There are many days I can never forget. Among them is one I wish I could. One that I wish I could erase from existence. One that taught me so very much. About this life I never made. And about how people really are. How they really behave. No matter what they say the believe. No matter how they say the are.
It was Monday. 25 October 2010. It was 0830 hours when I got the e-mail message from my boss at work. “The customer has requested that there be no more unsolicited contact from you.” Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it. It was a request I knew was coming. One I knew was inevitable. And in one single stroke of a pen. One single move on the part of a group of people I’d worked with for years. Some of them for 13 years. Every person that I knew outside of my family was gone. I was totally isolated. The only people I knew were those I worked with. And learned that it was a unanimous decision made by the people I’d worked with. I was to have no contact with them. Ever.
Have you ever lived through a panic attack? Have you ever felt the full up, blinding terror of a true panic attack? Where the only thought you have in your head, displayed in large capital letters? And those letters say one thing? “SURVIVE!”
Did you know that a panic attack can last for days, and maybe even weeks?
I learned all about panic attacks with that one single sentence. Blinded by pain. It was as if my only friend in the world had just taken a rusty spoon, and used it to carve my heart out of my chest. The only thought I had in my head was, “SURVIVE!” And the only reaction I could make was to get up, and walk away. I had to leave. Right then. That instant. That heartbeat.
Betrayal. An ugly word. I returned to my house. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. I didn’t speak to my boss. I simply walked out. And went home. And put a message on my doctor’s answering service. “I need out of work. Now.”
Then I walked. I left my house. And I walked. Something like 4.1 miles. I could easily have walked twice that distance. I had to walk that far. It took me that long to regain the ability to think at all. When I could think again, I called the office. And returned to work. Once there, I waited for the call from my doctor. Which came at about 1030 hours.
My doctor asked me one question. “Do you need to go home?”
Until I uttered that word, everything that had happened that day was a dream. A nightmare. And I was thinking, praying, I would wake up, and everything would be normal. With that single word, “yes”, I acknowledged that what had happened was real. And that to survive, I had to leave work.
It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. Usually it’s reserved for people starting a family, or having major surgery. For people that have a stroke, or a heart attack. Something that people understand. Something that people hear about, and they think, “That person will be back in a few weeks. They just need time to heal.”
I went out that morning. On medical leave. Under the FMLA. For mental health reasons. I was to learn, months later, that my doctor’s declaration consisted of two diagnoses. The first being Major Depressive Disorder, single incident. The second being unspecified single anxiety. I was to learn too, that Monday, 25 October 2010 was the first day of a multiple day panic attack. That’s what the American Psychological Association calls it.
I was to learn something about people, too. Something that I still can’t accept. Something that causes my heart to ache. And my soul’s tears to fall like rain. For as a people, I’ve learned that we are afraid of mental illness. Of depression. Of anxiety. Of behavioral disorders. And that our social system punishes those that fall victim to such disorders. Such illnesses.
I know this, because I have endured this. And I am still enduring it. And I know that I will always endure it. It is the way things are.
I got mentally ill. Everyone knew that. Everyone I worked with knew that. And instead of supporting me. Instead of helping me through my illness. Instead of demonstrating that my illness was something that could be overcome.
Everyone abandoned me.
For getting ill.
Punishment was my sentence.
My boss asked me to destroy all e-mail addresses for the people I worked with. To destroy all e-mail messages for the people I worked with. To destroy all contact information from my cell phone. To destroy any written information on how to contact anyone that I worked with. And then declared, “If you contact anyone, you’ll be fired.”
That Monday afternoon, I walked a second time. 1.3 miles. I walked a third time that evening. After my lady had come home from work. Another 3.2 miles. When I got home from that last walk, I had three toes that had blistered, and the blisters had popped. Leaving raw skin. Exposed skin. I’d torn the hide off my right heel. To the point it was bleeding.
I was numb.
I didn’t feel a thing. Nothing.
Hell, I put on my shoes the next morning, and went to buy groceries at Wal-Mart. My feet did not hurt. I was in too much pain to notice anything else.
I remember going to that Wal-Mart. I’d been there hundreds of times over the years. And there I was. At 0830 in the morning. When I should have been at work. When I would have been at work two weeks earlier. There I was. On medical leave. 30 days at least. Staring at the entire month of November. Wondering if I’d ever be allowed to return to work. Wondering what would happen if I ever crossed the path of anyone I was not allowed to have any contact with. Wondering if I could even make a simple trip to Wal-Mart. And look at the books, and magazines. And look at the video games, and computers. And get the few things I was there to buy.
Knowing nothing would ever be the same.
I didn’t know I was in the midst of a panic attack. I didn’t know what a panic attack was. I didn’t know what one felt like. I felt like, “You are guilty of burning the entire school building to the ground, Mark. Now you get to face the people whose children you roasted alive.” I felt like, “You are broken. A part in a machine that has worn out. Now, we’re sending you into the shop for repairs. And when you’re fixed, we’ll determine if we can put you back into the machine.”
Everything had ended. Everything was gone. Taken from me by the people I worked for. By the people I’d trusted. That I’d worked with. That I’d spent 13 years supporting. And doing what they asked me to. And the reward I got was mental illness and emotional distress. And the treatment I got was punishment. As if I was the one that did something wrong. As if I chose to become mentally ill. As if everything was my fault.
And then, I got angry. My doctor knew. My family knew. I knew. I got angry. For the first time in my life, I found myself hating a group of people. Literally. I found myself wishing they could all experience what I was experiencing. I found myself imagining each of them being isolated. Alone. With every friend they had having been ripped away from them. With the knowledge that it was the friends themselves that had declared, “Go away! Leave us alone!”
I can never forget that e-mail message. I can never forget the actions that the people I’d worked with for years took that day. I can never forget the punishment I endured for having become ill. I can never forget that my illness was my fault.
Since that day. October 25th, 2010, I have not spoken, or heard from, any of those people I once worked with. Save for a single voice. One single voice that overcame his own fear, and talked with me. Briefly. For a few times.
The rest of them declared I was gone. That I’d done something unforgivable by getting mentally ill. For everyone knows, we don’t care for those that get mentally ill. We torture them. We punish them.
Because it’s all their fault.
And if you believe that is the only way things can be, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell to you.
For all I learned by being punished was that people are heartless. Their hearts being frozen colder than any ice. And harder than any stone. And their souls are cold, lifeless things. As dark as night. Containing nothing at all.
As I’ve healed. As I’ve been walking this path I am now on, and finding new friends. Creating a new life. I’ve found that knowing how the people I once worked with are. Seeing them stripped of the façade of civilized behavior that they dress themselves in. Seeing the social rules they follow as a simple rule set. Seeing all that stripped away, with their hearts and souls being revealed to me.
My heart aches. And my soul cries tears of pain. Because I know that they don’t know anything. And are completely blind to what is real. And how they truly behave.
And I know that none of them will ever understand a word that I’ve just written. For in their eyes, everything they did was right. And justified. And proper. And they behaved in the proper ways. In their eyes, it was me that did everything wrong.
And that makes me sad indeed. Knowing this, how can anyone misunderstand my soul’s tears?