I start a new email message. I agonize over the addressees. Should I include my boss? Should the lead developer and the contractual developer both receive it? Come to think of it am I even supposed to communicate directly with a contractor? Subject field. Thinking carefully I make several typos just getting a five word subject field filled out. It’s like I can no longer think and type at the same time. Okay, body field. I agonize over the message. I try this. I try that. It doesn’t sound quite right. In frustration I hit the Escape key and ditch the draft. No way I want that message hanging around in my Drafts folder, a reminder of yet another failure.
That’s what work has been like for the past few months. Where had all the confidence gone? What had happened to that decisive person who whizzed through the day flying a computer like a fighter jet? In my personal life I just seemed to be getting by, just getting by. No inspiration for writing projects. Even if I had been able to write something worth publishing to my site I cringed at the thought of wrestling my HTML editing software into submission. Where had the “go get ‘em” attitude gone? Why couldn’t I think outside the box like I used to and figure out how to deal with poorly coded or quirky sites?
“What do you want to do this weekend?” It was a normal, totally innocuous question. But when my husband spoke those words I’d go brain dead. What do I want to do? I have no clue. Where had my sense of fun and adventure gone?
Good questions, all of them. But in the midst of it I didn’t even think to ask those questions.
Failure. There it was again. The failures weren’t as dramatic as those that contributed to my suicidal depression in 1982 but they were there just the same. I couldn’t figure out the new operating system on my personal laptop. They gave me two new machines at work and I had problem after problem with them. New keyboard layouts caused me to continually hit incorrect keys and mess things up. I couldn’t remember configuration tips and tricks that should have been easy. Web applications just weren’t working and I couldn’t figure out why. I had to have one machine reimaged. I got it back and promptly blew it up again. My personal desktop machine started its own descent into unpredictability and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
I became downright timid. Oh I could handle the easy stuff. I could manage, even if barely, routine technology tasks. I could manage brainless stuff at home, laundry, basic housekeeping, uninspired cooking. But I looked forward to nothing. I quailed at complicated tasks. My thinking was about as quick as the proverbial snail. My imagination nonexistent.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with a colleague fairly new to the team, someone with whom I had not worked closely. We had a complicated, difficult task to accomplish. Focusing more narrowly than I had focused in months we went to work. Back and forth we went tweaking this, revising that, inserting comments, commenting on comments. Then we were done. I accepted his last revisions, made one more revision of my own and sent it back, asking him to accept my revision and rename the document, adding “Final” to the end of the file name.
Wow, that was pretty cool. And it seemed to be just the opening I needed. That success was followed by another and another. I was free. The negative self-talk that had been keeping me in a quagmire began a change of direction.
The change in attitude carried over to my personal life. I was not afraid any longer. I didn’t feel the familiar paralysis when contemplating a new task or picking up an unfinished task. Instead of just getting by I welcomed each challenge and dared it to defeat me.
As I began my comeback I suddenly realized another familiar thought pattern. When I had been suicidal I had firmly believed that something, maybe *everything* had to change. I clearly remember thinking that ending my life was the only thing big enough, important enough, to get me out of the whirlpool of despair. Nothing else would do. And I was doing it again. Not on nearly as grand a scale as when I had been suicidal but it was there nonetheless. “Things will get better when I, <fill in the blank>” When I get all these damn computers working again, when I join a health club, when I… Sitting right there in front of my computer one morning last week I stopped and smiled. “No,” I told myself. “No, you’re just fine, just the way you are.”
With this new clarity of vision I looked back over the past few months. Technology is a big part of my life. My day job involves ensuring that technology used by my employer is accessible to folks with disabilities. Because I’m blind, technology is also how I write, learn, and socialize. In short, technology is central to my life. Instead of seeing my technology failures as just that, technology failures, I was regarding them as personal failures. I was basing my self-concept on events, on what I was doing or not doing rather than on who I am. I described it as being focused on “doing” rather than “being.”
As I prepared to write this piece I went back and reread my interview on Talking about suicide, because it’s not a taboo and my guest blog post on What happens now?? Life after suicidal thinking. Lo and behold, I had used those exact words In the interview I had said, “I had no feelings of competence within myself, and the only place, the only way I could have feelings of competence and feel life was worth living was by doing stuff, not by being.”
What have I learned? Two things. Having been depressed or suicidal doesn’t bestow immunity. It can happen again. And, apparently it can happen again in pretty much the same way. Neither is having once been suicidal a life sentence. I’m back. And it sure feels good. Maybe next time I’ll avoid confusing “doing” with “being.” Maybe next time it won’t take some external event for me to remember who I am.