Wednesday, November 11, 2009


"I'll try," she replied softly when I called yesterday. I closed my eyes, exhausted and stressed and unsure of how to respond.

"OK," I said gently. "I think seeing a doctor is important. Check to see if something is making you sleepy. And sad."

"I just stare at the wall," she told me and I winced.

"I know," I soothed after taking a breath. "So maybe someone can help so everything isn't so hard. Would you like me to make the appointment?"

"No," she refused. "I can do it. I can try to do it."

I hung up and drove home deep in thought. She has friends - lots of lots of them, actually - and I don't truly count myself among that group. She's a lovely person, but we don't click - she doesn't think I'm funny, has an aversion to dogs and scoffs at my dedication to my work. She never fails to complain about something at restaurants, is always perfectly put together and is pretty blunt and aggressive. So our relationship has been friendly, but professional.

"I'm better today," she told me quietly before we ducked into an empty conference room to talk. "I wasn't sure how long it would last, but I do feel better today."

"Good," I said, sincerely pleased that she had on make-up and had replaced troublesome jeans and sneakers with a slim skirt and high heels. "I'm very glad to see you."

"Katie?" she asked and I pulled a chair from the large table and sat, waiting for her to pull a chair close and lean toward me. "I don't know what to do," she admitted and I nodded.

"For me," I began for that's the only way I'm good at explaining this to people, "it was very hard to get help. I had a Friend - capital F - that held my hand and helped me get better. She kept asking if I'd seen a doctor. She offered to go with me. She filled my prescription while I stood next to her a died a little inside. It was hard," I remembered, feeling my stomach clench and heart beat faster in remembered fear. "But it does get better. And you can have help. It's OK," I stressed, "to need help."

"You got help," she clarified, eyes serious and sad.

"I got help," I confirmed. "It didn't change me," I offered, trying to remember how desperately afraid I'd been to tell the doctor and fill the prescription and swallow that first tablet. "It just made life less hard. I could get out of bed. Take a shower. Get dressed. Talk to people. I started sleeping less. I could show up places I was supposed to be. Do work I'd meant to do. Feel hopeful and amused and happy again."

She nodded and I reached for her hand, squeezing it briefly before letting go and tangling my fingers with a brief prayer that I could articulate something - anything - valuable. "I know it's hard," I whispered simply. "And if you need me to do this for you - make the appointment, drive you there, wait outside to bring you home - I would do that without hesitation."

"I took a quiz online," she admitted. "It said I was severe." I nodded, keeping my eyes steady and calm while I waited for her to finish. "I don't want to be severe," she whispered, tears filling her eyes before spilling over.

"I know," I whispered in reply, feeling miserably guilty that I waited this long to help her. Desperately sad that she'd suffered without anyone to intervene. I wished Friend were here and tried to figure out what she'd advise.

We go from here, I realized and relaxed. This is what it is and there are choices.

"You don't have to stay severe," I said. "I don't know if the answer is medication or therapy or a lifestyle change. But I got better. You'll get better."

"But it will happen again," she protested and I shook my head encouragingly.

"It doesn't have to be as bad," I promised. "You can get help. I will help you."

"I have friends," she said a bit defensively. "They'd come if I asked."

"Of course," I agreed immediately. "And you can call them if that helps. But I'm here. In the office in the corner. And while I'm busy, I think this is - you are - very important. And you don't have to suffer like this."

"I think I can call the doctor," she said and I nodded.

"I'm going to check tomorrow," I warned her. "Because I care and I want you to be well. But if I get annoying or you want me to back off, you can tell me. That's OK."

She smiled, a weak but genuine curve of her lips, and I patted her shoulder as I got up. I left her in the quiet conference room, glancing back down the hallway to watch her walk slowly to her desk. Worried, I nonetheless forced myself to give her time to consider her options. Getting help is not an easy step for some of us. Taking a pill doesn't instantly solve all problems and climbing out of a hole is unpleasant.

I thought some more as I halfheartedly listened to a conference call in my office, wondering how I felt about sharing my closely-guarded secret with a colleague and my boss. Honestly, I'd rather it have remained a secret. I'd like to think I'm not ashamed of having a depressive disorder. Of taking medication to remain functional. But I think I am to some extent - I don't want it to color people's opinions of me. Alter my career's trajectory. Hell, I walked away from academic research because depression had so obviously tainted my reputation and have worked very hard to avoid that in Industry.

It was necessary, I decided. To be vulnerable, one must feel safe. And if I need to disclose my struggle to help someone, I'm willing to do that and accept any consequences. I should have seen it sooner. Handled it better. But I'm aware now and have it on my radar, marked as 'must follow up.' And we'll keep going from here.


Seeking Solace said...

I think there is such a negative view of depression and depressive orders in our society. I have battle anxiety/depression for many years, yet I am so selective as to who knows about it.

It's great that you were able to help. I am sure sure she appreciated your kindness and empathy.

Nicole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DRD said...

As hard as it may be to have your own condition out in the workplace (I too guard my condition), I think it is really important that those of us how are slightly further down the depression/anxiety road help those who are in desperate need of an understanding face. She may have many friends, but the uncertainty of how they will react to her reaching out for help for depression that she likely would never approach them.

Maude Lebowski said...

My experience was almost exactly the same. I couldn't make the phone call. I couldn't go to the appointment by myself. I nearly adamantly refused to take the pill, and the only reason I took that first dose was because a friend was on the phone with me--he called to make sure I had taken my medicine--and at the time, lying about having taken the pill would have been worse to me than taking it (did that make sense?).

It's funny. I'm very open about this with my friends now, but I still cannot discuss this with my family, even though they commented once to an ex-boyfriend that they thought I was depressed and should get help. We never address things like that. It's stigmatizing to them.

You're doing the right thing, and I admire you for being able to reach out like that.

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

You're wonderful for doing this for her. I, too, carefully guard my condition (? disease?) from the people I work with. So, I think it's especially wonderful that you are able to assure her that she has choices and that things can get better. I'm glad that you are you.

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