Two psychiatrists looked at me as I stared at the floor. It’s been a week since I was admitted and to the them, it was clear I was still battling a depressive episode. To me, I couldn’t see anything beyond the pain. I hunched over in the chair and covered my eyes. I was shaking, doing everything I could to hold it together. All I could think of was how hard I tried in the last seven years to fight this pull, but I was no match for it. The thread of my life was quickly unraveling and there was nothing left I could do.
I fell apart right there before them, an avalanche of despair. The agony was so great I only had one thing to say. Between the tears I gasped, “I want to live… it’s just that I’m dying.”
“So you do want to live,” one of the psychiatrists said.
Surely she had heard me say I was dying, but instead of giving in to that thought, she chose to highlight something I barely acknowledged. I did say I wanted to live, didn’t I. Her choice of words were a moment of insight for me — a small crack in my defense towards death.
She continued her thought, “What would you say if I told you that it’s a disease that is making you feel like you should die all the time? How would you feel then?”
I paused for a long moment, trying to get the words out right as I was replaying my immediate reaction over and over in my head. Drying my tears, I began to stutter. I was holding back my initial thought, ashamed of what I was going to say. Then in a soft, sobering, resolute voice, I whispered, “I usually don’t swear but to answer your question — I’d say that this is one fucked up disease.”
“It’s true,” the other psychiatrist said. “This is one fucked up disease. One that seems to be coming out of nowhere, dropping like a brick.” The young psychiatrist with the beard and glasses continued to use the phrase “fucked up” over and over again until I felt understood, as if he was giving me permission to be angry. He knew it was unfair, that it didn’t make any sense. No disease does. No one wishes this type of thing on their worst enemy.
Because of that conversation I was able to open up to them and trust them a little more each day. By the end of my hospital stay I came to realized two major things: 1) When it really comes down to it, in spite of all signs I shouldn’t exist, I want to live. Life reaffirms itself even in the midst of death. 2) That pull, that voice, that pervasive wanting-to-die thing? Well that is part of a disease and not a reflection of who I am.
Those lessons would have been great if I was only battling depression but I was also dealing with borderline personality disorder. They forgot mention one last thing in order to make these lessons stick. One last thing that would tie it all together. On the last day of my treatment, as my social worker said her good-byes, she reminded me that, “you got to find that fight inside of you again. You had it before. You can get it back. You got to find that willingness to try again.” She made me realize that despite the fact I live with a disease, it is still my responsibility to change and to keep on trying to change.
And that’s where I find myself today — being open to both acceptance of my illness and willing to do something about it. As hard as it was, I’m thankful for falling apart in front of those two psychiatrists a few months ago. It’s invaluable to have doctors with both a listening ear and insight. I’m thankful to the patients — for their presence, companionship and sharing in our common humanity. I’m thankful to my friends and family who visited me or wanted to visit me — for their love, concern and pastries. And especially to my husband, Mike — for visiting me every single day no matter what. His love knows no bounds.
Through these experiences, I’ve learned that every life has value no matter how bleak it may seem, even mine. And now that I’m back on the outside, I am willing to do the hard work that comes with acceptance and change.