“You have depression.” – A psychiatrist when I was 14
“You have dysthymia” – another psychiatrist when I was 24
“You have major depressive disorder” – yet another psychiatrist when I was 40
“I don’t know what the Hell is wrong with you kid” – my father up until the day he died
Growing up was confusing for me. Being bounced between a father that thought I was spoiled, a mother convinced I was antisocial, teachers (nuns) who thought I was a willful ass, and, finally, classmates who looked at me as if I was a goon from another planet, I figured I was defective.
My mom sent me to my first psychologist when I was 14. He wore tweed, said “mmm hmmm” a lot as he scribbled on his clipboard and blew smoke rings from his pipe.
He’s weird, I’m weird. OK, so now what?
What followed was a long, long procession of psychologists, each of whom uncorked various schemes to bring me to my ‘happy place.’ After a while, I was able to distinguish between those who were actually trying to help me and those who were just throwing out ‘book solutions’ based on my ever-changing symptoms.
Finally, four years ago at the age of 50, I finally got the definitive diagnosis:
“You have bipolar two.”
Well thanks. After 29 other mental health professionals over the last 35 years, finally it all made sense: 14 jobs, 12 moves, three marriages, blown careers, ruined friendships and 27 different psychiatric meds, I know what it is that bedevils me. I guess I’m still an asshole, but I have an explanation.
“You also have generalized anxiety disorder.”
Well that makes sense of why I used to hide in the art closet in kindergarten until my mom yanked me out of that school and put me in a Catholic school. Well, that and abuse I took from my father who was convinced I was shaming his abilities as a father by being ‘moody and ungrateful.’
“We’ll change you meds. Try these.”
Sure, why not? I’ve had more meds than Johnny Cash has been places. Aside: I once wrote a parody song to the tune of ‘I’ve Been Everywhere,’ substituting my medications for all the places Cash sang he’d been to.
But were we done?
Oh no, not quite.
In June 2015, when I got to work I asked one of my co-workers “have you ever had a morning you wish you just hadn’t woken up?”
To make a long story shorter, that was reported to my boss as suicidal ideation. The agency police were notified and I had to file a statement with them denying I was going to kill myself.
I was then sent home early “as a favor.” After stewing about this event all night, I called in sick the next day. A little after 10 a.m. a voice on the phone said he was a police officer and wanted to talk to me.
“Do you want me to come down to the station,” I asked.
“No, we’re right outside your house,” he said.
And indeed they were – an army of SWAT cops with the hostage negotiator, still on the phone, telling me to come out with my hands up, which I did, in front of my wife and the neighbors.
You see, after calling in sick that day my boss thought it would be a good idea to have the agency cops call the local cops for a ‘health and welfare check.’ Apparently, the police played a version of the old ‘Telephone Game’ because the crack army that descended on my house thought I was holding my wife hostage at gunpoint.
After five minutes, the situation was defused, the cops actually apologized and left and my wife and I went to pieces.
I never found out how it happened.
This would mark the start of an 18-month ordeal with management at my job who tried to fire me. Thanks to the fact that I’m a Federal employee with a union (and a private attorney I hired), I managed to keep my job – just barely.
So my latest psychologist (number 30, collect them all!) had another diagnosis for me.
“You have PTSD.”
My wife and I have never quite recovered from the SWAT team incident. However, the good news is that many of my co-workers that had been central to my ordeal have left. The ones remaining and I have put the matter behind us. Some have even apologized for their part in the drama.
Incredible as it seems to me now, I can discuss when I’m having a bad day with my co-workers without fear, stigma or shame. Even my supervisor admitted a week ago that she too has some ‘mental issues’ she deals with. In the end, my efforts at education worked and everyone here is the better for it.
I still don’t like my job, mainly because I walk the same halls and offices where all of the nasty stuff happened. But although I bent, I didn’t break. I am still standing and not ashamed of who I am.