It’s almost as if “how are you?” has become a rhetorical question. We ask, but do we really want to know the answer? Unless, that is, the answer is, “great, everything is going great,” no, we don’t really want to hear the answer.
What are we supposed to do when we have the wrong answer to that question? What you do is, you lie. You say, “I’m fine. Everything is good, kids are good, work is good, I’m good. Great, in fact!”
I’ve become a liar. I don’t consider myself a dishonest person, but I lie every single day. I lie to everyone. I lie to those closest to me and I lie to the clerk at the grocery store. I spend all day lying about being ok. “I’m good, how are you?”
I am not good and I’m not even okay. But I have no choice but to keep lying. Why? Because nobody wants to know that I’m not okay. They don’t know what to do any more than I do. And people don’t like to be faced with situations where they don’t know what to do. So I keep lying.
I tried not lying last summer. I told the truth. I told my estranged husband, my mom, my sister, my kids, my friends that I wasn’t ok. And I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for 8 days where the first order of business was to remove the underwire from my bra for fear that I might harm myself with it.
I don’t blame anyone for the fact that I ended up in the hospital. Before I was a patient, I had no idea that when you get sent to a psychiatric hospital (or at least the one I ended up in) you don’t get the help you need. You get sharp objects confiscated, you have to remove the drawstrings from your clothing, you are given coloring pages to pass the time, you get woken up every two hours during the night with a flashlight in your face, you live in a room with the windows covered and are only let outside when the nurses feel like letting you outside and the highlight of the day is ‘activity time’ when you get to make bracelets out of large plastic beads that are often found in preschools. But the one thing I needed the most, I didn’t get. I needed help and I needed it desperately. I begged for it. I asked every day to talk to a therapist. You’d think the place would be filled with them, and you’d be wrong. There is one psychiatrist who sees every patient in the entire hospital for about 5 minutes each day. He doesn’t offer therapy, he doesn’t ask you how you are or tell you how to get better. He looks at your chart and sees that when you got spit on by another patient that morning you asked at the nurses’ desk for anxiety meds and that means that you are not yet stable enough to be released. File closed, see you tomorrow, maybe. If he gets tied up with too many intakes you might not see him until the day after.
With so many high profile suicides in recent years, we have all become “suicide aware,” and we know what to look for in our friends and family. We know that we need to check in with our friends and family members who are struggling. And we know that when they say that they aren’t okay, we need to do something. It’s just that there is no good “something” available.
My doctor, my therapist and every other single person I have walked with on this path through the world of mental illness tells me to immediately go to the ER if I feel like hurting myself. Seems like solid advice. But I tried that. And after two stints in the psychiatric hospital, three rounds of IOP (intensive outpatient program) and six months of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy where each week I had 2 hours of skills training and 1 hour with my individual therapist) I am still not okay. The only difference is that now I know not to tell anyone I’m not okay. And as an added bonus, I can no longer legally purchase a firearm (upon my discharge from the hospital I had to sign the paperwork informing me of the law that anyone who has been involuntarily held on a 5150 cannot purchase firearms). Doesn’t matter that I have never ever threatened to hurt anyone but myself, I am considered too dangerous to own a gun. Oh, and besides the whole gun thing, I also have a case of PTSD and have regular nightmares about being locked in a mental institution without any options for getting out.
When I bowed out of one of the celebrations for my daughter’s upcoming college graduation — because my former in-laws told me that, even though they never called or sent me a note while I was there, I caused their family a great deal of pain when I ended up in the hospital. They have since refused to speak to me and won’t answer my calls — my husband (who is only still my husband because the divorce is not yet final after nearly two years) accused me of ruining the event. When I explained to him that since it was completely ok with my daughter to miss this ONE event, I had decided to do what was in the best interest of my mental health by not being there. He then accused me of making the whole weekend about me and refuses to speak to me.
What can I possibly do that respects this milestone in my daughter’s life and also takes into account that being around people who have told me they want nothing to do with me is extremely triggering? I suspect that is another rhetorical question. But I do so wish there was a good answer. And I wish I knew what to do when I’m not okay. And I wish there was another viable option for making me feel better. Because now I know all too well what doesn’t help when I say that I’m not okay.