I'm slowly getting back to work on a regular basis. This has been the greatest hurdle for me. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, "High Functioning", I believe this recent period of depression, something I have experienced before, has really paved the way for my anxiety, something entirely new. I have a tornado for a son, a clinger for a daughter and a law practice that's really only necessary because people are unhappy. I'm no stranger to difficult situations. I'm familiar with stress. I've been juggling lots of responsibility for a pretty long time.
I can trace the very start of my descent into madness to last July. Yes, I believe I've been here in this place, sometimes worse than others, for more than a year. I took on two of the most difficult clients I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I can't, nor do I want to go into detail about those clients or those cases, but I can give you a glimpse of what had become my normal work environment over the last year. Last Labor Day weekend, I worked nearly fifty hours preparing for one trial. In the month of September, I had a ten day stretch where I had three trials scheduled. In January, I had three scheduled in two and a half weeks. I began spending my nights crashing to a fitful sleep for three hours, waking in the middle of the night, working in my "office" (it was really a walk-in closet, and formerly my youngest's nursery, because we had long since run out of space at our condo) for three or four hours, sleeping for another hour or two and waking up trying to keep it together for my two small children. I worked weekends often. I worked evenings frequently. I stressed and fretted and worried constantly. If I was at home, I was worried about my work, if I was at work, I worried about how I was failing at home.
It wasn't until December that I started to really fall apart. I was meeting deadlines, keeping up with clients and prepared at court, but the effort was crushing. In January, I received a pretty disconcerting threat via email. I'd begun racking up irritated voice messages. I was feeling too sick to come to work too often. I tried to work from home, but I became a zombie and sat wishing I could work, knowing I had to work, but feeling completely incapable of working. I came to the office as often as I could, but that was less and less frequent. I would have panic attacks just walking into the building. I used to feel home and confident here. This is a place I used to bring my children to play on weekends while I worked. I have toys in the office collecting dust because I don't want to expose them to what has become such a toxic place for me. When the phone rang, as it did this morning which inspired a panic attack and this post, my heart would race, my face would flush and my neck would get hot. I'd get the chills, my breathing would become shallow and I would fade a little, like trying to focus on a conversation from underwater.
Just as I had a moment of clarity that alerted me to how bad my depression had really gotten, I had a moment with the anxiety too, although I didn't learn to call what I was experiencing "anxiety" until I started talking about it with therapists. I have admitted this to very few people. I received so much support for being "brave" and telling my story via this blog recently. And while I can't adequately express my overwhelming appreciation for that, this next revelation is far more terrifying for me to admit than anything I have shared so far.... One day, I was working in my office (with the doors locked, both inner office and main, and the lights left off) and someone came to the door. I had been on the phone and so I was sure the knocker knew I was in here. He or she knocked again, then knocked on my neighbor's office door. I heard talking, but couldn't make out the conversation or determine who was out there.
Even now, although it's not reasonable, I imagine it like a horror movie. Some evil somebody or something is stalking outside the door, knowing I'm trapped inside without any place to go. While I have no idea what this person wanted because I've never determined who it was, I was sure the intention was something sinister. I can't really articulate what I thought might happen. My logical mind, which has persisted through this all, frankly befuddling me because I KNOW better, is aware that this person wasn't here to hurt me. The worst case scenario was a confrontation and, as an attorney, that's something I've never really feared. Yet, I was absolutely terrified. I have two windows that face a back parking lot and a building next door. I was truly so afraid that someone was out to get me that I crawled under my desk that day, in case someone stalked around the building, peering into my windows. And that's when I knew this had all gone too far.
There were other bouts of ridiculous paranoia. On a road trip, I once had a car "follow" me on the highway from Illinois all the way to my home in Lake Country. I turned off into my neighborhood and that was the last I saw of the car, but I was absolutely certain, completely convinced that the driver was following me and undoubtedly with bad intentions. Again, I had no logical explanation for this and I knew the thought wasn't rational, but I was scared nonetheless. Other times, I would run down the hall to the bathroom because I was sure I'd run into someone "waiting for me." And sometimes I was even scared to walk to my car at the end of the day because I thought someone might have slashed my tires or would be waiting on the far side of my car, where I couldn't see them.
This piece, my friends, has been an incredible struggle. No part of me has ever been afraid of much other than heights, and even that I challenged on occasion. I was an optimistic and sensitive person. I believed in the good of the world and the strength in the unity of humanity. I had become someone who was scared of the way her own shadow moved. And while I'm not crawling under my desk anymore, thank goodness, I am sadly more reliant on my Lorazepam than my own capacity to get me through a day at the office. We're tweaking my medications to allow me to sit still in court, answer my phone without feeling lightheaded and so that I can take pride in my work again. Yet I fear I will never fully recover from this experience, this exposure to sheer terror driven by anxiety. And I am sad for it.