Months ago now, I told you that I was feeling better than I have in my whole life. That’s still true. In fact, sometimes I forget that I have depression. Sometimes I forget how bad things actually were. Sometimes I forget how it feels to lay on the kitchen floor and cry. Sometimes I forget that I attempted suicide. But the thing about depression is that it doesn’t forget you. Depression has a long memory. Depression is a long memory. So yes, I am okay. So yes, I still have depression.
When my depression presented itself in its first fine glory, I could blame it on stress and being flat broke. After all, what better way to explain inexplicable sadness than with being in college? As the depression worsened and I went to grad school, I blamed it on a lack of success, fiction workshops, isolation, my finances, my partner at the time, Indiana. It felt good to have those things to lean back on, to validate how destroyed I felt every day. It felt good for the problem to be my circumstances, not my brain.
But now…I don’t have anything to blame. My life is wonderful. I don’t even mean this in a social media way (you know what I’m talking about #Namaste). I mean this in a very real sense. My job is amazing and stable; my home is, as you know, incredible; I have more friends now than I have ever had and they are all the best; I have been very much published; I write more than ever; I’m finding my voice.
To tell you then that I feel guilty for being depressed in the face of such goodness would be an understatement. After all, I am not a victim of violence or of politics or of political violence. After all, I have enough to eat, drink, and enjoy. After all, I get to sleep in a bed when immigrants are being forced to sleep in modern day concentration camps or when people must flee their homes in the face of war. Where does my brain get off being depressed?
(I recognize that depression is a mental disorder that does not subscribe to rationality.)
After my suicide attempt in 2016, I went to therapy. My therapist was a student like me, she was about 26, and she was maybe no more than 5ft. tall. Whenever we stood side-by-side, I felt like a giant. She was very caring and had a carpeted office with soft lights, a purple blanket, and plenty of tissues. I’ll tell you now, I’ve never cried in therapy. We worked together for an hour every week for four months. When I skipped a session, she called to make sure I was okay. She made me feel seen. Through our time together, I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with depression on a daily basis. While it was too late to save my relationship with my partner or Indiana, it was her groundwork that kept from killing myself in Georgia. It was that groundwork where I began to rebuild a stronger, more hurricane-proof version of myself.
Flash-forward to March 2019 wherein a close family member attempts suicide and I am gutted. And I know that there is a chance that this will trigger similar feelings in me that could cause a spiral. So, since I have very good insurance, I try to schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional at a local clinic here in Boston (it’s the Boston Medical Center). I think I am being proactive about my mental health.
When I arrive to the clinic 20 minutes before my appointment, I am caught in a long line of people and one receptionist. While he does his best, I am still late. When I am finally seen into the office, it is a nurse who takes my vitals (all excellent, by the way) before the doctor comes in to ask what she can do for me. This is all unexpected. I thought I was here to see a therapist. I tell her what I need and my doctor wants to know if I’m suicidal. Then she takes my blood to check my thyroid because I am overweight. She gives me a prescription for diet pills.
It isn’t until the end of our time together that a mental health clinician comes to meet me in a small, echoing room with a computer and a very uncomfortable chair. She asks about my mental health background. When I tell her I have attempted suicide in the past, she stiffens and asks how I am dealing now. It takes her some convincing to believe that I am well. She treats me with kid gloves and I hate it. She tells me that the next available appointment is two months from now. I take it because I need to stay focused on wellness.
While I wait for this session, my grandmother passes away unexpectedly and my father relapses in spectacular fashion. I am coping because I have the tools to do so, but talking to a professional is fairer to myself and to my roommates who are gracious enough to listen. I write a lot of letters, I get fresh air, I go out to dinners, I have a vigil for my grandmother, I am proactive.
It is May. The day finally comes where I am going to talk about my strange circumstances. I am very excited because mental health has become fun for me. Depression is a puzzle I can solve. When I meet my therapist though, I discover that this is another intake session. I am frustrated but understand. How can we work together if she doesn’t know more about my baseline? She writes “hyper-intelligent” and “has excellent coping skills” in my chart when I tell her about my life in a frank tone. She asks me what I need from therapy. I tell her, “I need a space to work out these feelings in a safe and constructive manner.” I am explicit. We agree that short-term therapy will be best for me. At the end of a 45-minute session, I schedule my appointment for two weeks later.
Again, I am very excited to go to therapy and talk about these problems because I am definitely not talking to my dad and am aware that this is not viable. I leave work early, take a Lyft to the clinic, check-in, and wait for my name to be called. Fifteen minutes go by before the receptionist calls me up and tells me that my therapist has to cancel because she doesn’t feel well. There is nothing the receptionist can do. The next appointment is another two weeks away. She tells me to send my therapist an email. I am furious. I am furious because there is no explanation. I am furious because I obviously have abandonment issues and for my therapist to ghost me is negligent. What if I was unstable? What if I didn’t have coping mechanisms? What if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back?
It takes me two days to calm down and write her an email detailing my grievances and requesting a new therapist. I do not feel good about doing this but am proud of my own advocacy. She does not reply for five days. When she does, she apologizes and I am assigned to another therapist who I will not be able to see for another week. I want to give up on therapy but am encouraged to pursue this avenue.
It is June. I meet with a new therapist. She does not shake my hand when we meet. She gets distracted with another nurse on the way back to her office. She is older. She is not warm. Her office is bright with an uncomfortable chair. There are no tissues. She asks me what I want from therapy and I repeat: “I need a space to work out these feelings in a safe and constructive manner.” Instead of listening to my problems, she makes me take a GAD-7. There are 19 minutes left in our session. I tell her I want to talk about my dad and she tells me, “Imagine we have and that I have given you all of the validation you need. What does that feel like?” It feels like a waste of $25. Still, I recognize what she’s doing, though she does not tell me. This is an Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) approach to get me to deal with the root cause of my anxiety and depression. She sends me home to journal. She’s trying to trick me into wellness. I do not need to be tricked.
I talk to my friend who is training to be a psychiatrist. He recommends that I get a different therapist and buy a book by Dr. Jay Earley based on IFS. I do and read it on my own. It is very enlightening and has activity suggestions for therapists to do with their patients. I deal with trauma on my own because it’s been 3 months since the initial trauma and I’m tired of being angry and sad and anxious. Through this, I get better. I forgive my dad for his relapse and everything that came before. I start to re-parent myself. I feel free.
At my next session, a session that starts late, I report all of this to my therapist and she sits there, flabbergasted. And then she asks me the one thing I don’t want to hear: “What is it that I can do for you?” In a way, this should be validating. I should feel good about outpacing my therapist, about impressing her, but I don’t. I want to be told how to eradicate my depression and my anger and all of those nasty feelings that impede me from living a semi-normal life. Yet here’s this woman who is woefully unprepared to deal with someone who is trying to be proactive about her mental health, because she is really just used to pulling people out of the hole. Does that mean that my depression and my mental health don’t matter as much? What do “hyper-intelligent” people do when no one can help them in a meaningful way? How do I continue to care for myself? And when is enough…enough?
At the end of this saga, I realize that I am in an in-between stage. My depression is not bad enough to warrant attention or suicide hotlines or 30-minute sessions with a local clinic therapist. But I still have depression. Most days I manage my sickness. Some days I don’t. Last week, I had the worst “down day” I’ve had in a long time. I briefly ideated before self-medicating with ten straight hours of video games. My coping mechanisms aren’t always the healthiest, but I am grateful for them because they get me to the next day where doing something better for myself is easier.
There is no triumphant ending to this story because this is not the end.
Recently Harriet and I came to this conclusion: Depression is a lot like herpes. It is ever-present, but you can forget about it until you have a flare up. Even then, in the middle of your pain, people don’t see that you are having a flare up, so they will demand you perform like nothing is wrong. There is no cure and you carry it with you for the rest of your life. When people find out you are sick, they treat you differently.
I’ll tell you now, illness doesn’t define you. I am much more than my depression. I am “hyper-intelligent” and kind and creative and funny and a whole mess of other things. I am hyper-vigilant about my mental health because I never want to be on the floor again, because I want to see my sisters grow up. What I really want is to help other people get to where I am. To do that I have to be vocal and honest and tell you that not every day is great, but that in itself is okay.
So, hello, my name is Bailey, and I still have depression.