Depression is a complicated topic to write about. Its sources and symptoms are just too complex and too interrelated. You start describing one aspect of your struggle when you suddenly realize it makes no sense without explaining this other piece of the puzzle, and the next thing you know you have 2,500 words of rambling nonsense. I am going to try and write about the pieces of depression isolated from each other the best I can. I think the easiest place for me to start is to talk a little about the feeling that dominates my current day to day life. That feeling is loss; loss of opportunities due to depression, loss of control of my own life and its direction, and the loss of my identity.
To date depression has directly cost me two careers, and its effects have indirectly cost me two more. In my post about anxiety I described the loss of my flying career. I tried to work in aviation in a non-flying role, but that led directly to a cubicle which felt a lot like prison. The movie Office Space is funny for a reason, and after three years I plotted my escape and made a break for it.
Somewhere along the line here I mentioned that I spent some time working on boats, and the new plan was to get out from under “the man” and start my own sailing charter business. To do this I figured I needed some more formal training so I decided to attend a maritime academy. While I was in school this second time I got married. When I finished I approached the bank with a business plan. The projection for this plan showed no profit in the business for five years. We would be living off my wife’s teacher salary while I tried to build up a business. The bank was prepared to give me the money, but I was troubled by forcing my wife to support us both. I was being offered jobs by various towing companies that paid good money, and in the end I chose to go to work for a large tugboat company that moved petroleum all over the East and Gulf Coasts. This work had me gone a lot. Depending on the boat I was on I was away 14 – 21 days and then home an equal amount of time. Of course I was working my ass off trying to get promoted so I often picked up extra days when the company needed somebody. Over the time frame that I worked there I averaged 210 – 215 days a year away from home.
The end of my tug boating career was caused by a confluence of events that are hard to explain. First I was tired of being gone so damn much, and tired of being passed over for promotion to mate so I began planning for a way to work ashore. I heard that a local air traffic control facility was hiring and given my aviation background, and that this wasn’t considered a desirable location, I was a shoe in for one of the slots. There was a catch though. I would have to pass an FAA medical exam. The same exam the pills I take every morning would make me fail. I decided that I just would not tell the FAA about the pills. I actually knew a couple guys on SSRI’s who were working in aviation and keeping their mouths shut about it. The only hang up there was that I had been told the Klonopin would pop on a drug test. Of all the meds I have taken this one has always been the crutch, but it was going to have to go.
About the same time I made this decision the long awaited promotion to mate come through on the tug boats. The first step was to work as a trainee with a captain until he signed you off as competent. The training took place in very busy and very congested New York Harbor. I had worked with the captain I was assigned to as a trainee in the past. He was easy to get along with which was nice, but had had mixed success with his trainees. He and I were told that there was no rush for me, that we should take our time and be sure I was ready before I was cut loose as an actual mate. This sounded good to me, and during my first fourteen day stint I drove the tug around a little with no barges attached to it, but otherwise did little but observe and learn the geography. This is also when I started tapering off the Klonopin. During the second tour I drove the boat a lot more and landed a couple barges in the easiest places in the harbor. When I arrived for my third tour I was told by the captain that they were looking for a mate trainee to push up and we had to buckle down and get me ready. I didn’t really take him seriously. I was on my third trip as a trainee and there were other trainees in the harbor on their seventh and eighth trips. Why would they promote me when they had these other guys, and there were a lot of difficult docks I hadn’t even tried yet? Well it turns out the captain was more interested in making himself look good than taking care of my career, and he told them I was ready to go. Two days into the trip I got up from a nap in my off watch and found the captain running the boat when the mate should have been. I asked where the mate was and was informed he was me.
I was shocked. I told the port captain I wasn’t ready, and he told me that the captain said I was so I just needed to build a little confidence. I told him about all the things I had yet to even attempt and was told they would take it easy on me in the beginning. Now I was responsible for operating the boat moving oil barges around the harbor, and to add to the stress the captain took the good deck hand for himself and left me with a new guy who still didn’t even know what he didn’t know. Great time to be tapering off the anxiety drugs. I finished that trip and did one more after. I got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping on the boats and when I stopped sleeping at home with five days to go before I was due to head back for my third trip as mate I called and quit. That phone call did not go over very well at all, and I was brow beat into returning for a final tour to give them time for a replacement. I lasted thirty-six hours. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted and I told the captain what was going on. Then I told the HR director who accused me of misleading them all. I had taken a physical for pre-employment, and once a year after and never hid my conditions or my medications. I was a mess at this point and needed the medication to get myself back together which blew any hope I had of working for the FAA.
The several years since this event have been spent in a professional wasteland. The Coast Guard has changed their medical guidelines as a result of a couple high profile accidents, and my renewal is pending. It is looking more and more like they may not issue me a license because of my meds. I have a decent job in support of the marine trades, but the economy has been hard on the company and there is really no future in it. I have lost my ability to go commercial fishing and am essentially feeling around in the dark trying to find a path forward. How you spend a third or more of your life is no small decision and the wrong one will have a negative effect on my mood. I have made the wrong decisions repeatedly, and at this point I have no idea how to move forward professionally.
Making these decisions when I was in my twenties was not nearly so difficult. Being single and childless allows you to take chances that you just cant when you add a second personality, a mortgage, and a kid to your life. The weight of responsibility is a burden I don’t bear well. Before I went back to school the second time I had my life pretty much where I wanted it with the exception of my career. I love boats and was living aboard a small sailboat year-round, something I had wanted to do since I was eighteen. I was doing a lot of sailing in the summer, and dating my future wife. I had been working with a great therapist, and things in general seemed to be coming together. It seemed the worst was behind me.
When the plan changed from starting my own business to working on tugboats things began to slowly unravel again. We were in a place where the geography and lack of facilities made living on a boat impossible, and since I was going to be gone so much it didn’t make a lot of sense anyway so we bought a house. This major purchase was made within months of the housing market crash. When I married my wife she was well aware of two conditions. The first was I had no interest in owning a home. I have described what led to the change in that line of thought, but when we made the purchase I made it clear that if we found ourselves in financial circumstances that precluded owning both a house and a boat the house was going to go. My boat is currently for sale. The second condition was that there were going to be no children. My son is two. Having a child was my idea, and I really cannot explain what happened other than I really felt an urge to procreate. I have no regrets, but parenthood is not all sunshine and roses.
I was in a place prior to returning to school that had me pointed in a healthy direction, and I was in control of my life. Seven years later I am living the exact life I wished to avoid, and cant seem to find a way out. I defined myself as a sailor and I loved to SCUBA dive. My wife was also certified to dive, and while it was mostly my thing she participated willingly and had some fun with it. We have not been in the water together since she got pregnant, and I have not been in the water in well over a year. I have not been sailing in over a year now, and have not sailed for myself since before my wife was pregnant. All the sailing I have done has been as an instructor for pay. Not only have I stopped participating in these activities my wife has lost any interest she had in them, and I do not have the motivation to force the issue. The lack of energy and motivation is partly the depression and partly an acceptance of my new reality. This is a reality that feeds back into the depression.
The bottom line here is that through circumstances created by depression, and unintended consequences of well intended decisions I have lost everything a person uses to define their self. I have no professional direction, but worse I have no real direction or purpose for my life and don’t really feel like I have much say in it anyway. I have no idea who I am, and only a vague idea of who I might want to be. I live with a deep sense of loss, and am lost myself. Until I can find some direction I am not going to break out of this cycle, and will continue to wander through the fog trying not to fall into the darkness.