When my dad — with whom I’d been exceptionally close — died in 2014, I took two days’ family responsibility leave and I went back to work. Subconsciously, I must have known that this sort of behavior was not normal, because I snuck to my desk like a teenager coming home past curfew.
But life goes on, right? Can’t let something as trivial as the death of the most important person in my life get in the way of a thriving career.
It only occurred to me much later that my colleagues probably weren’t saying to themselves “Gosh, that Charl is such a hard worker. Such dedication!”. In fact, what they were thinking was probably more along the lines of “Gosh. Charl’s dad just died and he’s already back at work like nothing happened. He really needs help”.
At some stage, it became necessary for me to put my cellphone on flight mode whenever we went out for dinner because I’d been compulsively checking my email.
This is totally fine, I lied to myself. My marriage is strong enough to withstand my addiction to work. My wife and I will appreciate one another later, when I’ve made it, whatever that means. Right now, I just need to focus on my career and on becoming a success, man.
Nastasia and I got married on the 12th of November 2016 at a small, intimate ceremony attended by family and close friends. The venue was a quaint and beautiful little place located in Henley-On-Klip, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Johannesburg’s Vaal Triangle that is known for its picturesque gardens and as the location of Oprah Winfrey’s school for girls.
We went on honeymoon to Vietnam (another hidden gem), and I worked.
We were on honeymoon. And I worked.
It was our first time outside of South Africa, and I worked.
Almost exactly a year later, I made the admittedly reckless and undeniably dangerous decision to quit the antidepressants I’d been on for about two years, cold turkey.
In spite of the many hours of emotional and psychological preparation that I’d done (read: lurking on forums and popping some fish oil caps) prior to quitting the drugs in question, nothing could have prepared me for the hell that was to come.
I previously wrote about my ordeal in great detail and provided a brief but intense glimpse into the nightmare world of antidepressant withdrawal, complete with Lovecraftian monsters and anthropomorphic horses.
However, my little foray into the gaping maw of chemical Purgatory would have been for naught if I didn’t learn from the experience. Fortunately, as it turns out, I learned a great deal.
My wife is a registered nurse who often works night duty (7am to 7pm) at one of the local hospitals, and she was scheduled for one of these shifts on day 3 of my withdrawal from what I like to call (in keeping with the Lovecraft theme that seems to be working so well) The Chemicals of Cthulhu.
At this stage, the mere act of moving my eyes caused the world to shift into and out of focus and collapse in on itself like a dying star. Every time that I changed position, for example from lying down to standing upright, the walls and furniture would tremble and shudder like a startled daddy longlegs in its web. I experienced vivid and terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations.
My wife had to leave for work at around 6pm, and I was left alone in this grotesque funhouse with its lurking monstrosities and bleeding colors.
And I was scared.
I had read on one of the forums that doing some light exercise and getting one’s heart rate up was one way of quickly alleviating withdrawal symptoms, so I grabbed my jumprope and skipped at high intensity for about a minute before the visual oscillation became too much and I collapsed into a shivering, sobbing heap on the floor.
I hadn’t prayed aloud in a very long time but, 15 minutes after my wife left for work, our house sounded like a scene from The Exorcist. I beseeched God to rescue me from the abominable chasm into which my mind was tumbling, to bring me back from this pitch-black abyss.
And, in those terrifying, horrifying moments, with my clammy palms pushed into my eye sockets and my forehead pressed to the floor, my thoughts weren’t of work and emails and meetings and deadlines. All I wanted at that moment was to be with my wife and with my family. I didn’t yearn for my laptop or even for my cellphone. I longed for a friendly face, a kind word, someone to tell me that I was going to make it through this hell.
Well, I did make it through, and I did so with the help of my wife, my family, my colleagues and one or two people whose support, kindness and advice quite possibly saved my life.
I wouldn’t have been here today were it not for the absolutely amazing, selfless people in my life and, thanks to my withdrawal nightmare, I have a new appreciation for these people, and for people in general.