READY FOR THE PANIC TO SUBSIDE
Treading the line between victimization and justification
I’ve searched for days, years even and there’s still no sign of an on and off switch. There is no big, red easy button than I can push or curtain I can pull to the side to “let the light in”. However, I have met quite a few people throughout my life who say that it’s much simpler than that. According to them, depression is a selfish, trivial thing that can be turned off instantly. Saying “just get over it” as if it’s something that can be easily adjusted based on the situation and that is not true.
My first job was at a fast-food restaurant. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and Panic Disorder four years before that. My doctor prescribed a variety of medications and none of them seemed to stick. That's when she decided to go the tranquilizer route. Not having any real experience with that type of medication, I couldn’t argue the effect the medication would have on my life and I was willing to take whatever help I could get. My doctor wrote the prescription and instructed me to take it every night before bed, giving myself at least ten hours of sleep time so I would be functional the next morning. Given the fact that I was going through extreme manic periods and was still in school, sticking to those recommendations was very unrealistic. I had put in around six months with my fast-food job when I was called to the office to speak to the store manager. He relayed to me that I had gotten many customer complaints and that if I didn’t voluntarily quit, I was going to be let go.
I quit right there on the spot. I had to take a lot of time afterward to reflect on why that happened and it was hard for me to come to a conclusion that made sense. I was going into the work field as a very sheltered teenager, having had very minimal interaction with people. I was in high school and was getting my normal dose of socialization but I stuck with a small group of core friends that I spent my school days with. If I had to go a day at school without them, I would sit in the library or outside and eat lunch by myself. Starting a job meant that I would have to be around a new group of people regularly and even though I wasn’t fully prepared, it had to be done. My mother was done handing out money to me whenever I needed it and it was time for me to be self-sufficient.
Reflecting on that job, there was a huge lack of interpersonal care and concern. There were days when I would try my hardest to be "normal" and I would walk into a table or have a moment of panic and then have to stand at the front counter, hands shaking, barely able to breathe while taking a customer’s order. No one knew what I was going through. I was new to the work field and I didn’t know the requirements for reporting a mental illness to management while seeking employment. All I knew was that they didn’t ask so I didn’t say anything and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t their business in my opinion. Statistically speaking, a panic attack can peak within 10 minutes and lasts up to several hours so if anything was triggering me at work, it was extremely hard for me to come down from an altered state of mind. Any emotion that was displayed externally was completely involuntary.
I’ve never met anyone who's been able to smile through a panic attack, a moment of anxiety or a depressive episode. Days when I felt great and rested, I still got the “What’s wrong with you?” question and the complaints of not smiling enough, if not at all. I was showing up every day smiling as much as I possibly could. Any more than that was physically painful and there’s a deep misunderstanding with that as well. It's been reported that illnesses are less believable when there is no physical evidence of pain or otherwise. Especially when it comes to depression. My next job was no exception. I was hired to work as a seasonal employee at a retail store four months later. I was excited because that field was of more interest to me but I was still slightly worried about my social interactions, although I was still on my medication.
I ended up spending the next two and a half years of my life at that job and reflecting on it, I would say I learned a lot but the road to resolution was not well paved. I left that job with two weeks' notice after being put on a “Decision-Making Leave”. There were punctuality and personality issues (stemming from an illness that they didn't know I had). I decided that I needed to inform my employer of the outside issues that were contributing to me not performing at my best potential. My medication was completely affecting my sleep schedule and I could barely hold my eyes open the morning after taking it. I believe that there is a thin line between an excuse and a legitimate reason and with this medication's side effects, I couldn’t see this as anything other than a legitimate reason. I had the paperwork from my Psychiatrist to prove it. I set up a meeting with HR and presented them with the paperwork from my doctors’ office. After reading over the first page of the packet, she handed everything back to me and told me that the information I was providing her with was “inappropriate” and that she couldn’t do anything for me. I was treading the line between victimization and justification. How do you ask for help and understanding when there is no one willing to help along with no attempts being made to understand mental health and how it affects employees’ work performance?
That path led to me also quitting that job and losing more things that were important to me as the year went on. My disorder was breaking me down and I was struggling to manage it. I’ve come a long way since but my disorder hasn’t left. It’s not everything I am but it represents a majority of me. A mentally ill person just trying to make it in the world.