This past year, 2017 into early 2018, was one of the most difficult of my life. I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury after a work-related incident, and this experience, opened me up to a world I hadn’t known before, the world of mental health treatment.
I have since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression in January 2018.
This is my story of making a call that saved my life.
Doctor’s office, the room’s lights were too bright, headache, stomach ache. Lemon bleach from the office’s cleaner.
“You were hit by a child?” The doctor smiled and cocked her eyebrow. “He must have been a big child, I guess…How old do you teach again?”
“Five and six year olds,” I said, the paper overlay on the semi-plush bench crumpled in my hands. “I was slammed against a steel framed door about six to eight times. I lost count.”
She swirled her rolling chair closer to her laptop. “Oh, okay.” She side-eyed me, then looked at her laptop monitor, typed a couple of things. “Now I’ll perform a couple of tests.” She shone a light into my eyes, and stopped, the side-eye back. “Your eyes are really dilated, you haven’t been smoking weed, have you?”
No. I was not high. My head injury had only been a couple of weeks before. I blinked a couple of times, immediately thinking: was this my fault?
I defaulted to how I handled moments like this: joking. “I heard when your eyes are dilated it can mean you’re in love, too.” I chuckled, then held the back of my head against the now everpresent pain.
She didn’t laugh. “But you don’t smoke or drink, correct?” She shone the light in my eyes again.
“No.” That light. The back of my head ached even more intensely than before. “Can you stop that, please? It hurts.”
She narrowed her eyes, “I recommend seeing a neurologist.”
She handed me a business card. “We’ll give you more information on the way out.”
The neurologist said as she looked over her clipboard. “Yep, you definitely have symptoms of someone who has a Traumatic Brain Injury.”
I fiddled my sweaty fingers, hoping she’d help me understand what was happening to me. “I feel dizzy. Most days I can’t see straight. Or the fact that I don’t want to get out of bed most mornings.” I said.
She nodded, but that was the end of our visit. “I’ll prescribe you this medication, and we’ll see if your situation has improved. Until then, I will see you in August.”
I missed that appointment because family members said I looked like I had improved since March. I was better, right?
September 2017-November 2017
I’m better, right? Like a broken arm, or a bout of flu, it eventually just heals, and goes away...Right? This sadness, this anxiety, it goes away, right?
November through December 2017
I wasn’t better. Vertigo, headaches, anxiety that increased with every day. A series of panic attacks that left me useless, drained. I talked with some people about the anxiety. But the other things I didn’t talk about, to anyone.
Thoughts of ending the pain, ending the hurt.
January 12, 2018
Someone who cares about me, though, noticed. “Go back to the doctor--now,” she said.
I did. This time I told my primary care physician everything, about the vertigo, about the escalating anxiety, about the sorrow that grew darker and deeper every day. I couldn’t work. I tried, stayed in my job, even though I was drowning.
The doctor said turned her chair away from me to peer at her laptop. “There’s not much else I can do,” she said over her shoulder.
“This is just to get out of your contract, correct?” she asked. “It would probably be better from a psychiatrist; we’ll print a list for you before you leave here today.”
“But the headaches haven’t gone away--they’re getting worse, and I’ve had two panic attacks this week--” My chest felt like it was being crushed in a vice, and my throat burned with tears.
“I will give you some anti-anxiety medication, maybe that will help.” Her fingers pattered over the keyboard. “Here, I will give you a note for one week, that should be enough time for you to find a psychiatrist who will fill out this doctor’s note for you and identify you. Now for the rest of your examination.”
I cried a little bit, wiped up the tears.
She smiled, an efficient smile, then said, “Just think happy thoughts.” she said. Then she added, “And pray..” With that, she walked out of the room. I cried. This wasn’t about just needing to get out of my job.
I wanted help. I needed help.
Later in my apartment, I clenched my chest, and I cried, “I don’t know- I don’t know-I don’t know.”
I called a mentor. She lives in a town more than an hour away, but she heard me. I knew she heard me, because the next link she sent me was a psychiatric clinic, “It is a walk-in, there’s no guarantee they can see you,” she said. “ Call them, then call me right back.”
I left them a voice message asking for an appointment. I called her back, crying, gasping, “I couldn’t reach anyone.” My heart beat like a hammer clashed against my ribs; my breath slowed and quickened, deepened and shallowed. I felt like I would throw up.
“Okay, I’ve got one more link,” my mentor said. “But I want you to read this one carefully. I think this one will give you help, but I want you to understand what will happen if you call. Call me back once you’ve looked at it,” she said.
I clicked open the link she had sent. The title read Richmond Behavioral Health Authority. It read: “Crisis Intervention” with white lettering and a red background. I dialed the number..
A black haze covered my view. I spoke with a person, I couldn’t say anything except “Help,” then “I need help” and then finally, I gave them my address and phone number.
I tumbled inside myself, drowning in feelings. Shame: maybe I shouldn’t have asked for help. Fear: maybe I should have considered pills again or the car or-
I called my mentor back, “I did it.”
“I’m scared,” I told her. The tears were different now. ”I don’t know what they’re going to do when--when they get here. Are they going to handcuff me? My mom told me about a teenage girl they handcuffed to get her to go to the emergency room.” I stared at my front entrance, waiting for a swat team to kick down my door. Or maybe a nurse with a stretcher.
Oh my god, everyone is going to know I am crazy. People are going to think I am insane.
I felt pretty crazy. Panic burned up through me.
“No, no, sweetheart,” she said. “They are going to take you to the emergency room, then they’re going to do a psych eval. After that.sweetie, you will probably admitted. You understand?” she asked.
I nodded, then said, “Okay, I am going to hang up and wait for them.”
When the first responders arrived--no swat team--they were attentive and gentle, answering my questions, and taking me, I realize now, to the very place I most needed to be.
I want to make clear that this is an account of just my personal experience, and I am aware that the experience of others may vary. But I feel it’s too important to not share my experience, to maybe help someone understand what can happen when you call for help in a mental health crisis.
When you make the call, this is what will happen:
The person on the other line will ask your emergency. They will ask if you think you are a danger to yourself or others. If you say you are in Crisis or an Emergency, they are required by law to help.
Police Officers will show up to your door. They are just acting as first responders, people to wait with you.
An Ambulance comes next, and they ask you a series of questions about your physical condition.
Upon arrival, a nurse, a doctor, a social worker, and a psychiatrist will ask more questions about your mental/emotional condition.
The psychiatrist will ask if you had any suicidal ideation and how. Answer honestly.
You will possibly be admitted, but they will give you the care you really need.
This is my account with the mental health care system and while it was a good experience, if someone else doesn’t have as good an experience, then you do not need to give up. Keep asking for help until someone hears you. There is no shame in asking for help.
If you have or have had thoughts of suicide, know that you can advocate for yourself.
If you need help in making that call, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or friend to help.
If you live in the Richmond area, call their Crisis Prevention Hotline: 804-819-4100
Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Brigid Hokana lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. She is an ABA Therapist for Building Blocks and a MFA student at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She wants to pursue a career as a Teaching Artist and Webcomic Artist. Brigid loves being a part of Writing for Peace and cannot wait to see this organization grow.