Well, what can I tell you…
Though I write about healthcare, I thought I would indulge myself, and explain my story to all who have wondered about my recent absence. It is a narrative I carried alone, trapped in my own world, blinded to the chaos that was slowly tearing me apart. I succumbed, badly, to the an illness that has haunted me all of my life, the mental illness of depression, the parasite that lies below the deepest level of consciousness, feeding you lies, repeating your defeats, feeding off your despair, until you either collapse from exhaustion or end your pain.
I had been pushing myself, exceedingly, for the last 2 and half years. I felt the parasite awakening, yet I attempted to do the impossible; ignore its subtle screaming, the terror it inflicts when you are alone with your thoughts. For alone I found myself, isolated by choice or design, tackling problem after problem, ignoring the parasite, smashing through problems without processing the damage they were doing, until my system collapsed.
It’s all one system, one’s emotions and one’s body. If depression, and its children: anxiety, hatred, isolation, fear, insecurity and self-loathing are not addressed, the body will find other ways to express the darkness. Be it an ulcer, a bad back, fatigue, headaches, or a general malaise and inability to enjoy life, the parasite will do its damage.
Pushing myself, to the limit. Imagine it this way: You’re Mad Max (or Furiosa) driving the War Rig, pedal to the floor, both V8 engines screaming in protest. You smash through smaller vehicles, bashing them off to the side. But the obstacles add up, and the War Rig takes damage. Engine one starts to overheat. Armor shreds from your frame. A tire blows. Yet the pedal is still to the floor. You empty the tank of nitrous oxide into the engines, blowing one, the remaining engine howling in protest. You reach an incline. Ignoring the clutch, you shift from 5th to 3rd, pedal still to the floor. The War Rig begins to rattle and shake, parts flying off. Eventually, the remaining engine explodes, and the War Rig falls to pieces, a wreck of burning metal. Max is thrown from the vehicle, smashing into the unforgiving sand of the cruel desert, critically wounded.
To put in medical terms, I was pushing myself, as the War Rig, for far too long. I had goals, achievements to tend to. Yet the universe kept throwing me deep curve balls, as it will do. When my mind was stuck in overdrive, my amygdala, the part of your brain that senses danger, had put my system in constant fight or flight mode for far too long. I was not resting myself properly, as my body was continually flooded with cortisol and norepinephrine. One can only run this way for so long. I had run this way for over 2 years. Eventually, my system was shut down by a final, dark act. I collapsed.
To recap succinctly, in 2019, I left a relationship of 13 years after I confessed to an opioid addiction. In 2020, I started school to study healthcare, and become a Medical Assistant. I pushed myself very hard, as I had not exactly excelled as a student in my early 20’s. It paid off with good grades, yet it was a difficult ride, much more than I thought it would be. In early 2021, as I waited 4 months for my license to come through from the Department of Health, I continued to push myself. I self-studied and achieved 4 more front-line healthcare certifications. I continued to study.
This was not without its difficulties. In January of 2021, I was so blinded by my trust of a psychiatrist who had helped for nearly 30 years, that I ignored the obvious fact that this physician had collapsed himself. I found him prescribing me painkillers or benzodiazepines. I would give him the drugs in exchange for cash. At one point, I was doing a drug deal with my psychiatrist in front of my apartment, in his nice car. Looking back, this is absurd, yet somehow I still trusted this man. The parasite was already blinding me, and I did not think the logical response through.
In February of 2013, I lost my father at the age of 92, weeks shy of his 93rd birthday. When a parent dies, there is a long list of logistics that needs attention: the estate, bank accounts, retirement and pension notifications, cremation, writing obituaries, and much more. My mother and I called it the ‘Dad List.’ My beloved mother, who still luckily is with me, was in rough shape, so I tackled the Dad List myself, practically alone, even yet as I continued to push myself with studying, learning, writing a new book. I had no time to grieve.
I had been tending to my older Niece, a young woman I love dearly. She had been suffering a similar ailment, and I was in constant communication with her. I watched as she herself collapsed, yet I refused to let this happen.
In early March, I was contacted by the mother of Brown Eyes, a post I had written earlier (you can find it further down). These were not easy conversations. Yet I refused to acknowledge the emotions.
I started having seizures, inexplicably. I chalked them up to bad panic attacks, though they were quite different. This was the pain I carried trying to find a way out.
In April, my wayward and dysfunctional psychiatrist suddenly announced he could no longer practice. He gave me no referral to another physician. This is the civil crime of abandonment, to say nothing of his felony of prescription fraud. My anxiety started to flare up. I suddenly had no access to the medications he had prescribed me.
At this time, my practitioner license was approved, and I began work at a community clinic in Seattle. It was a bad fit from the beginning. The clinic tried its best, but it was poorly run, with the small budget they had. There were constant violations of the CDC’s Standard Precautions. When I brought this up to the Lead MA, for the third time, she informed that it was not a priority for her. I was assigned with a provider, an MD who, despite a caring heart, did not exactly have her head in the game. She was constantly late, and expressing her personal problems. She never had a kind thing to say about me, but instead complained about my rooming speed. I squared that away quickly. She would still be with her first patient, and I had already roomed her next two, and I would find myself in the lobby telling her 4th patient that she was running late, if they’d like to reschedule. Once, I politely and professionally explained to this MD, as she treated a patient, that another treatment option may be a better idea for a particular type of wound. She agreed. Afterwards, in our small station, she turned to me and said: “You know things.” Yes. Yes I do. I over-studied. I paid attention. I had intended to make healthcare my life.
Eventually, this job did not work out. The Lead MA and I had a heated discussion, and I resigned. She did not take this well.
During this time, though I had no psychiatrist, I was able to get my medications squared away by general practitioners at Harborview.
It was not long before I found a second job. I joined the big leagues, UW Medicine. My first few weeks there were fantastic. I was doing, successfully, procedures I had never been trained on, only after a few words of instruction from an RN. I took to it easily and comfortably. When the Lead MA returned from PTO, she immediately did not like me. She bullied, harassed me, and was inappropriate, since the Monday she returned. By that Thursday, I had heard enough. I calmly called her out on her behavior. She became emotional, borderline irrational. Later that day, she was observing me room a patient. I apparently did something wrong, even though by that time I had roomed countless patients. The Lead MA shouted at me, and proceeded to strike me. Hit me. Commit 4th degree assault.
I spoke to her immediately afterwards, telling her that it was never okay to strike another employee. She became hysterical, spouting histrionics that I could not understand. The event left me shaken. Two horrible MA jobs in a row. I was able to secure a few days off, after I wrote to HR to lodge a complaint. Before I left, the Clinic Administrator informed me that the Lead MA would be keeping her job and her position. I did not understand how this was possible. In any line of work, no matter what your station, there is only one repercussion for striking an employee.
When I returned from my leave, I met immediately in a conference room with the Clinic Manager and some freeloader from HR. For 20 minutes, they berated me for all the mistakes I had been making. I was shocked. I was never made aware, by anyone, of any errors I had made. In fact, the only feedback I had received from the Clinic Administrator was an email I received from her in the first week, telling me she had heard great things about me. That’s it. But these two women continued to harass me, 2 on 1. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have asked for representation, be it an attorney, a union representative, or the Terminator. I asked for specifics about my mistakes. I received none. The Clinic Administrator said that mistakes in our industry could cost lives. I took this to mean that I was making deadly errors, that I did not care, yet still no specifics. How insulting. The freeloader from HR informed that these are mistakes that no one should be making, when I finally spoke up in protest. I have no idea what her response meant. The Clinic Administrator informed me that in the coming days, she would explain the specifics of my grievous errors. She never did.
Eventually, they brought the Lead MA into the room, the woman who had committed a crime against me, yet was protected from losing her job by the nepotism, the priority of image and prestige over humanity of the institution, and favoritism of the Clinic Administrator. The Lead MA began to cry, mumbled things I could not hear, and would not look nor speak to me. Inexplicably, the freeloader from HR handed us both pamphlets about respecting other cultures and proper body language. I was beyond confused. It is lamentable that I did not keep that pamphlet, as I was running low on toilet paper.
I returned to work upstairs at the clinic. It was hellish, walking on eggshells. The Lead MA would not talk to me, despite my attempts to work things out with her. The Clinic Administrator would not talk to me. It was a disastrously uncomfortable environment. A per diem MA took over my training, yet I found it insulting, as I had already accomplished, successfully, the basics of being an MA at that clinic. The parasite of depression awoke abruptly. My body, which I had pushed so hard, began to shut down.
On the morning of September 24th, I awoke at 2AM to a horrible panic attack. I was not thinking clearly. To put it bluntly: I attempted suicide. I began to overdose on my medications. While I was doing so, Mia, my lovely cat, walked into my room. She and I have bonded, human and animal. I could see the look on her face: What are you doing? I immediately remembered the lesson of Brown Eyes, and thought of the people I would hurt. The first person I thought of was my younger niece, who had just left for college in Nebraska. I stopped. I called 911.
Two days after I was released from the hospital, I found out that my younger Niece was in a psychiatric unit herself, for similar reasons.
The best thing that came out of my stint in the hospital was a social worker securing me care with a regular psychiatrist and therapist. This slightly heartened me. When I got home form the hospital, the Clinic Administrator almost immediately called me. She said she called to ask how I was doing, and to explain the call-out procedure. She did not ask how I was doing. Instead, she berated me for not correctly calling out. Hard to do when you’re suicidal. This contemptible woman could not be pried form her precious regulations with a crowbar. I resigned, my second failed MA job.
My collapse was abrupt. I began having the seizures more regularly. I learned these were called psychogenic seizures; not epilepsy, but the brain’s way of expressing inner pain and trauma. I could not sleep. My fatigue was overpowering.
My new psychiatrist, and my new therapist, helped me a great deal, and continue to do so. The psychiatrist reported my old psychiatrist for malpractice, abandonment, and prescription fraud. She began to unravel the medications the previous doctor had piled on me. She is a skilled provider.
Yet, initially, my recovery was slow. Stops and starts. I felt empty inside. A burned out, empty shell of a desolate man. Wandering the wasteland, alone.
Only it turns out I was not alone.
Several people contacted me. I am forever in their gratitude. To suffer alone is like an injury that has become infected, refusing to heal.
It was worth noting that my problems were not taking place in a vacuum. As I fell, the world fell around me, and continues to fall. The Old World is gone. We have all suffered the effects of this terrible virus, on one way or another, and our society has not handled it as well as it could, to put it lightly. Sadly, the ineptitude, and the countless deaths, continue.
It is also worth noting, strongly, that my suffering is by no means unique. My pain does not make me special. I am seeking not pity; I am merely explaining myself.
When I engaged, finally, with other people, it was shocking to hear their own tales of damage. Wounds that haunt them still. Each of us in our own way is broken.
One of the strongest pieces of advice I heard was from an old classmate. She did not ask me the details of my experiences outlined here. She simply said that life will damage us all, and we one day took a walk, enjoying the present, the here and now, as winter in Seattle closed in.
Another former classmate said that she would keep me in her prayers, and that she would always be available if I needed to talk. She suggested a helpful Bible verse. I am agnostic, but to know that someone cares enough to share something that is deeply helpful to her, and to include me in her petitions to her God, was profoundly uplifting.
I reconnected with a great old friend, and old manager of mine at Chase Bank. She told me her stories. They, understandably, damage her still. Yet she is such a beautiful, compassionate and caring person. It moved me when I heard how badly she had been mistreated by life.
Perhaps the greatest connection I made was a completely random one. Someone, a stranger I did not yet know, reached out to me. It was odd and unexpected at first. But we grew quite familiar with each other very quickly. Her story of life ruthlessly damaging and tormenting her was so much worse than mine. Yet she and I had the same outlook, the same determination to live. And this wonderful person was my Mirror, so similar were our stories. We connected quite strongly, and to have her in my life was a gift, as my recovery grew stronger.
We were so comfortable together, as if we’d known each other before our world began. And to be with her, next to her, was my isolated little Paradise. I had the best Valentine’s Day ever!
She was truly my Sunshine. My heart beat strong for her. And yet, the logistics of our world can be cruel and unforgiving. When she needed me most, I could not be there for her. It crushed me to see the one I loved so much, the one I wanted to grow old with, suffer and crash. But I could not help her, could not save her. I was shattered when our communion was broken. There is a Sunshine-shaped hole in my heart.
I also recently lost a dear friend, not to death but to her decision: my Furiosa herself, a story for another time. I don’t blame her, but this one stings as much as any loss of death. Sometimes I wonder if it’s me or not. It is hard to know who is actually crazy. Me, or everyone else. And so I exist in this wasteland known as my recovery, hunted by my own fate, haunted by those I have lost. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead.
Yes, my heart still beats. I breathe in air. I am still here, for a purpose or not, I do not know. I do not know what my future holds. I have lost my love of healthcare and medicine, something I invested so much of time and life to. I am day to day. I question myself, everyday: will my story shine light a light, or end in the dark?
I am not hopeless, somewhere under all this is a dormant strength yet to be summoned, yet to be called into action. But hope is a mistake… if you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane. And these days, I intend to. Writing is one way, an expression of pain that conversely be helpful, so bear with me. I am still here. I am one of the living.
This is my story, self-pitying and self-indulgent as some may see it. Fine, read something else. But it is my perception. And the events are real. But my fate, even still, could be far worse:
So many in our world are suffering, far worse than me. It is up to me, and all of us, to help when we can. Love and compassion, their day is coming. Each of us must do our place. Do not ignore the suffering of others, or your own. Now more than ever, our world needs this.
This we all know; the years travel by quickly. But my tale is not my own tale, it is the tale of us all, in one way or another. And we must listen, and remember, so that this dark age we live in, and the mistakes we have made; we must tell the young ones of tomorrow. It is hurtful, as the Old World is now gone. Yet time counts, and keeps on counting. Getting back what has been and has been lost is no easy road. But this is our fate, and we must travel it, and no one knows where it’s going to lead. The light at the end of the tunnel must stay lit, for all of them that are still out there, suffering alone. Because if I intend to do it, anyone can seize the distant light, and come home.
RIP: RKS, JI, DC, HH
GB: AP, HF, CP, CS