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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fight the Black Dog #4

Fight the Black Dog #4: A Little Industrial Action at the Serotonin Factory!

In this weeks edition of “Fight the Black Dog” you will find the following:

1 – Depression and work

2 – a contribution from another “Black Dog Knitter”

3 – how to contact me and/or show your support

4 – a brief disclaimer

a quick note: thanks for all the emails and comments. I am terribly slow at getting back to people, and sometimes just need a bit of time to work out the response I want to a send (some of this is, in part, due to my depression). I am not trying to ignore anyone, and am thankful that you are sharing your experiences with me. I just happen to have lot of other crap on my plate right now, so am just trying to keep up with my weekly commitment – soon I should be able to focus more on this an put a bit more effort in. Thanks again, for all the support – please don’t stop because you think I don’t care!


1 – Depression and work

I really feel the need to clarify exactly how my depression fits in with how my employment and career ended – yes, I did lose my job due to depression, however, that is just the specifics of my particular case. It was actually something quite closely tied to depression.

In case you have not figured it out by the many hints and clues I have dropped around my blog – or you new around here, I was previously employed by the military. As you would expect, there is a rather high standard of fitness and health required for this particular line of work, hence the intellectual, psychological and physical screening each applicant must pass in order to obtain a position within the ranks.

In order to retain this position, you need to remain relatively fit and healthy – and are subjected to various medical and dental checkups which categorise your health and dependant on what category you are in, decide where you can and can’t serve. Having depression does not necessarily place you in a certain category; however, taking anti-depressants does. A certain policy dictates that if you take any drugs to treat a condition (whether it be depression, diabetes, epilepsy or asthma etc), you need to be posted within a certain range of a doctor – or in other terms, you need to be posted at a major military base and are unable to be sent anywhere else you may be required for duty. In the case of epilepsy or diabetes, it pretty much means an automatic discharge – as you will be taking preventative medication for the rest of your service career and, hence, will not be able to serve in an appropriate manner. With depression it is a little different – they assume you will be on your happy pills for a period of time, but eventually will be able to continue without them and return to full employment. After fudging around for a long time with various anti-depressants, not taking them for a while, and then going back on them, it was decided that I may be one of the few who will need to take the happy pills as a daily ritual indefinitely. For these reasons I was medically discharged. I believe that if I did not attempt to manage my depression I may have declined to the point that I was a safety hazard, and then I would have been a psych discharge. To me, there is all the difference in the world – and it means that I can point out to people that it is a medical condition that I have, not a psychological issue.

That is not to say that I didn’t have a few people trying to tell me that I obviously couldn’t handle the demanding lifestyle required of military personal. A specific personal incident that had nothing to do with work was the catalyst for my condition. The lifestyle did more harm than good, but prior to this incident I had no qualms with my chosen career. It can be very difficult to explain to someone who has no understanding of mental health issues that usually it is a physical process in your brain that starts all this, not a thought process (however, the thought process is not far behind it!)

I had a little saying I used whenever any of my so-called colleagues used to tell me, usually in a very offensive manner, that my condition was “all in my head”. My response was always “Why yes, you are right. It is in my head, I happen to be experiencing a little industrial action at the serotonin factory! It usually opened up the door for a brief discussion on why depression is a medical condition– that serotonin in the main ‘happy chemical’ in your brain and my problem was that not enough of it was being produced. I may not have converted that many people, but I at least got them thinking about brain chemistry and hormones and mood levels… Please feel free to take my phrase and use it when you need to explain to anyone why what you are going through is a medical issue and not a psychological issue.

2 – a contribution from another “Black Dog Knitter”

I've been reading your blog and think you're really brave to be writing about your experiences with depression.

I've had it on and off for probably most of my life, although fortunately not to the extent that I have lost a job - although it has probably limited my career. I was crying as I scanned back through your archives and put together what happened to you. Depression has, however, certainly impacted on friendships and relationships. But one thing I would like to write about and which I am happy for you to use if you want to, is how mental illness, for all the work of Beyond Blue and The Black Dog Institute, etc and for all the publicity about one in five Austrians having it, still carries a huge stigma in the workplace.

I am sending this from my 'anonymous' email address because even in my lovely progressive workplace, few people realise you can be a competent employee and suffer from mental illness at the same time.

I deliberately do not blog about my struggles with depression as nowadays colleagues and employers and potential employers have a tendency of Googling your name and making judgments about you based on what they find; I was quite shocked the first time someone I barely knew via work made a comment about my knitting on the net.

I work for a really good employer. The attitude is that as long as you get the work done and are available for required meetings, etc, you can come and go a bit as you please, work from home, leave early to attend the kids' school play, etc (it's the compensation for the overall low pay). They have been really supportive and accommodating of parents with caring responsibilities and a couple of employees who have unfortunately gone through cancer treatments. If any workplace could accommodate employees with mental illness, this is it. But even here, depression is still the illness that dare not speak its name.

My immediate supervisor is no fool and I think knows very well what my regular "specialist appointments" are and carefully ensures meetings are not held after them as I'm not always fully together then. He has told that he values me as an employee and wants to ensure I can keep on working there. But he also makes it very clear that he does not want to know anything else. Other colleagues, for some reason, believe the appointments relate to a chronic heart condition. And everyone is very nice and supportive and I find it fascinating that a life-threatening heart condition is more acceptable in the office than a mental illness.

3 – how to contact me and/or show your support

if you would like to contact me, you can do so at ginger_nut(at)bigpond(dot)com – if you are sending me a story of your particular battle, please try to include whether or not you want me to include your details. I received some emails from anonymous email addresses, and that is fine as well. I’ll include those stories later one.

I was happy that people have posted about depression on their own blogs, as well as sharing the button I created. If you would like to show support with the button you’ll find details of how to create the link via the first weeks post.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has mentioned my campaign on their blogs, podcasts or web-zines – I have tried to visit everyone who left a comment, and if you look at my sidebar you will see my bloglines list has grown quite a bit. If I have missed you, please leave a comment or send an email.

4 – a brief disclaimer

I need to point out that I am in no way an expert or professional in the field of mental health – everything I share with you here derived from my own personal experience and treatment in conjunction with ‘self-education’ from wanting to know more about this condition. I have started this campaign to raise awareness of Depression and mental illness and to help support others who are affected by this (whether directly suffering or knowing others who suffer) If you are in need of help, please contact your doctor and speak to those in your family and circle of friends.


Ginger_nut aka Meg


Lara said...

I'm so proud of you for doing this Meg!

Proving that you're smarter and tougher than this rotten illness.

SallyO said...

Hear, hear! I was wondering why I hadn't heard from you for ages but as long as I'm on your "to-do" list, that's OK!! Keep it up. I think this is a really great blog.

Riggwelter said...

You are very brave indeed, but it's people like you who can help the world understand what I call "my invisable disease"

I have suffered with depression for most of my life and have given up on happy pills and gone for the controlling my life/viewing the world from a different perspective kinda thing. It's hard work, but I find it more "real".

Good luck with your campaign.

Oh and great Clapotis!!

Jan said...

I've just linked to this post as well as the earlier ones. Great idea to bring this out into the open. The dog is nipping my heels, hard at times. I've been to the doctor about it and I know the cause. I'm trying some other coping mechanisms before medication, although he gave me something for sleep a he felt that more sleep would help me cope better. These tablets are yuk! A single tablet gives me the jitters while a (permissible) second tablet helps me sleep. Next day I don't feel drugged, groggy etc, but feel extra morose and morbid. So they are having the opposite effect to that intended. i refuse to take any more and will go back at the end of the week for evaluation.

Anonymous said...

Hello - I live in the state of Georgia in the USA. I have been chronically and clinically depressed since I was a young child. As I am now 60 years old (WOW!) childhood depression was ignored. I have had various series of therapy and have been on anti-depressants for years. Currently I am on Paxil - it seems to work for me.

One thing I want to call to you all's attention (that's southern for the plural your) is SLEEP APENAA. Last year I was diagnosed with it and received a CPAP machine. A year later I am really starting to feel better psychologically and physically. Its amazing what a real night's sleep can do to restore the body and soul.

Both my brothers and one of my nephew's also have received CPAP machines in the last year.

I saw a documentary about Winston Churchill and I really loved his way of dealing with the "Black Dog" every day he would write so many words, lay so many bricks and ped but for me finding out about
Sleep Apena has made a huge difference in my life. Good by for now - Hester in Atlanta

Woolly Wormhead said...

Just relating to your story of losing your job, and the lack of understanding... I lost my job too, mainly due to the depression but also because the job was making it worse (I was being bullied by a manager) and they refused to acknowledge it.

I was a teacher, and it was slowly killing me. In 6 years I had 2 nervous breakdowns! Thankfully some understood about the chemical imbalances, but there were plenty who just thought it was all 'in my head'... which is how the board tried to explain away the bullying, despite the evidence to the contrary. The school refused to help, and medically retired me.

Best thing that ever happened :)

Now I'm working for myself and in recovery. I'm poor, but who cares.