Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Tis the Season
Let's see, I was in my internship and doing o.k. so I took myself off Wellbutrin. And I STOPPED smoking - go figure. (p.s. Do not buy stock in Zyban). I successfully completed a general surgery internship which is the starting point for all budding orthopods. While I like to think that my career didn't define me, it sure as hell fit my personality at the time. I was driven, motivated, and could survive on sleep deprivation provided appropriate doses of caffeine and chocolate were ingested. And no matter how hard you try, it invades every area of your life. While I had started dating Ahsweepay by the end of that year, he was also a surgeon so my schedule and lack of free time wasn't a problem, it merely mirrored his life. I was on a roll.
Then, the powers that be threw in a curveball. At my institution, it was standard practice that, after internship, every young surgeon was sent out (for anywhere from one to three years) to work as a doctor with a military unit. And I had been assigned to be a "general practitioner" for a few good men - about 1400 to be precise. Suddenly, things slowed down. As the head medical officer, my life was filled with clinic, lectures, training, and such. I went to work at 0700 and was usually out by 4pm. Sounds good, right? Not so much. Depression came crashing back in - subtly at first, and then with a vengeance usually reserved for the hounds of hell. To put it simply, I had too much time. Too much time to think, too much time to fill, too much time to do all the things I couldn't seem to get started doing. I was paralyzed. I got another doctor to refill my Wellbutrin (physician, heal thyself) but it didn't work. I cried the whole way into work. I cried the whole way home. While at work, I was the picture of efficiency and the token darling of the command. One night, I was so sad that I drank myself into a stupor. I had the next day off and was so hungover that I got stuck watching an E! special on the guy that played the dumb brother on Blossom. Just couldn't work up the energy to change the channel. I laid on the couch until a friend of mine brought me an In-n-Out burger, a six pack, and a pack of camel lights.
During this time, my Dad came to visit. We were driving to the installation where I worked to go to the gym. I lost it and told him about how low I was and how I thought about driving my car into a ditch just so I didn't have to go to work. Now, at this time, we were driving through Carlsbad, California where they have these far reaching flower fields. At certain times of the year, they're all in bloom and are quite stunning. You just have to pretend that you don't see all the exploited migrant workers hunched over picking weeds and such with no protective gear. My dad looked over, saw them, and said, "Hey, at least you're not out there." I choked on my own tears and laughed so hard I blew snot onto the steering wheel. "That's the best you can come up with? At least I'm not a migrant worker? I made it through high school, college and grad school without dropping out, getting arrested, or getting pregnant. I fought my way into and through med school and slaved through a surgical internship. I am a legal citizen of the US. And I should be glad that I'm not picking flowers for slave wages?" And he laughed.
Don't get me wrong. I made many, many poor choices growing up - hell, I'm still making poor choices. And I'm not saying I'm any better or more deserving than any worker in that field, any junkie in rehab, any prostitute who is doing her best to help her family out. But I was DEPRESSED. This is not a justification or an effort not to get hate mail. What I'm trying to get across is that depression happens to you - you don't go out courting it. Realizing that there were children starving in Africa didn't make that meatloaf taste any better when I was 6 years old, and knowing that there were people worse off than me didn't make depression any tastier either. In fact, I think it made it harder. What was wrong with me? I had a lot of advantages, loving friends and family, a roof over my head and a job that paid the bills and then some. If I couldn't be happy with that, didn't that make me a horrible greedy person? Perhaps I would never be happy.
Depression brings with it a lot of guilt - but just like the guilt of the victim that has been talked about on Amanda B's site recently, I think this guilt is also something those suffering need to let go. I haven't figued out how yet. When I do, I'll let know. In the meantime, I went to see the psychiatrist who worked near me and asked for a recommendation of someone "outside the system". Stay tuned for "It Sucks to Be Smarter Than Your Therapist".
You are an amazing lady. I admire the heck out of you.
I agree with your experience with depression…keeping busy is a good thing…too much time to think…not such a good thing. That is interesting that you had to work as a military doc…I was actually on a military scholarship for medical school and wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon.
I got to say that I love the way you tell stories. The story of you and your father in the car and the ensuing conversation was as if I was watching a scene from some independent film…being that independent films tend to capture to neurotic moments of everyday life...that was a classic, and funny, "scene."
And you are absolutely right about the associated guilt…not only does this illness have the capacity to immobilize you and your life but it has the nerve to make you feel guilty about it!! SOB!
Looking forward to the next scene in “It Sucks to be Smarter than your Therapist.”
Manda B., I think you're pretty amazing, too. And I have to admit that I am jealous of your animal menagerie. I'm hoping to get a house with some land when I move back to the southeast and expand my brood so Hooch has friends to play with and/or torment.
James, glad you like my storytelling. I try to find a little humor in everything. It dulls the pain. It's also a defense mechanism that lets me talk about things I'd otherwise be appalled to share.