Woman Who Verged on a Nervous Breakdown

Several years ago, I was working in publicity at a major film studio, and started having trouble with a co-worker.  She was one of those girls who stepped on toes to get ahead, and I somehow got in her way.  We’ll call her Puppy, because she piddled all over other people’s lives and work.  I think it had to do with my getting to go on a better travel junket than the one Puppy did.  That one, I was the only person working on the film involved who didn’t get to go, and I was pretty hurt.  I asked a friend at work if I had done something wrong, she explained these things happen, and I just sucked it up.  When my boss came back from the junket, realizing I really was the only one left behind, he went to bat for me to get to go to the next one.  It meant a trip to New Orleans, almost home for me, but I didn’t gloat.  Puppy pouted, then screwed me over for no reason on a silly work issue.  My boss was the type who thought saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” was enough to manage a problem, so I didn’t really get the support I needed.  I was stressed enough to seek out a therapist and start going once a week.

I had had a bout of depression in college and seen a shrink and been on prozac for a time, but had managed OK in the intervening years.  Well, managed by shoving everything down and not dealing with it.  I’m half British and half old line Yankee WASP, repression is hardwired in my DNA.  But things with Puppy, and knowing my boss wouldn’t do anything to stick up for me when someone clearly piddled all over my job responsibilities, made me think it was time for professional help.  And at first it was good.  With my background, opening up isn’t easy, so I was actually bad at therapy.  It felt like being beaten up, but I thought it was helping.  I did speak up for myself more with my parents, which didn’t go over well at all, and felt better about things in general.

Several months passed, and things at work got weirder and weirder.  There was a change in management structure, with my boss getting a new supervisor.  Then there were closed door meetings between them all.  Something was in the air, the kind of something that makes you think you’re about to get fired, or that you’re being paranoid.  The job was getting to me and just wasn’t fun anymore, so I actually was alright with getting fired.  I was damn good at the work, but not good at playing the games needed to get along with Puppy and her crowd.  My migraines had become worse; one had me suffering from extreme vertigo for a week, though I worked 3 days out of 5.  I was resigned to what I thought was the worst case scenario.  Turns out, it wasn’t.  It was worse than being fired.  My boss called me into his office to tell me I was to be moved to another department, a miserable place where I had no desire to work.  I burst into tears, cried some more in my friend’s office, and even more in therapy.  Then I pulled myself together and stated I wanted to talk to the head of our division to find out what exactly this new job would be, and what would happen if I said no.

I’m still not sure how I kept it so together talking to that man that evening.  Stiff upper lip and WASP training I suppose.  He was a marketing head, so bullshit was his native tongue.  I could not get a straight answer out of him as to what the job would be, or what would happen if I said no.  All I wanted to know was if I would be laid off, and therefore eligible for unemployment, or fired, and so not.  Because I wasn’t going to take the job, I knew that much.  He just kept telling me how good I would be at it.  After hearing this and not a straight answer multiple times, I channeled Dorothy Parker and responded with, “I’d make a great prostitute, too.  Doesn’t mean I want that job either.”  Really, I did.That shut down the BS for a short time, but I never got a straight answer.  I went home, cried until I threw up, talked to my parents, and remembered I was in a union and maybe they could get an answer.

The answer was that I had seniority and couldn’t be moved or laid off.  By that point I was near begging to be laid off.  Who wants to stay somewhere that doesn’t want you?  And I could tell my boss was nervous as he was still trying to have me moved, as much as he had said he was sorry for me to go.  In the end only his wife actually came out and said she was happy I got to stay.  No one in the office did.  Despite having come to work and done my job without complaint or crying at my desk during this whole time, my boss’s supervisor saw fit to lecture me on having to do better.  It was a miserable job environment, but I didn’t want to let them win by quitting.

Things got so bad I was throwing up from the stress, and my depression worsened to thoughts of suicide.  You know it’s bad when you have to call from your desk at work and explain that to someone at your insurance, so you can find a shrink ASAP.  I saw the shrink, and even worked on the phone while driving to my first appointment.  I got put on a cocktail of meds.  My birthday fell in the middle of this, and I spent the time after my office party crying on a co-worker’s shoulder.  The bathroom was my refuge.  My therapist wanted me to start going twice a week, and I kept my boss in the loop and explained everything.  I thought it was fine, until HR called and I was told my doctors’ appointments were interfering with my ability to do my job.  My boss’s supervisor had found a way to finally get rid of me.  I could have fought it, but I was tired of taking the high road.  I signed up for a three month disability leave, and had to fight HR to be able to work a final week to leave things in order.  Another supervisor actually went to bat for me, my boss left me out on a limb and sawed it away behind me.

I was a mess.  Even thinking of working made me ill.  I had had bad work experiences in the past, times where bosses had screamed at me until I had cried, as if that was their goal.  But I’m a tough little bird, and I pulled my boots up and tried to find work.  No one from my job even checked on me, making me think I really didn’t want to go back.  The union told me they would back me, that I couldn’t be treated any differently because of the higher ups trying to move me and being stopped.  But, again, I didn’t want to be where I was unwanted.  I had a job interview, ironically for near the same job I had been doing but at a different studio, and was deemed overqualified.  Figures.

The story I put out was that my migraines were worse and I was taking time to get my meds for them under control.  It wasn’t the whole reason, but it was true.  I’ve had them since I was 18, and every few years they mutate and add new symptoms.  The vertigo was the worst yet.  Headaches I can tough out.  Vertigo felt like that moment at the end of a drunken evening when you’re falling into your bed.  But it lasted for hours, days.  This was on top of the blindness, nausea, lack of muscle co-ordination, speech slurring and general misery.

I’d never been in therapy before, so I didn’t know that things were going badly.  I’ve tossed much of the memories out to make room for better ones, but I do remember how she kept moving my time, as if I had all the free time and didn’t need the good slot I had had.  Then she stopped taking my insurance and charged me, to make me “value” the process more.  She liked to discuss why I was always late, making it about my not wanting to do the work, not believing that I am just late for everything.  It could be judgement day and I’d be late.  Her favorite subject was how I didn’t want to work.  I couldn’t get her off that one.  One day she confronted me about my “issues” with therapy.  I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I know she said something about fully expecting that I could go home from the session and try to kill myself.  I left in copious tears, and, of course, ran into an old friend in the elevator and had to pretend life was fine when, really, I did want to slit my wrists.

Between the therapy and the meds roulette for my migraines, three years passed with no work.  My parents were very kind about taking care of me, though they did try repeatedly to get me to come home.  They came to hate my therapist more and more, as they saw her as the reason I denied them.  There was one visit home for Christmas when I ended up in my bedroom closet crying, my door locked, just wanting to disappear.

And then things got weirder with my therapist.  I had a shrink I really liked, and I was talking to her about how to know if it was time to find a new therapist, as I was ready to try someone new.  I think I pushed my therapist over the edge when I told her, after yet another bout of “you just don’t want to work,” that I wasn’t over what had happened at my last job, that I had just let her think that I was.  That must have been the final straw for her in terms of putting up with me for $120/hr, as she moved up our next session unexpectedly.  At the session, she told me she would no longer see me as a patient, that I wasn’t making progress, but that I definitely needed help.  And she charged me for it.

Any progress I might have made was out the window then.  I was mortified.  I kept thinking of the crazy Olson girl from Wonderfalls, the one who tried to kill her therapist, who was so crazy he told her to find someone new.  I knew I had to be truly a whack job to be fired by a therapist.  Some time passed and, yes, I realized, and had confirmed, that she had handled things very badly.  But I had no desire to find another therapist.

I did finally find another job.  It went pear shaped, but I stuck it out, and then starting temping again at a different studio.  It’s not ideal, but I do like the work.  I finally gave in and tried to find a new therapist last fall.  Because of my ongoing major depressive disorder and, ironically, the issues from being dumped by the awful one, doctors are hesitant to take me on as a patient.  Maybe I’ll find one eventually, maybe not.  In the meantime, I do the best I can, day by day.  Some good, some damn awful.  But I get through it.  I still refuse to let Puppy and her ilk win.

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February 5, 2010. Tags: , , . Life, the universe, and whatnot.

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