One of my friends has a hard time with today.
Ten years ago, he lost his wife to untreated mental illness.
Today, he told me how brave I am. How much he appreciates that I'm getting help. How I'm his hero.
He reminded me of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Because depression doesn't just hurt me. It can hurt everyone around me. It hurts everyone who loves me. It isn't just about me. And if you're going through it, it isn't just about you.
So for my friend, I'm going to talk about how goddamned hard it is to ask for help. Because "asking for help" sounds so easy. But it's not, and I'm not going to bullshit about that. It's hard. But god, it's important. You can't expect to fix everything yourself. You just can't. It's too much pressure, and you don't always have the right equipment. It's like trying to hang a picture with a bulldozer, or build a bridge with a shovel. It just don't work, and you're going to end up more frustrated and hurt than you were before.
It started two weeks ago. Not the depression, that's been going on for years. The decision started two weeks ago. It was a Friday afternoon. I was trying to make some plans to go shopping the following morning in Austin. I was excited about it, and that felt great. I posted to facebook to see if anyone wanted to go shopping with me.
And I waited.
And I waited.
And I waited.
On the drive up to Austin (Where my boyfriend lives, and where I live on weekends, for those who didn't know) I suddenly realized that no one had responded to me.
No one wanted to go shopping with me.
I remember so clearly the feeling of deflating. Like a balloon that hadn't been popped, just punctured so the air rushed out. Instead of a balloon, it became a shriveled piece of nothing. That's how I felt.
I started to cry. Not the kind of cry that happens with tears, but the kind of cry that is too big to fit out your eyes. It's silent and crushing. I was crushed. I remembered living in Nebraska, and how there was always someone who would go shopping with me, there. Or have dinner with me. Or come hang out and watch a movie. Or do -anything.- I had people from all over the country saying that they would, except they're X00(0) miles away. I had a few responses from people here, but they were all negative. People were busy.
And I started having really dark thoughts about being in Texas. Why had I left my friends behind? Were any of my friends here actually my friends? Or did they just play along because they're friends with my boyfriend? Do I actually have any friends, or am I completely alone in this state? Why the hell doesn't anyone want to go shopping with me? I started worrying that my boyfriend would ask one of his friends to just go with me because it would make me feel better. And that they would. Not because they wanted to spend time with me, but because he asked him to. Man, how awful would that have been? How pathetic am I, that I can't even get people to hang out with me? In order for someone to spend time with me, it has to be a favor to someone else. God, it's only shopping. How pathetic am I, that it's bothering me this much?
These thoughts essentially swirled around in my brain for an hour or so, and by the time I arrived in Austin, I was miserable. I was angry. I was so, so lonely. I felt like there was a lead blanket draping over my shoulders--Like the kind they put on you at the dentist when you get x-rays. And it just kept getting heavier. It wanted me to collapse beneath its weight. To just fall to the ground and lay there, pressing slowly into the concrete until I was a part of the landscape.
Then I got to Austin, and I was not a pleasant person. I tried really hard to be, but I just couldn't do it. We got in a fight. I lay on the bed, curled up on my side, and I stared at wrinkles in the blankets. My boyfriend sat at his computer in stoic silence. He had no idea what was going on in my head. He was upset. I'd been a bitch. He silently stood and started getting ready for work. He threw his clothing as he changed, and I cringed every time. I thought at any moment that he was going to start screaming, even though that isn't what he does. I thought he was going to leave without saying a word. That was worse. Say something. Say something. Say something. Dear god, please say something. Say anything. I can't bear this silence. Please say something. Oh god what if he leaves?
While I lay there, more horrible thoughts swirled around my head, and joined the existing ones. Eventually, they coalesced into one stream: I was mostly empty space, anyway. Why did any of it matter? Why did I matter? What difference did I make to the world? I don't matter. I'm made of matter, but that matter is mostly empty space. Space between molecules, between atoms. I'd be worth more if they took me apart, bit by bit, and put me in the Hadron Collider. They could learn so much. Then I'd be worth something. I'd be gone, but I'd be worth something.
I started to cry, again. The same kind of silent, invisible tears. They tickled my eyes, and the back of my nose, but they never came out. They stayed there.
When he was ready to go, I looked up. It almost hurt to look at him. Then he beckoned to me, and opened his arms.
I fell against him and fell apart. I tried so hard to hold it together. Tried to wait until he left so he wouldn't have to worry. I'm being stupid. This is stupid. It wasn't that big of a fight, anyway. Why can't I stop crying?
I don't even remember what I said. I don't even remember what I said. What I remember is the concern in his eyes. The way he held me. When I sat down and stared at anything but his face. I couldn't bear it. Everything hurt. Everything in my life hurt at that moment. I remember staring at the carpet and saying, quietly, brokenly, "I...think I need help."
He was quite late to work that night. He stayed with me until I had calmed down enough. He couldn't miss work, it's just not an option. He left, and I sent him a text and said "I think I'll call L. She'll know what to do."
So I did. And god, she did. She somehow said exactly the right things to help me relax, to laugh and smile a little bit. She gave me excellent advice, comforted me, reassured me, and then gave me more excellent advice. Then she adroitly changed the subject until we were laughing again. And she knows exactly how important that phone call was, and exactly how much I needed it.
And I made a decision to call the mental health clinic and make an appointment.
I don't remember if I did it on monday or tuesday. I found the number and stared at it a while. Waited for the right moment. Waited until I was alone. I was shaking.
I picked up the phone. I pushed a button. Was that the right one? I hung up.
I picked up the phone. I started to dial. I can't do this. I hung up.
I picked up the phone. I started to dial. What am I going to say? I have no idea! I hung up.
I made a decision.
I'm going to have a cup of tea.
I went to the kitchen, and I made myself a cup of tea. I went back to my desk and wrapped my freezing hands around the scalding cup. I couldn't hold it for more than a second. I stared at the teacup. The phone. The phone number on my screen. The desk. My heart pounded in my chest. My eyes were stinging. What was I going to say?
It doesn't matter what I say. They're probably used to that. I'm sure nobody knows what to say when they call.
I sipped my tea slowly.
I can just tell them I need an appointment. I'm sure they'll know what questions to ask.
My tea was getting cool. I picked up the phone and glanced at the number on the screen.
I hung up.
I took a deep breath. I dialed the number. It rang.
And I didn't hang up. I clutched the phone, knuckles turning white. I didn't hang again.
A cheerful, female voice answered.
"I...need to make an appointment."
She asked some questions about my doctor that I didn't know the answers to. She asked what I needed to be seen for.
My body went cold. I had been dreading this. God, I'm at work. Don't make me say it. Don't make me say it out loud. Why are you doing this to me?
"...Depression?" It was just more than a whisper.
She asked me some more questions that I wasn't sure how to answer, but I did my best.
My appointment, she told me, was on Thursday at ten o'clock.
Thursday. This week. Oh god, that's days away.
The next few days are a blur of pretending to work, somehow actually working, sweaty palms, and anxiety. God, I want a cigarette. I don't smoke anymore.
Thursday came. I went into work at seven thirty. My heart was pounding. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today. Today.
I couldn't keep my eyes off that clock. Just get it over with. I can't stand it. I can't take this anymore. I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. Texting anyone who knows, and can respond. Killing time. Trying to distract myself.
I get into my car. I haven't ever been to the clinic before, and I haven't been near it. But I Have directions, and I've looked at a map. I manage to get there without much trouble. I park, and sit in the car for a second. The sun feels warm on my skin. I feel cold. I feel tight.
I get out of the car. The clinic is a long, squat building. I climb the stairs. This is like a long, slow heart attack. I stop and read the sign on the door. Always read the signs.
I walk in.
Oh god, everybody is judging me. I swear they are. What problems could she have? What, did she get dumped? Did her cat die? Did her daddy not love her enough? She can't have been through anything as bad as what I have. What is she DOING here?
I'm sure no-one even noticed me, aside from the vague realization that someone had come in. But to me, the quiet shuffle and buzz of the room was deafening. All around me there was judgment, there were accusations. My heart pounded and I felt like my face wasn't quite attached to my head anymore.
I went and stood in the middle of the room, waiting for a receptionist to be free. God, just leave me alone.
One waved me over. A solid, middle-aged black woman who managed to look kind and frustrated at the same time. I handed her my card, and said quietly into the speech-opening in the glass, "I have a ten o'clock appointment." Everyone in this room has an appointment. Why is it so hard to say it out loud? What is wrong with me? Is it really so bad? Do I really need to be here? Maybe those silent judgments were right. Maybe I don't belong here. Maybe I'm not bad enough. I don't know. I'm here.
She directs me to an alcove with a computer and directs me to fill out a survey that will help identify my symptoms, and then sign the privacy form. When I bring it back, she'll let the "provider" know that I'm here.
I do. I'm as honest as I know how to be. I don't know how to answer the questions, sometimes. They're too vague, or poorly worded. I have no idea how to answer this. I'll have to explain to the doctor.
I finish. I go give the receptionist the paper. All around me, I swear I can hear the thoughts of other people. I swear they're staring at me. Judging me, still, for taking up their time.
I sit down. I stare intently at my phone, blocking out the room and its harsh fluorescent lights and nonexistent judgmental stares.
I lose track of everything, and for a moment it's like bliss. Then someone says my name, and reality crashes back over me. It's a white-haired black lady, older than the receptionist. She has a very kind voice. She introduces herself and asks me to come to her office.
I sit in the chair in the warm little room. She sits near me, at a ninety degree angle. As it there were a coffee table there. She asks me questions. I answer them as honestly as I can, telling her that sometimes I don't know how to answer so I'll do my best.
She looks at me at one point, face taught with concern. She sounds surprised, and sad.
"My god. How do you function?"
It's one of the most vindicating moments of my life.
After about an hour, she tells me that I have depression and PTSD related to sexual trauma. She says she wants to refer me to a counselor who specializes in sexual assault, and a psychiatrist for further evaluation.
And my heart starts beating again.