Jul 6, 2021
My name is Al Levin and I’m an assistant principal in a public elementary school. I’ve been in education for over twenty years. I’m married and have four children.
I’ve completed all of the coursework in working towards a Co-Active coaching certificate through the Coaches Training Institute. The coaching work has allowed me to support the staff I work with in the public schools, as well as others who are seeking support in reaching their goals or working past challenging times in their lives.
I am also a person who has recovered from a major depressive disorder, an illness that was quite debilitating for nearly six months of my life. Through this experience, I have become very passionate about learning more about mental health and supporting others with a mental illness, particularly men with depression. In addition to this blog, I speak publicly for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and I tweet @allevin18. My latest project is a new podcast called The Depression Files.
Summary of my story in Al's words
Everything seemed to be going well, yet everything seemed to come crashing down. I had a decent job, a happy family, and a new house. It started in October and I knew my body was feeling different. I had been through one bout of depression three years prior (almost to the date), yet not nearly to the degree of what I was on the verge of.
I made the decision to begin medication and started seeing a therapist. None of this was helping and I continued to slip. As my family doctor believed my situation was more complicated than he had originally thought, he scheduled me to meet with a psychiatric physician’s assistant (the quickest appointment I could get). This psychiatric PA switched my medication and had planned to monitor my situation. As I gradually moved into a deeper depression, I began to have crying bouts, I was struggling to interact with people, I could rarely eat anything at all, and I was struggling to fall asleep. I also started to have thoughts of suicide. My wife and I discussed the situation and, with consultation of the psychiatric PA, decided that I should take some time off from work. My medication was increased and the hope was that they would have a chance to kick in before returning to work. In hindsight, I do not believe that taking two weeks of unstructured time away from work was the best decision. I did not want to go out because I feared bumping into somebody I knew who would question my absence from work. My wife and I created lists of things we thought I could accomplish around the house the next day. Impossible. I couldn’t even begin any of the tasks that we had discussed. Although I struggled sleeping, I would lay in my bed, hours at a time, rolling around unable to sleep. Lying in my bed behind closed doors was one of the only places I felt safe.
I decided I would attempt to go back to work for the one week before winter break, as a sort of trial period. Work was challenging and I found myself often isolating myself in my office, rather than being in classrooms. I would get home, manage around my four children until it was their bedtime, and then meltdown, uncontrollably sobbing to my wife at night. Not only did I continue to struggle sleeping and eating, but my suicidal thoughts became more frequent. At one point, I found myself searching suicide methods online. Another evening, I looked in a mirror, holding my hand to my head in the shape of a gun, analyzing the best angle for which to hold it. The crying bouts continued. I eventually created a plan to take my own life, thought about it often throughout the day and even dreamt about it one evening. This scared me very much.
I knew that I needed more help and at this point felt that I had been screaming for help and nobody was listening. I asked my wife and sister to join me at my next psychiatric PA appointment for support. The three of us essentially convinced the PA that I needed to take time off from work to enter a program for recovery. I took three weeks off of work in order to enter a partial hospitalization program. I spent my days in the program and my evenings at home. While this was a huge jump-start to recovery, there was still a long road ahead.
Now, approximately two years after having gone through this major depressive episode, I continue to maintain a lifestyle that will support staying mentally fit.