There’s a place I call the Pit of Despair, and sometimes I end up at the bottom of it. It’s not a geographic place of course, though that might make it easier to avoid. I could tell my GPS to avoid routes that lead to the Pit of Despair, but I’m working on training my Emotional GPS to avoid those routes, and how to recognize when I’m starting to slip to the bottom of the Pit. Only recently have I named the Pit, been able to talk to other people about it, and learned what I need to do when I’m at the bottom of the Pit: reach out for help.
But that’s easier said than done. I’ve dealt with depression and disordered eating for about half my life (and the anxiety those bring), I cut as a teenager and I still battle self-destructive impulses. I’m lucky to have many loving, supportive friends and family members, I see a therapist, and I still struggle with reaching out for help. I worry about whether I’m inconveniencing someone by asking for support, if it will send me further down if they aren’t available to help, if they’ll get mad at me for what
In 1989, I was a sixteen year old with a mother who was a very heavy sleeper. Nights meant I could finally “dress” in the outfit I’d collected by sometimes unsavory means. Mostly from shoplifting sometimes at the mall down the road. A black skirt, high heels, and a simple blouse weren’t something I could just carry to the cash register and buy. I knew stealing was wrong, but I could finally soothe that nagging feeling. The purr that quickly turned into a roar, and me into a monster who yelled at my friends incoherently. Maybe because they all seemed so comfortable in their skin, and the eyes of society. I was angry, and dejected from a night of not fitting in, so I began dressing up as soon as I was home for the night. It was very late, and I was as drunk as I had ever been.
Up to that point I was buying cigarettes to share with my friends when they came over really desperate. In my cloudy haze I began to think I should go get a pack for myself. This was something I was absolutely mortified of normally, but right then I was feeling
I’m used to relying on my intellect. I’m no genius, but I have to survive on my wits, because my looks aren’t paying the bills. Over the course of my life, I mostly trusted my capacity to reason, as did co-workers and professors. So, once I went off my antidepressant meds, and OCD falsely told me that I was a pervert, a rapist, a murderer and about a million other things, you’d think I’d still be able to discern fact from fiction, and dismiss OCDs outrageous claims. Nope. For years, I viewed these strange thoughts and fears as the result of a moral flaw, as evil thoughts that made me crazy, but that I could not tell a soul about. I was eventually hospitalized for a week after my body could no longer handle the perfect storm of OCD, anxiety and depression.
I became paranoid, considering every hypothetical possibility. “What if I had uttered threats? Would the NSA hear me in my cell phone?” This thought would occur to me despite being in the midst of a prolonged period of silence.
Life gets really small when you’re afraid that everyone is listening to things that you didn’t say, but fear
In retrospect, I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t know what was wrong with me — or if anything was even wrong with me — and I certainly had no idea that I could feel any differently until I was nearly 25-years-old (I’m 32 now). That’s when I went to my doctor, spurred by my dad being diagnosed with depression. He had described to me how he felt and I recognized it as the same thing I had felt all my life — most notably, the sense of going through the motions of a life and not truly feeling much. He was prescribed Lexapro and it made a huge difference for him. My curiosity was piqued; I wanted to see if this pill could do anything for me.
It changed my life.
I remember swallowing the first pill before bed, hearing the doctor’s words echo, “It may take a month before you feel any effect.” — I had no faith and I felt hopeless that night. I woke up the next morning with something I would describe as a tiny “buzz” in my brain. It was as if a teensy switch
“If you haven’t done anything, then you have nothing to worry about.”
Right. In a perfect world that would be great. Oh sorry. Let me explain. Growing up as a black male, I have heard non-black males say that exact same thing to me. It is in reference to cops harassing black males. Ideally, that quote is correct. If you haven’t broken the law, you should not fear the police. You should see them as your friends. An organization that is out there to serve and protect us. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The following is one account of my run-ins with police officers.
My first major incident happened in 2002. I was at college and was studying for final exams which were in two days. I was a 19 year old freshman. It was approximately 1:45am. I was rather hungry, so I ordered a pizza. I paid for it over the phone with my credit card. I had done this many times before, so it was nothing new. Because I lived in a not so nice area of the campus, the pizza delivery guys wouldn’t actually come up to the room. We would have to go down and
I believe in stories. Stories are all that we are, individually, tribally, even as a race. Stories create the lives we live for good or ill, and after many retelling, stories can be hard to change. They may change, by accident, by tragedy, by force of will, but it ain’t easy.
Two years ago I was committed. It lasted 10 days. Ten days of safety that allowed me to break the cycle of alcohol abuse and suicidal ideation. I am still not sure if I wanted that. And since then it has been two years of sometimes doing what I am told. Mostly showing up, occasionally doing the right next thing. Just this past summer I acknowledged baby steps.
A year after being released, give or take, and just three weeks into a new living arrangement with strangers, I had an experience that made me pause. Like a frozen cod slapped against my numb face. I handled it well, as I can be stoic in times of crisis. Then a year went by, and my drinking escalated, and my scratching returned and I suspected it might be due to the approaching of the one year anniversary of that
Imagine the following scenario:
You walk into your primary care doctor’s office. You are feeling sick, weak, and unlike yourself. After describing your symptoms to the doctor, she smiles at you and says, “I think I have a general idea of what’s going on. I have about fifteen hypotheses about what is causing your distress. I am going to pick a hypothesis at random and treat it, hoping for the best. If I am wrong, we will try the next one.”
Wait, wait, wait, you may be thinking. Isn’t there a way to narrow this down before we embark on treatment that will be costly, time consuming, and may hurt me if it turns out to be the incorrect treatment.
Of course this does not happen because medical doctors rely on tests to better understand what is going on. Unless they test for bacteria, they may be treating a virus, and your illness may be prolonged. Medical tests narrow down the hypotheses about symptoms in order to find the root cause, which can then be treated more efficiently.
However, the same cannot be said about the counseling profession. Even if a counselor is an astute diagnostician, diagnosis tells very little