I want to tell you about the one and only time I’ve ridden in the back of a cop car.
Not the front. The back.
A friend called 911 for a welfare check in December of 2017. To say I was going through a rough patch would be a euphemism.
It was about 2 a.m. when I got a call from a Denver number that I didn’t recognize. It was a dispatcher asking me questions about my state of mind.
She was sweet. Her voice was calming. She never stopped asking questions, trying to keep me on the phone until there was a knock at my door. Two officers with the Denver Police Department greeted me and said they were there to help.
‘I struggle with the very idea of sharing anything resembling weakness in front of you, but I can write this story. I woke up this morning with this crippling weight and a fury of thoughts and realized it was the least I could do.’
I don’t remember much about the exchange, except that I did not protest. That is, until he opened the door to the backseat of his police cruiser.
I looked at him, tears swelling until gravity tugged at them like a tidal wave. I begged to sit in the front. I’ve never sat in the back. I never planned to sit behind that barrier in my life.
“I’m not a criminal,” I pleaded. “Please, no.”
He kindly explained it was for his and my own safety, which I understand now. But I will never forget that cold and unforgiving space – how the lights of the city streamed in through the windows as I sobbed silently before pulling up the emergency room. I also can’t help but think of the myriad of ways that call could have gone differently.
I also want to tell you about another story that explains the depth and darkness of mental illness.
One night around 1 a.m., I cut myself. (It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was about 13 or so. I have to stress that, at least in my case, the behavior is not suicidal. For me, it’s about control.)
I called my neighbor and said, “I did something horrible.” I did something horrible.
‘Are you in pain?’ I wanted to say, ‘Yes,’ because that was the point — to soothe this numb feeling and claw deeper into healing. a compulsion. a victory.
The driver didn’t even notice the drops of blood weeping through my jeans as I climbed into the Lyft on our way to the Denver Health emergency room.
I laughed to myself despite it all because I could only imagine that I looked like Leatherface (you know, the villain in Texas Chainsaw Massacre), masked in flesh and blood that didn’t feel like my own.
I sobbed as she and I rehearsed the lines, committed them to memory to convince the doctors it’s unnecessary to commit me:
“No, I am not a danger to myself or others.”
“Yes, I honestly did not mean to cut this deep.”
“No, nothing triggered this behavior.”
“Yes, I’ve been receiving treatment for more than a decade.”
When the nurse walked out of the room, my friend wiped the rill of running rouge drying in pooled banks at my feet.
The young doctor politely knocked and asked me to roll over, anesthetized what’s already numb, stitched over scar over scar over scar — a diary page from a lifetime of struggle.
I lie there watching him, brazen and apathetic to my naked body, exposed and sewn together only by shame.
“Are you in pain?”
I wanted to say, “Yes,” because that was the point — to soothe this numb feeling and claw deeper into healing.
It was a compulsion.
It was a victory.
I went home with 11 stitches that night.
Some of you may be thinking, “This is too much information. Why is she sharing this?” This is why.
Because I’m so fed up with our conversation regarding mental illness. Because we need to start putting faces to anonymous numbers. Because we need to reframe how we talk about the costs of being a functioning, healthy and contributing member to society. Because the costs are too high and I’m tired of staying silent.
I could tell you so many things, but I want to focus on a single experience that I, like so many others (probably someone you know and love, or maybe you, yourself) — fight every day. And that battle is stigma.
‘I truly believe that vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage; however, I still have qualms about publishing this column. It is naming that unspoken thing we carry.’
As much as we encourage mental health awareness and despite the astounding amount of progress made in diluting the stigma, it’s still there. It’s still scary to be vulnerable and talk about mental illness, but the most terrifying thing about all of it is the silence.
I truly believe that vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage; however, I still have qualms about publishing this editorial.
It is naming that unspoken thing we carry.
I’ve seen so many analogies about how to make depression more relatable. “When you break a bone, everyone is eager to sign your cast.” Those examples are sorely lacking. A broken bone is designed to heal. As a born and bred Texan, I was taught to pull myself up by the bootstraps, but mental illness is just that — a medical condition.
Everything takes its toll. It’s exhausting. It’s expensive. But it’s a medical condition that requires everyday maintenance.
‘How can we, as a community, begin to educate and address the serious issue of mental health?’
When I moved back to Texas, I realized that my mental health resources were vastly limited and my journalist brain went into overdrive. This is a story that needs to be told. At the time, I was working for The Brenham Banner-Press and I began to research and interview every possible source. I wanted to know how access to mental health treatment in rural counties affected not only those afflicted, but taxpayers as well.
After every interview, I walked out of those doors feeling helpless and disheartened, but I also felt driven.
How can we, as a community, begin to educate and address the serious issue of mental health?
I don’t remember why the story was put on the back burner. I know there was a reason, but it feels so foreign to me now.
Perhaps, it was too close to home. Perhaps, I bit off more than I could chew in exposing the flaws that so many rural areas face when it comes to dealing with access to affordable mental healthcare. Perhaps, I was overwhelmed. Perhaps, I thought it wouldn’t change anything anyway. Perhaps, it felt like just another article or another story to fill a page.
And in the end, I didn’t write that story.
I can’t paint the picture of my mental illness. I only know it as my own. I could tell you that it is a self-portrait. It’s messy and beautiful and always a work of art in the making — I’m always painting the canvas with bright colors that muddy together into grey.
I can’t tell you the overarching narrative — about the beginning, the middle nor the end because perhaps, there’s no end in sight. I could tell you the exact diagnoses and the labels I’ve been given, but I can’t tell you how my life feels like the tide — this violent crest and serene shoreline that pushes and pulls.
What I can tell you is that most of the time, I’m terrified to talk about my mental illness. It’s like this dark secret would be found out. It’s inherently mortifying, because of course it is. So here it is.
I struggle with the very idea of sharing anything resembling weakness in front of you. But I can write this story. I woke up this morning with a crippling weight on my chest and a fury of thoughts and realized it was the least I could do.
We need to address the silent epidemic that is mental illness — the qualitative and quantitative cost, for both me and you.
Texana is a great resource we have here in Wharton County. They are always accepting new patients.
There’s also an app that I highly recommend to anyone struggling with mental illness or simply the day-to-day pressures and stresses of life, especially amid this pandemic. BetterHelp connects you with licensed counselors at a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. The unique thing about it is the capability of messaging your therapist at any time, in addition to phone or video sessions. They even offer financial aid.
And, of course, talk to your doctor. But please be aware that medicine isn’t always the answer. Trust me. I encourage you to explore different options and consider a robust approach.
‘And when I’m struggling, it helps to think about the miracles of things we don’t see under the surface – pipes and plumbing, wires and connections. The body breathing. The heart beating. The blood rolling through your veins. It’s not commonplace. It’s miraculous.’
A brilliant woman once told me that if I can put two feet on the ground in the morning, it’s a good day.
And when I’m struggling, it helps to think about the miracles of things we don’t see, just under the surface – pipes and plumbing, wires and connections. The body breathing. The heart beating. The blood rolling through your veins.
It’s not commonplace. It’s miraculous. I know I have something to offer this world. I am more than flesh and skin.
Most of all, I want you to know that I love you, whoever you are. I love you without solitude or regret. I love you without resentment or condition. You have so much more to offer this world. You are so full of life. And I want you to know that you’re the reason the story keeps going.
We, as a community, need to talk about mental illness.
Are you listening?
Note: The subject matter of this column was pretty heavy, so I’ll leave you with my favorite “dad jokes:”
“Do you want to hear a joke about potassium? K. Want to hear a joke about sodium? Na.”
Ha ha get it? I know, I know. It’s awful, but it’s the least I could do.
Another note: Parts of this editorial were previously published in an edition of The Brenham Banner-Press.