Advocating for Yourself: Making that Mental Health Crisis Call - First in a Series by Brigid Hokana

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.

February 2017

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.”

March 2017

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.”

August 2017

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:

  1. 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.

  2. Police Officers will show up to your door. They are just acting as first responders, people to wait with you.

  3. An Ambulance comes next, and they ask you a series of questions about your physical condition.

  4. Upon arrival, a nurse, a doctor, a social worker, and a psychiatrist will ask more questions about your mental/emotional condition.

  5. The psychiatrist will ask if you had any suicidal ideation and how. Answer honestly.

  6. 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

If you are advocating for someone else’s life, don’t be afraid to look over the step-by-steps from NAMI. You can find those here. 

Click here for more information on advocates for Mental Health and Virginia NAMI

Your mental health is as important as your physical health.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. 

 

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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.

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Getting Ready for the Death Talk: First in a Series from Stuart Nicholson

I visited my alma mater recently and found the most wonderful little poster advertising a Death Café. While I had never heard of such a thing before, I know well the general concept.

The Death Cafe is a worldwide movement dedicated to bringing discussion of death into a relaxed environment. The Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session. The event seeks to provide a forum for death understanding and death positivity in a less daunting, less facing-your-own-mortality way.

It’s a forum where attendees can ask questions that they may have not only regarding their own death, but the deaths of their parents and perhaps spouses.

It’s no secret that I am fascinated with death. Much of my own writing deals with the subject and how it affects people. In my perpetual search for new information and sources to color and add to my understanding of Death, I happened upon a licensed mortician and funeral director, named Caitlin Doughty, whose mission is to educate everyone about death and funeral practices, but also to answer any questions people have about the process of death and burial.

Caitlin has enlightened me on many areas of the American death culture that I, as I am sure everyone else has, just accepted as part of what happens.

As a delivery driver, I spend a lot of time in my car; and I’ve heard several ads recently encouraging people to sign up for life insurance policies. It occurred to me that the discussion for insurance is a great way to incite the mortality conversation, but there needs to be more going into it than just making sure there is enough money to cover expenses. I am not discrediting the need or importance of life insurance. I just want to present more opportunities for understanding.

The sudden death of a loved one is devastating to the heart and finances. But even with savings and insurance, a family may still be unable to pay the $30,000 funeral costs of a traditional burial. Cremation is a bit cheaper, but not by much; only like $5-10,000.

It is essential that we begin to think about these different topics and decisions regarding death as they may be the solution to the problems that come up around them.

I’m hoping to make a future posting regarding opening the Death Discussion and give further details about modern death practices, such as green burials and death laws that funeral homes may not mention. Perhaps our very own Death Café may pop up here in Richmond…

Read More About Death Cafe Here

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Stuart Nicholson, an actor and fiction writer in Richmond, as well as a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing For Peace.

 

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Great Read! "What Is Literary Activism?" by Amy King (from Poetry Foundation)

"This past summer, I was asked to talk about my literary activism as part of an acceptance speech for an award I was receiving. This request threw my current actions into sharp relief. Was I doing "literary activism"? How to define if this is a thing and not simply a medium used on behalf of another movement (I.e. a poem as vehicle a movement can utilize)? Or is literary activism stepping back and looking at how the cogs and wheels of the literary world go together or grind and crunch in order to respond critically?...."

Read the rest of Amy's excellent article here.

Visit Amy King's website here. 

 

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Resource: Richmond Young Writers!

Looking for something awesome for kids to do? Check out Richmond Young Writers! 

Richmond Young Writers is a creative writing incubator for ages 9-17. We write, we read, we laugh, we cry, we get messy, we polish things up, we bond. We make each other better.

RYW offers once-a-week fall and winter/spring after-school workshops in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, journalism, comics, and other topics.

In the summer, we offer 18 different week-long creative writing camps, complete with amazing guest author appearances, snacks, deep thoughts, wordy goodness and a new crew of crazy writer friends.

About

Richmond Young Writers was founded in the summer of 2009 at Chop Suey Books with the intention of introducing young people to the joy of creative writing through workshops taught by professional writers in the community. Our workshops are now held right down the street at 2707 West Cary Street.

Full and partial scholarships are offered in each workshop to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in our programs.

We have had the pleasure of writing with young people ages 8-17 from Richmond, Henrico, Glen Allen, Ashland, Chesterfield, Midlothian, Montpelier, Powhatan, Moseley, Mechanicsville, Afton, Rockville, Gloucester, Charlottesville and more.

Learn More Here

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Must Read! Thirteen Types of Activism by Roland O. Watson

THIRTEEN TYPES OF ACTIVISM

"The following are the standard types or methods of modern activism:

1. Volunteer: Volunteer on your own or with interested groups to assist disadvantaged and underprivileged people, and threatened species and habitats. In an international context, volunteer to work in refugee camps, at local schools and medical care clinics, or for some other NGO (non-governmental organization). There is a huge network of volunteer organizations around the world, and once you are part of it, once you start volunteering, it is easy to find new and fascinating opportunities.

2. Grassroots activism: Found or join community, student or other groups and then engage in “tabling,” where you set up a table at some social event and hand out literature and talk about your cause. In addition, such events are often supplemented with, or designed around, activist speakers and performances and exhibitions by activist artists.

The objective of grassroots activism is to increase the publicity of, and most importantly the support for, your cause. You particularly want to engage the interest and if possible the involvement of members of the different groups that are being negatively affected. Your goal is to organize them, to pull them out of their complacency and defeatism, and to assist them in their opposition.

For activism to be effective, we must organize large-scale movements to express discontent and to demand change, movements of such a size that they cannot be ignored. But to do this, we will have to find ways to unify the disparate sources of rebellion that exist, including environmentalists, workers, students, ethnic and indigenous rights activists, religious groups, and even the disaffected individuals who listen to gangsta rap and hard core rock. Further, we must solicit the concern of those individuals who one day will suffer the most, if we are unable to solve our problems: schoolchildren. (They must be recruited as well, to help protect the world they are destined to inherit.)

Activists also must recognize that only one thing, historically, has led to large-scale rebellion: the deaths of a great number of people. Rebellion has never been instigated by the destruction of nature (although the taking of land has been a contributing factor in some popular movements). This is a reflection of human chauvinism, that we only get upset when bad things happen to us. For example, this is one of the reasons why the debate over genetic engineering is finally starting to gain some prominence: it involves a threat to people. (The history of the twentieth century included a number of significant victories against government repression, but far fewer against environmental destruction.)

Lastly, there is the problem that activism is usually reactive. We assume, because we are ethical, that other people are as well; that they have a conscience and are not wholly dominated by personal selfishness. Then, when they demonstrate that they are so dominated, we have to react.

To be effective we must build large-scale movements, and we must anticipate this: we must be proactive, and unpredictable....."

Read the Rest of This Important List Here

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Great Read! "13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism" by Jackie Reeve (from Geek Mom)

"It’s a politically charged time to be alive in the US. Yesterday’s Women’s March brought out incredible numbers of people in cities and towns around the world who exercised what we consider a fundamental right in America. Maybe you had your young children with you, like I did. I realized while we were marching in a local protest that activism can be a hard thing to define to young kids. Keep the conversation going with these books that help explain and demonstrate what it’s all about...."

Read Jackie Reeve's Excellent List on Geek Mom

 

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Collage by Jackie Reeve

Friday Hashtag #ReadersResist, from Writers Resist: Write Our Democracy

"Words are the tools writers use to create change, but without readers what we write cannot come alive. Readers must be at the heart of this movement. We invite you to resist normalizing "alternative" truth and narratives that contradict the bedrock principles of our country. Resolve to seek out and share truth and initiate inspired conversations. Together we can shift the narratives that define our future and help recover democracy.

On Fridays join us on social media with the hashtag #ReadersResist and share prose passages, articles, photos, poems, or any written material that demonstrates the solace, resolve, and resistance so essential to renewing our democracy.

Learn More About Writers Resist: Write Our Democracy Here

 

AMAZING RESOURCE FOR EDUCATORS: "Starting at the Margins: An Invitation to Writing Our Civic Futures" (from Educator Innovator)

"We invite educators to a year of social reading, collaborative web annotation, and public conversation that explores our civic imaginations and literacy landscapes. As civic engagement changes and evolves, Writing Our Civic Futures will discuss and consider implications for connected learning and teaching...

In this collaboration, we partner with—and draw texts from—a range of educators, youth, scholars, media makers and journalists to think about the landscape of civic engagement and education while imagining ways that we can engage ourselves and our students as writers and makers of our civic futures. This project leverages the web annotation platform Hypothes.is, adding multiple voices to critical conversations about equity and education...."

How it works:

  • Writing Our Civic Futures will kick off the first week of October 2017 and runs through May 2018. See the Writing Our Civic Futures Syllabus for details!
  • The first week of each month a new reading will be posted on the syllabus as a live annotatable link for sharing and social annotation.
  • Related events happening that month will also be announced. CLTV broadcasts will be aired at educatorinnovator.org; follow @innovates_ed and #marginalsyllabus (on Twitter) to keep abreast of these opportunities.
  • We encourage your participation in the week-long annotation of each text, though readings will remain online throughout for annotation and discussion.
  • We encourage you to use these readings and the opportunity to annotate however it best works for you—organize a study group, bring a class you are teaching, engage as an individual, connect it to a meeting....."

Explore This Amazing Resource Here

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