I can’t breathe. Well, obviously that isn’t true. I can’t breathe easily. If I don’t keep thinking about it, I hold my breath. Guarded. Awaiting something bad to happen. I just walked home from work. It’s about a mile, a little more. I left work sick. Sick and worried that one of my coworkers would ask how I planned to get home. Walking would be an odd choice for someone with the flu. That’s what’s going around work right now, the flu. On my walk, a bit of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence played through my head. Over and over, altered to fit my mood. Hello depression, my old friend.
Sophie and Eli take the car every day. They drive past my work at 7:20 on their way to school. It’s easy to drop me off. It helps me set a consistent schedule. Gets me in early, earlier than everyone else. Without that ride, God knows what time I’d get in. Susan picks me up every evening. She passes my work at 4:30. My coworkers could set a clock by me.
Except today. I knocked off at 10:30 (AM). Work seemed doubtful before I even left home. I felt shaky and insecure. And tired. Last night, I woke up at 1:00, obsessing. There’s something that might happen in a year. It might cause some disruption in my life. So naturally, I skipped a good night’s sleep so I could get an early start on worrying. Maybe it was a lingering mid-night reaction to my building depression?
Walking home today, I multitasked. I sang that Simon and Garfunkel song, and I wondered about my mood. My last depressive episode resolved itself over two years ago after I escaped a job I hated. Today’s depression appeared abruptly on Monday night. As I walked (and sang), I tried to determine if something triggered me.
I left work early on Monday too. Susan called midday. She was driving home. Taking out the trash at work, she scratched herself. After the bag went in the dumpster, she realized it was probably a hypodermic needle. She works in a homeless shelter.
I met her at the Emergency Room. Yes, hours spent at the ER will trigger depression in just about anyone. But our experience was remarkable. She was in and out in just over an hour. Because she got scratched instead of poked, her risk of infection is infinitesimal. They recommended against taking a prophylaxis. Her needlestick was a non-event. Why would that trigger me?
I’ve wound up in the ER for emergency surgery three times in my life. These occasions range from not-so-traumatic to totally-freaking-traumatic.
Not-so-traumatic: Once on vacation, poking at my sore abdominal muscles after a day of digging in the sand with my kids, I suddenly realized that my muscle ache was really appendicitis. My appendix was removed right there at the beach-hospital midweek. I found myself back on the sand (but not digging) two days later.
Moderately-traumatic: Once, some after-dinner gastronomic distress worsened until I made a wee-hours trip to the ER. The doctor on-call told me I was constipated and sent me home. As I left, I said “For the record, you’ve botched this diagnosis. I’m sure I’ll be back.” At 8:30 the next morning, I was admitted for obstructed bowel surgery.
Totally-freaking-traumatic: Once, I was hit by a car. Read Mortality.
Could my history with emergency rooms leave me in a fragile state after my brief visit with Susan? Four years ago, doing some fall clean-up gardening, Susan upset a ground hive. Before finally freeing herself from the swarm of bees that engulfed her, she was stung twenty-five times. That afternoon, I took her to the ER for observation and a shot of Prednisone. That visit didn’t cause any anxiety or depression. Just some well-placed concern.
Last weekend, Susan and I spent a couple of hours rearranging my office. I’ve been in my job for over a year, and all of the furniture was still right where I found it when I started. My desk awkwardly faced directly at Valerie, the administrative assistant who works outside my office. To avoid her feeling watched all day, I kept my door pulled closed. This barrier left me feeling disconnected from the rest of my coworkers, not part of the team. Because my door was shut, people rarely walked into my office. I often felt lonely. By moving my desk, I hoped to open my door and open myself up to interaction.
Now my desk is on the other side of the room. I can’t see Valerie at all, and my door’s been open nonstop since Monday morning. Possibly I’m simply feeling exposed. Feeling the loss of the privacy I grew to expect. Maybe I like my door closed.
So, two solid theories about depression. Either (or neither) could be correct. Regardless, by spending this afternoon thinking about it, analyzing it, writing about it, I’m feeling better than I have since Monday night. Before work today, Susan suggested I take a day off to give myself some space to recover. I haven’t been home alone in months. Maybe I just need to reboot my brain.
Perhaps the passage of time away from Monday’s ER visit is all I need. Tomorrow, I’ll experiment with closing my door partway (or all the way) to see how I feel. I’d like to nip this depressive episode in the bud; end it right now, just as I’m realizing it’s here.