Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Full Disclosure

“Totally worth it,” I offered faux-absently and tried hard to keep from grinning when all attention was directed my way. “What?” I asked, looking between the pair of people in my office and shrugging. “It is.”

I finally smiled widely when they continued to stare at me in surprise and shrugged before returning my attention to my computer.

“Wait,” he finally said and, wearing my inquisitive expression, I glanced up to make eye contact. We had been discussing online activities and one of my female colleagues said she failed to understand the appeal.

“Facebook, MySpace, blogs – I just don’t see how that’s fun,” she mused and I did nothing but shrug.

“I play games on Facebook,” the third of our trio offered and I nodded absently at his statement. She scoffed.

Games?” she asked, her tone derisive. “I think of that like… like… cybersex.” Partially annoyed but mostly bored, I offered my comment that the latter activity was “totally worth it.”

“Seriously?” he asked, continuing to stare at me in shock.

“Yes,” I answered, feeling myself blush a bit. “I don’t get gaming – Facebook farming or medieval warfare or whatever you do. But chatting about sex? That can be quite,” I paused, looking for the right word and starting to wish I’d remained quiet. “Entertaining,” I decided and nodded in confirmation.

“Are you good?” he asked at the same time she had a horrified question about how I could possibly chat with someone who could be 70 years old with a big belly and bald head.

“OK, wait,” I said, turning to face her while the man in the room began to giggle. “Let’s not make this into a horror story here. I don’t go trolling online to meet strangers and then immediately start telling them what I’m wearing. I’ve known the men - ”

“Men?” they interrupted in unison and I rolled my eyes.

“Yes, all both of them,” I replied. “I’m not as boring as you originally thought but I’m not very exciting either.”

“I know it’s not easy,” I said, speaking slowly and carefully as I focused on the woman across the table that held our coffee, tea and shared slice of poppy seed bread. “I felt,” I paused to think. “Overwhelmed. Like I was suffocating. And I couldn’t deal with people or read books or work or do anything other than exist with this vague hope that I'd feel better at some point. And I don’t want that for you. Even thinking about it upsets me.”

“But I’m better now,” she insisted and I frowned while I swirled my peppermint tea bag through the hot pool of water in my mug.

“I’m glad you feel better,” I replied sincerely. “But you’re not,” I shook my head, flustered and irritated with myself. “I’ll start again. You don’t seem well. Listen, I may be overreacting but I’ve been watching in meetings and you seem overly sensitive. Not truly engaged in the discussion. Very easily offended when no offense was meant.”

“I don’t like him,” she said sadly of her boss and I nodded, ordering myself to sit silently and listen. I had allocated a mere hour to have coffee and fix her mental health and I reminded myself that my upcoming meeting could wait. “He always talks badly about me and I can never do anything right and he doesn’t care about the right things!”

“Sweetheart,” I said gently, folding my hands around my mug and tapping my fingertips against each other. “He doesn’t talk badly about you to me. I’ve heard him say very positive things about your talent. But I do understand feeling unmotivated when you’re never praised or recognized for your efforts. For me, depression makes that worse – I either feel attacked or irrelevant. There’s never anything good that I can recognize. But your boss is your boss – he’s not going anywhere. So I see this as being pretty binary – you can learn to happily work for him or you can look for something else.”

I winced when her eyes filled with tears and broke a piece of bread from the slice to give myself time to consider my next statement.

“Have you thought about looking for something else? Stay in the business but work for another manager? Or stay on campus and work with a different group?”

“I have,” she said slowly. “But there’s nothing out there. And I can’t deal with it.”

“But,” I said, ready to be encouraging and helpful and she stopped me by raising a hand. She shifted in her chair so I could see only her profile and put her head down. My heart hurt for a moment, watching her withdraw, and I stayed quiet while I waited for her to speak.

“This is taking me to a bad place,” she finally said, keeping her eyes fixed on a spot on the wall. “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered and she nodded.

“I will,” I said, speaking softly but firmly as we walked back to our offices several awful moments later, “do anything I can to help you. If you want to talk. If I can make a doctor appointment, drive you there, wait outside for you. If you want me to talk to your boss and tell him about how it feels to be depressed. And maybe I’m wrong – maybe medication isn’t the answer for you. Maybe shifting jobs isn’t a good option either. But I’m very afraid you can’t wish this away. I’m worried you’re continuing to decline and that you’ll reach a place where I don’t know how to help you. Where suffering is all there is. I remember that,” I paused, shuddered. “I do not want that for you.” I repeated, stopping myself before I begged her to see someone. To release me from this responsibility I felt for her.

“I’ll think about it,” she said and I nodded.

“We’ll make her go,” another friend stated firmly when I shook my head at her question of how it went. I smiled at her resolute expression and pictured her shoving our colleague back into an exam room.

“No,” I replied calmly. “She’s not ready. You can’t force it. Neither can I.”

“But you said she’ll get worse,” she said, looking suddenly small and scared as she dropped into one of my extra chairs. “And it’s already falling apart for her. People don’t like her. They think she’s unreliable. Uninterested. Or irrationally emotional.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “But she has to get to a place where she wants help. Where being diagnosed isn’t scarier than continuing to suffer.”

“We could get her help and she wouldn’t have to decide!” she tried again, looking hopeful.

“We can’t force her to take a pill every day,” I said gently.

“Maybe she doesn’t need pills!” she said and I nodded. Just because medication is reasonably effective to me does not mean it’s universally applicable. “Maybe she needs a pet.”

“OK,” I grinned. “We can’t force her to get a pet either.”

“I will buy her a cat.” And I laughed because it’s a lovely statement to make.

“OK,” I replied again. “We can’t make her feed the cat every day.”

“Oh,” she said. “Good point. No cat.”

“No cat,” I confirmed, feeling a bit brighter as she walked from my office. Then I remembered Sprout and how I could barely feed him every day when I was so depressed. And I thought that while ‘I can’t force her to get help’ and ‘she may get much worse’ are bad on their own, they are hideous when paired. Feeling helpless, I sighed before packing up my computer and coming home to desperately hope everything will be OK.

I hate this. And I don't know what to do next.


JaneB said...

It's great that you are such a caring person - but remember you have to protect yourself too. You are already doing a lot for her - going beyond what might be expected, especially as she's not been a particualr work friend before this started - and you are being a wonderful friend to her.

Just... don't clutter up your mind, don't beat yourself up about what's not in your control, OK? Been there, done that, do NOT recommend it!

Anonymous said...

Kinda conflicted on this second part of your post, too. Just this week, a colleague mentioned to me that she had felt suicidal last week (she *thinks* she didn't pass step 3 of her medical boards). I'm not her friend at work, really. In fact, she's been rather rude and horrible to me in the past (I think this stems from her deep insecurity), but I've been nice to her in response... which is probably why she confided in me the other day. So, while I don't want her to kill herself (I gave her a huge pep talk, notified her boss confidentially about her problem, and am watching her for more signs of deep depression), I also don't want her to try to step all over me and try to hurt me like she did in the past. So, it's hard - to be caring in spite of previous bad experience with the person and also to try to keep a little bit of a distance.... I've seen the really ugly and malicious side of people in the past (including hers), and I don't want to relive those experiences.


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