Three Rides

Three Rides

My family has no knowledge of the three rides I’ve taken in police cars.

In the span of less than one year, I was a passenger in three different police cars, all for the same reason: I was in crisis.

The first time, I was pacing around campus, overwhelmed over a variety of things. My thoughts were overwhelming me and becoming dark. Most of my friends were gone for the summer, including my roommate; I couldn’t find a job, my relationship with my parents was on the fritz, my financial aid for the next year was not confirmed. There was not much to keep me occupied or make me feel useful, and a lot to make me upset.

As I was wandering around looking distressed, I bumped into a friend, who said I didn’t look well. I admitted how I was feeling, and he suggested I go see a counselor.

Campus had free counseling services. I’d been seeing one for going on two years at that point. She happened to be on maternity leave at the time. (By some twist of fate, it happened that my supervisor, my counselor, and my psychiatrist all had overlapping maternity leaves that year.)

It was summer, so it was easy for me to get an appointment within the hour. I described my situation and my feelings—my damaged relationships, my feelings of uselessness, depression, self-loathing. As soon as I hinted at suicidal ideation, the counselor insisted I take a police car ride to the Crisis Center.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

The Public Safety officer that picked me up was nice enough. But niceness doesn’t cover the awkwardness of getting patted down and asked if I was carrying any weapons and confirming that the scars all over me were from self-harm.

It didn’t help that as I was lead into the car, one of my former co-workers was smoking in the parking lot and saw the whole thing.

The cop chatted pleasantly. I didn’t have much to say. The seat in the back was plastic, making it impossible to get comfortable or brace myself for stops and turns, and there was a grate between me and the driver. It was the first time, but not the last, that I felt like my mental illnesses made me a criminal.

I’d never been to Crisis before. The questions the intake survey asked were invasive. I knew it was all there to help me, but I felt extremely exposed and uncomfortable. The front desk staff hid behind mirrored panels that I realized much later were probably two-way. No one looked anyone in the face and there was a stifling, terrified silence. It took maybe half an hour for me to be seen to.

I cried like I had at my first counseling appointment, but this counsellor was nowhere near as good as the one I had on campus. She seemed idealistic and bent on fixing me. My exasperation at her unhelpful, amateur methods chipped away at my panic and distress, and I realized I was probably better off back on campus. I let her help me make a safety plan, which involved me calling campus housing and talking to my least-favorite supervisor (I used to work for housing, so a lot of the people I called that night were old supervisors). She apparently had no idea what a safety plan was.

I called the friend who’d seen me earlier, and he agreed to let me stay the night at his place.

The counsellor drove me back to campus in her personal car. We talked about tattoos. It was awkward in its own right; the counselor had suddenly become an acquaintance letting me borrow a seat in her car.

I had my documented emotional support animal living with me at the time. I couldn’t leave her alone over night per campus policy. But I also wasn’t allowed to move her to another person’s apartment. Given I was in a crisis situation and we were making plans in an attempt to preserve my life, I figured we could make an exception. No one I called could confirm it, and it basically ended with my favorite supervisor saying he would neither approve nor disapprove of my bringing the cat with me. The next day I got a tart email from the head of housing saying I should have had someone come over to my place instead of illegally transporting my cat.

Obviously she’d never been in a panic-induced haze.

My cat and I spent the night at my friend’s place. Crisis called him to check in, and he reported I was fine. Being surrounded by him and his roommates, all of whom were my friends, was comforting. I calmed enough to sleep. My cat slept with me. They fed me breakfast, and when the 24 hours were over, they ensured I made it safely back to my place.

I lay on the couch texting my roommate, who was out of town at the time. That was why I couldn’t stay at my place. There would have been no one there, and the group I stayed with didn’t want to uproot and move when it was just easier for us to have me come over, cat or no cat.

My roommate and friends continued to check in on me, but as it got darker, I started panicking again. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I asked my older brother to stay over that night.

He begrudgingly agreed, spending most of the evening texting other people, and leaving that morning without much of a goodbye.

**

My second ride was the worst. I was making serious plans to kill myself, and it was terrifying. My friends knew something was up. I was not myself for days. Each night my plan was to either go to the Crisis Center or die. For several in a row, I was too exhausted from my own distress to do either one. But any time someone asked, I couldn’t answer. I told them I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want them to freak out. I didn’t want them to care.

When, several days into this, I bumped into a friend and an advisor, I must have looked especially upset, because they both immediately stopped talking and asked me what was wrong.

My roommate immediately offered, even joining me for part of the counselling conversation. I was seriously in danger that time and they had me committed to the treatment center.

Of course, I had to ride a police car to get there.

And this time, I didn’t just feel like a criminal, I was treated like one.

I was a danger to myself. They put me in handcuffs and the officer held my arm as he led me to the car. I will never forget the feeling. The weight of the cuffs on my hands. The pinch of the clasp. The ways I tried to maneuver my body to avoid the pain of the plastic seat pushing the cuffs against my wrists and back.

I never want to feel that again.

**

The next ride was almost comical. It occurred the following spring, a month before graduation, when several things cumulated into a nervous breakdown and a fierce desire to self-harm.

Before things got too dark, I felt myself in danger again and took the bus to Crisis. I had the presence of mind to pack an overnight bag. I took the wrong bus, got off at the wrong center, and used Google Maps to walk to the right one. I read my homework assignment as I waited for the counsellor to come get me. I calmly explained my fears and my desire to go somewhere where others could keep me safe and I would be separated from the responsibilities and anxieties that were eating me alive.

I got into the voluntary wing of the treatment center, which was a lot less scary than the involuntary side. My counsellor and I agreed that this was a smart thing to do. He was impressed that I’d brought everything I needed for an overnight stay.

Everything—except, of course, my anxiety/depression medication.

Well damn. “They won’t let you in without your meds.”

I offered to take the bus back to campus, grab my meds, and then bus myself to the treatment center. He told me they couldn’t let me do that. Despite the fact that I was asking to be committed, they couldn’t afford the liability of me going off by myself and changing my mind to take matters into my own hands.

It made sense, but I was beyond irritated at having to ride in a police car again.

They drove me back to campus to pick up my meds. The whole drive there, I worried that my roommate would be in the apartment when I walked in with a police officer. I’d hid under the bed earlier that day to avoid her when she got home and I was in the midst of my breakdown. We were going through a rough patch at the time. The last thing I wanted was for her to find out I was back at Crisis by seeing me with a police escort.

Another officer was hanging out outside my apartment. “What a coincidence,” I said, and they seemed a little embarrassed to admit he’d been called to help with me. For pete’s sake. As if one large armed man wasn’t enough to take on a tiny person like me.

My roommate was not there, but one of my neighbors did a double take when she saw me walk in flanked by the officers. I grabbed my meds and we went back into the car to drive to the treatment center.

I wasn’t treated like a criminal this time, going in voluntarily, but that didn’t cushion the harshness of the plastic seat I slouched in on the way over.

**

My hope is that I will not have to ride in a police car again. I don’t know what life will throw my way. I haven’t been suicidal in a while, and I haven’t self-harmed since I moved in to my new place. I use that as a marker, as a goalpost for this year. Soon I can say it’s been a year, and it’s that thought that keeps me from buying razors.

I’m still depressed. I’m still anxious. I still panic. I still have thoughts that I’d be better off dead. I still shudder when I feel my keloids, flinch when I see my scars, and I still panic and sometimes scream when someone cuts or gets cut onscreen.

These things are not going away and probably won’t for a while. Maybe ever. But if my goal for this year is to not take any more rides in a police car—I’m 83 days in so far, and counting.

Hurt Worse

Hurt Worse

It’s been three weeks since you carved the word “fragile” into your arm. The letters didn’t leave the rough, deep-set scars you’d hoped for. At the same time you’re relieved that your co-workers don’t look close enough to see the pink raised lines that still whisper the bitter word.

You forgot how warm it was getting. And how intuitive some of them are. That they might notice how you hold the hem of your sleeves in your palm or that you’re wearing sleeves at all.

But no one really notices the way you clutch your arms around your ribs. When the scars start to heal no one pays attention to your itching. Even the people who know. It’s better that way. It’s not like in the movies where one person sees it, touches them gently, and fixes everything.

The last time you gave in like that, there was a backwards spiral. Those aren’t fun. It’s not worth it.

Even if you think the reaction would be better this time—better to just leave them hidden there and hope.

Hope they don’t stretch back open when you couch dance to The Lion King on Friday.

Hope the bleach water and goggles are enough to hide the red lines on Saturday.

Hope your roommates are too tired to look at you twice when they first get back so you have time to throw a blanket over the evidence on Sunday.

Hope that by Monday they’re set in enough that you forget about them and can focus on school and work and chores.

Take one breath every day and hold it till the lights turn out because that’s the only way you can make for even a tiny bit sure that nothing else is going to happen.

Remember the last time something else happened?

That’s where the word came from in the first place, when the best people averted their eyes when you stepped out of the police car clutching your overnight kit and smelling like deodorant from the treatment center.

The only way to prove them right is to take the word and make it real. You can’t think of a better way than with the help of your silver friend.

Remember the time you sliced off the top of your thumb prying it out of the pink plastic shaver? You don’t remember the pain. Only the blood that didn’t stop coming. Sometimes that’s the best part.

There’s that one time you did it in the shower because you thought you’d never come out. Even though you knew the voices in the rooms across the hall. They’d just showered and no one would be looking in for a long time.

There’s not enough gauze in the bathroom this time so you have to deal with it. It hasn’t been this bad in a while. Each step and turn stretches the split skin and there’s this metallic ache in your muscles. You’re not good at sterilizing. Maybe one day you’ll get tetanus. You wonder if it’s as debilitating as people say.

Three weeks later lying on the bed and twisting your arm in the crooked light of your desktop lamp. How did you get the letters in that spot anyway? Three weeks is kind of a long time. A lot happened, anyway. But you’ve managed to hold your breath all twenty-one days.

The ones on your leg stayed better. You wonder if anyone sees them when you’re in the water. They probably notice the hair first. You never shave.

I think you’re wondering if I noticed. If your tiny winces masked by an extra-loud giggle and your hitched breath lead me to some conclusion. If I noticed the way you held yourself. I’m not sure if I did. I wonder what I would have said if I had.

I think part of you wants me to be the one to fix this. Is that what I want? I want you to be fixed. I feel like I’m the last person you should count on to do that.

I think the funny thing is not even knowing how much she hurt you and still comparing myself and asking if I’m hurting you worse.

Then I look at your fake smile and wonder if anyone will ever hurt you worse than you hurt yourself. I think the reason you want the scars to last is because you want them to hurt worse than the pain.

In the World of Mental Illness

Sometimes, I just get really angry. People with mental illness tend to one-up each other a lot. Are you having a rough day? Someone close to you has been having that day all week. Feeling especially depressed? Your friend tells you they’ve been having panic attacks for days. Struggling with suicidal thoughts? There’s always that one person who says they’ve been suicidal every day since age twelve.

I get that some feelings are more severe than others, but all we are doing is hurting each other by invalidating someone else’s pain in favor of yours.

I didn’t realize until recently how much I repress my feelings. How my depression and my panics manifest themselves in silent ways my mind keeps disregarding as not important enough to notice, because there’s always the feedback that someone has it worse than you. That’s part of the reason I struggle so much with self-harm. I might think I’m fine, but in reality the pain and sadness is building up inside of me until I reach the tipping point.

And I guess the thing that irritates me most, both about myself as well as my friend group and society as a whole, is that no one notices how upset I am until they see it. I’ve been majorly depressed and suffering from panic attacks for the past week and yet it wasn’t until Friday anyone outside of my tight group of two or three close friends asked me if I was okay. And I’m pretty sure it was because I looked like shit that day. I was only going to the Pride Center, so I didn’t bother showering—I hadn’t in days—I dug an old shirt out of my laundry basket to wear because it reminded me of the girl I’m dating, and my arms were wrapped in white gauze because they were still recovering from yesterday when I’d broken the blade out again (the first time this year, which is actually a little astonishing for me). I curled up on the couch and slept and didn’t even talk to the Friday intern, who I usually love to hang out with when he’s there. He tried bothering me into getting up, but it didn’t work. I was too tired, too upset, and too tired of hiding it.

Stacie walked in to update us on the things that were going on, as she always did, and at the end of it she asked me if I was okay. “You don’t look okay. In fact you look very bad,” she said.

It was the first time someone was acknowledging my outward expression of my inner pain, and it was kind of relieving actually. I told her I was fine—“I mean, I’m not okay, but it’s fine.”

She seemed to believe me, and when she left told me to call her if I needed anything.

I felt a little bad for another friend of mine who was there, who I’d been talking to since I bothered to sit up. He seemed to notice for the first time how shitty I really did look (he tends not to judge people by their appearances, which is a great skill to have). After what Stacie said though his attention was drawn to it, and he too asked me if I was alright. I told him a bit of what was going on, grateful for his concern but irritated that it took white gauze for him to notice.

Besides my sister, the only person that I told the whole story to was the girl I’ve been dating for the past two weeks. We were driving in her car later that same day and I decided to ask her about her comfort level with my self-harm (she was already aware of it, and my sister had encouraged me to be open with her since she’d already told me I could talk to her about it).

I started by saying I’d had a really rough week. She jumped in with “I’ve had a really rough two weeks.”

There was a slight pause. I looked at her and said I was sorry.

She looked back at me, saw I was genuinely distressed, and quickly changed her tune.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to one-up you or anything.” I shrugged, and she pressed me. “Why was this week rough?”

I go back and forth about the exchange. On one hand I’m pissed that she so quickly countered my expression of pain by trying to say she had it harder. But on the other hand I really don’t think she meant it like that, and I’m also really impressed that she quickly apologized, and then immediately refocused on me without bringing it back to herself once for the entire conversation. Her first move was immature, but she’s only a freshman. She’s still maturing out of her high school mindset, and I have a feeling high school kids are one-upping each other constantly. In fact I know that after having worked with almost a hundred of them for eight weeks over the summer. And she’s already showing maturity by correcting her behavior, so in all, the exchange mostly makes me feel safer with her.

I told her what had been going on—my struggle in finding a new job or keeping my old one, my living situation, dealing with the mixed messages I was getting. That it had cumulated to a panic attack and a bought of self-harm. And I wanted to know if she was uncomfortable with my state, if she didn’t want to hear about it, if she wanted to be an outlet for me.

“It’s not going to trigger me,” she told me. “I don’t mind hearing about it. It doesn’t bother me.”

Later I was getting warm in the car and took my jacket off, revealing the gauze. “It looks bad, but it’s okay. This is what people saw, and it freaked them out, and it was the first time I felt okay not wearing long sleeves,” I said.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she repeated.

She didn’t give me a funny look, her voice didn’t shake, she didn’t sigh or let the feeling hang for minutes on end. I let it out, she took it in, and we moved on.

I hope I can continue to feel safe with her. I hope we can continue to talk about these things. I don’t want us to be comparing our depression or our pain. That’s not healthy and it just harks back too much to the way it was with my ex. I’m hoping we can foster a safe space between the two of us, because in today’s crazy world, where some people aren’t as mature as she was able to be, things just get nasty. And I know I’m going to need an escape from that.