Therese Borchard struggled with manic depression during college, earned a master’s degree and established a stellar career in journalism and book publishing. But the hormonal shifts of motherhood, a geographic move, as well as the switch from sociable on-site office work to an isolated, home-bound freelance life, created a perfect storm of factors for mental illness to burgeon once more.
After a harrowing, months-long stay in an institution, she returned to home and children and went on to author the hit blog, Beyond Blue on Belief.net. Here she shares her continuing struggles with anxiety and manic depression from her own particular Catholic perspective. This year she published her memoir, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, along with The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Guide which offers concise techniques for living with a chronic illness get through the demands of a day.
I spoke with Therese about how she manages to work and raise a family while living with manic depression.
Christina Gombar: What are your biggest challenges in navigating your health condition, your job and your home life?
Therese Borchard: I suppose my biggest challenge is managing my health sufficiently so I can concentrate and meet my work deadlines. My flexible schedule means I can write extra blog posts on a day when I’m feeling good and bank them for the days my head isn’t good for anything. But I’m always nervous to commit to a meeting in person because I don’t know how I will be feeling that day. I often fake it as best I can. I’ve had to do that a lot lately with the book publicity efforts. I’ve plastered a smile on my face and spit out nice sound bites while I’m thinking that I wish I were dead.
CG: What is a typical work day like?
TB: I drop off the kids at school at 8 and usually work out for an hour. From 10 to 2 are golden hours when I try to write posts or follow up on a story I was supposed to write for other magazines and newspapers. When it’s sunny, I take 20 minutes to eat outside because it’s crucial that I get sunshine and fresh air. My work window is small. By 2:30 I usually pick up the kids, start homework, organize for lacrosse practice, etc. And two days a week, I usually go to doctors’ appointments, blood work, and therapy.
CG: What, if any accommodations do you/your employers make for yourself? (I know you have to stop yourself from overwork sometimes!)
TB: My editor understands that things like Twitter tutorials and SEO (search engine optimization) training can sometimes activate my inner energizer bunny that I want at rest. It’s difficult, especially in the blogosphere, not to make writing my life — and tweet all hours of the day. I need boundaries between work and home life. I try to shut off the computer when I’m not working, and to leave it closed during the weekend. I try to be as prudent as possible.
CG: Your blog is about coping with mental illness, so your employers knew of your condition. But your illness is “invisible” — you look super healthy, you run, etc. Do they really know what it entails, how hard it is, that it could ever become overwhelming?
TB: That’s a good question. I think they’re as understanding and empathetic as any editors could be. They want me to publish the real stuff – like the video where I sobbed and said depression wasn’t always pretty – as that is what best speaks to people in the throes of depression. Sometimes I need to write pieces a few weeks in advance to give myself a little time of rest in a depressive cycle – not a great formula for search engine optimization
CG: You started out with great qualifications. After you had your kids and a breakdown (no connection there!) — you had to rebuild. Can you detail those challenges a bit? How did you negotiate with your prospective employer?
TB: I had to take it in very small steps. I was unable to produce anything for about six months. Sitting down to write was awful. I would just cry. So I relied on my great aunt’s advice to take it very slow, one step at a time. First I signed up to be a writing tutor to see if I could concentrate for three hours a week. That gave me the confidence to ask for my assignment of bi-weekly columns. The tutoring and bi-weekly column gave me the self-assurance to pursue “Beyond Blue,” the blog, and then later, “Beyond Blue,” the book.
Negotiating is VERY hard, especially when you are feeling so unsure of yourself. I spoke with anyone who could help me learn to negotiate. I pretended I was a friend who had just gone through this and came out with favorable working agreements. I told myself that it wasn’t me doing the talking, but my friend. That made it easier.