“In 2009 my Mom had the crazy idea to start an alpaca farm, and she asked me to move back in and take care of the farm.”
Jayme Hettinger’s story
I’ve struggled with depression since I was 11 though I’m pretty sure I’ve had it most of my life. I was sexually abused and raped by a caregiver when I was 7. My parents didn’t know about the rape until I was an adult and in therapy. They didn’t put me in treatment until I was 15 after my nearly successful suicide attempt. I wasn’t prescribed meds until I was in my 20s and wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar II until my late 30s. I got pregnant at 16 with my son. My 1st real job was after he was a year old. I’ve worked in retail and food services full-time but still needed public assistance to make ends meet barely. If my parents hadn’t allowed me to live with them, I don’t know how we would have survived because minimum wage and pittance from assistance didn’t extend to cost of rent. I had a hard time keeping a job for long because my depression made me nonfunctional at times and therefore I was an unreliable employee. Tardy or calling off work because I couldn’t get out of bed. I tried hard because I needed to take good care of Chris, but my will was always lost to my depression.
After I started on meds and therapy, it would be better for a while. Until my brain chemistry adjusted to them requiring frequent changes or dosage increases. Amazingly I somehow managed to go to secretarial school and paralegal training successfully though I did miss class more than I should have. I graduated and decided to do everything I could to get off welfare. It’s so degrading, and I wanted better for Chris. I was offered a part-time secretarial job that paid just enough to kick me off welfare, but I took it anyway hoping I’d find full-time work ASAP. Amazingly I was offered a job as a legal secretary/paralegal soon afterward. A small miracle. But I struggled horribly to be a good employee. I managed to hold on even though I called in too often for almost four years.
I bought my own house nearby. Unfortunately, my depression got worse, and no meds worked for long, and my road and anxiety from stress at work got worse as did the quality of my work until I had a total breakdown after a violent verbal confrontation with my male boss. I was triggered once again when my younger brother, who was physically violent, was diagnosed as ODD. He would get up in my face and scream at me, throw chairs and threaten my life. My boss acted so much like that during our argument that I fell completely apart. And was subsequently fired because I couldn’t face going back to work with him.
I struggled to cope with my PTSD, anxiety, and depression as well as Chris’s depression and learning disabilities while searching for a new job. I found what seemed like a perfect job as a receptionist at a veterinarian. Animals are my life, and I loved working there initially but as anyone who suffers from depression knows things can quickly go downhill. I couldn’t afford my rent; I couldn’t manage my home which became a wreck because of my inability to function even at a fundamental level. I had trouble with hygiene and keeping clothes for me clean. People noticed at work and complained to my supervisor who kindly addressed the situation but the humiliation I felt made me even more unreliable because I wanted to die from embarrassment.
I forget things when I’m deeply depressed. Simple things that I know how to do by heart.
Procedures that I had to follow at work were lost in my mind. I screwed up appointments, basic closing procedures, even blanked on how to use registers or adequately close for the day though I’d done them daily for over a year. Easy things. When I start out on any job, I exceed employers expectations which makes my future failure to perform hard for them to understand. I always end up disappointing, and I am distraught that I’m letting them down. Lack of self-confidence and disappointing people I work with adds to the struggle. They gave me lots of chances to improve, but my screw ups and humiliation of being disciplined for them made me retreat more and more. Eventually, they fired me because I couldn’t perform my duties and I called in sick more often. They had to fire me, but the result was catastrophic emotionally. I became utterly nonfunctional and mostly agoraphobic. I could only go to 24-hour grocery store in the middle of the night to avoid crowds. Even then there were times I left a full grocery cart behind because of panic attacks. Panic attacks made feel like I was having a heart attack. It was the worst feeling in the world.
I haven’t held a normal job since I worked at the veterinarian around the year 2000.
After losing the job at the vet, I couldn’t leave my house. I lost my home and had to move back in with my parents. I could only function for things regarding Chris. Basic things like showering and getting dressed were beyond me most days and still are. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t do that to my son, so I tried to be invisible. I gained weight until I was unrecognizable, wore only black, slept when Chris was in school to escape. I was just functional (barely) when he was home. I was there but not present like I should have been. I regret that I wasn’t a better parent to him. If I wasn’t sleeping, I read to escape my life. My parents tried to get me help, but I had lost all faith in meds and psychiatrists because they couldn’t “fix” me. I don’t know what I would have done without their letting us live with them.
When we moved to NY state with my parents, they decided that pushing me out of the nest was what I needed. The bought us a cheap house and plunked us in it. I had no control and no say. I loved the house, but the change and responsibilities made me worse instead of better; until I convinced my parents to let me get another Great Dane. Talisman turned out to be the best thing for me. He was a rambunctious obnoxious 15 months old who needed obedience training. I reluctantly enrolled us in a basic obedience class. I was terrified, but I went for him. It turns out he was my bridge back to a more normal life. My therapy dog who was my shield and bridge to interacting with people outside my home. People focused on him because of his size and gave me a safe way to talk to people. He was a miracle to me. Interacting with people got easier and made me want to get better.
I found a therapist and psychiatrist to treat me with meds; I found a specialist to work with me regarding my agoraphobia.
She was the second miracle in my recovery. She came to my home and slowly took me out in public, so I could learn skills to manage anxiety at the grocery store, coffee shop, etc. Immersion therapy would be the best description. She taught me breathing techniques, reframing and other coping techniques I still use daily. Meds only help for a while regardless of combinations but coping methods made at least my anxiety manageable. I joined an obedience club with Talisman and even participated in rally obedience at a show. He helped build confidence and pride in the changes I was making to my life. When I lost him to a brain tumor, I didn’t think I’d survive it. I managed somehow, and I have my current Dane, Kain to keep me sane until his lymphoma takes him from me.
In 2009 my Mom had the crazy idea to start an alpaca farm, and she asked me to move back in and take care of the farm.
Another turning point for me. I jumped on the idea and learned everything possible about caring for them and about uses for their fiber. I immersed myself in all things alpaca, and we brought our first seven girls home in 2009. Eventually, we grew to 70 plus alpacas and a llama. Here was a full-time job that I had to do right because no matter how bad I felt they needed me. It’s not a regular job, and I don’t get paid except with a place to live which is OK because it works for me.
In 2013 I had a gastric bypass and lost over 200 lbs. I had to overcome my need to be invisible to be successful in keeping it off. I went slightly crazy in the opposite direction of invisible by then dying my hair bright purple and wearing bright colors. No more hiding. Another big step. I was also formally diagnosed with bipolar II and anxiety around the same time. My doctor put me on a cocktail of meds that worked well for a while. Things were going pretty well for several years, but once again I’ve fallen apart and have struggled daily with depression and anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts; two weeks ago I put myself in the hospital because I felt so unsafe. It was the 1st time I’ve ever allowed myself to be hospitalized. They adjusted two of my 11 meds, but so far their adjustments and my regular psychiatrist’s increase to meds hasn’t helped at all. If I’m not numb, I’m crying or contemplating suicide or all three. My depression and anxiety have kept me in my bed for more days than I can count.
My friend forces me to go out with her, which I genuinely appreciate because hibernating makes me worse.
I don’t know what I’d do without her support and the support from my Twitter friends. They give me reasons to keep hanging on when giving up would be so easy. My son keeps me here because I can’t hurt him like that. He lost his younger half-sister to suicide in 2006. She was my best friend’s daughter and like a daughter to me. I’ve seen the aftermath of suicide first hand and no matter how bad things are I can’t do that to him. Sometimes it is the only reason I have to stay alive.
There were significant changes in my life and the farm because Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year. We have already drastically reduced our herd down to 27 alpacas and need to cut down even more because she needed to retire. It breaks my heart, and I don’t know what my future holds for me without them. My life and job is the farm, and my small income is from sales of scarves, wraps, and socks made with their fiber.
I know people with depression hold regular jobs, but I don’t see how they manage. Self-employment is the only thing that I can handle with my depression most of the time.
I’ve tried and failed so many times I’m afraid to even to try again. I’m such a wreck right now that I don’t know how to dig out this time. I wish I could win the lottery and keep the farm because I’m good at working here. It’s who I am. I’m scared about the upcoming changes and not knowing what the future holds. I can’t imagine being able to keep a regular job at this time. The thought paralyzes me. I’m good at taking care of my alpacas. They need me, and most days I only get out of bed for them. Having responsibility for living creatures keeps me going when nothing else can.