DAY 4: Out of order (Depression)

Anne Broache

One day Gordon Bailey decided he would be better off drinking nothing but Perrier water for the rest of his life. So he started hoarding bottles of the beverage in his room at Foster-Walker Complex.

“I kind of miss that, actually,” the Weinberg student said with a smile. “It was this very clean room with rows and rows and rows of empty green bottles.”

But, like other obsessions — the oral hygiene fixation, for example — the Perrier one died out eventually. Since his psychiatrist diagnosed him with obsessive-compulsive disorder last summer, Bailey has come to accept its terms.

Bailey, a native of Ft. Worth, Texas, said he probably began exhibiting symptoms of OCD when he started at Northwestern in fall 1998.

“For most of the time when I had symptoms, I assumed I was just eccentric,” he said.

OCD is characterized by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or by the urgent need to perform certain rituals, which can include preoccupations with hygiene or order. The disorder affects 3.3 million U.S. adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stressors trigger Bailey’s symptoms, he said, which explains why the problems surged during his fourth year at NU.

That year, Bailey said he concluded that graduating on time was a dream, in part because he switched majors from physics to computing and information systems his junior year.

He was ready to drop classes. An on-campus systems administration job had started to consume too much of his life.

“It was something I could be a perfectionistic about,” he said. “I could sit down and say, ‘Time doesn’t matter– I’m just going to do a good job.'”

But before he knew it, he recalled, it would be 2 a.m. He would realize he had just skipped the day’s classes to assemble the best configuration of computers, tables and chairs and to arrange the lab’s books by color.

He quit the job. Then he severed ties with an ex-girlfriend and a good male friend.

“I looked around,” Bailey said, “and I didn’t have ties to anything but classes. And I didn’t even like them.”

The road to diagnosis

Bailey started seeing a therapist at Counseling and Psychological Services. He was referred to a psychiatrist and put on anti-depressants.

“I was hung up on the idea that depression was secondary to something else,” Bailey said, though OCD had not occurred to him.

Meanwhile suicide was starting to look like a good way out, Bailey said.

Bailey concocted an elaborate plan wherein he would ingest sleeping pills and alcohol until he was incoherent. Then he would climb aboard a raft of his own construction and float out into Lake Michigan, where he would be numb to the cold water and let himself drown.

“And I would just disappear,” he said. “Nobody would have any idea.”

But Bailey found himself too “unmotivated” to carry out the plan. He was lacking motivation in general. He remembered that one afternoon his housemate asked him what day it was.

“And I was just looking at the table and I said, ‘I don’t know, today is every day, ‘” Bailey said. “It was like every day was pointless and painful.”

He had hidden his suicidal thoughts from his psychiatrist, but by spring had decided he needed to “spill his guts” and go to the hospital.

“I thought maybe they’d give me some exciting medicine, something that would just make me numb to everything,” Bailey said. “I just imagined going in and for two days, them hooking me up to an IV of something exciting.”

Instead the hospitalization meant higher dosages of anti-depressants, three good meals per day and a consistent sleeping schedule. He had hoped to conceal the 10 days he spent there from his mother, with whom he said he had a “reverse parent-child relationship.”

“She came to me with her problems,” he said. “When you’re in that role, it’s kind of hard to turn around and say, I have some problems, too.”

But one day his nurse paged him and said his mother was on the phone.

“I really thought someone had betrayed me,” he said. “What really happened was my mom freaked out and started calling hospitals.”

After being discharged, Bailey said, he remained frustrated. His medication didn’t seem to help, and he still had no concrete diagnosis.

“Really what I was dying to know was, what the hell is wrong with me?” he said.

The following summer Bailey saw a psychiatrist in Dallas who eventually landed on a diagnosis: generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

‘Returning to the scene’

Bailey returned to NU in fall 2002 for his 13th quarter and “embraced the diagnosis,” he said. He felt he could monitor himself once he named the disorder and identify symptoms.

“But it was also kind of like I could indulge the disease,” he added.

For instance, he would set conditions before he could go out, he said. First he might inventory everything in his drawers, which he saw as a way to make sure he did not need to restock supplies. Sometimes he would rearrange his furniture.

Around Winter Break his body started reacting badly to an increased dosage of anti-anxiety drugs. He slept in four-hour shifts, between which he would get up to do homework or eat.

Bailey said he started to lose track of time and took too much medicine, because each time he woke it felt like a new day. Sometimes he would awake and not know where he was.

Bailey’s mother, concerned about their incoherent phone conversations, sent a resident assistant and police check on her son at the beginning of Winter Quarter. A subsequent conversation with his Dallas psychiatrist made Bailey realize he had to return home for treatment.

“I had decided that I was going to get better by September, because I wanted to come back to school,” he said. “If I couldn’t get better in nine months, I might as well give up therapy.”

This fall Bailey began his 14th quarter at NU.

“It feels like returning to the scene of an accident,” he said, “but rather than just being an intersection of two streets, it’s the whole campus and all of Evanston.”

Bailey has a roommate now because he said he can better control his symptoms around others. But he still finds himself subscribing to certain compulsions.

Sometimes, for example, he finds it very important to count things: the number of seconds he has spent in line, chairs in a room, ceiling tiles, steps down stairs. He also makes many lists — of things to do, music to buy, books to read, things to tell his doctor.

As helpful as Bailey has found his diagnosis, he said it sometimes makes separating himself from his illness a tricky endeavor.

“Do I say that half my personality is an illness?” he asked. “When I do have a bad habit or make bad decisions, was that just a mistake or was it an OCD-induced mistake?”

Symptoms of Depression

Some signals that you may be depressed are:
* prolonged sadness and anxiety
* loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
* dramatic changes in appetite, body weight or sleep patterns
* feelings of worthlessness or guilt
* decreased energy
* difficulty thinking
* excessive crying
* repeated thoughts of death or suicide

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Correction: Name misspelled (November 21, 2003)

A photo caption in Thursday’s story about Gordon Bailey misspelled the name of photographer Pat Michels. The Daily regrets the error.