by Paige Long
This time last year was one of the darkest parts of my life.
At the time, I was in Newport News, having landed an on-campus internship for the summer. I was learning a lot and I caught on quickly. One month earlier, I had finished my favorite college class, Mental Health Stigma and Advocacy, where, in three weeks, I learned about all of the barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment.
But I wasn’t doing well.
I was overwhelmed by my emotions, which seemed to be many times more intense than they had ever been. Others’ joy made me angry. No amount of sleep was enough. Doing anything but the bare minimum seemed daunting and impossible. And every day, work used all of the energy I had.
As soon as I came home at 4pm, I would crawl into bed and I wouldn’t get up until 8am the next morning, with the exception of venturing out to find dinner around 7pm because I didn’t have enough energy to make my own food.
I cried a lot. I slept a lot. I smiled and laughed very little.
In the middle of summer, the sun was bright, but life looked bleak.
Sometimes, I didn’t go to work. I spent those days in bed, again only rising to forage for food. My body would ache from lying for so long. No position was comfortable.
As light poured through the cracks in the blinds, I was reminded of the rest of the world. I heard, “Everyone is out there being productive but you. You’re lazy and selfish and unsuccessful. You won’t amount to anything. All you’ll do is let everyone down.”
In my sick mind, I was a failure.
BARRIER TO TREATMENT #1: LACK OF ENERGY AND MOTIVATION
I didn’t have the energy to reach out for help. I only had enough energy to do what I’d been doing. People who need treatment often feel unmotivated to get it or do not have enough energy to get it.
So I talked to my boss. I knew she was disappointed about my absences. I felt like I couldn’t tell her what was wrong. I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I felt like it was my fault. (Note: This is only about what my brain perceived.)
BARRIER TO TREATMENT #2: STIGMA
Even mental health advocates fall victim to the pervasive stereotypes that surround mental illness.
My boss allowed me one hour off every week to see my counselor. And that was extremely helpful. My counselor helped me change my thought patterns. She was there for me when I felt afraid and alone. But it wasn’t enough.
I was taking medication. It was an antidepressant that I had been on for two and a half years. I was on the highest dosage allowed by the Food and Drug Administration. And I suddenly realized it wasn’t working anymore.
So I spent my entire lunch break the next day calling psychiatrists in the Newport News area.
BARRIER TO TREATMENT #3: HEALTH INSURANCE OR LACK THEREOF
Out of ~20 nearby psychiatrists, I can count on one hand the number who accepted my health insurance. (I have MILITARY health insurance, which *should* be accepted by every doctor, but that’s a rant for another day.)
BARRIER TO TREATMENT #4: NOT ACCEPTING NEW PATIENTS OR SCHEDULE FULL
Of the ones who accepted my insurance, all but one either weren’t taking new patients or were booked until September. (I called in June. This waiting period is DANGEROUS. Things can get worse FAST.)
So here I was. Experiencing severe depression, the worst it had ever been. Using all of the energy I had to reach out for help. To flail my arms and scream and hope that someone on a passing ship would see me. And dozens of people saw me, but no one threw me a life preserver. No one told the captain to change direction because they spotted someone drowning. No one jumped into the water to rescue me.
I wasn’t suicidal. (But if I was, I could’ve gotten immediate treatment, but because I wasn’t, I didn’t. There’s a gap here. Too long in this gap can lead to suicidal ideation. Our system must be changed.)
I was lucky. I made it. I kept going to counseling, and I found a psychiatrist who could squeeze me in about 30 days later. And I almost slipped several times, but I held on.
And today, I’m reflecting on how far I’ve come.
On the support system I’ve built.
On the self-care routine I’ve created and stuck to.
On the communication skills that allow me to tell someone that I’m struggling early.
On the advocacy and volunteer work that gives me so much purpose.
On the amazing friends and mentors I’ve met, who share similar stories and the same desire to improve our mental health care system, like Lauren, Lee, Ginger, Amanda, and Jennifer.
On the degree I earned one year later.
On the fact that I’m no longer taking medication, and I’m doing great without it, but I’m ready to try it again if I need to in the future.
On the non-linear recovery process that I’ve traveled over and over and over. That I will travel for the rest of my life.
Do you see all the barriers here?
- I’m lucky to have amazing health insurance that covers mental health care and a supportive family to lean on.
- Imagine what this would be like if you didn’t have health insurance.
- If you didn’t have the money to pay out-of-pocket.
- If you didn’t have a reliable method of transportation to get to your appointments.
- If you couldn’t tell your family what was going on.
Our system can be better.
We can be better.
Depression is so hard. It turns your brain against you. It’s not something you just “get over.” It’s not something you choose. You can have all the money and fame and success in the world, and mental illness might still find you.
But it can be managed.
It can be treated.
It can be supported.
Recovery is possible.
Take the first step.
Getting help right now
If this post made you realize that you need help, please contact your primary care doctor or health insurance company. Don’t wait. Please stay. Please reach out. Please say something. You have options, and you have people who care about you, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
If you’re in crisis right now, there are trained individuals ready to talk to you toll-free
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255). They can listen and help you locate resources in your area.
- If texting is better, please text anything to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
- You can also call Virginia’s Statewide, Peer-Run Warm Line at 1-866-400-6428 to reach a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist – CPRSs have lived experience and can empathize with what you’re going through.