When the Physician Told Me ‘You May Never Be Able to Feel Happiness’


Picture this: We’ve all done it. You’re walking along innocently, maybe on your way to the copier at work or through your house in the dark. Suddenly, you’ve hit your knee on something. Right in that sweet spot that hurts the most. It immediately buckles you in half, removes all of the air from your lungs. You can’t quite figure out if you want to cry, vomit or both. You look around for someone to express these feelings to, but usually there’s no one there, or there’s someone there but only to point out and laugh.

Hold on to this image.

It was late spring. I was 25 years old. I had just been released from the psychiatric facility for my sixth time throughout the span of said 25 years. I am a rape survivor, and battler of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. I had taken myself to the ER this time voluntarily. I was suicidal, and I was tired. Tired of battling a disease that just keeps creeping up and consuming my life.

Because I had just moved, I was in limbo for mental health treatment and had to follow up with the primary care physician who I had been seeing. I always liked her. We’d gotten along fine. I respected her honesty, but this time, her words were almost too honest.

We were talking about my visit. The frequency at which I had been hospitalized since my assault. How life had been since then. How, at the time, my diagnoses were still being tossed around and not definite. This turned into a talk about all different kinds of illnesses and how mental illnesses affect the brain. Then, she started talking about me, specifically.

She said, “You just may be one of those people who flatline. You may never be able to feel happiness.”

Remember that story about hitting your knee? Put that here. As a mental health patient, I’ve found it exceedingly important to remain calm, cool and collected when in the presence of a physician. On top of that, being a woman adds extra pressure because we get pegged for being hormonal and our issues never get addressed. I don’t remember how many deep breaths I had to take and how many tears I had to choke back before I could even speak with her and finish my visit. I don’t even remember what else happened.

I paid for my visit and walked out. I sat in my car, trying to rationalize her words. She’s a medical professional. She’s doing her job. Why would you say that to someone who constantly exhibits suicidal behavior?

I understand there’s truth to her statement. I understand there’s diseases where that is absolutely the case. But I was 25. I had just been released from a facility where the goal is for me to mend and heal, where I start to regain self-confidence, some real answers and some hope.

Yet, now I was just given a hall pass every time I’m suicidal. I was just given the phrase to build all my unhappy thoughts onto, to build a wall of sadness upon. I was given a phrase to focus on every time things just feel like they’re too much and I don’t see the point of it all anymore.

I was just given a statement that I could use to justify ending my life to. I vowed from then on I wouldn’t return to her to discuss my mental health. Clearly, it was detrimental. She had just given me a powerful tool of self destruction, one that may not actually be true. To be told as a mental health patient that all you may do in life is flat line is heartbreaking. To be told the only things you’ll feel are depression or nothing is heartbreaking. What do you even do with that?

I have fought hard since then to not focus on her statement. I have fought very hard against it. I have found happiness (and sadness) in my life is based off of my circumstances, not always my mental health. If I continue to take the positive steps I need to take care of myself and my mental health, like continuing therapy and remaining on the treatment that has helped me stay out of the hospital and attempt free for five years, then I hope one day I’ll be able to forgive the words she spoke.

But I’ll never forget.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Image via Thinkstock.

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