I'm a girl who never says die. I've lived on my own since I was 19, paid every one of my bills since I took my first job at 15 -- and I had to give up my financial independence three months ago, when I filed for disability.
It was the most difficult decision I've made in my adult life.
I had been fighting mental illness since I was first diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and mild PTSD, nearly three years ago. Searching for a therapist felt like admitting an inadequacy in myself, some weakness that kept me from handling my sh*t. My husband reassured me this was not so, but I kept the fact that I was a member of the Troubled Minds' Club mainly to myself.
I didn't tell my mother because I was afraid of the umbrella of her worry that would overshadow me. I didn't want to hear my acquaintances explain that they understood me because they too had been sad or nervous or stressed. So I kept my mouth shut, except to my husband and friends so close they should have been born family.
Eventually, talk wasn't enough to stave off what singer, writer, and politician John Roderick has dubbed "the demon dogs." The science project had to begin.
I had failed when I couldn't work it out, and I had failed when I couldn't use a professional to talk it out. Now someone else had to be brought in with a medicine chest. He and his pills would supplement the therapist, and hopefully provide some relief.
It came, and it went. The pills came, and they went. The psychiatrist came, and he went.
Eventually, the grasp on my reality started to slip, too.
The beginning of the next failure was a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Think of it as cycles of depression and anxiety, oblongs of each that vary in shape and size. They switch places without notice, and stay as long as they like.
In essence, bipolar is one big b*tch that's out for your jugular.
For four months, I swam in quicksand. I quickly became overwhelmed by the simple tasks my job (overpaid data entry) required. It may have been the required hourly quotas that got to me, or it could have been the monotony of the project itself. I would take breaks as often as I could, loading up on coffee, puffing hard on my vape pen, sitting in my car and quietly weeping, hoping my make-up (on the days I felt like putting it on) wouldn't run.
Panic attacks would come down on my head like a sledgehammer. The cubicle would shrink. My coworkers' chitchat would run across my skin like a cheese grater. A fist would clench my chest.
This was how I spent my days.
I would come home and immediately fall into bed, sometimes for a nap, sometimes for the night. The only way to remain awake was to mainline coffee with my microwave dinners; I used to find cooking soothing, but I couldn't find the will to do it anymore.
I could barely find the will to continue to exist.
Fortunately, my fear of failure was smaller than my fear of obliteration. I never attempted suicide, though I have self-harmed. Sometimes it's easier to stop battering yourself mentally when you can see blood rising up from your hand. Sometimes it's easier to quit your life in theory than it is to quit it completely.
In March, I spoke with my therapist, and she and I settled on disability, after missing days of work that were getting harder to explain away; I refused to discuss my diagnosis with my boss or HR, too afraid of their reactions. I took the idea home to my husband, and he nodded in acceptance.
It would mean a pay cut that we perhaps could not afford. It would mean he would have to shoulder the majority of our financial burdens. It would mean that he would walk out the door every morning to earn a living while I would stay behind in my pajamas, working on simply living. There are many lesser men who would not be able to do the same.
I made the call on April 2nd. When the representative answered the phone, I had to repeat my diagnosis twice, my voice was so low and shaky. I was in a Wegmans parking lot, and I watched the people pass behind my car in the rear-view mirror, convinced they could hear me, could see the cloud of mismatched chemicals in my head. The call was mercifully short.
I walked into the supermarket, picked up my prescriptions, and went home, feeling like I'd finally put down a heavy pack after a long hike.
I didn't tell my mother about my diagnosis for many months; I was worried about her worry, but she took it better than I had thought, offering comforts that only mothers can provide.
I was relieved. But it didn't mean that I was ready to tell her about taking disability.
I'm a girl who never says die because my mother never says it, either. I was raised to honor commitments to my workplace. When I made the call, I went back on everything I had been taught -- everything my mother had believed in and had helped me to believe in.
Again, I had failed, and I continued to fail.
My disability checks failed to cover my bills, and every couple of weeks, I would ask my husband for one of his credit cards, all of which were hovering around maxed out. My medications failed to work, bringing me back to my psychiatrist again and again with a small voice and story of ill side effects. My carefully planned routine of diligently walking, writing, and studying failed to offer me any relief.
And of course there was the fear that my disability would expire, that I would have to get better by a certain date, or else.
But when it was extended past April and into May, I realized that no one would let me return to work if I wasn't completely ready to be there. I began to settle in.
I learned how to budget my checks -- small as they were. I learned to speak up to my psychiatrist when he didn't care what I needed, and learned how to fire him for a woman who treated me with respect. I learned to discard the parts of my day that I dreaded, to eat what made me feel good, and to focus intently on my writing, the therapist I've kept on call since I was 7 years old.
Most of all, I learned not to be ashamed -- to think of myself as a sick person instead of a failure.
I told my mother the truth about my disability, and she's been nothing but supportive. I give myself permission to nap when I need, to have a glass of rosé when I need, to go for a long walk when I need, to do whatever I need to keep myself in the game.
Because I'm still the girl who never says die. I've just got a few pesky bugs in my brain.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
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