This is my first diary, so please bear with me if I am awkward, overly verbose or unfamiliar with the subtleties of diary etiquette. What I'd like to do here is give an insider's view of what it's like to fall off the cliff of depression. I hope that reading my story might help someone else who suffers from depression realize that there always is hope and help if they ask for it. I also hope I can help people understand how insidious a disease depression really is, and to intervene when they see people approaching the cliff as I did.
First, the backstory. I'm an attorney, specifically a civil rights/employee rights attorney -- I sue corporations that screw over their employees. I've been practicing for almost 20 years. About 3 1/2 years ago, I split with my law partner and went solo. As of this time last year I was doing well -- money in the bank, a successful, growing practice, three employees, including a newly-hired associate.
I've also been dealing with depression for years. I've tried multiple different anti-depressants, none of which did a damned thing for me. My symptoms have waxed and waned over the years, and I've been hospitalized in the past for my depression. Otherwise, I've always been pretty functional.
Things started to go south about six months ago. The primary symptom of my depression started to kick back in -- insomnia and excessive fatigue, leading to excessive sleep and dark thoughts. I've lived alone since getting divorced about 2 years ago, and with no one in the house to drag my sorry ass out of bed, I started staying up until 3 am and then sleeping in past noon on some days. Obviously, on those days I wouldn't make it into the office. Now, I knew that this was an early warning sign that I was approaching the cliff, but I didn't do anything about it. I didn't go back to my therapist, whom I had stopped seeing about a year ago because I felt I had plateaued with her. I made a half-hearted attempt to find another therapist, but didn't get along with the one person I saw, and never followed up. More importantly, I didn't reach out to friends and family to let them know what was happening. The only people who knew what was going on were my staff. My girlfriend didn't even really know what was going on, since we only see each other on weekends (she lives about 2 hours away).
What started out as missing one day every other week gradually increased to the point where I was only making it into the office two or three days a week, and was not particularly productive when I was there. I just wasn't able to focus. My staff did an amazing job covering for me, rescheduling appointments and making sure that I didn't miss any deadlines or commit malpractice, but it got more and more difficult for them. And, of course, since I wasn't in the office to settle cases or sign up new clients, revenues just dried up. I started drawing on my business line of credit and using credit cards just to meet basic expenses. My staff saw the impending financial disaster, and implored me to get my shit together, but I just ignored them and did my best to block it out, hoping that I'd get a big hit soon that would alleviate the financial pressures. And my thoughts started getting darker, more despairing.
But even worse, I was just so damned tired all the time. On days when I made it into the office, I might not get there until 10:30 or 11:00 because I just couldn't get up in the morning. And when I got home at night (or after getting up at 2:00 pm on days when I didn't go in to work), I would just lay on the couch watching re-runs of "CSI" and "Mythbusters." I might cook myself something to eat, or I might order a pizza, and just leave the dishes piled in the sink. Or I might not eat at all. Unread newspapers and magazines piled up on the coffee table, along with unpaid bills.
Again, I knew I was getting worse, but I didn't tell anyone. To my depressed, twisted way of thinking, nobody could help me. So instead, I kept up the front. Whenever anyone asked how I was doing, my reply was "fabulous!" I blamed my increasing absences on my bad back (I've had serious back problems for about 10 years, including surgery 6 years ago).
During the first two weeks of February I had a big trial in a gender discrimination case. I managed to hold myself together quite well, and put on a really good case. I honestly can say that my depression did not affect my performance; indeed, the focus necessary to try the case helped push my symptoms away, and the level of dark thoughts and despair decreased substantially. I actually had energy, and was quite focused. I gave probably one of the best closing arguments I've ever given. I convinced the judge that my client had been discriminated against; unfortunately, I did not convince the jury, and they found in favor of the employer. This pushed me even closer to the edge of the cliff.
So I essentially stopped going to work altogether. I turned off the ringer on the phone, unplugged the answering machine and turned off my cell phone, so no one could reach me. When they could reach me, my staff was begging me to get help and get my ass into the office to make some money. But by this point I had gone over the edge of the cliff and was in free fall, and I just didn't care any more. My paralegal called my sisters (who both live 1000+ miles away), but they couldn't do very much, since I wasn't answering the phone or responding to e-mails.
I put in a full day in the office on Monday, April 19. Don't ask me how I was able to do so; I'm not sure myself. But then I disappeared to the world again for the next three days. That Friday, the 23rd, I was awoken at 10:30 by my girlfriend, who had driven two hours and marched into the house wanting to know what what going on. So I told her. And as we talked, I finally admitted to myself that I had managed to pretty much destroy my practice, and that I essentially was bankrupt. So that afternoon I went into the office and laid off my staff, effective Monday the 26th -- three people who really cared about me, who did their best to help me and who deserved much better from me. From there, my girlfriend dragged me to my doctor, who prescribed yet another anti-depressant and referred me to another therapist.
Unfortunately, my girlfriend had to leave on Saturday morning, and the free fall down the cliff continued. I spent the next week sleeping until 2:00, crawling downstairs and curling up on the couch to watch mindless television shows for hours, because it kept me from thinking about my life. When I did think, everything was black. Hopeless. Pointless.
So last Friday, April 30, I hit the ground at the bottom of the cliff. I crawled downstairs about 1:30, and brought with me every bottle of pills in the house -- imipramine (the anti-depressant I had just started), valium (for my back), darvocet (ditto) and ambien (for my insomnia). After staring at the pills for hours and thinking black thoughts, I swallowed everything but the imipramine (don't ask me why I didn't eat those as well; I have no idea) and half the darvocet (those are some big-ass pills to try to swallow in bulk) and laid down on the couch to die. I didn't leave a note, just wrote down some important phone numbers for whomever found me.
But I had not turned off my cell phone. About 1/2 hour after I swallowed the pills, my sister in California called. I was still sort-of conscious, and for some reason I answered. Now, I don't have much recollection of what happened, but apparently she talked me into calling 911 on the landline while she stayed on the cell phone with me. An ambulance showed up, and took me to the ER. I was given narcan and forced to drink an enormous amount of liquid charcoal (nasty stuff, and I shit squid ink for four days afterwards), and transferred to the ICU, and then to the psych unit. I spent 6 days in the hospital, seeing a psychiatrist and going to group therapy sessions. I was placed on three different medications, and was released yesterday after being referred to an "Intensive Outpatient Program" (my intake session is tomorrow). I will be going for both individual and group therapy four or five days a week for the next few weeks.
And here's where the big revelation came. Upon hearing of my stupidity, friends and family came out of the woodwork with offers to help. My sisters both transferred money into my checking account to pay outstanding bills. A lawyer I've known for years volunteered to step in as trustee for my practice (which is a major pain in the ass for him) while I went on inactive status to get my shit together. My former partner called and volunteered to act as co-counsel on my most important cases, so that I can still have some money coming in. Another friend went out and hired a cat sitter to come take care of Fido (yes, my cat is named Fido). Someone else contacted a bankruptcy lawyer for me. And multiple people called just to say "hey, we love you, we're worried about you, if you need anything at all, just call."
And this is why I say to anyone else who is falling off the cliff that there is hope. Had I been able to reach out to these friends and family members before falling off the cliff, they would have been there for me. And I could have avoided a lot of pain, and three good people might still have their jobs. And I've realized that it was my distorted thinking that led me to take such a drastic, stupid action. OK, so I may have to file for bankruptcy. Not the end of the world. I may have to make a career change to a lower-stress job (owning and running a small law firm is stressful as hell). Again, not the end of the world. What's important is that people love me, care about me and are willing to help me.
But this is also a cautionary tale. I'm not a stupid man. I'm a well-educated professional, and am reasonably self-aware. But my depression was such that, even though I knew I needed help, my thinking was so twisted and darkened by my depression that I was unable to take care of myself or even ask for help. So if you see someone withdrawing as I did, please reach out to them.
As for me, I'm just going to take it one day at a time as I crawl back up that cliff.
UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone for all of the good thoughts and love directed my way. I'm working on getting healthy again, and the positive vibes from everyone helps. And making the rec list is pretty mind-blowing.