Wanna hear a story?
This time two years ago- give or take a week or two- I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up. I phoned in sick, went to the doctor, and left with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, a prescription, and a note saying I’d be unable to work for a while.
I’ve had better days.
It was, hands-down, one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. I had no idea how I’d pay the rent. I felt like a fraud, a whiny-ass white girl with a couple of college degrees who couldn’t cope with a perfectly acceptable life. When I walked into that doctor’s office, I knew that he’d tell me to suck it up and deal. When that didn’t happen.. well, I had some feelings about that.
I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without friends who had my back.
You see, a week before that day I knew that things were getting rough. Rougher. There were a lot of things I found almost impossible to cope with at the time. Stuff that I’d take in stride now, but that felt monstrous from inside the jerkbrain that had taken over me. Going to work. Eating. Sleeping. Some more serious things- a member of my extended family was sick and not getting better.
When I couldn’t cope- a week before the day when I really couldn’t cope- I called my friends. My Team Me. I told them how I was feeling and asked, if they wouldn’t mind, could people.. stay with me, that week? And they did. The same afternoon? They split the week between them with everyone taking a day or two, and a couple of hours after I got up the courage to send that first message to them (no easy task, that), the first of my incredible relay team was at my door.
I have some wonderful friends.
This meant a lot of things. One of those things was that, a week later when I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I wasn’t alone. I woke up that morning after a couple of hours of fitful sleep, full of a deep sense of dread, terror, panic. I was brushing my teeth when I cracked. And my friend was in the spare room. He woke up when I knocked on the door and it was when he hugged me that I really started to cry. When I said that I just couldn’t cope anymore, he told me that that was okay. It was okay to give up sometimes. I’d be okay.
My friends were waiting for me when I got home from the doctor that afternoon. I remember sitting on the sofa between the two of them, listening to them talk about video games, feeling safe for the first time in too long.
On the day that I couldn’t cope anymore, the attention of the people I loved kept me going.
She Was Just Doing It For Attention
Since the tragic, premature death of Robin Williams, everyone’s talking about mental health and illness. Williams was a brilliant man, who lived with a bipolar disorder that would fuel his creativity and, eventually, kill him. Or so it seems- I didn’t know him and I’m not his doctor or his therapist.
But one thing I’ve been hearing a lot is this: mental illness isn’t just something people fake for the attention, and neither is (attempted) suicide. It’s real problems, real diseases. I want to say that mental illness is something very real, and that people who are sick- just like healthy people- often do things for attention. And that is okay.
In case you haven’t noticed, humans are a social species. The vast majority of us need other people to keep us feeling.. whole. Loneliness hurts, even when we’re entirely healthy. When we’re not- when we’re ill, or our lives are more difficult- then loneliness can eat you up.
And when we’re ill- especially if that illness comes from inside our brains- and vulnerable, then sometimes we’re unable to simply use our words and ask for the help and company we need. I was lucky two years ago- I had both the self-awareness and the experience of using my words, as well as friends who I knew would respond well to that. It turns out, though, that mental illness doesn’t wait around for you to learn how to describe what you need before it gets to you. Jerkbrains aren’t polite. They show up when they damn well please, break into your house and shit all over your nice sofa before you’ve even had a chance to make your morning coffee.
Sometimes people who are sick- or people who are vulnerable or traumatised or even just plain lonely- do fucked-up, self-destructive things. Sometimes those things are a cry for help or for attention.
I figure, if someone’s sick or lonely or vulnerable or traumatised enough to be willing to harm themselves (or risk killing themselves) for the possibility of some help or attention? We might want to do something other than mock them for that. Maybe we should start paying attention.