This morning, like almost every morning these days, I hear Katherine’s voice in my head.
You can do it, baby. Put your feet on the floor. Yes! I’m so proud of you!
Katherine messaged me these words a few months ago when I had another bout of really bad depression. I had called in sick, again, because I couldn’t face the world, couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t feed myself, and because I was thinking about that bottle of muscle relaxers. I threw them into the garbage as Katherine messaged me. We message each other on Viber every day. It was easier for me to admit to her how bad it had gotten because she doesn’t judge, she is safe. It also helps to reveal these things over message when a face-to-face conversation with anyone seems daunting and exhausting.
I told her I hadn’t showered in four, or was it five, days. I couldn’t imagine mustering up the energy and motivation to shower. I knew I had to go to work the next day or I would sink so far down this dark hole, I would need serious help or…I don’t know.
Katherine’s messages, her voice, saves me. When I think about harming myself, I always think, I couldn’t do that to Katherine, or my dog, or my mom, or… breathe… Andy. But I also can’t go another day like this. I swallow hard to conjure courage and determination.
Katherine messages me to stand up and walk to the bathroom, to message her when I get undressed. I do.
You’re doing so gooooood! She messages me. I feel a tiny bubble of pride. I start thinking of myself as a small, sick child. She tells me to get in the shower, just get in it, and to message her as soon as I’m out. I start taking everything one tiny task at a time. Turn on the water. Breathe. Stand under the water. You’re doing good. I get out and dry my hands and immediately text her. She is so proud of me. She knows how hard that was and thinks I’m so brave. She encourages me without being patronizing somehow, gently, lovingly, and firmly.
She is the voice I need in my own head because the only voice I can hear right now is trying to kill me.
She tells me to text her as soon as I wake up in the morning, to give her updates on everything I am doing, and to imagine her cheering me on. She is two hours behind me in time, so I don’t expect her to be awake when I text her shortly after six the next morning. However, she responds shortly after with more words of encouragement, more hand holding. Tears of gratitude and relief that I am not alone fill my eyes.
I still haven’t fed myself. When I think about feeding myself, I realize that nothing sounds appealing, and the actual act of finding food in the kitchen and feeding myself is so overwhelming, I give up. It sounds insane. It feels insane.
But soon, Katherine’s voice helps me do that. Slowly, Katherine’s voice is turning into a part of my own. I am able to get myself up the next day and make it into work, one small task at time. I am doing so goooooood!
I still echo Katherine’s voice every single day.
Yesterday, I went to the community health clinic for those of us with low or no income because I know I need more help, yet I’m jobless and insurance-less after moving to Indiana to be close to Andy. I know I need a medication adjustment, and I need to find a therapist here. I don’t want to go. I am scared, isolated. I feel like I will be walking into a building with people like me, yet I also want to scream that I am nothing like them. This is a temporary stop for me. I close my eyes to try to separate myself from the trickling thoughts of panic and flight. I open my eyes and realize that safety precautions are taken everywhere: all doors are locked, employees are kept safe behind inaccessible desks, “absolutely no weapons” is posted everywhere. This only encourages the feeling of panic. I remind myself that I feel crazier than I am. I know I am privileged. I’m currently living off of my savings account, I have a masters degree, a friendly personality, I’m quick and adaptable, and I have various skills that will certainly provide me with job opportunities. This is a temporary stop for me.
I turn my head to see various sorts of people in the waiting room and wonder why they’re here too. I suddenly actually feel crazy. I look down at my hands resting on top of the clipboard and think how absurdly small they look. I’m wiggling my fingers nervously when a blonde woman calls my name and leads me to a locked door. She unlocks it with a quick twist of her wrist and tells me to sit. She uses the same voice I use to tell my dog to sit when she’s on the verge of getting in trouble. I feel my eyebrows raise and then scowl as I tuck my chin slightly. She walks around to the side through another locked door and hurries to sit behind the desk that keeps the patient blocked between door and desk. It’s claustrophobic and I begin to sweat as I feel the lump in my throat grow. My chest hurts and breathing becomes painful and shallow. The woman is cute and looks painfully naive. She looks about seventeen years old. I glance at her left hand. She is married. I wonder how she got this job. I wonder what it takes to receive mental health patients with little or no income every single day.
She asks me smile-less questions about my income, my past, if I’m homeless, what’s my address, if I’m here for mental health or substance abuse, if I’m looking for work, my level of education, questions about my health and my mental history.
She asks me if I would like to give permission to release any of my information to anyone else. I give her Andy’s information and say, “yeah, in case anything happens.” I suddenly choke back a sob and swallow it. I’m certainly not planning on harming myself, but I’m at the point where my own brain scares me so much sometimes, I almost feel as though it could harm me without me agreeing to any of it.
I answer the questions but my voice sounds small and hoarse. I make a joke in my head about sounding like a pony. I make jokes in awkward and uncomfortable situations, usually out loud. It helps me. This time, I can’t joke out loud because I’m afraid the young girl will think I’m even more insane than I already feel. I feel weak. My knees are numb and I’m already afraid of the end of the interview when I have to stand, I envision my legs giving out and me dropping me to the floor, only to be carried off in an ambulance, my arms and legs strapped to a gurney. I feel a little dizzy, maybe because I haven’t eaten since…? I continue to answer her questions automatically. The answers come from a part of my brain that I’m so grateful seems to be able to communicate with the rest of the world, to function without much of my conscious effort. It’s as though someone is stepping in and carrying me through the interview. I’m so grateful. Good job.
I sign papers, and then it all ends abruptly with the child saying, “you can go.” I feel foolish. I feel crazy and small and alone. I choke back another sob as I leave the room. Swallow it. Get out. I think as I shuffle, dazed, through the waiting area. Not a single person looks up in the room of ten or so people. I think I might be invisible, which makes me feel both extremely alone and also safe again.
I open the door to the outside world slowly, the handle feels cold and the door is heavy as I lean back to open it, tugging on it with my weight. I step outside, and the sun is resting somewhere behind the clouds, like my happiness, I think. I glance up and down the sidewalk and feel the lump in my throat sink all the way to my navel. I have a hard time holding my head up and I want to hide my face. I pull my hood up over my head and stare down at the sidewalk as I pick up the pace toward home. My entire body is filled with a numbing sort of tingle, like when novocaine starts to wear off. My cheeks are hot. I know this feeling. The lead in my navel, the need to hide, the numbness, the heat in my face, and the distinct awareness of the space my entire body takes up in this world. It is shame. My body feels as though it’s not my body anymore but a foggy, fuzzy, tangled grey mass of shame.
I’m sharing this now because I am tired of feeling this shame around my depression. I’m tired of feeling like I need to hide my face and avoid eye contact when I talk about how I really feel. I don’t want anyone else suffering anywhere to feel ashamed either. I’m not sharing this for advice. It’s not intended as a neatly wrapped package of “this is what I learned” nor is it meant for a conclusion. It’s just the raw story of today I needed to share. And to remind myself, this is a temporary stop for me.