As I watch while it feels like parts of the world are crumbling, As I see people struggle, people ending their lives, people trying to make it through, I think “I’m experiencing and witnessing a lot of awful stuff, I could fall apart and nobody would blame me, it’s happened many many times before.” And then I realize that it’s different now. I’m healthier.
I’m grateful for that health and I’m grateful for the doctor who has helped get me there. For over a year she has worked with me. She told me “I will sit with you in the uncomfortable. You won’t scare me away.”
She didn’t have the pop culture references I appreciate but I let it slide because she seemed to have other skills that were helpful. We got to the root of a lot of the suicidal thinking I have been struggling with for the majority of the past four years, and more accurately, most of my life. I went off meds for the first time in a long time and have stayed off them. She helped me deconstruct everything that was going on, taking apart all the Lego bricks of my brain that were built on a faulty structure. There might even be more bricks to be taken apart before the rebuilding happens. But a lot of good has happened.
And then this doctor who’s helped me so much, we broke up with each other. And it was awful. I couldn’t afford to come and I couldn’t get the closure I wanted from her. It left me hurt and angry. But I didn’t tailspin, and that’s because of the work I have done with her. So I am grateful.
Things are still not put back together but sometimes the tearing apart is what’s more important. I know I wish it all could have ended differently, but as we celebrate Thanksgiving it seems like a time to remember we can be grateful for things even if they don’t always work out how we hope, even if we get hurt. And also to acknowledge even though she helped me immensely, I was the one who chose to take apart the bricks, to heal, to do the heavy lifting, and I am still that strong being.
Hi. I’m Deena. I’m mentally ill. Please hire me.
I want to be clear, I’m not asking you to take pity on me and hire me because I’m mentally ill. I have plenty of people who will take pity on me, I don’t need any more. No, I am saying I am mentally ill. I am open about it and don’t feel the need to hide behind shame (a ridiculous idea, I know,) and you should hire me because I will be one of the best employees you’ve ever had.
But you’re mentally ill, you’re thinking, that sounds scary, you could go crazy at work, or always call in sick or be less productive because of your illness, or you could be sad all the time and be a total drag.
I hear you and I’ll answer these concerns one at a time.
What if you go crazy and scream or just lose it?
I’m not the employee you need to worry about, in fact I’m the exact opposite because I actually get the help I need. I’m someone who has identified my illness, sought treatment, and is aware of how I am doing. The people who fly off the handle and make your life difficult, they are the ones not seeking treatment, and they’re probably not because they’re afraid of the stigma, especially workplace stigma.
I bet you call in sick a lot or are less productive cause you’re depressed.
Have I missed work because of depression? Yes, but very rarely, and not to lay on the couch or because “I just wasn’t up to it.” The person who called in “sick” to binge watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls so they were caught up for the Netflix reunion show has already been hired by your company, that’s not me. I am like someone who has diabetes or Crohn’s, I come in every single day unless I require medical attention and even if that happens I’ve still worked from a hospital or home. The unnecessary guilt I have about living with this disease and also the feeling of not wanting to let people down, those feelings will actually work to your advantage because I want to be your best employee to get rid of any doubts or misconceptions you may have about mental illness.
Yeah, but if you’re depressed you’re probably a total buzzkill and sad all the time.
Your office already has a sad person, every office does. But that’s not me. I’m a delight. Really. Depression gets a bad rap. People think you’re an Eeyore always walking around bemoaning life, but that person is a pessimist, not someone with mental illness. Me? I’m a Tigger, a Tigger who might think about death a little more than I should (hey, I’m going for honesty here) but who leaves those thoughts for the professionals I see and the friends I message post-work. At the office I’m the hard worker, doing what you ask, making jokes when appropriate, and texting you on the way in to ask if you want a Starbucks.
So as I said, I’m Deena. I’m mentally ill. Please hire me.
References (from past employers and therapists) available upon request.
Deena is a freelance writer and has also worked as an on-staff humor writer for American Greetings and has professionally tweeted about vacuums. She is a founding member of Crooked River Comedy and is also the creator of This Improvised Life, a part improvised, part written story-telling hour, performing regularly for over 5 years. In addition, She co-wrote and stars in Funnel Cakes Not Included, a one-woman show about ending stigma associated with mental illness. She is also the co-creator of a kind, funny, awesome, nine year old boy who would like you to know he has a huge Star Wars collection, over 35 hats, and constantly crushes her in foosball.
Six weeks ago I bought a gun. I bought it while I was out running errands and of all my errands that day, it was the easiest.
I have struggled with suicidal thoughts for the majority of my life, and many nights I’ve thought “I wish I had a gun, I could just end it all.” And then often the next morning, I was grateful I had no access to a firearm. I have always hated guns, have signed petitions for stricter gun laws, and never imagined I would hold a loaded hand gun, much less own one but that’s exactly what happened. The idea of even getting my hands on a firearm seemed foreign to me. I am a sheltered, suburban girl and the only guns I had ever seen were in movies, on the news, or of the Nerf variety.
But then a gun store opened up in my neighborhood and I began to pass it several times a week. I became fixated on it. It had a quaint sign and was located in a strip mall, next to a place you could make your own pie. Honestly, I am more likely to be the type of person obsessed with the pie place, but I have been battling this disease, suffering, going in and out of hospitals, getting treatment, and still feeling like shit.
So I went in to the store, owned by a kind family. A man in his 60s ran the place and his sons worked there. He kissed his grown boys as they entered and exited. He seems like the kind of dad or grandpa anyone would want to have. The store had a poster warning you that Hillary wants to take your guns and a sign that asked you to “like” the gun store on Facebook.
I said I was interested in purchasing a gun. He guided me to my reason why, asking “For self-defense?” “Yes.” I said, knowing I wanted to use it for the exact opposite reason. He helped me pick out a hand gun, taught me how to load it and had me fill out a background check, which I passed. Are you suicidal? Are you in good mental health? These were not questions on the form.
There is no waiting period in Ohio so in 28 minutes I walked out with a gun. I went on to run a couple other errands. I had dinner with a friend, saying nothing about the weapon in my car. I wanted to pull the trigger. I all of the sudden got why people love guns. The power. So much power. I felt so beaten down by this disease, but now I held something that, in a second, could end my pain.
But the pain would not have ended, it would have been passed on to those who love me, most of all my son. So instead of pulling the trigger, I texted my therapist. She called me back and helped me through.
The next day on my way to check myself in to a mental hospital, I would return the gun.
I entered the kind man’s store and listened as Greased Lightning played on the radio, chuckling at how odd that seemed to me. I told him I wanted to sell the gun back. He told me I would lose some money on the deal and asked why I wanted to return the firearm. I said I didn’t feel I was mentally healthy enough to have it.
He said “Good for you for recognizing that!” and then added “If you are feeling better mentally, come back and I’ll give you a discount on your next purchase.”
The improv comedian in me smiled at the comedy of this sentence, the suicidal me took note of his offer.
I would then go check myself in to the hospital, which took 7.5 hours longer than it took to get the gun, and now I continue to get the help I need. Alive, safe, weapon returned.
Not many stories end the way mine do. The man at the store said I was the first to return a firearm to him. I was lucky to have a therapist I had access to and to be able to see the true impact my actions would cause.
And here’s the thing. I have no plans to take the man up on my store credit, but I so get the excitement people get out of holding something that can give you so much power so quickly, which is why I am more sure than ever we need to get rid of the guns. Or at the very least make them a lot harder to gain access to.
It seems to be a trend right now for women to write letters to their younger selves. Here’s my contribution:
It’s me, AKA you. I know we’re feeling super shitty right now so I wanted to write to you. I wanted you to hear from the part of yourself that says nice things to others as opposed to the jackass self who you usually let talk to you, cause frankly, it’s time we break up with that douche, the one who says “You’re a whiny piece of useless shit for struggling for so long.” That dude, like Puck from Real World San Francisco, needs to be booted. (I know you like a good dated reference so I threw that in there for you.)
Bottom line, stop giving yourself such a hard time, because the more you do that the less you can hear my voice, the voice that is saying this:
Treating yourself like shit will never ever serve you. It has no purpose. Right now, you just need to do the work. Go to therapy, talk stuff out, survive the struggle, learn what you need to learn, and most of all, trust yourself that you’re doing what you need to do.
It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’re brave and a fighter but you have to tell yourself that stuff cause that’s the only way to keep beating this. So just keep making it through each second, recognize your worth and your beauty, that’s your job to do, no one else’s.
And lastly, I love you and am here with you always but for both our sake, you should probably ease up on the Milk Duds, I know they’re tasty but there is line, and you’re way past it. Or in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “You’re so far past the line that you can’t even see the line! The line is a dot to you!”
Okay, you know what you need to do, so “Do it Rockapella!” (We’re crushing these 90s references.)