This is the second part of my story.
I was led into the psychiatric wing of the ER, and was placed under constant surveillance, because I was a threat to myself. There was a cop standing by the door for any escapees or self-harmers. The room had a bed that was tilted from the waist up so they could see you at all times through the glass windows. I couldn’t concentrate and my mind was foggy- I had to remind myself of where I was every few minutes. A few nurses and doctors came, to check on my vital signs and to ask about my medical history, then finally a psychiatrist came to speak to me. After telling him my story, he left the room and came back with a diagnosis. “Severe depression.”
Depression, but severe. It hit me hard. But what did I expect? My therapist had told me earlier that my symptoms sounded like depression and anxiety, but hearing it from someone in a white lab coat made it more real, more clinical. Earlier at one of my sessions, my therapist had told me, from the general arc of my life, that it was caused by early childhood PTSD from constant stress. And I thought you had to be a veteran to earn that label for what it was. The doctor added another reason to the list of reasons why I was feeling and thinking this way: moving too often from city to city made me lose my sense of identity and support system in my youth.
The rest of the 6-8 hours of waiting at the ER felt like days, weeks and months. I was brought some hospital food (grilled cheese with two different kinds of cheeses), water and was watched the whole time. I couldn’t even take out my phone. I was confused and everyone else who cared about me in the real world outside the hospital was confused. My mom got on a plane to Chicago without me knowing at this point, because I had stopped communicating to her and she knew something was off. Before, I was trying to die, but now there were so many strangers trying to save my life- it was a paradox in my head.
I continued to cry because I couldn’t help myself and fell asleep on the flat side of the hospital bed. I was woken up again by the nurse then I was put into a stretcher to get carried off to another hospital where they had capacity to take me. I almost said, I could probably take myself to wherever we’re going on the “L” if you let me. The scariest thing about depression is that it makes you think that you can function normally, when in fact you can’t. What you’re thinking isn’t normal, like if your enemy hijacked your brain and took control over your thoughts. This also applies to self-worth and how you view the world- it’s warped, but you have no idea of knowing that. A disease of the brain, as they say.
Then it was more waiting. More questions about my suicide plan, the causes, what kind of work I did, how it was stressful, why it was stressful, where was my family… A whirlwind of questions for someone who had waited the whole day to get placed somewhere. I was to be placed on the 4th floor, which was the intensive care unit for the actual ‘crazies’ (in my ignorant and uneducated mind, at the time; I thought of the movie, A Beautiful Mind), the schizophrenics, bipolar people with psychosis who couldn’t intelligibly speak and needed help with getting dressed or something. But fortunately, I was placed on the floor with the young adults with mental health issues (think cutters and those who attempted suicide) and, to my surprise, the substance abusers including the alcoholics, heroine addicts and the like. Of course, I only found out about this decision after I was admitted, because I was not able to think clearly and this information never stuck.
That was going to be my home for the next 7 days. I was put into a room with wired windows, no locks on doorknobs with a 19 year-old college student as my roommate. It was like a college dorm, for crazy people. Ironically, she was studying psychology, and she told me this was part of her field experience, as a joke. I thought she was too chipper to be in a psych ward, but it was because she has been there for almost a week. I couldn’t imagine being that happy again. I struggled to sleep that night, as I had been for weeks.
The second day I saw doctor after doctor. The head doctor, the psychiatrist, the head psychiatrist, the interns, the case worker, the social worker, then another doctor… I couldn’t name any one of them because I still didn’t feel like I was thinking my own thoughts. I still felt numb. Nurses came by to check on all the patients every half hour to see that we weren’t up to anything dangerous. I couldn’t even find a pen around because it was relatively sharp, so having my journal was useless. I kept looking at my planner in the future dates to confirm that I was actually a part of this world and that I will be once I got out, because I felt so disconnected from the world from not being able to have my phone with me. I must have looked insane. They rushed me to my first “group” (short for group therapy), which was art therapy. We had to draw a bridge that represented our recovery process. I drew me at the very beginning of the bridge. Some drew themselves in the middle, others drew a treadmill of a bridge- she had been to the hospital a few times already.
Everyone had a story. Most were college students who couldn’t cope with the stress from their/their parents’ high expectation of them, most of them came from the University of Chicago. It was so strange because they all had great things ahead of them. Internships over the summer, competitions they were excited about, international travels… One of them had more than 5 different friends visit them during their time there. I couldn’t understand them at first. They were so young…? There was so much to life after college, they had friends, good grades from what I gathered. But I felt hypocritical to question their motives when I was only a few years older, with so much ahead of me, with a good job, doing not so hot, but still not that badly. I reminisced about how stressed out I was from the math classes I took near the end of my college career, especially those in the graduate level. I knew I wanted to go to grad school some day for statistics or something similar like predictive modeling, and I had to ace them no matter what. Listening to those in the psych ward, there was no specific age, gender, or social class depression targeted. Anyone could be a victim at any given point.
There were also those who were both alcoholics with depression, a double whammy. One man who was struggling with both told me about his partner who was a teetotaler, and couldn’t understand what he was going through. The pains of his withdrawals and the shame he felt when he couldn’t get out of it by himself was impossible to explain. He had a dog, traveled around the world with his husband, but like me, was stressed from his job. As a coping mechanism, he drank to numb the pain. With him, I could especially relate to having a significant other who did not have the same issues and was making an effort to understand my experience. Sometimes, words fail to describe these feelings. There was another man who had gotten into drugs that I, or some of the doctors, have never heard of because it was so underground in the club scene of the LGBT community he was involved in. He was using it to help his creativity as an artist, but he went too far with the drug. His battle was addiction, but in a strange way I could see the parallel with what I’ve been fighting off- which was my addiction to being busy, which was to cover up my problems I refused to face. Being busy was how I thought you got there. Everyone was so compassionate, and understanding of each other’s struggle- however different the struggle was.
My mother visited. I was afraid to face her at first because I felt guilty that I cut off contact with her. I just didn’t want to sound depressed on the phone. She had been worried, and was apologetic for all the pressure she put on me. I told her, it wasn’t you mom, it was mostly me. She took back all those requests she placed on me like me getting married someday and buying her nice things when I had made my wealth. She said she no longer cared what kind of job I had or what I achieved. She said nothing else mattered now, and that I was enough. It’s possible that she had told me this before, but it sounded so alien- my existence being enough, after having identified myself and my self worth based on my career. My other guest was my boyfriend. He was so worried, and was unable to tell me anything at first because he didn’t want to hurt me in case it came out the wrong way. It was difficult telling him everything that I tried to do because some of it didn’t make sense to me either. I was partly afraid he wouldn’t understand and it would just hurt him in the end, and partly feared that he would judge me or see me differently. If he did, I wouldn’t have blamed him. It is a lot for anybody, even for me experiencing it. He has been my best friend and my rock through everything and I couldn’t have asked for more.
The hospital had a strict regimen for the patients. We all woke up at the same time everyday and lights were turned off at the same time. Medication was distributed in the morning before group. Everyone was led to group, and was encouraged to speak. For me, the most helpful was not the drugs, but the group therapy they mandated. I knew that I wasn’t alone, and I felt quite normal, even more normal than some. I was allowing myself to feel what I felt and there was no judgment, no repercussions, just nods.
I got started on a low dose of Wellbutrin after my diagnosis was discussed. They also gave me Mirtazapine one night to help me sleep, and when that proved to be too strong for me (I walked around the halls and I couldn’t recognize anyone or speak coherently the next day), they tried Trazadone. Trazadone gave me night terrors and in my dream, there was a man with a knife, similar to the one I was planning to stab myself with, with a black bugler mask on, who tried to kill my family. I woke up sweating and ran out of my room because I thought he was still there. I stumbled out to a nurse who was on night duty and I was given Ativan for anxiety that night. After none of the drugs put me to sleep or helped in any way, they prescribed good ol’ Melatonin, which worked well as we expected.
After a few days of struggling to stay awake, I was starting to slowly regain consciousness, not that I was close to feeling like myself yet. I was talking to people and doctors saw the progress. I was released exactly a week later.
I stayed home for another week from work, wondering if I should actually quit my job or not. No matter how many times I wrote my pros and cons of staying or leaving, I could not escape this fact: my (mental) health was the most important thing to me. If I’m not alive after all this, how much is this job really worth at the end of the day? What I had gone through was traumatic for everyone involved, but it was truly a wake up call for me to do something differently with my life, and take care of myself before it’s too late. I read about people who have midlife crises, and random health problems on several depression related forums. Most were a lot older than me with a spouse and kids, and I could only be so grateful that the universe taught me this lesson a lot earlier than them when I still don’t have dependents. You really don’t know what life has in store for you, good or bad, and sometimes it’s really shitty. Other times, it’s not. There is a story, originally Chinese, perhaps told by Confucius that teaches us about the unpredictability of life. The story goes, there was a man who fell from his horse and broke his leg. His neighbors pitied him and said “it was just bad luck!” to which his wise father said, “no one knows if this is a misfortune or a good thing.” The neighbors did not agree because it was clearly a misfortune in their eyes. In the following days, the country goes into war and starts recruiting the able men in the village. All the healthy men are taken from their homes by force except the one who broke his leg from falling off the horse.
The most helpful thing a friend told me was that I have come a long way. A long way from battling it all alone all these years, without a diagnosis, or medication, or psychotherapy. It made me feel powerful and capable of going at it again. That I don’t have to be perfect. Because I think I was striving for perfection all this time.
I quit the following week when I returned to work. I did not disclose the health reasons to my employer of course, just the fact that I’m no longer interested in working there any longer. And to those who asked, I only said that I was going back to school to pursue a different field which was the truth. I was not completely myself the week I gave my formal resignation and struggled to sound normal while doing so. I have been out of work since then, not because I can’t find something else, I think I could, but because I have not fully recovered. I can’t say I’m happy yet- there is still a lot of sadness, confusion and fear. I am still in denial sometimes of what happened. When I remember, I start to blame myself for everything, which isn’t really all my fault. Being myself again, let alone being successful, seems like a stretch from where I stand. I would like to go back to school, but my diminished confidence doesn’t allow me to imagine that I might do well on the things I used to think I was good at. I try to imagine me at a different career, but the nagging feeling of inadequacy has me thinking, “if I didn’t do well on the other job, how do I dare believe that I will be good at another job?” There is a lot of uncertainty about my relationship because nothing is set in stone now, not that anything really is, it’s really an illusion that we like to believe in order to feel safe. I’ve never felt so scared in my life, to be honest, and I still don’t think I have my senses back. I still have a long way to go until I figure out my meds and my treatment plan. When things start to suck these days I think of the man who fell off the horse.