In late 2009 I walked into an emergency room in New York because I thought I was going to die.
I was living in an abusive relationship. My daily life was a barrage of accusations, threats, lies, and constant efforts to control my every thought and action. I was 700 miles away from my family and anyone who could or would help me and had no money of my own because I wasn’t allowed to work. I was seeing a therapist and had gradually saved up enough gas money to drive back to North Carolina by getting small amounts of cash back every time I went to a store…five dollars here, ten dollars there. Then the problem was actually leaving. Could I do it, go to bed knowing I was going to pack my cats, and all of my belongings that would fit, into my car the next morning after the other person…I cannot say partner because at that point this person had become a warden, I was the prisoner and our house was the prison…went to work and get away quickly enough? Would the neighbor who kept an eye on my comings and goings while my former partner was at work be home and call my former partner at work? Would I be stopped? Would I be hit this time? Would my cats be taken away, and everything that gave me access to the outside world: my car, my computer, my iPod? I already knew that my phone calls were monitored because it was admitted, and my email had been monitored in the past.
I started to feel like I was made of glass. I shuffled through the days very slowly, barely eating, barely caring for my pets, going to a therapist and planning how to leave and what to take, then being afraid to try because if I got caught in the process…I couldn’t imagine the result.
One day the glass started to crack. I called my therapist and he told me to go to the ER and tell them that he sent me there. I went to the ER. The parking lot was entirely full. I went “home.” I sat in my car in the driveway, called the therapist again, and he told me to go back to the hospital. I went back. I found a parking space directly across from the ER doors. I took my laptop to the hospital with me because my manuscripts were all on it and I was afraid they might not be when I got home if my former partner came home from work and found me gone and the laptop on my desk.
It was shift change time at the ER, between five and six in the afternoon, and all the rooms were full. I sat on a gurney in the hallway with a large male orderly standing over me to make sure I didn’t leave. I saw a doctor for a moment. He gave me an anti-anxiety drug and told me he would be back. I sat and watched him going from room to room, talking, well, patiently to each person. I remember an elderly woman who evidently had dementia in one room, screaming for the police because she thought she had been kidnapped. The fog in my mind cleared. The orderly gave me a sandwich–salami–and a soft drink. I watched the doctor in his scrubs going back and forth from room to room. Finally he came back to me. There was no room where we could talk. He took me to a quiet, empty hallway. I told him how my former partner talked to me, how he controlled me, and I felt stupid because there were so many people with “real” problems who needed the doctor’s attention.
The doctor told me that I needed to leave my former partner immediately. He told me that none of the things that my former partner told me were true and that I wasn’t a bad person despite what was drilled into my head every single day and night. He said if I couldn’t get out on my own, to come back to the ER and they would help me get into a shelter. He gave me a prescription. I got it filled and went home.
I had called my former partner because I felt I had to tell this person where I was. I got the prescription filled on the way home. “So you decided to go the drug route,” my former partner said, and then began to criticize the doctor. I said stop it. You have no idea what that man did for so many different people. I took the medication despite my former partner’s objections and I didn’t crack. I kept going to the therapist and soon after that, I called a friend and wired her the money to rent a box truck. She drove to New York alone and helped me pack everything the box truck and my car would hold and that we could lift. We took all three cats. We left. I drove my car. She drove the box truck. I went back to North Carolina. I had to stop in Virginia and spend the night in a hotel because I was so exhausted in every way and had been driving for so long that I was hallucinating. In the morning, one of my cats was under one of the beds and wouldn’t come out. I had never stayed in a hotel alone. I managed to pick the one hotel in the entire United States that had beds in regular frames instead of on the wooden frames that go all the way down to the floor. I called my mother. I called my cousin. They both told me to get the hotel manager to help me. We put the two younger cats into carriers and then we had to take the mattresses off both beds to give the other cat no place to hide. He helped me put her into a carrier. He refused to take a tip or a gift for helping me. He offered me a cigarette, but I have asthma and don’t smoke.
When I was in my new home in North Carolina, I called the doctor from the ER in New York. He remembered me, probably because I was the only “crazy” woman with a laptop in the ER that night. He said he had been worried about me and was glad I had called. When I googled his name off the first prescription bottle in order to find his phone number, I discovered that he was the Director of Emergency Services at that hospital.
I’m watching the coverage of Robin Williams’ death and of course the reason for his depression was something entirely different from mine but it struck me that this great man had also been as fragile as I was. I wish I could have taken him to talk to the doctor I saw. Maybe the doctor could have said the right thing to him as he did with me.
The U.S. healthcare system is broken, of course, and mental healthcare may as well be out of reach for most of us. You can’t see a therapist and keep trying meds until you find the one that works unless you have insurance. But you can walk into an emergency room. Someone will talk to you. You may run into some healthcare providers who don’t click with you. It happened to me a couple of times. But you mustn’t give up. If you’re depressed, paralyzed by anxiety, being abused and you feel yourself cracking, go to the ER and tell people what is wrong. You have to take the gamble. Everyone is fragile. If you actually are unable to physically leave the house for whatever reason, call 911. Call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and tell them you need help NOW or that you need to know how to find resources in your area. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, even if it’s “in the past”, call RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE. Someone will tell you how to get help. If you are an LGBT young person and need help call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.
Don’t be ashamed, don’t suffer in silence, everyone is fragile.