I remember sitting in my operatory last May near the end of a workday thinking, “I simply can’t do this anymore.” It was a Thursday and I had two more patients to see that day, but I had nothing left inside of me. I did not have the energy to call back the next patient and put on a happy face and pretend that life was wonderful. The stress in my life was overwhelming and I felt like I was about to break.
I had unexpectedly become a full-time single parent in February, and I was having a lot of trouble adjusting. I had shared custody of my two younger daughters for the last five years with my ex-husband, but now they were my total responsibility. I had no grandparents to help me or other family members who were willing to pitch in. I have a college-age daughter who could help from time to time, but she was usually busy balancing work and school. I felt like I was completely on my own in this daunting and never-ending task with little hope of any change for the better. With summer break fast approaching, my anxiety was mounting.
My boss contacted me during the Memorial Day weekend to talk about some issues that my coworkers had been noticing with me. They commented on how I had been rushing through my patients, and that I sat in my room afterward doing “who knows what.” They also noticed that I wasn’t calling patients back as they arrived. If I was ready early, I didn’t call them back early, and sometimes I even called them back late.
The interesting thing was that my coworkers were right. I didn’t try to defend myself. I knew that I was not performing my job as I should be. I was struggling with a lack of motivation every day. I was slipping into the throes of depression and withdrawing from everyone. I was in a downward spiral and I didn’t know where to go from there.
The road to recovery
Thankfully, my boss was there to pull me back up when I needed it most. He helped me take that first step on the road to recovery from my deep depression. I told him how difficult it was for me to just show up to work and try to be mentally present every day when the rest of my life was so chaotic and stressful. Each day I felt like I was going to break down into tears, and I thought that if I let myself cry there was no way I would be able to stop the tears. I felt so lost.
At that point, he let me know that he supported me. He stood behind my history of great work and told me how much my patients needed me. His wife was also on my side. She told me that I was one of the strongest people she had ever known and that even though I was doubting myself during this situation, I would triumph over the challenge. I can still hear her kind words, “You got this!”
My life did gradually turn around. I found that I had an inner strength that I never knew I possessed, and I learned that I didn’t have to do everything by myself. I had my seven- and 15-year-old girls beside me to help me conquer the world. I let them know that I needed their help and that we were going to have to work together to make this difficult situation work. I stressed that I couldn’t do it on my own.
I became more open to other people and less withdrawn. I decided to reach out to my friends online and talk to them about my stress. Part of this mental strain came from the fact that I was fighting an ongoing court battle with my ex-husband, but it helped to know that my friends were on my side and they knew that I was looking out for my daughters’ best interests. I reconnected with a friend who supplied a constant stream of affirmations to keep me on the right path. He reminded me of all the amazing things that I had done and how much I was capable of in the future.
A valuable lesson
The moral of my story is that depression is a vicious monster and that we all need to be there for one another. I’m normally a very happy person but when depression took over my life, I lost hope that things would get better and I developed a destructive tunnel vision. Nothing made me happy and life seemed like endless torture.
Because depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, we should all be on the lookout for it in the people who are most important to us.1 Some of the common symptoms include a persistent sad mood, lack of motivation, isolating oneself, sleeping too much or too little, and feeling hopeless or worthless.2 A person may also have difficulty concentrating, may eat more or less than normal, and feel irritable or restless. One of the most disturbing and dangerous symptoms is thoughts of suicide, which can be very uncomfortable, yet essential to address with the person.
A challenging aspect of these symptoms is that they can be easily misinterpreted in the workplace. My lack of motivation could have been seen as laziness. My coworkers could have thought that my trouble concentrating was me not focusing on my job. As for isolating myself, that could be construed as disliking my coworkers or job. The key with all of these behaviors is that they were totally out of character for me and were red flags that something was seriously wrong. I am so thankful that someone reached out to me so that my issues could be addressed.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, during the past year 7.1% of adults in the United States had at least one depressive episode, defined as a period of at least two weeks during which a person experiences symptoms of depression.1 This number goes up to 8.3% for females. Since we are in a female-dominated field, we are even more vulnerable to this serious condition. If you have coworkers, friends, or family who suddenly change their behaviors and exhibit these symptoms, ask them if something is bothering them. Let them know that you are there for them any time they need to talk.
Another important component of recovery is seeking professional help. Many people are reluctant to ask for help because they don’t think their problem is serious.2 The social stigma associated with depression is another deterrent.3 According to Mental Health America, only 35% of people with depression seek help from a mental health professional.2 This means that 65% of people with depression need encouragement from others to get the help they need. The good news is that most people experience complete remission when they receive effective treatment. Thankfully, I was able to visit a trained therapist and receive the guidance I needed.
I’m happy to say that my dark depression has completely passed. It didn’t happen overnight. It was more like discovering a life path that I had lost sight of, and I slowly followed it back to happiness.
The interesting part is that on the outside not much has changed about my life. I am still a full-time single mom who is waging an ongoing court battle. Everything in my life is still chaotic. I never have enough time for all that I need to accomplish. I have little time for myself. My situation probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.
The element in my life that has changed is what I feel inside. I’m back to loving my job and helping people. I once again enjoy all of the activities that brought me joy for so many years. I’ve found the motivation that had completely disappeared. Most importantly, I have found hope for the future.
Depression is an all-too-common condition that destroys hope. It is a relentless and unwanted companion that follows someone everywhere. But I have found that sometimes when you give up hope, life has a way of surprising you. You never know what life has in store for you and what exciting adventures lie ahead. The best may be yet to come.
I feel as if I am truly blessed and I am so happy to be alive. Depression no longer rules me thanks to all the people who believed that I could find my way back. I want everyone else to find their way back too.
Causes of depression2
Situational—Challenging life situations such as death, financial problems, and divorce
Biological—Too much or too few of certain neurotransmitters in the brain
Genetic—Family history of depression
Cognitive—People with low self-esteem or negative thought patterns
Medications—Side effect of certain medications
Co-occurrence—Certain illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s
1. Major depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml. Updated February 2019.
2. Basic facts about depression. Mental Health America website. https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/depression. Published 2019.
3. Depression: Key facts. World Health Organization website. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression. Published 2017.