After we'd reviewed progress and projects, Adam sat back in his seat to think. He gave several compliments - I'm very visible and well-regarded. I do great work and am an asset to Industry with tremendous potential to continue growing.
"Two things," he warned and I smiled weakly before bracing myself.
The first was something I've heard before - my communication is overly flowery, as he put it. I like words and get attached to new ones and use them often. I feel strongly about things and tend to use words to indicate my joy or fury over certain decisions both verbally and in writing. Adam tends to think it unprofessional - and I don't really disagree. But it is a Katie characteristic. I can, however, try to revise it out.
"It's a minor thing," he assured me and I nodded, trying to be reassuring myself.
"No, Adam, it's fine. I'm good. I'll work on it."
"There was one more," he murmured, looking away with a squint as I wondered whether he was trying to remember or finding the right words to tell me. I filled the silence with chatter over all the good things I'd done - talking and talking about people and projects and finally trailing off and nodding once to show I was ready.
"Your health," he said. "Can you tell me how you're doing?"
"Yes," I said on a sigh, looking down while I did my own searching for the explanation I owed him. "I'm better," I offered. "I feel good - I'm not struggling anymore. That's the first thing."
"I know," he replied gently. "You're a totally different person."
"Right," I smiled weakly again. "I think it was all the travel, Adam. I thrive on routine and rest and stability. But I love this job - I love being important enough to travel so much," I grinned. "But it's hard on me. I got really depressed and I couldn't pull out of it. And I was physically ill," I told him. "It was just the mental piece that got really tough this time."
He nodded, asked some questions. And I continued to talk, feeling vulnerable but not overly uncomfortable.
"I didn't screw up too badly," I decided. "I was able to do the customer interaction pieces, though I did skip internal meetings. I wasn't well during the last part of my travel, but I did my job - it was useful for me to go. I just..." I paused to think and he remained quiet, his gaze steady when I glanced at him. I took a breath, made eye contact and continued.
"I'm afraid of people. When I'm like that. I feel panicked and struggle to breathe. Like everyone knows I'm sick and useless and I can't bear it. I just can't. But I'm on different medication and it's easy to come in now. I don't have to talk myself into getting dressed or answering email while other people are working. I can argue and listen and be in crowds. But I couldn't before."
He nodded, thinking. "I wondered - well, guessed - based on how you reacted. Like it was hard for you to answer questions."
"It was so hard to even make the phone call to join meetings," I told him. "There wasn't any energy left to engage in the discussion."
"So, next time," he said, and I loved him for moving forward and understanding there would be a next time. "I need you to tell me. I want to know how to help you - how to answer questions from people, how to deflect work from you, what to expect from your recovery."
We talked about triggers and my plan for 2011 to avoid the travel exhaustion that left me unable to tolerate the dip in mood before it became a spiral. I said I would try to tell him if I felt myself slipping, but that once I was in that suffocating cloud, I was too ashamed and afraid and disengaged to want him to know.
"OK," he nodded again and I barely resisted the urge to lean over and kiss his cheek so great was my affection. "So what's our code word?"