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.

Crisis

Crisis

My roommate drove me to the Crisis Center. It was chilly and grey outside, but my sweater was protecting me from more than that. I was shaking from the moment Stacie told me to leave. By the time we got there I could barely hold the pen to fill out the needed paperwork.

We sat in the waiting room for too long–the longer we sat, the more real this became. I was having a hard time grasping it (did I really want to die? Did I really feel unsafe enough to risk being committed?)–I could only imagine how my roommate must be feeling.

When they finally called me back the crisis counselor asked me what was going on. I cried when I tried to tell her, and already I knew it was worse than last time. Last time I was preventing what by now had already happened.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very little thought, and 10 being planning suicide, how suicidal are you?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I guess 7.”

I asked for my roommate to come. She called in another counselor to keep the numbers even, she said. They asked me again. On a scale of 1 to 10. I said 7.

“Why 7? What does 7 mean?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.”

How had I been feeling? What lead up to this moment? Had this ever happened before? I held on to my roommate and she rubbed my shoulder. I broke down more than once, unable to answer, sobbing into her shirt.

They couldn’t help me until I gave them more information. What was 7? Why was it 7?

Finally I broke: “Because I never want to say it’s more than that.”

They asked me to pick again. I told them 9.

I could feel my roommate reacting beside me. I felt awful. The counselors were dragging things out of me I’d never admitted to anyone, and I told her almost everything. She was hearing for the first time about my suicide attempt from the previous summer, hearing more information about my past, my history, my fears, my feelings. Things I never wanted anyone to know about me. It all had to come out. All on the floor, so they could pick through it, spread it out, smear it everywhere. I felt raw, exposed, vulnerable. Dissected.

They asked me if I could keep myself safe tonight. I said I didn’t know.

In that case, they told me, I should let myself be committed.

My roommate and I sat for at least two hours total during the visit to Crisis. The counselors kept leaving to work things out, then coming back for more information. Finally they told me all of the spaces were full at the treatment center, and the only way for me to get in would be to go involuntarily. And given what I had been saying, they thought that would be a good idea.

So much for avoiding the police car ride. I was questioned again, searched, patted down, dragged away from my roommate, cuffed, and lead to the police car, where I couldn’t even buckle myself in. I had to sit sideways so my cuffed hands didn’t dig into my back when pressed against the plastic seat. This was my second police car ride this year.

The officer was as nice as possible given the situation. He talked to me about my roommate, saying she seemed like a wonderful person. She was, I emphasized, the best I knew. I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather have had with me at that time.

He asked me if I needed any number from my phone, and when we were at a stoplight, he asked me to walk him through opening it and pulling up my contacts so he could write some down for me.

When we got to the treatment center, he helped me out, and the first thing he told the staff upon our arrival is that I had been very cooperative.

I was relieved that my experience with the cop had been so positive. I was lucky that I’d gotten one of the campus officers who knew me from RA training. He was the one who had taken me to Crisis this summer. I hoped he wouldn’t have to do this with me again.

I was processed like a human, and I think it’s kind of sad that that surprised me. When they saw I was cooperating, they took off my cuffs. A nurse lead me into a small office and read me some paperwork, explaining what would happen while I was here and what my rights were. I signed a lot of things. They checked my vitals. They took away my shoes. They let me keep my piercings in. They gave me a tour. Showed me my room. The door didn’t lock. The bed creaked loudly when I sat on it. They gave me toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant. They had mango water. I went through ten paper cups. They gave me soy milk with a vegetarian dinner. At 6pm my roommate was allowed to see me. I cried again. She hugged me. They wouldn’t give me the pants she brought me because they had a drawstring. I couldn’t keep my phone. They let me keep my gel pens and my coloring book and my journal. I told my roommate what had happened so far. She offered to contact all of my supervisors for me to let them know I would not be at work this week. I was scared. They said I would be here for 72 hours. I couldn’t see my cat. I could only see my roommate once a day. My friends didn’t know where I was.  My cat would be worried about me.

My roommate said she would reach out to my closest friends to let them know what was going on, without giving too many details. I couldn’t stop crying and hugging her. I just wanted to go back home. I wanted to be okay.

She had to leave. One of the nurses held a group for those of us who were there. I met some interesting people. Not all of us were scared. Some of them had been here for a long time. I felt selfish and scared. I didn’t want to be here for that long.

I went to bed early. Every time I moved, even a little bit, my bed creaked loudly. The door didn’t lock and they checked on me every fifteen minutes. I worried that someone might come in and try to do something to me. I tried to analyze how I felt. I was scared and lonely. But I couldn’t tell if I still wanted to die. I could barely feel anything.

I woke up. I didn’t want to shower. But I did get dressed. Good sign. I was less scared. Still nervous. I colored my book. Breakfast was pretty gross. One of the patients asked if I wanted to be friends. When I said yes he kept trying to touch me until I yelled at him to stop. Another asked for help opening her food. She couldn’t stop shaking. Another kept murmuring to herself about machines and wires. She said she had PTSD. I wondered what had happened. She cried to another patient who told her to talk to Jesus. Everything happens for a reason, she said. I lay in bed and listened to them and felt angry. Sometimes things just happen.

They asked us to do chair yoga which was silly because we still used our legs. I was the only college student there. The third group I went to was run by an exasperated man who didn’t now how to talk to us. I felt I could have done better after only being here for a day. I wrote a letter to my roommate. They took my vitals again. I talked to a doctor, a psychiatrist, a social worker. They called my roommate. They asked for my insurance. If they could call my parents. I almost yelled no.

My counselor called and asked if i was okay. I told her I felt better. It was true. I wasn’t planning anymore. She said she thought I would be okay. She told me to tell the truth. Don’t lie to get out faster.

The third time I saw the social worker I cried when she told me I could go home today. I called my roommate. She was picking my up at 3:30. I missed a group because I was talking to the social worker. They got to go outside. I heard them come back and one of the patients said “It almost got scary.” I felt bad for missing and almost wanted to stay a little longer to be with these people more and learn their stories. I felt very privileged. One of the nurses talked to me about that. I was an easier case, she reminded me. I was actually pretty okay. I felt that now more than ever. I was going home. Most of the others had to stay. I packed my things and sat on the creaky bed waiting. I jumped up when they came to take me out. I hugged my things. Dropped most of them when I ran to hug my roommate. I felt like a child. But it was okay because I was going home.

I Wore the Mask I Thought I’d Left Behind

I Wore the Mask I Thought I’d Left Behind

On Monday I was planning suicide. I woke up with a grim determination that it was time for my life to be over. I felt nothing. Not when my roommate said good morning. Not when my friend walked to work with me. Not when I taught Safe Ally Training to a bunch of wonderful people with one of my closest friends. Not when I tutored one of my own students, not when my boss joked around with me. I was wearing the mask my mother had taught me to use after years of her isolating me when I showed emotion.

I laughed. I smiled. I engaged in conversation. I was productive. But inside I was numb, burnt out by pain and loneliness and self-hatred. Inside I was convinced my friends had never really loved me, that my close friends would soon cease to love me. Inside, I was ready to die.

A few friends reached out. Noticed I was upset. I felt nothing. I went through the motions. I counted the hours till I could escape.

I thought of asking for help. Calling Crisis.

It never occurred to me to tell a friend. Never occurred that there were people who cared. I was convinced no one did.

I decided to go to work first. The last job of the day. My kids.

As I got ready to go, thoughts of self-preservation left in favor of writing out a will. I left my wallet, my money, and my cards on my desk. I5 gave my cat extra food, extra love. I snuggled the bunnies that didn’t like me. I conversed briefly with my roommate’s boyfriend, pretending I was invested, pretending I wasn’t about to leave and never come back.

When my ride dropped me off after work, I decided, I’d walk away and never come back. I’d find a bridge. I’d jump. It would all be over.

I wore my mask all the way there. Engaged in pleasant conversation with my ride. No one was allowed to see what was going on inside me.

I went through the motions at work. Laughed with my co-workers. Pretended everything was fine. They had no idea.

Then it was time to check in my kids.

I walked into the room where I was supposed to be to check in my 12 kindergartners. Incidentally, the teacher had let them out early today. Over half of them were already there, and they were looking for me. Under the table. Around corners.

They yelled my name when they saw me, and one ran into me for a hug. Several asked where I had been. I laughed and told them I hadn’t known they were there.

“Were you worried I wouldn’t come?” I asked one of the more vocal kids.

He tilted his head in consideration, then shook it definitively. “No, I knew you would be here,” he said.

That’s when the feeling came–for the first time–guilt. Worry. Regret.

How could I leave these kids behind?

I heard them saying my name with enthusiasm. I saw their excitement at seeing me. I saw their pure joy when they received new shoes as part of the programming for the day. I witnessed their sadness and fatigue when they encountered difficulties during the day. I listened to their needs and allowed them to skip homework. Instead, we played quiet games and colored pictures until it was time to go home.

I smiled and laughed with the parents, telling them about their child’s day, saying goodbye to the kids and hearing them chatter excitedly about what they had done and how excited they were to come back.

What was I thinking? I couldn’t leave my kids behind.

I rode back with my ride, in silence this time. I loved my kids. But I couldn’t shake what I had been feeling all day. I made a deal with myself: if she dropped me off in the parking lot, I’d run and find a bridge. If she walked back to the building with me, I’d make up some story about “forgetting” my ID and let her let both of us in.

But when she dropped me off at the parking lot, I walked back to the apartment slowly, and thought about the kids–would they miss me on Wednesday if I was not just late, but really and truly not there?

What about the class I mentored for? They were coming over on Tuesday. Maybe I could still around at least until then.

A stranger let me into my building. I knocked on my apartment door, and my roommate let me in. i bluffed it off. Pretended I’d forgotten. I was just tired. Went to bed.

Her friends came over and I went back and forth, trying to be social, trying to convince people I was fine. But I’d always retreat back into my room, feeling like crying but at the same time too numb to do anything but lie there.

No matter how many times my roommate asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t say anything. I was just sick, I lied, just tired. I didn’t know why I was so sad. There was no reason. I kept the mask on.

Tuesday morning it was the same. I skipped my 8am class. Too sick, I convinced myself, even though it was only a small cold I’d been living with.

I got up ad went to work again. Tutoring. I joked around. But inside I was seething. This time I was angry–angry at absolutely everything and everyone. I even hated being queer. I hated everything about myself and my life. I wasn’t looking forward to anything, I was just sticking around to do what I felt was necessary before I took the next step, whether that was suicide or calling crisis.

My supervisor decided for me. I stormed into the Pride Center, ranting about something or other. She asked me what was wrong. Said I didn’t look like myself.

I told her I wanted to die, but I kept waiting until my commitments were over, but they never were. I was living hour to hour with suicidal thoughts and it was only a matter of time before I did something.

She said, “You need to talk to someone.”

I said, “I know, I will, after tonight.”

She said, “No, I think you should talk to somebody right now.”

I pushed back a few more times. I needed to go to class. To see my students. To attend the club meeting for which I was co-president. Eventually she won.

“Should I see someone on campus?”

They would just tell me to go to Crisis, so I may as well just get a friend to drive me there and skip the police car.

Another friend was there and gave me a few pointers. What to look for. Where to go. I texted some friends, asking who was available to drive me. Within seconds my roommate replied, telling me to meet her outside the Union.

I gathered my things and walked outside. My numbness was wearing off as the situation became more real. Why was I doing this? Why was I so scared? Why did no one trust me to stick around?

I’d had the training. I should know.

I wanted to die.

I wanted to die, and my friends were trying to keep me safe.

Even if that meant going away . Even if that meant being processed by strangers.  Even if that meant admitting that I was a danger to myself.