Part I here.
He’s crying again. It’s not bedtime today, so I grab him and pull him into my arms and sit on the couch with him. I ask what’s wrong, expecting the same, one word: “Nothing.” I get more than that, though. “Nothing…maybe it’s depression.”
“Maybe it’s depression.” When I was 12, I had no idea what “depression” was. I knew what pain and ache and heartbreak were, but not “depression.” So I was surprised to hear those words from his mouth. I asked him how he knew that word, what “depression” was. “School,” he said. School. Right.
One thing I love about my children’s school is their willingness to be honest and direct with their students. They have the conversations that parents are sometimes unwilling or uncomfortable to have: personal hygiene, mental health, sex, abuse. I do my best to make sure I agree with the teachings, not in a moral sense, but more to make sure the messages they are receiving are positive – that sex isn’t a bad thing, but is an experience they should wait to have; that any touch that you don’t like is, by definition, a bad touch; that mental illness is a challenge one that they should take seriously, as seriously as a broken foot, that girls don’t belong to boys and boys need to respect the word “no.” I could tell, from his words, that he knew to be concerned when tears fell without an external reason beyond a general sense of sadness.
I paused and tried to speak. But the only words that felt right to say were words I was not ready to say. But he was ready to hear them. “When you were three and your sister just about a year-and-a-half, I spent a week in the hospital because I was so depressed, I had no hope.”
“March, 2009. I drove you and your sister to daycare, came home, and sat on my couch, staring out the window. That morning, like most mornings, I imagined driving my car into the tall, thick trees that lined the route from the daycare back to home. Not with you or your sister in the car, because I loved you too much. But I thought about making that decision but when alone, after leaving you with a woman I trusted beyond belief.
In the months prior, I found myself in a flutter of activity. I was a second-year graduate student, and I was writing a thesis. I also fancied myself a new burgeoning singer, singing background for an up-and-coming artist in Oakland. Twice a week I drove an hour to Oakland and an hour back home, spending 2-3 hours singing. The nights I was not in Oakland, I was at Starbucks, staring at a screen, writing the same two pages over and over, until the coffee shop closed. I was your mother, you were two toddlers at home. But I was always moving, moving, moving.
And then, suddenly, I crashed. I stopped singing, sending a text message apologizing for my mistake. I stopped writing, ignoring the emails from my advisors and my department. I stopped doing everything, everything except sleeping. I stopped washing, brushing my teeth, doing my hair. I got up, took you to daycare, came home, got in the bed, woke up, picked you up, waited for daddy to get home, got in the bed. I dreaded time alone with you guys; you needed so much and I had nothing to give.
By this time, I knew this was depression. I’d been in therapy for years, talking through my issues, beginning at sixteen, through college, and during when I was pregnant with you. But this feeling, this “I don’t want to be here” feeling was not as familiar. It was the “stand on the edge of the subway platform” feeling. But I had two beautiful black little children. And while I wanted the pain to stop, I did not want to leave you. But everything in my body wanted to jump back in that car, slam on the gas, and drive it straight into the closest tree. I was terrified.
So, that one morning in March 2009, I sat on my couch and I decided. I decided to live, but I needed help to do so. I did not trust myself to be alone. So, I canceled my psychiatry appointment. I called my best friend. “I need you to come and get me and take me to the hospital.” Over and over again, I begged her to come and get me. I could not explain why. I just needed to go. She did not understand me. I told her to just come. “Please just come and take me.”
She wanted to stop and get Daddy. I did not think I could face him. How to face a man who loved you beyond belief that you need to leave him with two babies because you are afraid you are going to drive into a tree? How did that make any sense? We stopped on the way to pick up him up anyway. He was so worried, and I could not say anything like, “it’s going to be okay.” Because it wasn’t okay, I was not okay.
The emergency room is the last place I think anyone in a mental health crisis should go. “What’s the problem, ma’am?” I heard from a representative, the person that takes your insurance card and identification. The question came out flat, spoken from someone who has been dealing with “emergencies” all day. “I want to die.” She barely registered that I had said anything. She made no eye contact while she just typed. She took my cards, made copies, gave them back. “Someone will be right with you,” she says.
The triage nurse was not much better. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I want to die.” “What do you mean?” “What I just said.” “Have you thought about how to do it?” “Yes. Please do not send me home. I need to stay.”
My friend went home, needing to care for her own children. The nurse requested a police officer. They place a police officer there to make sure you don’t do anything crazy. He sat and watched me as I sat on the ER bed, surrounded by a curtain for privacy but open so he could see me. Other cops came and went, joking with the posted cop. Although they are probably were not, I thought they were laughing at me.
My psychiatrist, a university doctor in the student health center, came to see me. Honestly, I do not know why. He was not helpful. The graduate family coordinator came to the hospital as well. Their pity was palpable. It made me angry. It made me cry.”
Long story short, I tell my boy that I went to that hospital because I had no hope. I did not think I could be a good mother anymore. I did not think I could be a good wife or a good friend. I thought I would be better off not here anymore. The pain was too much. I had no hope.
He looks at me, clear-eyed. “Mommy, I have hope.”
Now, I have hope too.
(to be continued — Part III)