Six months ago in December 2017, I didn’t trust myself walking near bridges, and I made plans with friends I believed I might not be alive for.
Following one emotionally taxing weekend, I lost the resolve to fight back against those heavy thoughts. After too much to drink, I came home and wanted to stop the feelings hemorrhaging in my brain. I swallowed the Xanax I’d been taking for sleep, and then another. And another. And several more. But no sooner did those pills hit my throat than I regretted my actions.
Still, I was afraid to be a burden to anyone by telling them something was wrong. I texted several friends who lived near me—”you up?” The first one to write back, a former coworker named Lisa, asked if I was okay. When I said no, she got in a cab, picked me up, and brought me to the hospital.
My tears dripped into her lap. I was filled with shame for intentionally harming myself, and I was afraid of what lay beyond the hospital’s automatic doors.
I was seeing two therapists at the time, and a psychiatrist.
Over the previous five months, I’d lost my mom, my job, and my dog—and on top of that, I was dealing with the painful ending of a summer fling.
But I was dutifully taking the psychiatric meds I’d been prescribed. I was doing yoga and running. I was journaling my heart out. If there had been any other way to proactively improve my mental health, I would have tried it. I even glommed onto crystals, desperately seeking a tactic that could take away my pain.
Theodora after finishing the New York City marathon in November 2017.Courtesy of Theodora Blanchfield
If you followed me on Instagram, of course it looked like my life was great. In the months prior to my hospitalization, I’d traveled to four countries and run my seventh marathon. The weekend beforehand, I’d attended a black-tie gala. It looked like I was thriving. But if you were in my head before I went to sleep at night, it was quite the opposite.
The traumas I’d recently suffered, combined with the depression I’d dealt with for years, became stifling. My world felt bleak and black, and I didn’t see a way out. I thought I would feel that way forever.
In the ER, they kept me overnight for observation.
Lisa sat by my side until Meg, my best friend, arrived early in the morning. (Lisa called Meg because I couldn’t bear to do it myself.)
I couldn’t stomach the thought of revealing, even to my best friend, that my pain was so deep and dark that I had intentionally tried to escape my life.
But when Meg started crying and telling me how worried she’d been about me, I realized my facade hadn’t fooled those I was closest to—and that my actions were impacting others.
I realized that I owed it to those who cared about me to get more help—even if I didn’t think I owed it to myself.
I was admitted to the hospital for a four-day stay. On the first day, my heart started racing.
Had it really come to this? Maybe I could just go home. I wasn’t “crazy like them,” I thought as I saw a man with a blank stare wandering about, and a woman singing loudly to herself, playing into every stereotype out there about psychiatric units.
Iron screens obscured the windows so much so that I had trouble orienting myself to the fact that the building faced south into Manhattan. (Or maybe I should blame that on the high dose of Klonopin that kept me mildly sedated at all times.) The city outside felt worlds away, instead of just on the other side of the glass.
But I had committed to my loved ones that I would give this a fair shot, so I threw myself into being the best patient I could be. I stayed open to anything my doctors suggested, no matter how scary it was to me.
A forced digital detox allowed me time away from triggers that threw me into emotional spirals—like seeing a woman my age posting photos with her mom on Instagram—and gave me time to reflect, too. I journaled obsessively, detailing my surroundings, digging deeper and deeper for the reason I’d ended up in the hospital, the reason I was in so much pain.
One night, my name was read off a list of those asked to attend an AA meeting.
After the meeting, my knees knocked together with jittery nerves, and I left the room sobbing. Tales of others’ rock bottoms offered a chilling reminder of what could happen if I didn’t make changes. Though I didn’t think AA and total abstinence were for me, it terrified me to think that there was a reason I’d ended up in that meeting.
In the hospital, I also finally came to realize how profoundly my lack of sleep had been affecting me. In the months prior to being admitted, I was sleeping only four to five hours per night, often waking up in the throes of a panic attack after a disturbing dream about my mom’s illness or death. I’d start each morning wired with anxiety or entirely fatigued, and there was no in between.
Still, I’d resisted taking a sleeping pill until doctors prescribed me one the first night I was admitted. Combined with the lack of alcohol during my hospital stay, sleeping helped me feel more even-keeled than I had in months. My mind easily and obediently turned itself off at night, despite the twin bed, nailed to the floor.
My friends came to visit, bringing with them the brightest light in my day—and fish tacos.
They brought marathon sweatshirts and Lilly Pulitzer pullovers for me to add to my hospital wardrobe so I could feel more like myself.
But during my time there, I realized that “feeling like myself” was as much about acknowledging my depression as it was embracing the bright colors I loved and remembering the races I’d run.
I managed to lose myself in the group therapy sessions that sometimes felt like bizarro summer camp activities (puppy therapy, anyone?), even forgetting where I was until my name was called to give me meds or to talk to someone on my medical team.
Some of the skills we learned in these sessions felt remedial to me, as someone who has worked on her mental health and coping skills for so long. But others left me curious about forms of therapy different than what I’d been practicing for years.
When I was released, my grief therapist told me: “Things will look up from here—they have to.”
I’ve carried those words with me since walking out the doors of the hospital. While I hope to never end up hospitalized for my mental health again, I’m aware it could happen. I’ve seen depression described as emotional cancer—pervasive. It may go into remission but not ever totally go away.
The hospitalization helped give me new tools for my toolkit and lessened the intensity and frequency of my dark feelings, but they may never disappear completely. Getting help taught me I’m worthy of giving myself the love other people give me.
It’s so important to me to share my story to chip away at the stigma mental health issues still hold. I want to be a reminder that not all objects are as they appear—I travel, I lead an interesting life, and you’d never know I deal with depression by looking at me.
Reading others’ accounts of their struggles makes me feel just a little less alone. If I can do that for just one person, it’s worth it.
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