How a Single Phone Call to My Psychiatrist Saved My Life
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
It’s been 13 years since I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Thirteen years of trial and error medication, side effects, hopelessness and occasionally success. It’s been a roller coaster, and some days I just want to get off of it.
For weeks, I had been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. One night, for the second time in two weeks, I started writing a suicide note – but this time I didn’t get very far. Without giving myself a chance to think, I (finally) picked up the phone and called my psychiatrist’s answering service. I think the tone of my voice, the forced positivity, was a giveaway that this was in fact important enough to wake the good doctor at 11 p.m. on a Thursday. So they put me through.
I immediately realized I had woken him up, and I’m not sure I have ever felt so guilty about anything. I had picked up the phone without thinking, because I would not have done it if I gave myself a chance to think. But now I felt like the worst person in the world — and now I really desperately wanted to kill myself that very second because of it. Luckily for me, he knew what I was thinking. He told me I had done the right thing by calling, and he was glad I called. He told me not to worry about it at all. He arranged for me to stop by his office in the morning, even though he wouldn’t be there, and pick up samples of a new medication. I agreed.
When I got to his office nine hours later, the woman at the front desk had to call him because he hadn’t left instructions. Much to my surprise, she pulled me aside and handed me the phone: “He wants to talk to you.” I felt like I was being called in to meet with the school principal. He told me how much medication to take, and when to take it. Then he told me he was proud of me, and he was really glad to work with someone like me who would call when they needed to. He doesn’t lie, or exaggerate, so it was a rather surprising comment and it meant a lot more to me than he realized. He told me to come see him Monday. I was actually relieved. Suddenly I wasn’t going to have to tough it out and survive another month “alone.” I just had to survive the weekend – and I knew now that I wasn’t really alone.
By Monday I was nervous. Not anxious in my usual way, but actually nervous. My suffocating guilt about waking him up hadn’t gone away, and I couldn’t make eye contact as I followed him back to his office. When he closed the door behind me, something inside me broke — and maybe it needed to. I was depressed, I was scared, and I had been hiding it from him (and the world) for a while.
There was something no one knew – something I hadn’t even admitted to myself. I never expected to make it to age 30. I thought my time was limited. I never imagined I could survive the rigors of mental illness this long. I never bought a house, had kids, pursued graduate school, learned French, or planned for retirement. I just tried to survive each day and enjoy what I could. Truth be told, I’ve spent my life waiting to die.
There was a painful realization to be had in that moment — I didn’t have to die, but I did have to work hard to live. I wasn’t a lost cause — and I wasn’t out of time. Suddenly it was up to me. I knew I couldn’t choose to make depression go away — that was abundantly clear — but I could choose to see a doctor, take medication, and ask for help when living gets too hard. That was the piece of the puzzle I simply hadn’t accepted yet.
Living is possible — but not without help.
I wish I could say there was some magic that happened — that I jumped up and got outpatient therapy, overcame my anxiety, went back to school for my master’s, found a career in counseling, and my life transformed before my 31st birthday (and that I never again contemplated suicide).
But I’m going back to my doctor next week, staying on medication as prescribed, taking a class at community college and reminding myself as often as I have to that it’s OK to ask for help. I’m learning to accept that depression is not a death sentence — even when I want to die. And that asking for help is not a sign of being needy or weak.
It’s an example of strength and a source of hope.
We all need saving sometimes, even from ourselves.
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via 04linz