The first time I sought help was close to a year after I was sexually assaulted. I used my student health care to book an appointment at our university health center. When I was in college (I’m not sure if they have the same system set up now), if you didn’t say that you needed immediate help when you called to make the appointment, you were set up with a 15 minute intake appointment. The assault became the main point of conversation during the appointment, and I was pushed to spill details that forced me to relive the situation. After our 15 or so minutes were up, not only was I left feeling extremely vulnerable and raw, but I was not given any coping skills to deal with all of these feelings that were spilling out of me. I left the appointment feeling worse than before, and I couldn’t imagine voluntarily putting myself through that again. I didn’t go back for a follow up appointment.
The next time I tried to access help was the fall of my junior year of college. I had three appointments, about five weeks a part. We never dove into anything deep, probably because I struggled to be vulnerable. We mostly just talked about time management and how busy my classes and extra curriculars kept me. I desperately needed to be pushed more, but I wasn’t.
Fast forward to November of 2017. I was having some stomach issues and decided to go in to see my primary care doctor. The doctor had me fill out a small little form about my mental health. The doctor took about three seconds to look it over and turned to me and said “You have depression. If you have time after this, you should go over to our mental health facility and meet with someone.” She then moved on with appointment, which means that without even speaking with me about my mental health or my life, or even explaining what depression is, she slapped a diagnosis on me and called it a day. When I went to the mental health facility to do an intake appointment, the woman refused to talk about anything besides either (1) my sexual assault, or (2) my move from Berkeley to Sacramento. I kept pushing, with little success, to talk about other things in my life that bothered me. I left the appointment feeling unheard and misunderstood. Again, I didn’t go back for another appointment.
Fast forward to the spring and summer of 2018. I’m at a point where I know that I need help, but I’m so deterred from my previous attempts at accessing care to try again. In mid-September, I attempted suicide. Three days later, my friend drives me to the ER. After over four hours of sitting in the hallway of the ER because they didn’t have enough rooms, throwing up all over the floor, and having one of the worst panic attacks of my life (no, they’re not all created equal), I’m 5150’ed. The best part about this panic attack is that I was clearly causing a scene for close to 30 minutes and not a single nurse or anyone offered any assistance or even bothered to ask if I was doing alright.
The 5150 is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever endured. They wheeled me from the ER to essentially the psych ward of the hospital and put me in a room. Even though my mouth still tasted like vomit, I was denied access to water. I had to ask permission to use the bathroom that was located in my room, and even then I had to leave the bathroom door slightly ajar. I had a tv, but no remote. I had to ask the security guard every time I wanted to change the channel or adjust the volume. My door had to stay completely open and the hallway lights were left on, so there was no discernable difference between day and night. I could hear people down the hall yelling and raising hell, at all hours of the night.
To some extent, I get it. They didn’t want me to use anything in the room to hurt myself. What I don’t understand is why no one talked to me. I wasn’t able to meet with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and no one asked me how I was doing, or talked to me about skills I could use to make sure I didn’t try to hurt myself again. By time I was able to briefly talk to someone, I lied and told her that everything was fine and I just wanted to go home. She cleared me from the 5150, and they let me out. To summarize, I literally tried to kill myself and was placed on a 5150 hold and still, no one had a conversation with me about what was going on in my head and how I can keep myself safe. They booked me for a therapy appointment a week away, which is a very long time for someone that doesn’t want to live.
I write all of this to let y’all know that I understand how incredibly difficult it can be to access care. Saying “you should talk to someone” makes it sound so easy, but it’s not. Here are some tips I’d like to share with you.
- ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF: Trying to get help over and over again can be exhausting and draining, believe me, I know. But please, keep telling the medical professionals how you’re really feeling, and that you need help. Demand the help you need. Unfortunately, accessing care seems to be a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease- so speak up. I have a difficult time with this because I never feel justified in asking for help. I always think that I’m unworthy, or that I don’t have enough problems. Let me tell you, you are worthy of help.
- HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM THAT PUSHES YOU: Where in the world would I be without my support system? They’re the best, and let me tell you why. I’m blessed to have a support system that will literally drag me to the ER when I don’t want to go, prod me when I’m on the phone not telling a medical professional how I’m actually feeling, and check in on me when I’m trying to isolate myself. Sometimes it can feel like a little bit of tough love, but I’m so thankful for them. If you don’t have a support system like this, build one. If you don’t have anyone you can turn to, message me. I’ll be your support system.
- CALL, CALL AGAIN: I literally had a situation where I called my healthcare provider, didn’t like the answer I got, called an hour later, and was able to speak to someone who was much more caring and helped me get the help I needed.
- DO NOT LEAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITHOUT COPING SKILLS: Appointments can leave you feeling raw and exposed. Make sure you know how to handle these feelings, because when you leave an appointment, you can’t just shut them off. Coping skills are a vital part to survival, so make sure you have them.
- AVOID THE 5150: This one might be a little controversial, but let me tell you why I say this. The 5150 has one specific purpose, to put you in a place where you can’t hurt yourself or anyone else. It’s not a place where you’re going to receive any type of care. No coping skills, possible diagnoses, nothing. I left the 5150 in the same mental state I was in when I entered, and the staff made no attempt to rectify the situation. I still had to wait over a week to talk to a therapist, so it doesn’t even “fast track” you to help. If you have a friend that will sit up with you when you feel like you are in a place where you might hurt yourself, I would do that before placing yourself on a 5150 hold.
- WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU’RE FEELING: This is one I thought of after-the-fact. I always sugar coated how I was feeling so I wouldn’t make it sound so bad, which contributed to my difficulty in accessing care. If you write it down in the moment, it’s more difficult to sugar coat and cherry pick. Read them the feelings you’ve written down.
Till next time, y’all.