Back Burner

Last July, I started a new job. By the end of my second day, I knew I made a mistake. The work didn’t remotely match the tasks we discussed during my two interviews, and my boss, the CEO of the organization, was abusive and demeaning. I became increasingly depressed and by the end of my tenure, I was barely functioning. I only lasted three months, and I ultimately quit without a replacement job lined up.

Shortly before resigning, I wrote the following essay. I didn’t post it at the time because it seemed pathetic, and I was too fragile to post something so personal. I’m posting it now because:

a)  I think it’s a good piece of writing, and
b)  I’m hoping that someone might learn something from my experience

My depression evaporated as soon as I submitted my resignation, and I’ve experienced generally good mental health ever since.

~ ~ ~

I’m finally starting to learn. This is an international blog, a global space. A place for diversity, multi-culturalism. I’m too American—United States, American. Therefore, I assume everyone is just like me.

A few months ago, a blogger wrote about her hob. “Right,” I asked “What the hell is a hob?” It turns out in Ireland, that’s what they call a stovetop.

If the Irish use a nonsense, made-up word for the stovetop, I can only guess at what they call the burners. So, for those of you living in countries where English is wielded differently than in the United States, the burners are those gas fire-rings on top of the hob.

Most stoves in the US have four or five of them. Sometimes there’s one right in the middle, but there are always two up front and two in the back.

I’m writing about the ones in the back.

When a skilled chef makes a meal, she usually has at least three burners in play. All the action takes place on the front two burners. Pots and pans glowing hot, boiling and frying, sautéing and poaching. But once the cooking is complete, the pans are moved to a back burner. Low heat. Simmering. Out of the way. Forgotten for now.

My job is going poorly, it’s weighing me down. On Monday mornings, the starter-gun sounds for my weekly marathon. Five days until my next break. Pain. Anguish. All the other crap you’d imagine feeling during a marathon. This morning, also a Monday, I had an extra fifteen minutes, so I spent some time trying to focus on something positive. I tried to identify something good in my life.

I didn’t need to look very far. My weekend was awesome. And my weekends haven’t been so great for the last two months. They’ve been spent anxious. In anticipation of the coming work-week. But this past weekend, I was only focused on the weekend, living in the moment. And I had fun. I started wondering why.

Last week, I decided to send my father an email to give him some perspective on my mental health. We’ve been talking frequently about my feelings regarding my job, and about my relationship with my boss, but I haven’t broached the mental health aspect of the issue. In the past, I’ve made casual comments about some problems, and he knows I have Tourette Syndrome. But we don’t ever talk about what that’s like. And I’ve never sat down with him and said “Know what? I’m mentally ill.”

In my email, I started writing about how I feel, but then I stopped pulling punches, I simply listed my meds. It’s impossible to review my medications without thinking “This guy’s screwed.” What I wrote: “I take five psychotropic medications to help balance out my mood: Prozac to relieve anxiety; Lorazepam at bedtime to quiet the OCD that disrupts my sleep; Risperidone to suppress my Tourettes tics; Wellbutrin to relieve depression; and Buspirone because it’s supposed to enhance the effects of the Prozac and Wellbutrin.”

This got my father’s attention. He immediately called Susan and asked if she thought I was over-medicated. I’m wondering this myself. My last two prescriptions were added to balance out the depression I started feeling after I added the Risperidone last year. Maybe all my pills simply counteract the negative effects of all the other pills.

I added the Buspirone a couple of weeks ago. Situationally depressed. That’s what the psychiatrist called me. My situation is depressing. I feel stuck. To take an image from the current headlines, I feel like a hurricane has crept up and taken residence over my life, refusing to move on. Leaving me in a swirling fury of anxiety and negative thoughts. The Buspirone is supposed to calm the winds, dampen the storm.

After two weeks, I’d say it’s working. Using this one weekend as a gauge, a measurement, I felt like my old self. The one who isn’t depressed. The anxiety was still there, but it’s been shuttled to the back burner. Out of the way, for now. Still easy to access, but at an arm’s length, leaving me space to live.

Since I’ve added Buspirone, I’ve been dwelling on the topic of medicating my mood. Like my father, I wonder what’s too much. I’ve been taking something for six or seven years, trying to find the right balance. When I say I feel like my “old self,” I wonder if I even remember who that is. It’s been a decade since that guy was around. Before the depression and the anxiety started dragging me down.

With my mental illness on the back burner, I’m in a delicate dance. When the heat goes up, which it inevitably does, I immediately boil over. I have no resilience to deal with the storm. Yes, this weekend was a much-needed break from the anxiety. It’s too soon to tell if it’s because of the medication or in spite of it. The only thing I know for certain is: it can’t last, it won’t. Mental Illness is always there simmering on the hob, waiting for a bit more flame to bring it to a boil.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Back Burner

  1. “Mental Illness is always there simmering on the hob, waiting for a bit more flame to bring it to a boil.” That is a great way to put it. This is a good piece, Jeff. I think you really summed it up very well – your situation was distressing and depressing. When you left that job, your depression eased and you have found generally good MH since. I think that is definitely a message someone could learn from. Well worth sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Robyn. My experience–every aspect of it– was so unexpected, it took me a while to understand what was even going on. But if I had figured it out quickly, I’d have gone straight back to my old job, so I guess everything worked out well, albeit in a really painful way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was younger, I always thought money was the most important part of my job. Now that I’m older, I know it’s environment and culture. How I’m treated and respected by my employer and my peers is most important. I spent 17 years living the FedEx culture until I could no longer deal with their way of life. The company I work for now values my contribution and does everything possible to develop me as a manager. They understand that satisfied employees are the key to their success.
    You were right to get out when you did. You owed your employer nothing. It’s difficult to work in an environment that suffocates you and cares nothing about you or your overall health. Sometimes it’s right to put yourself first. Keep on keeping on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s nothing like having a rotten job to make a person’s life miserable. I once had a job that lasted about six months. I transferred in, found out the job didn’t match what I thought it was, then transferred back to the old job. At least at the old job they actually wanted the skills I had to offer.

    Liked by 1 person

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