Contentment in the Storm

I don't normally post blogs two consecutive days in a row, but I felt that the story I'm about to share was important enough to share, as I know there are many who are or have encountered similar circumstances. I hope you are blessed by what I'm about to share.

My life has been upside down since my grandpa was told he was dying of cancer in mid-April. It has been a constant battle with illness, heartbreak, and death. I knew that I had been struggling with depression, but I didn't know to what extent. 

September was the culmination of all of these things coming together, leaving me completely shattered. I had been ill since the beginning of the month, which was when I last was physically at work. I spent the month going from doctor to doctor, including ER visits, trying to search for an answer to why I was so sick. I was literally in tears each time the answer was "we don't know."

On September 17, 2016, I went to the ER because the pain was so unbearable I could not stay still. Once there, I noticed that one of my least favorite physicians was on duty. Previously, he had swept my complaints under the rug and never really examined me. I knew this time would not be any different. He had ordered medication to treat the nausea the pain created without ever seeing me. That hurt a great deal. I thought physicians were supposed to be compassionate and show concern when a patient comes in with legitimate complaints. Isn't that what the Hippocratic oath is all about? When he did finally come in, his news was a blow to the stomach; he was sending me to the stress center, as he felt my complaints were the direct result from depression. I cried and cried, because deep down in my heart I knew he was wrong. After an hour, I told the nurse I wanted to go home and was quickly discharged without any further treatment for the excruciating pain I was experiencing.

As the weekend moved into the week, and the week progressed, I saw my gastroenterologist on Thursday, September 22, 2016. Her prognosis was that she could only diagnose the nausea, but not the pain. I had hung all of my hopes on her final disposition after going through every test available over the past month, including an endoscopy and colonoscopy that she had performed. I had reached a point where I felt there was no more hope for ever feeling "normal" again. 

As I left, I began to feel that maybe the ER physician was right; maybe it was all due to depression. However, I still wasn't convinced. But, I was out of options, and work was no longer being kind about my time away from the office. I had to do something, and I had to do it soon, so I drove to the same stress center the ER physician had threatened to send me to just days before. If anything, I felt that maybe the dark cloud I had felt enveloping me would be removed and I could learn to live with chronic pain.

Now, I have been admitted to mental health wards previously, but I was about to experience something that I had never experienced before: healing. When you are admitted, you only receive a band-aid treatment for a festering wound. You never experience true healing from those kind of situations, just a moment of clarity and the chance to somewhat function in the real world.

On that day at the stress center, I was evaluated and began intake for my next step of treatment. I had swallowed my pride and had accepted my fate of being placed in another week of hospitalization, and another band-aid round of treatment. But, I was wrong. They didn't admit me. I wasn't going to receive a band-aid this time. They placed me in an intensive outpatient treatment program, where I would attend three hours of treatment three times a week for six weeks. I would not be allowed to work in any capacity during that time, something I knew my employer would not like to hear.

I knew that letting my employer know that I would need to continue to miss work for an even more extended period of time than I had already missed would not be welcomed. While talking on the phone with my HR representative, she told me two things: one, they would not pay me beyond the last paycheck of the month and I would need to apply for short term disability, and two, that they would not guarantee my job beyond four weeks of treatment. I was devastated by that news, because I had already been told the treatment was a minimum of six weeks in length. I knew then that change was inevitable.

So, that following Monday, I arrived promptly at 8:00 am for my orientation into the treatment program, immediately followed by the first day of treatment. I would attend a group therapy session for two hours and then a education session the final hour each day I was to attend. I don't know what I was expecting, and I didn't know how to handle the situation. I just knew that help was what I needed, but I didn't know if this last ditch effort to seek healing was the answer.

My faithful companions, Sampson and Boots
About halfway through the second week, I admitted that getting out of bed and participating in life had become extremely difficult. I felt that by isolating myself from the world was the only thing I could endure. I would sleep for almost twenty hours a day, only getting up to let my two dogs out to do their business and to feed them and myself. I felt I could no longer face the world as I felt I was no longer a functional participant in the human race. When I told the group this, the therapist quickly brought my attention that I had been getting up three days a week, getting dressed, and attending treatment dutifully three days a week. I didn't know what to say. She was right. I was doing the needful to get treatment. I had hope somewhere that this would work, and it was time to truly examine myself and what I needed to heal.

About halfway through the program, after a lot of self-reflection, I became aware that there had been a continuing theme over the course of the past several years; my job was one of the primary sources of my intense anxiety and deep depression. I had worked for companies that were well respected and treated their employees better than most other companies. Everyone loved working for these companies, but I didn't. I could not find happiness or joy in what I was doing. Don't get me wrong, I did my job and I did it beyond expectations (according to my reviews), but I was drifting further and further into a state that was paralyzing me and not allowing me to fulfill my duties as a contributor within the companies. In fact, each month it became worse and worse. I knew something had to give, and my mental, emotional, and physical state were not what I was willing to give up on to survive. But, that was what I was doing. It was like I was the picture next to the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result each time.

While dining with my grandmother one Sunday evening, she looked at me point blank and asked me why didn't I do what I needed to become a teacher. I had started out as an education major when I first started college, but middle schoolers and the prospect of never really making a decent living turned me away from that course. I wound up graduating with a BA in English and a major in Professional Writing for Business Applications Development. It offered a lucrative career in the IT industry, something that would provide a steady flow of increasing income over the years. 

But it didn't make me happy, and that was what I was realizing at that moment. When I returned home after dinner with my grandmother, I sat down at the computer and started researching what it would take to become a teacher. After a few hours of research, I took a deep breath in and applied to a few local universities and then completed the FAFSA application. It would be tight at nearly half my current salary, but it was doable. Plus, I knew a few teachers with their master's degrees in teaching that made fairly close to what I did in IT. I could do it.

The following day I arrived for my treatment with a new determination and a new plan for change in my life. I was actually getting pretty excited about finally doing something that would bring me more joy and happiness in the long run. I mean, I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was a little girl, lining up her dolls and stuffed animals in front of a chalkboard easel for a lesson or two. When I announced my decision to change careers completely, a few people who had been in the program as long as I had commented on how my demeanor had changed in such a short time. Apparently when I first started, I avoided eye contact and kept myself closed off. They noticed that on this day, I was no longer looking away, and no longer shutting the world out. It was then that I knew that change within me was finally happening. I was on a road of complete and total healing.

When I got home that afternoon, I opened my computer to find two separate emails: one in regards to my FAFSA application, and the other from one of the universities. In that short amount of time, I had already been approved for my student loans and accepted to a university. It was at that moment that I knew that it was definitely meant to be. The time for change was inevitable and I was already on the road to make that change.

But the time was not all full of great news and happy times. I had trouble getting my short term disability claim approved, leading me to going the entire month of October without a paycheck. I began to sell things in order to have money to buy groceries, pay for gas, and cover utilities. I didn't have the appropriate savings to cover emergencies such as this, as I often sought happiness in buying things and experiences. I was one paycheck shy of bankruptcy, and I was now two paychecks past that moment. It hurt and scared me all at the same time. My car loan and mortgage had never been late, as all of my utilities. I was meticulous at ensuring everything was paid on time. Luckily, I did not have credit cards to add to the mess, although they were tempting to help cover quickly mounting needs: my car was acting up, my refrigerator died, and I still had abdominal pain to address (something was discovered to be a catalyst for the depression, and not the other way around, much to the ER physician's chagrin).

But the cool thing was that I had friends who saw me in need and helped me cover things like groceries, utilities, insurance, and gas. I had even applied for the SNAP program to help cover my grocery bills, and had started going to the care center at my church for help. I wasn't going to starve or no longer have transportation. I was safe, but my car and mortgage payments loomed in the near future, and still no approval from the company that carried my short term disability insurance.

As the time approached for my graduation from the treatment program approached, I saw my life change by leaps and bounds. I still struggled with depression and anxiety, but I was now equipped with a toolbox of coping skills to live a productive life. But, I was still struggling to figure out what I would do next. I still had to face my employer, I still had not received my short term disability income payments, and my bills still were needing to be paid. When we introduced ourselves to the groups, we were always asked to give a feeling word. As graduation loomed, my words changed from hopeful and content, to apprehensive and scared. I still had very real concerns to face, and the time had come.

I had contacted my employer to let them know that I was to return to work on November 7, 2016, and that I needed to know what the disposition of my job had been. A meeting was set for Wednesday, November 2 at 1:00 pm, just one hour after that day's treatment would end. Before I sat down to call the conference number, I prayed. I prayed for God's will be done. I had already made the decision that no matter what, I would no longer be employed by the company. Of course, my hope would be to hear the words "you're fired" as I knew I'd be able to apply for unemployment, but I felt that it would be better than saying "I quit". 

At 1:00 pm, I called the number and was immediately greeted on the line by my boss. After an exchange of pleasantries, I sat in awkward silence as we waited patiently for the HR representative to join the call. The call was quick, barely lasting five minutes, as the HR representative dove right into what she had prepared to say. It was at that moment that she had reminded me that the company was in the process of restructuring (which I knew after a previous round of layoffs), and that my position had been completely eliminated. I was being laid off, rather than fired. She then proceeded to let me know that I would continue to have health insurance through the end of the month, and that they would not fight me on unemployment benefits. My hopes and prayers had been answered and alleviated in one brief phone call. Before we hung up, I did add to the conversation that I was actually glad they did tell me this, and that I had made the decision to change careers completely. They were pleasantly surprised and wished me much luck in the future. 

While I had been on the call, I had received another call that I ignored. Afterward, I checked my voicemail message and learned that I had been approved for my short term disability payment and that I would be receiving it that Friday. I also had a letter that afternoon informing me that I had been approved for SNAP and that I would be retroactively be approved and reimbursed funds for the previous month, as well as the current month. After doing the math, and knowing that I would be receiving unemployment benefits, I knew I would make it. It would be tight, but I would be okay. 

I graduated from the program on Friday, November 4, 2016 a brand new person. I had more confidence in who I was. I knew where I was going in life. I knew how to handle the tough times as they came along. By going through treatment at a Catholic hospital, faith and a higher power were greatly encouraged to be embraced throughout the process. I had learned that I had turned my back on God and that He was trying desperately to get my attention in order to learn how to rely solely on Him again. He definitely got my attention, and I definitely have realized that my needs required me to lean on Him more than ever during this stormy period in my life.

As I write this, the Saturday after my graduation and last day of employment, I did receive further news that I would start classes this January in a program that combined both the master's degree and teaching certification/licensing. I also received news that in one week I would begin to receive unemployment benefits, as well as receiving my SNAP EBT card, ready to be used. I am no longer a skeptic in whether God really does actively have a hand in our lives. I am now fully aware that He does and always will be. We may not hear His voice over the sound of the crashing waves, but His love never wavers. It is His hand that keeps the boat from capsizing from the devastating winds of change. We just need to have faith, that in the end, calm waters will exist once again.