Before I Was Diagnosed With Depression, I Thought It Was Just 'Burnout'
I don’t recall how I first got this moniker in high school. But as my friends and I parted ways and headed off to different universities, the nickname fell by the wayside.
I never gave “Mr. Mood” a second thought… until 23 years later, on Monday, June 11, 2012.
That’s the day I walked into my doctor’s office with a self-diagnosis of burnout. Dr. Google and WebMD told me so. I hadn’t seen my doctor in over eight years, because men in their 30s are stubborn and still think of themselves as invincible.
“Mr. Claude, burnout is not a medical condition. You are going through a major depression, and I suspect you may have an underlying, unspecified mood disorder.” So said the man in the white coat, after 45 minutes of filling out assessment questionnaires and what felt like taking the stand for cross-examination.
I was stunned. Burnout, I could accept. As a workaholic, putting in 50- to 60-hour work weeks, I could almost wear burnout as a “badge of honor.”
I didn’t fully realize what the doctor’s preliminary diagnosis meant. I figured two to three weeks of vacation and I’d be back to the grind in no time.
“You are going back to work right now only to transfer your files and hand in your BlackBerry,” said the doctor. “Tell your boss you don’t know when you’ll be back.”
Now wait a second… Clearly this man doesn’t understand how irreplaceable I am. This being a Monday, I try to negotiate an extension of the effective date on the sick note, so I could finish off the work week.
“If you drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow morning, your office won’t be any better off.” No counter-argument to be made here. I was shut down immediately.
I turned in the BlackBerry an hour or so later, mumbling something about “stress leave” as I shuffled off in a daze to catch the bus home. I didn’t set foot in the office again until three months later. “Doctor Summeroff” had had the last word.
Having an extended summer “holiday” sounds like a blast, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. Far from it. It was genuine sick leave, plain and simple.
When you’re in the midst of depression’s grasp, there is no enjoyment of pretty much anything. My so-called summertime activities consisted of doctor’s appointments, counselling sessions through the Employee Assistance Program and trips to the book store for the latest self-help book. Otherwise, I spent the summer taking extended naps, curled up on the couch, watching mindless television or reading novels to distract myself and escape the fog of depression. And dreading forced social interactions.
Sure enough, my diagnosis was later confirmed by a psychologist: the now specified mood disorder being persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia, a chronic form of milder depression) coupled with a major depressive episode, making it a double depression. And just to keep me perpetually on my toes, I was simultaneously diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Or as I like to call this trifecta, the Super-sized Combo of mental health challenges.
Stigma, silence and shame are why I never knew about a family history of anxiety and depression. My own breakdown led to family members stepping out of the shadows to disclose their own struggles and that of those long since gone. My maternal grandmother. Aunts and uncles. My mother. My sister.
Stigma and shame are real barriers to treatment, and some sufferers say the stigma is worse than the illnesses themselves.
That’s why it is so important for those of us struggling with mental health issues and illnesses to speak out and share our stories. To let others suffering in silence know they are not alone. That mental health issues are much more common than we think. And that mental illnesses are treatable.
Had I known about my own family history with anxiety and depression, I truly believe I would have sought treatment sooner. Gotten better, much faster. And picked up on the signs and symptoms all those years ago, captured in a nickname: Mr. Mood.
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