What Happens When You ‘Get Help’

Therapists don’t work in the ER, and other mental health truths

It was midnight and I woke up in my bed in the ER. Well, it was kind of a bed, not like a hospital bed. It was more like a cot, with cheap white bleached sheets — stained with my own blood — and a pillow on the edge of a room with nothing but walls and white tile.

It was one of those days you forget between Christmas and New Years, when it is a Saturday but feels like a Monday but surely must be Friday. It’s a greyed out area in our calendars, part of “the holidays” but yet just a set of 6 days wedged between two actual holidays. (Well, a holiday, if you aren’t working.)

Hours earlier, I was so frustrated and miserable with my life that I decided to ask for help.

“The holidays are hard. It’s ok to ask for help” — this was the message on so many social media posts that week. And finally, I thought yeah, maybe I should. This isn’t working.

This, being my medications and my general way of life. I needed to clear my head. And sleep. But sleep had become insomnia in the past few months, so I guess I just needed a break from that, too.

I called 911 because I wasn’t sure I could safely drive to the ER. The holidays aren’t something my family partakes in, and as I’ve been pretty distant online despite a recent return to social media I didn’t have a chosen family to turn towards. This wasn’t “sad.” This wasn’t “depressed.” At that moment I was just desperate. For someone to care. To Listen. To help.

“It’s okay to get help.”

But here’s what help looks like: Being locked in a room, with walls and flooring much like a gymnasium in high school, with no one to talk to. With a nurse who tried to open a tube for my blood with his mouth and yanked so hard his hand moved the needle in my arm just enough that the needle came out. (Surprisingly, I didn’t even bruise, though no one cared that my bed and pillow were covered in blood.)

And there was no one to ask “what should I do?” The nurses outside, monitoring all of the psych patients that night, are watching YouTube videos on their phones and eating food, loudly. So loudly, it seems a little too loud. As if to bother me. No, it’s definitely to bother me.

I tried to sleep more but my mind was racing. I wasn’t prepared to stay in a hospital, as I barely had time to put decent pants on after about a dozen men entered my apartment and found my blood pressure at 180/140 and pulse about 130 bpm. I volunteered to go to the hospital, but I was not voluntary. Not yet. Not ever, actually. I was on the cusp of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, against my will.

I asked for help. Not hell.

When the social worker finally chatted with me about 4 a.m., she was eager to send me home. I seemingly had a great line of providers ready to help, from a PCP at a fancy startup (that is trying to go public, so I might change my mind on that idea) to an array of various doctors who try to diagnose weird hormonal issues and an occasional therapist.

But none could help me that night. It was a greyed out day on their calendars, too. They weren’t working. As if the need for mental healthcare just stops after December 24th, into the new year.

So after many hours of lying in a room, and hearing patients scream from psychosis, or be held down because of aggression, I couldn’t imagine waiting there…waiting for care. Waiting for the kind of help that we all imagine help to be.

Asking for help is actually a kind of torture, one where the person in crisis is quickly moved somewhere only the brain can think, and think more, and worry more, and as the anxiety creeps up, it suddenly seems that asking for help was the wrong move. Staying at home is more helpful, just on those terms, and in that scenario is the next desperate move; I wanted in, but now I want to go.

But at home I can also try to text my doctor again, maybe wait until morning and get into a clinic to clarify those lab results no one wants to agree with. Getting help takes me away from all the things I can do to feel better…my music, my bathtub, my shower, my bed. These are a few of the things they call “coping mechanisms.” And they help, as they help anyone — without knowing they are a “coping mechanism.” All the things that make us feel better are not found in the ER.

I’d like to think, when we ask for help, it’s a lovely conversation on the phone with a therapist who won’t charge us for that hour, or a comfy suite in the hospital while a team looks at the options while ensuring I’m never alone.

But it’s not. And the sooner people understand that a sterile white room is the “help” we ask for, we being those who suffer from any of the shitty feelings during the holidays that might arise for whatever reason, those well-intended messages won’t drive more people to a point that asking for help was just another notch on the crappy holiday gift list. And that pushing off the help onto someone else’s plate, be it the police or EMS or hospital or on-call doctor means you’re not willing to help.

I like to think of one particular friend as the better way, as the way to ask for help: just say you’ll listen, and that you are there to help. That you’ll check your DMs and email. Anytime.

Because, the reality is, that’s the only help those who need help during the holidays can truly receive.

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Kelly Clay

Writer, graduate student, naptime enthusiast. Fueled by coffee and more coffee. Email: kclay dot xyz at gmail