When I was thirty-five-years-old, I slid off the edge of my life into a deep depression. Not debilitating enough to miss work. Rachel would stand with me at the front door each morning and ask, “What is the most important thing you have to do today?” I’d tell her while she rubbed my back. “That’s all you have to think about. Go to work, finish that task, and, if you’re still depressed, come home.” I never came home early. Why did this happen at that moment in my life?
Our second child, Jon, had been born three months earlier and I faced the added responsibility of another child. I was insecure at work in a job which wasn’t the best fit for me. However, my manager liked me, and I made a good salary. So, I stayed. Yet continued rumors of layoffs floated like a haze throughout the company and I felt threatened. This was the underlying cause. The immediate trigger? A speech I was scheduled to give before our team of ten programmers.
My fear of speaking was unrealistic, but, like most cases of depression, it was the visible tip of the iceberg. I returned from a two-week vacation to discover a member of my team, Joe, had thrown me under the bus. “Mark’s group will prepare a talk for next month’s meeting,” our group manager said at the monthly meeting I missed. Reminded I was absent, she turned to Joe, “In that case, you can give the presentation?”
“Mark will be back from vacation next week. He’ll do it.”
I obsessed over the presentation. In my dreams, I broke down in front of my colleagues or ran from the room knowing I was a failure. I could do nothing to escape my disgrace. The talk was three weeks away, and then two. My panic was worse in the morning, waking at five, terrified this unnamed horror was inexorably descending. As the day progressed I crawled out of the pit. Before bedtime, my mind cleared, and I could think rationally. But the next morning, it started again.
The depression began on a Saturday morning. Rachel and her friends were leaving for a girls’ spa weekend. From an upstairs window, I watched her laughing and talking with her friends while waiting for the last wife to arrive. I wanted to run far, far away. Instead, I faced the weekend alone with two children.
I called my parents and invited the three of us for dinner on Sunday night. I kept myself together through Saturday. On Sunday morning I was crying in my bedroom when Jennifer came to the door. “Why are you frying, Daddy? Why are you frying?” I looked at her, ashamed to have her find me like this. “Sometimes Daddies get sad, too.”
She thought about this. “Oh, okay,” and she ran off to play.
My parents planned a cookout on the back porch. Dad lowered a retractable awning to keep debris from the overhanging oak tree off the food and to protect us from the glare of the setting sun. Halfway through dinner, I stopped eating and started tapping my plate with my fork. Mom looked over from where she was feeding Jon.
“Are you all right, Mark?”
I didn’t answer. Tap, tap, tap went my fork.
“Mark? Is something troubling you?”
I couldn’t will myself to answer her. Tap, tap, tap. The rhythm didn’t waver.
“George, go with Mark into the living room. I’ll finish feeding the kids.”
I was looking at the tablecloth and couldn’t see my father’s face. Tap, tap, tap.
My father spoke. “I’ll watch the kids. You go in with Mark.”
Despite my mental agony, I couldn’t help smiling somewhere inside where I was still well-adjusted. So typical of Dad. I followed Mom inside the house.
“Your Dad is going to talk with Grandma,” Dad explained to Jennifer as we left.
I unburdened myself to my mother, and I unburdened myself to Rachel when she returned that night. One way or another, I survived the weeks until the presentation. I was ill-at-ease, but I didn’t disgrace myself. When my talk ended, I felt reborn and light enough to fly, or at least, float away.
The underlying causes of my depression were still there. It would be another year and a new job before I emerged from the other side. I look back on that period as if it happened to someone else. I remember the fear and desperation, but no longer experience it. My mind did a decent, but overzealous, job cleaning my memory. My life from that time is vague. A dark cloud hovers over those two years. How many years are too much to lose?
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