I am ashamed to admit that I did not stay in the psychiatric hospital that night. Did I belong there? Absolutely. But I did not stay. I barely remember going up the elevator. I can scarcely recall anything about the experience at all. As with other terrifying experiences I think my brain shut down to protect me from these memories. But I know was when I was shown my room, a shared room, I was suddenly resolved to get the fuck out of there. I could not let my parents leave me there. I didn’t belong there. I was not crazy. These other people that I saw walking the halls. They were crazy. But not me. No, not me. How did I end up here?
I know I should have stayed. But at that time I wasn’t strong enough to face my biggest fear. I wasn’t strong enough to face the answer to the question I had been asking myself when all my problems started manifesting. What was wrong with me?
How can I explain it except to say that I was too frightened to stay?
My mom and dad were both there to check me into the hospital. Ordinarily, when I was upset, I would talk to my mom. But this day I remember looking into my dad’s eyes with tears in my own. Like a child I began to beg and plead with him, “Please don’t make me stay here, daddy.” Somehow my dad talked them into letting me go. I’ll never know how he managed to get them to release me. I was clearly suicidal and had been for awhile. You always hear people talk about hitting rock bottom. That day was the bottom. That day was the black abyss of my depression.
I have many regrets in life. One of my biggest regrets was not staying in the hospital to get the help I so needed. To get the help I deserved. There is no telling how the next few years might have unfolded had I stayed there. Unfortunately, I took the chicken exit. I just wasn’t ready to face the reality of my mental health.
I stayed home that summer. I completely stopped taking anti-depressants. I slept late. Swam in my parents pool. Hung out with my youngest sister. Took a job as a waitress at a restaurant. Decided not to drink or smoke anymore. Decided I could force myself to be happy without meds or therapy. I would talk myself into normal. How hard could it be?
My parents decided to enroll my sister and I in college for that fall. A small college with about 5,000 students in attendance. I don’t think either of us wanted to go there. But it was only about an hour from home. And as much as I hated to admit it, it was a fresh start in a new place.
Did I have it all together. No. Did I need to be leaving for a new college. No. But my parents were forgiving enough to give it a shot. I had wasted an entire year’s worth of my parents’ hard-earned money. But they forgave me for everything and let me try again. True unconditional love.
I had my sister with me this time. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I wouldn’t fail. Maybe I wouldn’t screw it up this time. I swore to myself that I would find a therapist when I got to school. I also swore that I would not drink or join the chapter of my sorority on campus. I figured the parties and boys would lead to trouble again. I figured right.
But with a new set of sorority sisters came friendly faces in an unfamiliar place. I joined and met some good people. People who seemed to support me. This time I was more open with my new “sisters” about my struggle with depression. Always careful not to reveal too much. None of them ever knew the whole story. None of them knew about my first year of college. In fact, I kept that entire year to myself. A dirty little secret.
This college experience was different but not without challenges. Drinking again became a problem for me. It was readily available even though I was not of age. But everyone drank. I only wanted to fit in however cliche that might sound. For some reason I always felt more confident with a couple drinks in me.
I made it through college in three years. I was not medicated during most of those and went through numerous therapists never finding one that clicked. There were some grave mistakes made on my part. I hurt myself with risky and unpredictable behaviors. I hurt others who were close to me. I was happy one week but plummeted into depression the next. I confused my friends. I confused my family. I confused myself. There was no self-awareness at this time.
In the summer of 2000 I was at my parents house and received a call from my old best friend, Breanna. We didn’t talk much anymore. We had gone our separate ways after high school graduation but still kept in touch over Christmas and summer breaks. I figured she was just calling to catch up. I was, instead, taken aback by her reason for calling. She had talked to Amy. My former best friend from high school. Amy was interested in getting together with me.
I couldn’t breathe. It had been three years. Three long and lonely years since I had heard from or talked to her. Three years since she had vanished from my world. And now, the time had finally come to see her again. I asked Breanna if Jessica would be joining us but was told she wouldn’t. It hurt but at least I had the chance to get two out of three of my friends back into my life. I had waited for this moment for so long. The moment of redemption. She would see that I had turned my life around. See that she wasn’t a part of it and that she should have been.
I met both Breanna and Amy at a familiar restaurant in our hometown. I was so nervous that my whole body was flushed red in hives. I had to sit in my car and breathe in and out before putting my feet on the ground. One before the other.
Then there she was. As if she had been there all along. No time passed. There were instant hugs. Familiar smiles. Nervous laughter. We sat eating and talking for a long time. The sun shone when I went in and it had gone when we left. Just like old times. Only it wasn’t. I had planned it all out in my head. The mandatory I’m sorry-s that were owed. She deserved them. But then something I never expected happened.
Amy apologized to me.
And I did the worst thing I ever could have done. I accepted her apology. I was still full of pride. Still full of anger. She had taken away her friendship without even asking me. How could they have left me alone to suffer like that? The drama of that first year, the lost year, unfolded in my head again and the poison of resentment boiled in my stomach. All of this was happening inside of me as she went on and on about how wrong she had been.
I should have stopped her. I should have said NO, Amy. It was my fault. It is me who should be apologizing to you. But the hurt from being abandoned still stung. I never even expected her to want to sit at the same table with me again. Let alone apologize to me. It felt so wrong to look her in the eye and accept it. Because I didn’t deserve it.
When that conversation ended another one started. It was a conversation I thought nothing of at the time. The apology was still swirling around in my head.
Amy asked me about the time in high school when I had an ovarian cyst. She said she had been having some pain in her side and thought maybe a cyst might be the cause of it. The pain had been getting worse over time. I told her not to wait. To make an appointment to go see her doctor. She said she was going to see someone the next week.
Goodbye hugs were exchanged. So were phone numbers. We promised that we’d see each other again soon. Make plans to go out in the near future. But the near future came and went without a phone call. She didn’t call me and I didn’t call her. And I went back to school that fall.
As I was sitting on the sofa one night the phone rang. It was my mom on the other line. Her voice was different and I could sense something bad was coming. She told me that Breanna had called the house asking for my phone number at college. She ended up telling my mom the news. Amy had been diagnosed with leukemia.
I sat there, holding onto the phone like the last leaf hanging onto a naked tree. I told my mom she would be fine. She had to be fine, by God.
Because I still owed her an apology. And she owed me more time.