Girl Gone Authentic: But You Don't LOOK Sick

A lot of people do not know this about me, but I have several chronic health issues. I am a Type 2 diabetic, I take medication for high cholesterol, and I have fibromyalgia. I’ve been dealing with these health conditions for almost a decade.

I don’t keep these a secret, but I don’t go around openly telling people, either. For one thing, it’s really no one’s business (especially at work), and for another thing, I’m not trying to gain anyone’s sympathy. Additionally, when I do tell someone, the responses fall into three categories. Some people say things like, “I know someone with fibro” and they sympathize with me. Some people try to offer me “cures” for my chronic pain (your suggestions aren’t really wanted, but thanks anyway). The third group say things like, “But you don’t look sick at all” (what does chronic pain and diabetes look like?).

I do have a work accommodation for the fibromyalgia (increased telework permission), so when I have pain flare-ups, I can telework up to a certain number of hours per work week. I have some sort of pain every day, but it’s usually manageable and when I get to work, you can’t tell that I’m having a problem. I try my best to seem as energetic as possible.

I have another chronic condition, though, that I really do not like sharing with people, especially co-workers. I suffer from periodic bouts of major depressive disorder (MDD).

I had my first experience with major depression when I was married to my ex-husband. It was about 13 or 14 years ago. It did not impact my job in any way, shape, or form, but when I was at home, all I wanted to do was lie in bed. I didn’t feel any joy doing anything outside of work; in fact, I didn’t feel anything at all. I was just “going through the motions.”

The therapist told me I had “situational depression” and a nurse practitioner prescribed me an anti-depressant called “Wellbutrin.” The lower dose did nothing for me, and the increased dose made me feel like I wanted to murder anyone in my path. I quit taking that medication and they put me on another anti-depressant called “Lexapro.” This medication made me really start to feel better. Unfortunately, it also gave me horrible migraines. I quit taking this medication as well and just “gave up” on medications at this point, especially when my ex found out and laughed at me for being so “weak” as to need an anti-depressant.

I eventually left the marriage, I started feeling better emotionally, and I thought that was it. Well, I was wrong. Awhile later, I got to the point where I couldn’t focus on anything. I would go to work and just stare at my computer for hours, doing virtually nothing. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get myself to go to work; after the kids went to school, I would just sit on my couch and read books. I felt no joy at home. I was once again “going through the motions” but this time, I also felt like just getting in my car and driving away. The only thing that kept me from leaving was my ingrained sense of responsibility. I knew that I couldn’t just pick up and leave because I was the only parent in the house and my kids needed me. I went to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with MDD. I was put on another anti-depressant, “Zoloft,” and it did help me.

After a few months, I started feeling better, so I weaned myself off the medication and I seemed to be doing much better. Several years went by, and I gradually found myself back into the same pit of despair. I didn’t care about going to work, I didn’t care about what happened at home, etc. I was constantly depressed to the point where I’d just sit and cry, even if nothing specific was causing me to feel so fucking sad. I went to my doctor in tears, barely able to get through a sentence without crying to the point of incoherence. My doctor put me back on “Zoloft” and about a month later, I was finally able to get through my day without losing focus at work. I was accomplishing things, which was great.

Unfortunately, the medication had an undesired effect. I wasn’t crying anymore, which was good, but I didn’t feel anything. David said that I was like a “walking zombie” with no emotions whatsoever. He knew that I was on the medication, and he was trying so hard to be supportive, but it scared him to see me so unconcerned about life in general.

I weaned myself off the medication again, and I felt okay. I went through the next several years and I was generally okay. I did have another depression episode in 2018, but it wasn’t affecting my desire/ability to go to work or perform daily functions. I started seeing a therapist, which did help me. I saw her periodically over a six-month period, and I was able to work through the issues that brought me to seek her help.

In May 2019, I started to enter another bout of depression, but this time it manifested itself in PTSD symptoms (see my “divorce” blog posts for more on that). It was so bad that I would feel a panic attack start to hit me whenever I drove into the parking lot at work. I contacted David’s EAP to get some therapy sessions.

While I was seeing this therapist (who was extremely helpful), I started to notice something very troubling. I was once again feeling like I didn’t care if I went to work. There is nothing about my job that is causing me to not want to be there, so I knew this was something different.

I remembered the time when I would just stare at my computer for hours, doing virtually nothing, but this time seemed even worse. I struggled to go to the office more than a couple of times a week. I even started pretending like I was going to work, but instead I’d take myself to lunch and sit there eating and reading a book. I was too ashamed to tell my family that I wasn’t really going to work. I didn’t link this to depression this time, even though all the signs were there. I’m getting married and life at home is going very well. My divorce is finally granted. What do I have to be depressed about??

I mentioned it to the therapist I’m seeing for the PTSD symptoms. She said that I’m in a depression phase. I told her that I didn’t “get” why because I have nothing to be sad about, and she explained that for people diagnosed with MDD, it doesn’t always take something specific to trigger an episode. She recommended that I talk to my doctor about medication.

So, I went to my doctor to talk about medication. She asked me for a history of medications I’ve taken and why I stopped taking each one of them. Once I got through that, she suggested that I try “Celexa,” which she said is extremely similar to “Lexapro,” which is the one that made me feel better but caused migraines. She is hopeful that I will get the “good” benefits of the medication without the “bad” side effects.

I’ve been on “Celexa” for almost two weeks now. I started out on the lowest dose, and eight days later, I doubled the dose. So far, I’m not having any migraines, so that’s a good thing. I am not quite to the point where I feel like I want to go to work every day (it can take six to eight weeks for the medication to be fully effective), but I have a little bit more energy, so that’s encouraging.

There is still such a stigma attached to “mental illness” (I even hate this term), so I’m not wanting people at work to know about it. The last time I went through a major episode, I made the mistake of telling my supervisor. I think he told others in the office, because they all started treating me as if I could go off the deep end at any moment.

I know that I’m going to have to say something, though. My department doesn’t have a permanent supervisor (the position has been vacant for 15 months), so we are reporting to the person who our supervisor would have as a boss. This guy is NOT a very understanding person. He’s the type who thinks that unless you have body parts falling off, or are NOTICEABLY sick, that you should never miss work unless it’s a scheduled-in-advance vacation. He looked skeptical when I told him about my fibromyalgia, so imagine what he’d think if I told him I have MDD.

The reason for my extreme nervousness is because he’s already made me meet with him to talk about my fibro, and now I’m being forced to meet with him again this afternoon because he wants to talk about why I’ve missed so much work. I asked my doctor to write me a note explaining the depression and that I’m on medication to improve things, but she said “no way” because it’s none of his business. What she is willing to do is fill out FMLA paperwork to protect my job. This is the first time in over 25 years with the government that I’ve ever worried that my job is in jeopardy. I’ve always been a high performer, never receiving below a “superior” on my annual evaluations. Supervisors generally love me, and I have the respect of my peers. Every supervisor I’ve ever had has treated me like an adult, but this guy makes me feel like I’m in grade school, being summoned to the principal’s office.

The only reason I haven’t totally fallen apart is because of David. He has been my rock through all of this. I was worried that he’d be like my ex-husband, mocking me for being depressed. I was so wrong. He’s been incredibly supportive of me and I am so very lucky to have him in my life.

I’m scared for this meeting today. I’m terrified that I’m going to cry in front of my temporary supervisor this afternoon, and that he will stare at me with a blank face, or worse, say, “But you don’t LOOK sick.”