Holding on to Keep from Crashing
by Veronica Asay
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“Are you okay?
“Have you been sick lately?”
“You don’t look like you feel well.”
Those are only a handful of questions or comments I’ve recently received from my coworkers. I smile behind my mask; it may be able to protect against COVID, but it obviously can’t conceal my unhappiness. Even though they can’t see it, the smile softens my expression, brings light to my eyes, and lets them believed I’m fine.
“Yeah, I’m all right.” I reply and continue on…pushing my cleaning cart, or continue moving my mop, or continue scrubbing a toilet.
I’ve been working as a housekeeper in a nursing home for nearly three years. My time there has spanned the length of the pandemic and the related worker shortage. There have been weeks when I was only one in my department, with no hope of new hires to relieve my burden or ease my workload. Needless to say, I’m burned out. We’re all burned out. But exhaustion is not what my coworkers notice when they see me.
What is “crashing” you may ask?
Basically, it’s the term I use when I’m heading towards a nervous breakdown. My first crash happened a couple months before my sixteenth birthday. That whole year was rough; my moods and nerves were all over the place. One morning when I woke up, I felt detached from reality and my mind was foggy. I ended up on the couch most days, staring blankly at the TV, unable to lift a finger. Tears flowed freely; I couldn’t put into words what was wrong and no one could guess. Other girls were dating or learning to drive or planning for college, but I was in a whole other world. My parents brought me to our family doctor, thinking I might have a health problem. The labs came back normal and the writing seemed to be on the wall—I was clinically depressed. The doctor prescribed an anti-depressant and I was finally persuaded to try them. I improved for a little while, but then a couple of years later I crashed again.
And again. And yet again. Off and on for years I’d crash and hide myself away from the world, until the dark cloud lifted.
“Is there such a disorder where you’re feeling you’re having a continual anxiety attack, 24/7?” I asked my doctor once, after a few years into my troubles.
“Yes. It’s called generalized anxiety disorder,” he replied.
And that was as close as I’ve gotten to having a formal diagnosis.
I should have sought real professional help, others encouraged me to, but I didn’t. I was scared; scared of being locked up; scared that I was so bad off that therapy wouldn’t help me; scared of what everyone might think. So, I hid away for years…over a decade, becoming agoraphobic. There would be weeks when I didn’t leave the house. My home had become my prison. I’d watch others live full, happy lives, while I remained trapped.
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The switch seemed to flip, and in the last few years there has been a reprieve of my mental health symptoms, enough for me to try to hold down a job. When I started working at the nursing home, I decided to keep my mental health troubles a secret. Not only did I hope for a new beginning, the last thing I wanted was for anyone to learn about the extent of my struggles with anxiety and depression and agoraphobia. I wanted to be viewed as dependable, strong, not an emotional mess. I didn’t want to be judged or whispered about. Somehow for three years I was able to juggle life, the pandemic, a job, and freelance writing—leading me to believe that I could leave the past behind.
Unfortunately, I can feel my old troubles returning: the panic, the struggles leaving the house, the inability to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Once a month I call in sick, claiming it’s a flu bug…too miserable and weak to work.
When I do go to work, every hour on the hour I hide in a bathroom, huddled in the fetal position on the floor, begging God to see me through yet another day.
I freeze in hallways, disoriented from the wide-open spaces. My balance is off, I stagger around like a drunk. Thank God I have a cart to lean on, to prevent me from toppling over.
Suddenly, interacting with the residents I dearly love is excruciating. Being near people, speaking with them, having their scrutinizing gazes fall upon me—it’s all I can do not to run out the door screaming.
Searing pains shoot up and down my back, my knees are stiff, making it difficult to walk. Tylenol takes the edge off. I’m afraid to take anything stronger, otherwise I feel loopy.
I press my palm to my chest; my heart is racing like I’m running a marathon. My breathing becomes labored, especially with the mask covering my mouth. Sweat breaks out all over me, I’m soon soaked. Fears of death assail me; that I’m on the brink of dying, that I have an incurable disease; that I’m on the verge of having a heart attack.
The spacey sensation in my head returns and I become detached from reality. The life force drains out of me. I’m there, I see everything, I can speak and move—but I feel like I’ve faded away. I can’t focus my thoughts or distract myself…I’m spiraling.
“Veronica? Veronica? Will you help me?” Too lost in my own concerns, one of the residents had wheeled up behind me. “I need…”
I snap to attention and do what is required. For a little while I can push my troubles aside, and convince myself that I’m not crashing. That it was weakness and self-doubt. That I’m no different, that we all have anxiety and sadness. That the last twenty years of my life of coasting along and crashing haven’t happened. That my problems will magically disappear.
Just see me through today…I beg the Lord. No matter how bad off I am, how miserable, how close I am to crashing and hitting rock bottom, I must work for as long as possible. There is no other alternative, I know what I have to do. Medication is no longer enough. I have to seek real professional help; not only to cope with my past issues and current ones, but to ensure that my future is happier and brighter. I deserve to live a full, happy life like everyone else.