This is the story of a girl with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. She is actually a woman but when she is sick, she is just a scared little girl.
She has been on and off of medicine since she was 18 years old. She should have been put on meds even earlier but alcohol, bad choices, and simple faking it sufficed before 18. And society likely prevented it.
Some meds have worked better than others, some worked for a long time then just stopped working. Some meds required upping, upping, and upping until the amount was a balloon tapping the ceiling.
The side effects blur with the disorder, and she can't always decide what is better.
The girl doesn’t like to admit when something has stopped working. It is admitting that she will never be whole. Forever broken, forever reaching for something not possible. It is an exhausting thought. Full of guilt.
Days or months can pass and she ignores signs. The tears that fall randomly are allergies. The twisty snake in her stomach is food poisoning. The damage done to her nails and cuticles are just an old habit and not a pleasurable, non-obvious way of hurting herself. Anger is just a bad day. A lack of sleep is just too much work, too much fun on FB, too much anything other than uncontrollable moods. Too much sleeping is just that she is tired.
She ignores the possibility that the disorder is making its final push of control.
She is ok one morning. Relationships have suffered a bit, but she can proceed with the day. Then something with someone else flips the switch of the dam.
The disorder rushes in and is in control.
She knows she is hungry because she hasn’t eaten much. She knows she wants something sweet because sweetness can sometimes produce a better mood, but when she gets to the parking lot and tries to push the button to order French Toast Sticks, her throat closes. She is paranoid they will know the real thoughts floating around. So she doesn’t order. She watches cars drive by.
Everything slows in her mind. Every process in her body becomes heavy and cumbersome.
Back before she was a mother, suicide was always an option.
But now, she has too much to live for, and she would never subject her kids to the loss of their mother.
But the thought is like an insistent flirt of a person. How would you? Access to tools of suicide? Change of mind at the last moment?
She attempts to wave those thoughts away but they are heavy and slow, like waving a hand through syrup and looking for a change in movement.
She heaves a door open to other thoughts, but they too are heavy. They flow toward the front of her mind in a slow ticker fashion. She sees a thought she might like but it moves so slowly along the ticker, it becomes unconnected and incorrect before she can fully grasp it.
She wants it back but can't find it and that frightens her.
She senses that she is near the edge of something and that all it will take is one tiny push to cross a line; the line when a person no longer knows their thoughts are not ok.
It is the line a person crosses into psychosis.
She has crossed it once before.
To tell the memory of crossing that line is a funny story, but the memory of terror produces more terror.
So she starts looking for phone numbers. She sends a text to her therapist. She says I can’t and won’t talk right now. But I need to know what to do. I need to know what happens if I go to the emergency room and tell them I’m losing my mind. I’m not suicidal but I can’t promise you that the line isn’t nearby and that if I cross the line, I will forget all the reasons I don’t want to die.
It takes her an unreasonable amount of time to type that. The thoughts are so slow and her hands are so heavy.
She waits. And waits.
She becomes disconnected and looks at herself objectively. How can all these cars be going somewhere like nothing is wrong? How does their world function when her world doesn’t? Can’t they sense that she has become unmoored and is floating in a place not at all similar to the place they inhabit? Doesn’t anyone see the little girl with a war in her brain sitting in a vehicle at a fast food joint? How long has she been there? (The clock on the dash says over an hour.) But she is an adult woman with sunglasses on. They don’t see that she moves in slow motion. Or that behind the glasses, tears just run from her eyes like full cups of water being poured.
No return text.
After an internal debate and slow motion of searching, dialing, and breathing, she attempts the number at the behavioral hospital. The receptionist barely understands her through the sobs, but the receptionist has been trained.
1. Get the person on the line with a counselor immediately.
The counselor sounds like a young man. He asks the girl if she is suicidal. She says “no but I could be.” She actually giggles at the statement because it doesn't convey what she meant to say. Then she sobs harder because she knows inappropriate laughter is not good. He asks her name, she refuses to answer.
Just tell me if I will see a psychiatrist and if they will let me out when I am better, she says. The counselor tries to avoid that answer. He wants to know Better from what? What is wrong? Why don't you just come here?
She hangs up because she knows she could never make the decision to drive there anyway. She will never find the energy to leave this parking space. She thinks about crawling into the back seat and going to sleep.
But new thoughts come. What would her family think? Demon possessed is one thought. Literally, that a demon has taken up residence inside of her and is doing this too her. She thinks about praying and tries it, but nothing happens. She knows too much about genetics, family history, chemicals in the brain, and mental illness. The sickness is not, nor has ever been, a demon.
What would her friends think? Would they be scared to be her friend if she spent the night in a hospital created for "people like her?" Her children? Her husband? Her job? Her future? Would even one night ruin her chances of a career or choosing a child from another country later? She senses that she is being overly paranoid but she no longer trusts her perception of truth.
A text comes and it isn’t her therapist. It is someone that loves her very much. He thinks she is somewhere else. She doesn’t tell him that she has been parked for 2 hours. That the war has been going on for 2 hours. She tells him she does not want to talk but will text. She tells him that she has been asked if she is suicidal, that she is not but that she is not OK either. She tells him that she doesn't know where the line is or how close she is to it. She tells him she doesn't want to cross it. His texts calm her. She is being as honest as she can. She tells him that she worries she will lose her children because she is sick. Even if people have come so far to accept those with mental illness, it doesn’t mean she will be accepted. This is a huge failure on her. He wants health for her at any cost.
Just go to the hospital if it will mean health.
She doesn’t respond. She puts her phone away.
She finds that although her eyes continue to cry, she can speak. She orders food. She pays for the food. She eats a little bit. She stops thinking for several minutes.
The wind flutters leaves on a tree. She stops choosing to eat or not choosing to eat. The body becomes automatic. Hand in bag, fingers grab food, arm moves food to mouth, mouth chews, swallow, repeat.
It is a form of hypnosis she learned years ago. It provides protection when it is needed the most.
The thoughts return to normal speed. The heaviness in movement lightens. The wave of syrupy thoughts thin out.
When she comes out of the hypnosis, she doesn’t feel so much of a little girl, but she is so very sleepy.
Although it has been at least a month since she has driven a stick shift, she mistakenly thinks her vehicle is one. She tries to put the vehicle in reverse with her left foot pushing a clutch. She is momentarily confused and worries she will not be able to drive.
(Later, she will assume that the confusion was from her past. During the years of the most severe episodes, she owned a stick shift. The body has a memory of its own.)
She makes it home and walks straight to the bedroom, only stopping to remove her shoes. She no longer weeps but the tears still flow with no help or avoidance from her. She falls asleep with heavy blankets to ease the coldness in her bones.
Four hours later, she wakes to find her eyes almost swollen shut and crusty with salt. She feels as though she has been in a car accident, sore and weak. The tears still flow even when she makes an effort to stop them so she returns to bed a few hours later.
The morning reveals improvements, both in emotional and physical ailments for the woman. And Monday will be an important day for making phone calls. Maybe it is time for a new medicine. Maybe a new treatment.
She won't give up hope.
She won't give up hope.
September 9-15th was Suicide Prevention Week.