This essay begins the last round of essays by participants in this year’s Collegeville Institute Emerging Writers Mentorship Program, a 13-month program for writers who address matters of faith in their work. Each participant has had the opportunity to publish four essays at Bearings Online. Click here to read other essays from the 2021-22 Emerging Writers Program cohort.
“Take these now. Call me in the morning,” she ordered.
I stared reluctantly at the little round things in the palm of my hand. Then, without warning, tears started streaming down my face. I did not wipe them away. Tears fell one after the other, as if they were summoned by the little round things in the palm of my hand.
The room was still and quiet. I grabbed a water bottle, shoved those little round things as far down my throat as I could and I drank all 16 ounces in one gulp. I was mad. Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here? What is
wrong with me?
It took a psychiatrist to tell me that my suicidal thoughts and obsessive ideation were not normal.
I met Dr. Pearson about five months before I sat sobbing over pills. It was a week after I turned 28 years old. My co-workers had planned a surprise celebration for me at work. I remember crying and pretending like my tears were joyful. I hated living, so, celebrating my life did not make sense to me. Seeing their outward joy and feeling my inward anguish was a bitter pill to swallow. I left work early that day, pretending I had major birthday plans. But I went home and got in bed. While in bed, I saw a television ad detailing the symptoms of depression. I bargained with myself: “If I wake up from this nap, I will make an appointment to see a therapist.”
One month later, Dr. Pearson diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder, explained her job as my psychiatrist and told me that I would need medicine and intense therapy. I had to show up for appointments weekly until further notice and take prescribed medicine twice daily.
But I was not about to take that pill. I did not tell Dr. Pearson that, of course. About three months later a second pill was prescribed. This time I rolled my eyes.
“What was that about?” she inquired.
“How long do you expect me to take these pills?” I responded.
“Not sure yet. But the goal is for you to get better. So, we will discuss it once you start feeling better.”
“OK,” I said sarcastically.
“Natarsha, have you been taking your meds?”
“I stopped last month because I feel better now.” I emphasized “now” in hopes of not needing another pill. I had been taking the initially prescribed medication on and off for about six weeks.
And so the battle for a healthy mind ensued. Sometimes I took the pills and sometimes I did not. It was all the same to me. But it was not all the same to my pharmacist, psychiatrist, or primary care physician. The doctors were in cahoots. Imagine that.
I could not get out of bed for three days prior to the appointment at which my second pill was prescribed. At the time I justified staying in bed as a need to rest because I was so tired from working, but I recall even getting to the appointment took great effort. I had promised my spouse that I would go, and I assured him that he did not have to stay at home with me. Back then, I had resolved that I would either run away, take too many pills, or both. At that appointment, I read aloud a few journal entries, sharing with Dr. Pearson my deep feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Minutes later, Dr. Pearson said, “Natarsha, I know that your prescriptions have not been picked up in two months. Recent labs suggest that you have not been taking your medication as prescribed. And based on what you have shared today, I have reason to place you in inpatient treatment.”
Inpatient. Inpatient? Inpatient!” I thought.
At 28, my mental health finally got serious for me. It’s when I realized I am that “crazy.” It’s what led to me sitting in Dr. Pearson’s office with two little round things in the palm of my hand and tears falling uncontrollably. The weight of my mental illness sat heavy on me in the stillness of that office. This illness was not the asthma attacks experienced during childhood, nor was it the pulmonary emboli and deep vein thrombosis experienced at 22, but as in these other instances, my condition required life-saving treatment and perhaps hospitalization. I was scared. She was serious.
Dr. Pearson played no games with me. Her voice was consistently calm, though her facial expressions often reflected her emotions. She was a fierce advocate for my mental health. The degrees, awards, and certificates displayed around her office told a story of intellectual integrity, professional prosperity, and commitment to community. I knew that this woman, who in so many ways was a reflection of me, cared for me.
I knew that this woman cared for me.
I left the office that day with strict orders that if not followed would lead to strong consequences, as laid out by Dr. Pearson. I was shocked at the thought of inpatient care. I could not believe I was being so horrible to myself. I turned on the car radio before pulling off and was disturbed to hear reports about a fatal car accident. Onlookers reported that the vehicle parked on the train tracks. Police stated that there was one person in the vehicle and that person died upon impact.
While mentally planning a different route home, my phone rang. I answered.
“Thank God, it’s you!” he exclaimed, between labored breaths.
“Of course it’s me,” I said casually.
“Hello. You ok?” I asked.
“I thought that accident was you,” he whispered.
“No. I’m about to leave Dr. Pearson’s office and head home.”
The fear and yearning in his voice broke my heart. I was so ill that my spouse thought I could park on a train track and wait for a fatal impact. I was suicidal. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Yes. I promise. I am coming home now.”
I knew then that, if I did not get better, I would not survive my 30s. So, I took my pills, although I did not want to. My desire to be better outweighed my disdain for taking pills to improve my mental health. It took years for me to reform my thoughts around the fact that I needed medication to help uproot my suicidal ideation. Part of this reformation was visiting a neuroendocrinologist to learn how my brain responds to the prescribed medication.
I remained in therapy with Dr. Pearson for six years. Six years. Had she not moved, I would probably be her patient to this day. I have had two other therapists, one for four years and another for almost three years. Supporters along the way have offered tough, true, and gentle love.
I have people who insist on celebrating my birthday, and that is something I now embrace. Another year is cause for gratitude and I have truly celebrated my birthday for four consecutive years! At 38 my “Littles” (nieces and nephews) threw me a “surprise” party that they told me all about the day before. At 39, 40, and 41, I allowed myself to feel the love of those around me.
I am loved. Therapy and medication have helped me remember that. Any time I feel an ounce of worthlessness, I pause and remind myself of the worthwhile investment I have made within; sometimes I say out loud, “Peace, be still.” I understand the value of the peace that exists in my life. I won’t allow this peace to be disturbed by refusing to take a pill.