I Hit a Wall on Thursday Before Dawn: An Honest Post About Mental Illness, Steps to Take When You’re Down and Out, and What It’s Like to Call a Crisis Hotline

{CW: Depression, Mental Illness, Suicide Ideation}

I want to write about my kid’s engagement party, how to throw one that’s pretty and cheap, and how to show up for each other and celebrate well. The post is drafted. Finished but for a final read. But it’s going to have to wait, because I’m writing this instead.

I want to write about the dog we found… inside our car… because that’s a normal place to find a dog you’ve never met before. I have pics and a story about being lost and found, and starting over and redemption, and somehow finding our way home. But I’m writing this instead.

I want to write about my bedroom and why it’s in the living room now and what it’s like to create a home that’s weird but works. But I’m writing this instead.

Frankly, I’d rather write about almost anything else. Anything but mental health and illness and what it’s like to navigate this on a daily, weekly, sometimes hourly basis, to infinity and beyond. 

But here we are. And I’m going to be very transparent with you, even though I don’t like it much right now. Honesty in this case means profound vulnerability, and I feel like I’m cracking my own chest and exposing the viscera to you; my heart, yes, but also my gut and the dark ball of anxiety and unease that lives under my stomach at the base of my lungs and expands sometimes, stealing air to feed itself, and growing tendrils that crawl like cancer through the rest of my body until it reaches the tips of my clammy fingers and and the electric edges of my brain, fighting for control of the ship. It’s an extra organ, really, and I call it the Borg because it insists resistance is futile. Sometimes it consumes me whole such that my breathing becomes shallow, and my bones feel brittle, and my jaw chatters, and it’s all I can do to keep sucking air in and out and in and out and in and out.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn. 

Sometimes I can see the walls coming. Sometimes I have enough time to put on the brakes and slow the speed of my life to lessen the impact of another bout of depression. Sometimes I can sense the natural disaster upon me, and I can carve out some quiet moments to rest my brain. Queue up some mindless, fluffy novels to read. Lay on my couch in the most slovenly manner possible and reduce my schedule to the bare minimum of keeping cereal in the cupboard for the children and refilling my medications so I don’t run out. Those are the days when I know I can handle this thing. When I congratulate myself for being aware and paying attention. When I know resistance is NOT futile. When I’m grateful for years of learning hard lessons like It’s OK to Rest, and Everyone is Worthy of Infinite Love Exactly As They Already Are… Even Me. 

But sometimes I don’t see the walls coming. Sometimes, I crash into them at full speed. Sometimes, I push myself past my limit, except I didn’t know the limit was there until I see it in my rear view mirror. Of course, this isn’t something that’s limited to depression; all of us who are Human do this on occasion. We don’t know how much we were counting on rest until it doesn’t arrive. We don’t know how desperately we needed our partner to be home on time because we Cannot Parent Alone for One Minute Longer. We don’t know when the Grief Train will come barreling down the track and smash us into oblivion. We don’t know we’ve committed to Too Many Activities and Too Many Committees and Too Many Projects until we’re overwhelmed and drowning in them. And also, for those of us who experience depression, we don’t know when the Borg that is Depression will shake off its slumber and raise its hackles and growl its aggression and go to war with our insides. 

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn. I’d scheduled breathing room into my calendar for the whole week prior, but, well, my planned rest didn’t happen for reasons I don’t regret. Instead, I sped at high velocity toward my college kid in a spontaneous act of love and support; I’d do it again, but the truth is there’s a limit to my brain capacity and, when I blow past it, there are consequences.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn. I’d hoped rest following my trip would be enough to stave off a crash. I’d hoped my limits were farther down the path than the length of the journey I took. I’d hoped to arrive home Wednesday evening, put myself to bed, sleep well and long, and awake refreshed… or at least awake in tact and not splattered all over the wall. But the wall, I’ve found, has its own unpredictable trajectory, and so, instead, I arrived home Wednesday evening, put myself to bed, and started to shake. By early Thursday morning, I thought I might just shatter. Not figuratively. I wondered if it was possible to actually shudder to pieces like Jenga in an earthquake. I wondered if Greg would wake up next to a large pile of small Beth bits because I broke like porcelain in the night.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn. I didn’t see it coming. But I knew it when it arrived which is a strange blessing. I was blindsided, yes, but I knew by what which is far better than the times Depression came in disguise. I’ll take being just broken over being broken and bewildered any day. And Thursday, before dawn, I did. I accepted Broken as my current state of being — Depression had arrived with a vengeance — and I reminded myself of the next steps which are:

1. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind. Say, “there, there, Sweet Bunny” and pet your hair and give yourself a figurative kiss on the forehead. Treat yourself like you would any sick innocent. You deserve only compassion right now. Be a good friend to yourself. 
2. Understand that being still and unable to function is Really, Really Hard, Important Work. GOOD JOB, you! Your brain is trying to reboot. It has all hands on deck for Emergency Response, so if the other stuff in your body and mind is a little whacky, FINE. Your brain will deal with the jitters later. It will be able to perform tasks again eventually. It will need assistance (see #4), but just because you appear to be doing nothing does not mean you are doing nothing; it just means it’s all happening behind the scenes and you should give yourself a freaking break and also a pat on the back and probably a cookie. 
3. Be vigilant looking for the lies — that you’re bad, that you’re weak, that life is too hard, that you’re a burden, that you ought to apologize for being unwell, and that this will never end. Lies, every one. They enter unannounced and make themselves at home, and you are allowed to send them on their way. “I see you, Lies. I note your presence. Now SCOOT.” And when you need help removing them from the premises…
4. Get help. A wellness check at the doctor’s office. An appointment with a therapist. A call to a hotline. A text to a prepared, capable friend (preferably one who has worked out a Plan with you in advance so they know What Steps to help you take…. but if you don’t have a Plan, still text a calm, steady friend — the kind who will listen and help with the “there, there, Sweet Bunny”ing but who also will not put up with your bullshit, will take charge if needed, and will get you to the help if you can’t get yourself there.) A trip to the ER if necessary. An admittance to a psych ward. An outpatient program. Anything other than nothing.
5. Keep getting help. <— This is the hardest, but probably the most important one.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn, and I tried to take the next steps — at least Steps #1 (Be Gentle) and #2 (You’re Doing Hard Work) — and I’m going to give myself an A+ even though my steps were wobbly and slow like trying to make my way wading through a murky, rocky stream; I was making progress, technically, but also stumbling and splashing and making a general, muddy mess and spraining my ankle and getting soaked to the skin. Steps #1 and #2 are harder than they look, and I hadn’t started on #3-5 yet, but I get an “A” for effort anyway because, in this game, effort is everything.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn, and I worked on Steps #1 and #2, but I don’t remember much of the rest of Thursday. I assume I fell asleep at some point. I made it to an IEP meeting for my kid. I wore a bra, I’m pretty sure, and maybe make-up. For the first time in 15 years, I forgot the IEP snacks. I smiled at teachers, though, and I said thank you because they’re doing impossible work and I try not to be an asshole. But also, my kid is a senior in high school with 2 elective credits left, so I mostly phoned it in. Her IEP this year probably says, “fuck it — she’s almost done.” I’ll sign it when I get my copy.

I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn, and by Friday, I was on a downward trend because taking steps toward health doesn’t always mean health arrives when I think it should. I was definitely sinking on Friday. Like being rolled at the bottom of a waterfall.

You know you’re out of air. You know you’re being crushed by a force stronger than you can stand for long. But you also know you may be pushed closer to the bottom before riding the current back to the surface. The problem is, you really have no idea how long it’s going to take to pop back up, and you recognize your life is on the line, but it’s hard to feel very powerful in that situation or capable of sussing out the difference between lies which will suck you down and the rescue line your people can toss you to help you up. You’re flailing down there, and it’s tricky to grab ahold of the correct pieces in the dark.

By Friday, I was, by turns, jittery, bone weary, anxious, angry, and numb. My brain buzzed like an electric razor on its lowest setting. I wanted to do nothing other than lay in bed and try to breathe, and, honestly, both of those felt like I was trying to summit a mountain without oxygen. And I was consumed with the idea… compelled?… to look up pills used in suicides. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t making a plan. I wasn’t hoping I had any of the medications or thinking about where to source them. I just was fixated on learning what people use. Most of me felt very “meh” about it. Like, “What’s the big deal?” But, after I did what I’ve never done before and actually looked up the info, there was also an emergency red strobe light spinning in the back of my brain in sync with an overhead announcement that was all, “NUMBER 4, BETH. GET HELP. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU DOING, FRIEND? HELLLLLOOOO. EYES ON ME. THE TIME FOR HELP IS EITHER NOW OR BEFORE NOW. PICK ONE.” <— Step #3 Spotting the Lies. Looking up suicide drugs = alarming behavior, not “no biggie.” Lie spotted. Check.

By Friday, I knew I needed help. Or, at least, if I didn’t feel like I needed help because I felt mostly nothing, I intellectually understood my feelings didn’t matter; I objectively needed assistance. But getting help is hard, friends. It’s really, really ridiculously hard. The hardest. Because getting help requires two things I don’t have when I’m in the midst of depression: 1. Energy. 2. The ability to complete a task. And I will tell you, pushing past those barriers is overwhelming. Like being asked to rise from the dead. And to keep rising. Endurance and will aren’t enough; it always feels like asking for a miracle, too. For divine intervention. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because I have people. Humans who are mine. I can ask any one of them at any time to get help for me. To take over. To make the calls and stick with me until I’m on the upswing. But I don’t ask. Not ever. Not because I don’t trust them or don’t need them; only because I can’t muster the energy to use words, to explain what’s happening, to reassure them that I’m not dying, to answer questions, to provide information, and, because I love them, to assuage their fears and Big Feelings when I can’t even process my own. I have prepared, capable, calm friends who know the plan, and I never text them. Never. Which might make me a hypocrite. Or it just might make me a typical human who deals with depression. Who can say?

Still, by Friday, I knew I needed help. I’d already told Greg I was unwell, but Greg knows that means I’ll keep him updated and not to intervene except in the ways I ask for intervention. It’s too much pressure on our relationship to ask him to monitor my mental health all the time. It’s too consuming. And I’d end up fighting him for control because I am a delight all the time. I know some married people who step in this way for each other — and that is super awesome for them because this isn’t One Size Fits All mental health / marriage over here — but for us, I need Greg to be my partner, my co-conspirator, my lover, and my friend. I need him to step aside on the mental health monitoring front. I need both of us to believe I’ve got this. I need us both to be confident I’ll triumph over this thing. As many times as it takes. Again and again.

But did I mention that by Friday I needed help? I couldn’t muster the energy to involve my people. My doctor’s office doesn’t open until Monday. I wasn’t at risk of imminent harm (just, you know, the slow, mounting kind of harm which is way better as everyone knows), so the ER and psych ward options weren’t necessary. Which left me with a crisis hotline. 

Now, I want you to know, I immediately discarded the crisis hotline as a viable alternative, for several reasons: 1. I wasn’t in crisis. 2. Calling a crisis hotline is unnecessarily dramatic. 3. It’s a good option for other people but not for me because I have People and crisis hotlines are only for people without other choices. And 4. My brain wasn’t working properly (see also: depression) so I couldn’t see that my first three reasons were DUMB AS SHIT. Mostly it was the fourth reason.

And fortunately, that red strobe light with the disembodied voice clued me in. I mean, it wasn’t very good at being gentle or kind about it, but it managed to punt the Truth to the frontal cortex with a swift, “Oh for fuck’s sake, Beth. You are NOT TOO GOOD for a crisis hotline. Situations like this are LITERALLY WHY THEY EXIST.” And then the voice reminded me how annoyed I am by people who say they think counseling is a great idea but never, ever go themselves. There’s a disconnect between what they think is good for others and what they’re willing to accept for themselves. “It’s fantastic that resource is there. For other people. Who need it. Who are not me because I’m fine.” 🙄 (Seriously, Karen. YOU ARE NOT FINE. GO TO COUNSELING ALREADY.) 

 So, early Saturday morning, for the first time, I contacted the 24/7 Crisis Text Line* at 741741 and chatted with Luke. Who I kept calling Kevin inside my head. I was inordinately concerned I’d call him Kevin on the text string — like calling out the wrong boyfriend’s name in bed — and then… what? What did I think would happen? That Luke would suddenly realize I’m not right in the head? Psst… i think he was already on to me. But I managed NOT to call him Kevin on the text string, so I considered that a serious brain win under the circumstances. And you know what? Luke helped. 

He validated my concerns. He assured me I’m pretty normal. He reminded me of truths I already knew. Coping skills I already have. And gently led me toward next healthy steps to take. It was, to be honest, the hand-holding I needed without the added stress of worrying about his feelings or worrying I was traumatizing him like I would with one of my people. It was a turning point. And I’m grateful.

I’ve spent the last three days doing as little as possible. Running a few kid-related errands. Saying no to anything extraneous. Making myself nourishing food. Starting Season 9 of Shameless, FINALLY on Netflix. And trying to make sense of my jumble of brain. The good news is I’m on the upswing again. The bummer news is I know it’s a process and I’m not through the woods yet. It’s OK, though. One step at a time, right?

So, the truth is, I hit a wall last week, on Thursday, before dawn. And it’s been a little dark over here. But I think dawn might be on the way.

Either way, I’m waving in the dark, as always, friends, and waiting for the light. And the best news of all is, none of us waits alone.

With love,

 

 

 

* I could’ve called the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1.800.273.TALK (8255)) but a) there was no suicide to prevent, b) I didn’t want to clog up the line in case someone who really needed it was calling, and c) I hate talking on the phone even when I’m at my healthiest. {{To be clear, a) calling the hotline even when there’s NOT an imminent suicide threat is still a good idea, b) it’s not clogging up the line because they’re literally there to prevent suicide and would rather get your brain help earlier in the process, and c) they do have a messaging option in addition to talking on the phone, but go back to the part where my brain wasn’t functioning well, and you see the dilemma.}}

P.S. I’m including screenshots of my texts with Not Kevin. I thought it might be helpful to see what it’s really like to contact a crisis line when you need help. ❤️ 

 

And, P.P.S. Did you know I run a small number of retreats each year? I do! One of my very, very favorite things to do is hang out with members of our incredible, worldwide community and offer rest and respite from our regular lives. I would LOVE to have you join me. (And who WOULDN’T want to hang out with me after this post about calling a crisis hotline? 😂 Amirite??)

Click here for general retreat information.

Or, if you want to head straight to the registration pages, you can register via my farm website, CAIRNS FARM:

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
59 comments
  1. I don’t have words. They are so hard to find in the dark sometimes. But YOUR Words have helped me hang on for another day. Breathing (as often as I can) in the dark.

  2. This is beautifully written, deeply moving – and, apparently, all-too understandable for me, as I sit here with unbeckoned tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m glad you reached out. And were courageous enough to make yourself radically vulnerable.

  3. Thank you Beth for your bravery in posting this. It was a gift for me. I especially appreciated seeing your text exchange. It helps me to know what could happen if I texted too.

  4. You might feel alone in the darkness, but you are a bright beacon of joy and faithfulness to those of us also in the void. Your words are so, so real and raw and true. And they’re everything I needed to read today, as I struggle to carve out a little time to heal, and instead worry about the kids and the pets and the mucky house — but can’t quite get my head off the pillow. You are a guiding star, and we all love you to the moon and back, Beth. xoxoxoxo

    1. ❤️ Love you back. Please keep your head on the pillow as long as possible. Rest is so important.

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