I laughed a minute, through the sobs, recalling a joke so old that when it flitted through my mind, dust poured from my brain:
“One day, the suicide hotline got mixed up and began to play that (now old) Nike slogan: “Just Do It.”
Because you know what suicidal people need?
COWBELL things getting in the way of finding help. I’d spent the entire weekend waiting for Monday, the day I knew I could get get the ball moving with my GP as well as begin the long and obnoxious process of finding a therapist. And so far I’d been met with this:
1) A doctor’s office who seemed to be ignoring me like I was a stalky ex-girlfriend
B) A suicide prevention hotline that, when I was told to “wait on the line,” disconnected me.
Nervous Breakdown: 2
Aunt Becky: 0
Being tenacious, even in my breakdown, I decided that I would call back – perhaps I’d been lulled by the soothing voice on the phone and had not, in fact, pressed a number like a good little semi-suicidal person should. I did.
This time, a woman with a German accent so incredibly thick it sounded as though she was speaking through honey, answered the phone. Not being one who likes to pour her heart out to complete strangers (which, I think even Alanis Morisette would agree is particularly ironic considering that is precisely what I’ve been doing since I started this blog), I was immediately on guard. Would she Baker-Act me? Did Illinois HAVE a Baker Act? Where were my pants? And where in the name of the Good Lord of Butter was that damn python?
She introduced herself and asked me why I’d called the hotline, or at least, I think she did. It sounded more like,
“Hi, my name is (garbled), and you’ve reached the suicide hotline.”
“Uh, HI,” I said, sobbing heavily, which I was pretty sure made me as indecipherable as her German. “I’m Becky.”
Except it probably sounded like, “I-I-I-I I’m Bu-bu-bu-Becky.” (snotty interlude)
“Hai, Becky,” she returned, “Vhy did yew call us today?”
Sputtering, I spit out (really wish WordPress had a “weepy” translation so I could toggle a button and translate my words into whiny hysterical bitch mode.)(I’ve also, a time or two, wish there was a “translate into pirate-ese) “I’m just losing it – I’m having a nervous breakdown. Things have been so bad.” I’m sure she heard something like, “Snorrrrrttttt….nerbous break…things….bad.”
“Vat,” she inquired, “Is dee problem? What hassss been going on?”
“Well,” I said, “I’b habing problems and I’b overwhelmed and so sad (as though I needed to point that out to someone I was acutely weeping toward) and I don’t know what to do.” I trailed off into a snotty burble.
“Arrrrr you married?” She asked – or I think that’s what she asked - she could have asked if I’d been contemplating my new life as an alien or a man named Steve – I couldn’t be sure.
“Yeah – but we’ve been having some struggles. He’s said some things that I don’t know you can take back.”
She clucked sympathetically, and rather than delve into those problems, which, you know, I’d have preferred skewing my eyeballs out with fondue forks than really delve into with a woman whose accent made it sound as though she was continually insulting me.
“I’m not sure he loves me anymore. He says he doesn’t,” I sobbed.
“Do you believe in a higher power?” she asked, and confused as to how it related to my husband’s love – or lack thereof – for me, I answered thoughtfully, “uhhhh, yes,” but before she could answer and harangue me with her Bible Talk, I quickly responded, “but I am not particularly religious.” Which is mostly the truth. Or as much of the truth as I cared to delve into with a woman who had (I presume) the capacity to call the cops on me, especially since the last thing I’d taken away from my upbringing was “do not discuss religion. End of story.”
“Vell,” she continued, “tap into zee energy of zaaa vorld. Can you feeeeel zeee energy of zeeee planets? Da sun, da planets, da universe, all sending their energy to yoooou.”
Great, I’d gotten the only (presumably) suicide counselor who believed in zeee power of zeee planets. Oh well, I shrugged, at least she wasn’t telling me “Christ died for YOOOOU,” because how is THAT comforting? (answer: it’s not)
“Uh, yeah,” I responded, the tears slowing a bit. Maybe there was something TO this suicide hotline – she’d certainly distracted me from my nervous breakdown as I wondered a) where she lived b) whether she did Tarot readings and 3) was she (currently) burning some Nag Champa?
We hung up soon after that – once you talk astral energy, you don’t have anywhere else to go.
I began, as I’d been doing on and off for a couple of days, to sob once again, the moment I hung up. I returned to the computer to assure my two best friends, Jana and Crys, that I was not, in fact, off offing myself. They’d been calling local therapists to see if I’d be able to get in to see someone ASAP, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when the phone rang.
I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway with a tentative, “Hello?”
“Hi Becky,” a soothing male voice greeted me. “It’s (insert name of old shrink). How are you?”
Assuming that this had been the handiwork of Jana, who’d been lovingly called some therapists while both of the guys in my life (Ben, and the Guy Formerly on the Couch) had gone off to work, I continued speaking to him.
I spoke honestly: “I’m not so good – I think I need to come in for a session soon.”
“Okay, how’s Thursday at 1PM?” He asked. “Hopefully, I’ll have the air on by then – the storms cut off my power and water, which means I’m sweating like a pig.”
“Sounds good to me,” I snorted, the tears falling fast.
“I’ll pencil you in for every Thursday through July,” he said, clearly hearing sobs.
“Oookay,” I replied.
“Now, I was calling to ask about Dave – he has an appointment today and I have no air conditioning. Figured I’d double check with him as to whether he wanted to show. I don’t have his cell – what is it?”
I doled out Dave’s cell phone number and we exchanged our goodbyes.
I sat, staring at the phone somewhat quizzically – how had Jana known that this was my old therapist? Eventually, I sent Jana an IM – “did you call my old therapist?”
“Nope,” she said in her mouthful-of-sugar Southern accent. “Why?”
“He just called out of the blue. On the one day I’m having a nasty nervous breakdown.”
“Wow,” Jana said. “Wild.”
I was quiet a moment while I thought.
“That? That’s Providence,” I said. “With a capitol P.”
And thus began my road to recovery.
I was in the third grade when I had my first nervous breakdown.
No one ever quite knows if I’m joking when I say this – they’re always standing there all nervous-like, wondering if they should laugh or look sympathetic. It makes sense – half the people I know don’t know if I’m joking when I say anything from, “I’m having a miscarriage,” to “I just lost my best friend.” They’re accustomed to the punch-line, the quip, the joke, and when none comes, they stand there, shuffling their feet, looking around for someone to rescue them from what is now a decidedly awkward situation.
I never know whether to laugh or cry when I’ve put myself in this situation.
But it’s the truth – in third grade, I had my first nervous breakdown. I threatened suicide. My parents took me to a shrink, who’s name eludes me, but I want to call him, “Mark,” because I think that was his name. I’d sit there, week after week, staring at the curls on his head, which were tightly wound, as though he’d had a reverse shock treatment or a particularly bad perm. He’d have been the last white man with an Afro, had his hair not been dripping with hair product. His face reminded me of a reddened potato, the tell-tale alcoholic signs apparent to me even then – his nose looked somewhat like a potato, streaked with broken blood vessels and pores so large you could probably read a cryptic Morse code message in them.
I can’t remember what we discussed, but I do recall staring at his gigantic pores, wondering if I could, in fact, take a swim in them.
Eventually, I said enough of the right things to convince him that I was okay and I was discharged from treatment.
I was eight years old.
I’ve had a few nervous breakdowns throughout the years, every now and again when the going gets too tough, the lie gets too big, and the pain is no longer able to be beaten back into submission. I’ve never found a good “cure” for these breakdowns – if I were an alcoholic, I’m sure I’d go on a binge, and hell, I’m half-tempted to TRY it just to make these feelings; this darkness stop.
I’d been spiraling quite awhile, of this there is no doubt. The thanks-but-no-thanks AVID letter was what clued me into it – and I did nothing, hoping the situation would go away, I’d be presented with (or find) another solution, or that this would blow over. That I’d wake up one day and not dread whatever the day would bring. That the pervasive sadness would somehow dissipate and I’d be left to see the world as it truly is, not distorted through the haze of sadness.
It didn’t work out.
Which is why I began my descent into nervous breakdown territory sometime late last week. I spent the weekend balled up on the couch, a weeping mess, unable to find the joy; the hope that had, mere moments before, been swirling about.
Monday, I told myself. Monday I’d call the doctor and get some help – it’s clear my antidepressants aren’t working properly, and the insomnia, maybe he’d be able to offer me something to beckon me to the Land of Nod beyond the cocktail of Benedryl and Melatonin taken in doses so ridiculous that I should’ve been dead.
Finally, Monday rolled around and when it did, I called the doctor. The phone rang and rang, without directing me to their directory “Press One If You Have An STD,” “Press Two If You Hate Medicaid.”
Also, it would serve to fit that the one time I genuinely needed to see my doctor, his phone wasn’t working. Fabulous. I’d finally hit my “semi-suicidal” state, and help was nowhere to be found. Unless, of course, I went to the ER, but what were they going to do? Illinois version of the Baker-Act? Tell me it was “all in my head” and make me feel worse? I didn’t know, but I knew that whatever happened there, I wouldn’t be ready for. And The Guy Formerly On My Couch had my car – I didn’t need an ambulance.
The seconds ticked steadily by, each slower than the one before, my panic reaching a fever pitch, the buzzing in my ears growing louder and louder as I ran to the bathroom, clutching my sides, vomiting up whatever was in my stomach.
How did it get to be so bad? How did someone who created a place where “none of us are alone” end up so damn alone? I didn’t know. I couldn’t understand. How did it get to be so bad?
I tried the doctor’s office again – this time I got a voicemail that informed me that the power, water, and phone lines were out. Fucking perfect.
The tears pooled down my face and onto my shirt as I reached out to the one place I could think of: the suicide prevention hotline. I didn’t want to die – I wanted to end my suffering. I wanted to live; and live without that sadness looming, threatening to suffocate me if I wasn’t hypervigilant, watching my back at every turn. It was so exhausting. The temptation to give up, and give in to the calling darkness was tremendous.
Hands shaking, I dialed the number and listened to the prerecorded message about “staying on the line for help,” and listened to the nice soothing hold music, wondering how I was going to spill out the mess of my life to a stranger, sobbing at the mess my life had become.
I heard a click, then silence. Within a couple of seconds, the loud BEEP BEEP BEEP signaled one thing:
My call had been dropped.
The suicide prevention hotline had dropped my damn call.
I’d have laughed if I hadn’t been sobbing.
I should’ve seen it coming.
Falling down the stairs at 4.2 weeks pregnant with my last child meant exactly one thing: every time I tried to get treatment for it, the doctors ran out of the room, shaking a bottle of Tylenol in my general direction, because OMFG the PREGNANT LADY we can’t TREAT the PREGNANT LADY – THINK OF THE LAWSUITS IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG WITH THE BAY-BEE!
(the ironic thing is that there was STILL something wrong with the fetus that had been written in her genetic soup well before I hurt my foot).
By the time I was able to get treatment for my foot, it was well past the “we can do shit about it,” and “WTF were your MD’s thinking?” which means precisely one (okay, two) things: I can, upon occasion, pull Das Boot from the closet and tromp around in it when it’s particularly narfy, and I can generally tell you when the atmospheric pressure is changing.
(in my best yokel accent) I gots a trick foot, y’all!
So that’s why I say I should’ve seen it coming.
Which is why I hadn’t bothered taking any precautions. One minute, I was cuddling up my sweet daughter who’d been tearfully showing me her blister – which had popped – and the next minute, the room was practically pitch black. We’d not bothered to turn on any lights, because, well, it was 11AM and summer in Chicago, which meant it was balls hot with a side of armpit-level humidity.
“Mama,” she asked, her arms woven upward and snake-like, entangled with my own, “why’s it nighttime?”
“Storms a-coming, Baby Girl,” I told her as I kissed her curls. She nestled into me like a baby for a moment, her sleep-filled eyes betraying her as she tried desperately to stay awake.
The wind began to howl, as I moved into the kitchen to light some candles, should the power go out. I could hear my eldest screaming his frustration at me into his pillow – I had put my foot down to him going out in the storm; it was too dangerous. He seemed to think, which he often does these days, that I was full of the bullshit.
I paused a moment at the back doors, staring outside at the wind whipping past, the sky full of bits of trees that had been caught up in the strong winds. I looked down and happily realized that I’d managed to put my sparkly red Uggs – at least I’d wind up in Kansas (or was it NOT Kansas? I can never be sure) should the winds opt to take my home. The streets filled with water as I heard a distinct thunk as one of the trees went down nearby.
Shit, I thought, that Ass Tree with it’s Ass Boner is going to come down on top of the house. God, I hope I look glamorous at my funeral. Shit – I forgot to write down my weird funeral demands and have them notarized – I hope my Pranksters will tell anyone who brings baby’s breath to my funeral to fuck off – I’m so not into filler flowers.
As abruptly as it began, the storm blew right on by us, on to torture our neighbors in the east – perhaps THEY’D wind up in Kansas; it became clear that we were going to be staying right here.
The sun, shining blithely through the trees as though our world hadn’t just been rocked, and made the puddles on the side of the road shimmer and sparkle; shining like diamonds, I noted happily, as I walked outside. My neighbors emerged from their houses one by one, each of us standing at the sidewalk, looking back at our homes, inspecting them for damage. Carefully, slowly, I heard the sound of a lone chainsaw come to life, as we began to rebuild our lives, branch by ever-loving branch.
Like we always do.
Because we must.