 hours a day on average, but this past month, I can safely say that those numbers have at least doubled.

Although I was being productive most of the time, it wasn’t until I found myself crying for most of in front of my monitor without anyone noticing, when I realized that I really wasn’t okay. I started to hate the way that I felt, but I mainly started to worry that for the first time in my life, I had no power or control over my emotions. They were all so unpredictable: from the type of emotion, to the timing, and it was mostly bad timing. I even updated my Facebook status for only a few of my friends (excluding my family) to see, when I felt comfortable to show the vulnerable side of me:

“Starting to realize that I can no longer maintain a poker face of someone happy, as I am slowly falling apart on inside, and it’s starting to affect everything in my life.

I thought I could fix it all myself but obviously something in me is severely broken and I need to address it before it’s too late.” — feeling broken.

It wasn’t a cry for help, nor a way for me to have my friends feel sorry for me or be worried. It was my way of letting them know that I was finally becoming aware that I haven’t been myself for some time and that I needed to do something about it to find my true self again.

Support circle

Naturally, due to recent events, many of my friends got worried and instantly reached out. Each message or call has meant the world to me. It made me even more emotional because I didn’t feel like I was worthy of all that love and support, even though with some I’d find myself wondering how genuine the messages actually were. As a result, I got mad at myself for even posting anything in first place because I felt like I was looking for attention—almost like having my own pity party. Before I knew it, I was dissecting everything and tearing myself apart in the most self-destructive way possible. I started to question anything that I had ever done, especially more recently, including things I’ve said or been told. Yet again, I found myself being emotional, going from being sad to being angry at everything and everyone, but mainly at myself. This definitely wasn’t a good state of mind to find myself in, yet again.

However, the only thing that was helping me to get through it was that little reminder that amongst all those people who had in fact reached out, with some on numerous occasions who checked up on me on day-to-day basis, I didn’t have to question whether they truly gave a damn about me or not. At the same time, I realized that I also kept surrounding myself with people who weren’t all that good for me, and in fact were making my matters worse—those that would tell me things that they thought I wanted to hear, but in time I could clearly see that their actions would never match up to what they’ve told me. Yet, for some odd reason, I’d keep hanging on, hoping that they’d eventually come around, but I now know it was pointless.

Asking for help

It wasn’t until after my Facebook post when I just couldn’t take it anymore. After a few hours of clicking through tabs but not being fully aware of what I was looking at, with deadlines around the corner or on that same day, the pressure and fear of letting people down had gotten to me. I realized that it was time to come clean and let my work know that I was no longer capable of doing my job at a level that I could be proud of.

Through an email, I notified some of our upper management, including HR. I kept it very short but also very direct and personal by acknowledging the fact that I ran out of options of how to deal with my personal turmoils without it affecting my performance at work. Without asking for permission from anyone, I let them know that I had to take the rest of the day off, so I could seek immediate professional help, and I did.

I’ve never seen a therapist in my life, so the fact that I had found myself in a position where I didn’t know what else I could do to get myself out of the funk I was in made me feel so helpless. I felt weak and broken into so many little pieces that I didn’t know how to piece them all back together any more, so I could be me again. I started to call numerous therapist offices, but to my shock, all I kept getting was a bunch of answering machines. I was desperate to find help and to be able to finally to talk to someone who could give me actual guidance on what I could do to at least go through an hour without shedding a tear. I was exhausted and literally lost for ideas on what else I could do. I couldn’t help thinking about Chloe and trying to imagine what she must have gone through in the last few months that led up to her decision to take her own life. I knew I wouldn’t take it that far—but all those feelings rushing through my body and head were becoming just too much to take. Even though I felt the love and support from so many of my friends and their words of comfort, kindness, and generosity were amazing, they still weren’t enough. In a way, they were like band-aids, but not the waterproof kind. They temporarily helped to cover up my wounds, but eventually they would fall off before those wounds had a chance to completely heal. They would get infected, and I’d feel that pain again.

Although I waited over 24 hours after leaving a bunch of voicemails, even to this day (almost 4 weeks later), only two therapists ever returned my phone call. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still can’t believe it! By then, I was already in touch with our amazing HR person, Sandra, who was equally frustrated and lost for words how hard it was to find the professional help I was so desperately in need of. With help from our COO, that same day we joined EAP with hope that by end of that day I could at least talk to someone over the phone, if not in person. At the same time, my dear friend Sarah Parmenter, also put me in touch with her therapist in UK via Skype, so in meantime I’d be able to at least talk to someone. Especially, since I had more travels coming up just days away. Again, I was reminded that there are people out there who truly cared and wanted to help as much as they could or knew how to for me to get better.

I managed to schedule an appointment with one of the two therapists who actually returned my call, . She wasn’t part of the EAP but she was one of my insurance’s providers. She was 15 minutes late for our appointment that ended up being cut short. Why? Well, when I asked her to sign an FMLA form, she refused to talk to me any further. According to her and her supposed “conscience,” she couldn’t sign it, in case it meant I wouldn’t come back to see her again. All I wanted to do was to talk to someone, and she wouldn’t even do that for me; not even when I told her not to worry about signing anything. We already had an appointment scheduled, so I wanted to take advantage of it before my travels. But no—she refused, and before I knew it, I found myself walking out of her office in tears, broken all over again. I sat in my car for a few minutes and tried to calm myself down before driving anywhere. All I kept thinking about was that she was lucky I wasn’t suicidal—how would she live with that on her conscience?

Again, I knew I was fragile and this wasn’t the step forward that I was so longing for. However, somehow I had to find the strength to pull myself together and keep on going, at least during the extent of time that it took me to drive myself to my old neighbor Amy’s house, because all I knew was that I didn’t want to be alone. Luckily, she was working from home that day. I didn’t even want to talk. I just sat there in her living room while she was working until I felt okay to drive myself home, finish packing, and head out to the airport to spend a week in Seattle with my Slovak friends, who’ve been like an extended family to me while living in the US for most of the past 15 years. Between all those tears and sleeping, I later realized that I had lost my appetite and didn’t even think to eat anything of substance, which made me extremely weak, dizzy and at times would have to literally grab on to something to prevent myself from fainting. Naturally, I was looking forward to seeing my friends, but mainly knowing that I’d have someone with me or even look after me, gave me that needed comfort.

Listen to your body

After a week in Seattle, I went down to Portland, Oregon, to join the rest of our company for a week filled with events. As much as I was looking forward to seeing everyone, I was also having some anxiety about it. Only a handful of people knew about what I’d been going through up to that point and I sure didn’t feel like advertising it. However, I had become fully aware that I had no more strength in me to put a poker face on and act like I was okay. At that point, the only option I felt I was left with was to listen to my body. Thankfully, those who knew, were extremely understanding and supportive of any decisions I felt like I needed to do. So, I only participated at events that I knew I would be able to or felt up for it. I managed to see someone while I was in town, which was nice, but also emotional. In between everything, I tried to get some work done but I found myself on numerous occasions having to leave the office for a walk to calm myself from having another one of my meltdowns. I know that’s part of the process and there will be more of that to come, but it also wore me out. Sadly, I missed out on most of the work events because I just physically couldn’t make myself go anywhere else other than crawl into my hotel’s bed and doze off whenever I could.

After Portland, I took a red eye to New York for the last day of final Brooklyn Beta. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but wanted to be there and see some of my friends. It didn’t take too long before I realized that as much as I wanted to sit in front row during the event, I had to hide away. I found it comforting talking to few friends but at the same time, I had way too many flashbacks from last year when Chloe was there. Whether there was someone who looked or dressed like her, or even their name badge said CHLOE on it. Simply, after a while it was just all too much to take in and just had to make the call and call it a day and retreat to my hotel.

I’ve been home for a week now. My suitcase have been tucked away and am not planning on taking it out anytime soon. I need to take this time for myself, to get better. So I won’t feel uncomfortable among large group of people thinking that I need to be “on” all the time. I don’t make promises to be places if I don’t feel like I could be myself without making anyone else uncomfortable. This is the one time when I don’t try to focus on how it may make someone else feel, rather than myself. This is my time to be selfish for once and do what’s best for me. Because to be honest, no one can know better what works the best for me at the moment than myself alone.

My takeaways

Not that I have everything figured out, or have even come anywhere close to it, but just by looking back at this past month, which I’ve spent mostly on trying to understand where all of this is coming from, has helped me see or better understand a little about myself and possibly about others who may be going through something similar as well.

Over the course of the past few weeks, thanks to some private conversations, I’ve become more and more aware of how many people I know who have been dealing with depression, too. Just like me, there probably aren’t that many of us who want to admit it because we don’t feel that we have anything “worthy” to be depressed about. You probably can’t fight the feeling that if you do open up to someone, all you’ll do is just burden them with your silly problems and add more to those that they’ve already had to begin with. If you do open up and you don’t feel like you get what you were hoping for or what you needed, then you could just make the matters worse for yourself.

What I didn’t find all that helpful and what didn’t work well for me was when people would constantly keep asking me if I was okay. Trust me, I’ve done it so many times before and I occasionally catch myself asking the same thing to others, and then instantly apologize for it. Of course, the fact that someone would care enough to check up on me meant a lot and still does mean a lot, but I struggle with how to respond to that question; especially now, when I know I am not okay. I haven’t been okay for some time. I may not be okay right now, but I know I will be. So, what I try to do now, is instead of asking someone who I know is going through tough times at the moment if they’re okay, I reach out to them to let them know that I am thinking about them and what they mean to me. I don’t expect a reaction or a response, because again, I’ve come to find that sometimes whether it’s depression or something else that could be taking an emotional toll on your body, you may not always have the energy or be willing to talk to people. But, those little random messages may be exactly the type of comfort that one may need.

In addition, I’ve found myself struggling when someone would tell me that they were worried about me, especially after what happened with Chloe. Again, I’ve been there and done that myself to others. I know we all tend to worry about those we love and care about but that’s probably not the thing we want to hear. Why? Well, it probably already took a lot to admit that we’re struggling and need help. Depending on the severity, or how deep the roots go, things like this can’t be worked through overnight. Whenever I was told that I was making others worry about me, I felt extreme pressure—as if I should put more of an effort into putting up a front—as if I was already feeling better, even though I wasn’t. I know for me, this will take a while. I lost my brother almost 14 years ago, and I still struggle with it at times. My friend Jeremy Keith couldn’t have described more beautifully how losing someone close to you may affect any of us in his post, The Tide.

Another possibly trivial thing that I’ve found hasn’t worked for me is whenever someone told me to reach out whenever I needed to talk or needed something. Again, all I kept thinking was that it will make me come across as needy or as a burden. In fact, even last night as I was saying goodbye to my friend after spending a day together, she told me to call her if I needed anything. And do you know what I said to her? “You know I won’t, right?” We both laughed because in a way she is just like me. Instead, I try to make actual plans, whether it’s to see one another in person, pick up the phone, or plan a Skype call when proximity may be an issue. The key here is to be proactive. If someone tries to make plans with you and suggests a date, and for whatever reason you can’t make it, don’t just say “no,” or “sorry, I already have something happening that day.” Make sure to look at your calendar right then and there and try to find another option that would work for both of you. If you put it off, with the busy lives we all live, you will likely forget about it and there may never be another chance for it to happen again.

Work left to be done

It was just a day or so ago, when I came across a quote that couldn’t have resonated with my current events any better:

“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” – J. C. Watts

Obviously, I have a long road ahead of me. I have barely scratched the surface of what’s to come, but in a way, I’m ready for it. In a way, it may feel like learning to walk all over again by taking baby steps. I may not get it right the first time, I may stumble or fall down before I truly get the hang of it. Before I will be able to stand and walk on my own again. I know it won’t be easy, as I will find myself uncovering who knows how many demons hiding below all the rocks I’ll be lifting that’s been weighing me down for some time now. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to work through it all because I know that there is so much worth living for, but most importantly, I want to experience the life as it is, with way more happy moments to come.

Geek Mental Help Week

Some of the recent events in my life made me slow down a bit and gave me the opportunity to look around and become more aware of my surroundings and the people I care about. You may want to do the same, if you have a moment—you may be surprised about what you find out. It seems like so many of us have become so good at hiding or covering up what’s been truly happening behind the closed curtains, just like Chloe or even Robin Williams.

Depression is something that people would not always openly talk about, probably because some would consider it as a sign of weakness. Honestly, I don’t know. Some people have already blogged or talked about it, including episodes 87, 89, 92 and 93‘s of The Unfinished Business podcast. All I know that all that is about to change.

Starting on October 27th 2014, Geek mental help week will be a week-long series of articles, blog posts, conversations, podcasts and events across the web about mental health issues, how to help people who suffer, and those who care for us. You can follow @geekmentalhelp, share using #geekmentalhelp, or make a submission to Geek Mental Help site on Github.

I am fully aware that all of this may still be scary or uncomfortable, but you never know—your words might help someone else and make them feel like they are not alone, or encourage them to reach out or find the help that they may be in need of but are feeling unworthy to ask for.