Crying into a bowl of Mu Shu pork while cat sitting on Christmas Eve is probably my low. I watched my tears actually fall into my food. And I ate it. Alone and petting someone else’s kitty, I was a scene out of some web series I never had enough money to make. I hated that all my interactions with family, friends and strangers were colored in an intense blue hue. Blue hue? Boo hoo. Every conversation was saturated in crybaby realness.
I have been in and out of unemployment solidly for a year. Freelance life in television short circuited my soul and my heart was drowning. Apparently I wasn’t big enough of an asshole to compete with all the assholes. I really wanted to change the world but now all I wanted to do was change myself. Last Christmas I was the centerpiece of a political fight in my family and I was content to sit this one out. Until on social media I watched all my friends traveling and families who were better at pretending to be perfect celebrate across the nation. Being alone is when all the dreams I used to have come back and remind me that I had purpose. Drive. Passion. Creativity. Humor. I once was able to get an entire NYC subway car to sing Madonna’s “Holiday” to drown out an anti-gay preacher. How did I get stuck unable to accomplish anything? Job hunting is a huge battle by itself but, coupled with my crippling and very real depression about the election, 2017 was a fast spiral. Gimme the vodka. Pass the weed. Gurl down.
When the holidays finally ended, the first person I saw was my therapist. After several months on a waiting list, I scored a pretty decent guy through Medicaid and had been seeing him for many months. I was so low on the sliding scale that it was no cost to me. We found ourselves talking about anti-depressants. Since he was a psychotherapist, he wasn’t able to write prescriptions. He suggested I see my primary care physician. I made my first appointment with my assigned doctor, he ordered every test possible, and after everything came back fine, was told he didn’t feel comfortable prescribing the medicine. He didn’t have any ideas on what I should do next. I went back to my therapist who referred me to a nice psychiatrist. She was amazing on the phone but told me it would be three visits at $200 a pop. That was the discounted price! I laughed. She laughed. I bet she was a really, really good psychiatrist. She told me, “You know you could also just get this medicine from your primary care physician.” After I explained my situation she said, “Oh he’s being silly. Change physicians. They can prescribe it very easily when you tell them everything that’s going on.” After an afternoon on the phone with my insurance, I was able to hunt down a new primary care physician. Three weeks later I had an appointment. He hesitantly gave me a one month prescription and referred me to a different place that would pick up prescribing the medicine. I started Wellbutrin the next morning (for free! Thanks Medicaid!) Another three weeks later I went to the appointment at the new place. I was told I would have to stop seeing my original therapist in order to see this psychiatrist and get the happy pills long term. I already spent ten months with a therapist who knows my whole life. Why would the system make me switch? They didn’t have any ideas on what I should do next.
The rage button in the middle of my chest burst. “If I was an actual crazy person in the streets and didn’t know how to help myself, how would I get help?” I looked at the blank face of my intake psychiatrist. Silence, then, “Why don’t I walk you to the front office?” She had no answers. I was too mad to leave my chair. “You’re the fifth doctor in three months I’ve tried to get medication from and none of you have any answers on what to do next. I’m the patient. I have no knowledge of this system. And apparently neither do you.” She took a deep breath. “I know. It can be very frustrating. You’ll have to call your insurance to help sort this out.” She stood to open the door. “I need a minute before I can go out there.” She opened the door. “That’s good. You’re using your coping skills and making boundaries.” Four seconds passed. “You’re ready now, yes?” (“Flames. On the side of my face.”) She didn’t mean for it to be condescending but it was absolutely condescending. I stood up and grabbed my jacket. “You just want me out of your office. You didn’t help me today.” I stormed down the hall and forgot to push the button that unlocks the door so I accidentally hit my face on the glass.
My primary care physician luckily gave me two months of Wellbutrin while I figure out next steps. He was confused why the place he referred me to wasn’t helpful. “That’s strange. I’ve never heard of them doing that before.” He asked me how I was feeling on the medication. “Well, I definitely feel a difference. I’m not crying myself to sleep every night and I’m keeping more social plans. I still feel sad but it kinda raises the floor. Instead of piercing and debilitating depression, I’ve got a low key comfort cloud chilling me out.” The doctor nodded. “That’s great. Sounds like it’s working exactly as it should. And remember you can always go off the medication when your situation changes. It’s not supposed to be forever. We can discuss that when the time is right.” This guy was a keeper.
The journey to help your mental health is confusing. There’s no better road. No map. Definitely no fucking shortcuts. It can be scary if you feel yourself falling apart while you’re doing all the right things in order to get back on track. America has a huge problem with addressing mental health needs and the only way to change it is to talk about it. And the only way to talk about it is to remove the stigma. That phrase gets used alot — “removing the stigma”, so let me be very clear what it means. IT MEANS NOT MAKING PEOPLE FEEL BAD FOR FEELING BAD. It means people who suffer from depression are not disgraced or worthless or something to be swept away. It means you don’t need to talk about us in hushed whispers. Sometimes just asking your friend or family member if they’d like to talk will make them feel better. If they don’t want to, make sure they know you are there if they ever need someone to listen. A simple “Yeah, I understand how you feel” can be an uplifting moment. I’m lucky to live with a good friend. We ask each other how we are every day and we’re honest with the answers. Its very funny and therapeutic to share all moments in the rollercoaster of life with genuine friends. If you don’t have people to talk to, google mental health crisis centers. They have trained professionals who can talk you through difficult moments. I called during a panic attack once and the young lady who answered totally sounded like a real friend. After a few minutes, I was through the rough patch and breathing fine.
We can’t ignore people we care about when they are sad. We can’t shame them for having feelings. Its through open and honest communication that our emotions will flow in a healthy way. In today’s new normal, truth is one of the only weapons we have left. Emotions don’t get the best of you. They ARE the best of you. Every month needs to be Mental Health Awareness Month.
Keep talking. And just keep swimming.