Trigger warnings: self-harm, suicidal ideation, mentions of eating disorders
It has been confirmed, far and wide, that I am mentally ill. I have the documentation, the professional opinions, the prescriptions, and the personal history to back it up. It doesn’t take a PhD to see that I’m “crazy.”
Early one morning my sophomore year, I awoke to a loud knock on my door. I stumbled blindly out of bed to answer it, my eyelids drooping from lack of sleep. Standing there, I found a campus police officer and a tall man in a black hat. They were concerned that I was suicidal, citing a worried phone call from my RD, who had received a concerned message from a student late the night before. The strangers at my door told me I needed to undergo psychological evaluation at the Stone Center immediately. Dumbfounded, I asked if I could walk there after putting on real clothes and ingesting some caffeine. “No,” the man in the black hat said, “you have to go right now. You can ride with her,” he gestured toward the police officer, “or you can ride with me.” Begrudgingly, I chose the latter option, and off we went.
I’ve experienced varying degrees of suicidal ideation since I was twelve or so, and this morning I was, admittedly, on the worse end of my spectrum. I refused to admit this, however. Going to the hospital would stress me out, it would stress my family out, and it would interfere with my intricately structured schedule. Going to the hospital was not an option. And besides, I didn’t need help—I had it under control. After making me sign their standard paperwork, the Stone Center let me go.
Later that day, I self-harmed for the first time in about six years. I didn’t want help.
At the urging of friends, I halfheartedly started seeing one of the Stone Center’s therapists regularly. She didn’t get me. At all. After three appointments punctuated by awkward silences—not the kind of silence therapists are trained to dish out, but silence because this woman just did not understand what I meant, nor did she have any idea what to tell me—I stopped going.
Toward the end of the semester, my eating disorder got out of control, and I spent the summer as an inpatient at an eating disorder center. That summer was a time of validation and hope. For the first time in my life, I had words for all of the strange miseries that had clouded my life for as long as I could remember. Not only that, but I also had a supportive and incredible community of peers who understood exactly how I felt: we’d all been to the same dark places inside ourselves.
I had a treatment team there, complete with a primary therapist, family therapist, dietician, psychiatrist, and a small horde of other psychologists. When I came back to Wellesley in the fall, I started seeing a therapist in Cambridge once or twice a week, going to Health Services for checkups every two weeks, and attending a weekly eating disorder support group at the Stone Center.
But around the end of the semester, my depression started getting worse again. My therapist told me to seek out one of the Stone Center psychiatrists to see about getting my meds adjusted. I called the Stone Center the next day to ask about making an appointment with a psychiatrist. I know several people who have had an easy time doing this, so I figured it would be manageable, if a bit bureaucratic. It wasn’t. The receptionist brashly informed me that no one could make an appointment with one of their psychiatrists without being referred by a Stone Center counselor. When I limply protested that my legit actual real world therapist had insisted that I start seeing a psychiatrist again, the receptionist repeated her unhelpful monologue: No one can make an appointment with one of our psychiatrists without being referred by a Stone Center counselor. Never mind that I know several people who did not have to comply with this requirement. Frustrated and unheard, I hung up.
After that, I gave up for a while. From time to time, I would fume to myself about why in the hell the Stone Center would make seeing a psychiatrist such a bureaucratic obstacle course; didn’t they of all people understand that it’s already a huge and difficult step for a mentally- ill-person to reach out for the help they need? Depressed people do not have the energy for bullshit bureaucracies. My mood continued to darken, and I relapsed into self-harm again.
My therapist told me that I should spend some time in a partial hospitalization program at a behavioral health center over winter break. I complied, and I tried, but it wasn’t all that helpful. I saw my therapist and my psychiatrist from the summer several times before going back to school—they agreed that I needed to find a psychiatrist at Wellesley.
After returning to school in the spring, I called the Stone Center again, and got the same discouraging answer. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how many other mental health professionals suggest the need for a psychiatrist—if they don’t work at the Stone Center, they don’t count. Several weeks later, I called yet again. This time, instead of trying to advocate for myself in the face of the system that refused to help me, I decided I’d just do what they wanted me to and see what happened.
I made an appointment with a Stone Center counselor. It was the same counselor I’d been dragged to for suicidal ideation one year before. She was patronizing and, still, didn’t understand my case at all. She seemed more like a simpering mother than a therapist. After I flashed her lots of reassuring smiles and affirmed again and again that, yes, self care is important, and yes, mental health comes first, she scheduled an appointment for me with a Stone Center psychiatrist in about a month. Had so many people gone through this months-long, tedious process that the psychiatrist was that busy? I wondered to myself. It seemed unlikely. The counselor informed me that it was also a requirement (apparently) that I continue seeing her as long as I was seeing the psychiatrist—I guess one to two meetings a week with my regular therapist wasn’t enough? No one else that I’ve talked to has had to follow this rule; no one else that I’ve talked to has even heard of this rule.
A month later, the day finally came for me to meet with the psychiatrist—let’s call her Jean Walsh. Everything I said was met with suspicion and invalidation. She didn’t believe me that I was depressed, or that I had struggled with debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder. She accused me of abusing my Zoloft—like, really, who the fuck even does that? I imagine Zoloft would not be a very exciting drug to abuse. I was getting plenty of sleep, she said, so where was the problem? I was eating enough, she said, so where was the problem? I wasn’t actively self harming, she said, so where was the problem?
I left the Stone Center feeling worse than I’d felt in months. Obviously I didn’t have any problems. I supposed the only reason I couldn’t function was because I was pathetic, weaker than everyone else, less capable than everyone else. An incredible and persistent support system was the only thing that kept me from harming myself that day, and just barely. I felt absolutely worthless.
When I met with my therapist a few days later, she told me than Jean Walsh had called her to discuss my case. She told me that Jean had questioned her aggressively, saying that she “didn’t really see any depression” in me, nor did she detect any OCD. When my therapist tried to give Jean her diagnoses of me—major depressive disorder, as well as chronic depression, OCD, anxiety, anorexia in partial remission—Jean interrupted her, talking over my therapist rather than listening to her. I opted not to meet with Jean Walsh again.
I am a passionate advocate for mental health on campus, and I frequently encourage people to visit the Stone Center, but the Stone Center has failed me. My case has fallen through the cracks. It doesn’t take a PhD to see that I’m “crazy,” but the Stone Center bureaucracy somehow missed that fact altogether. I don’t ever want anyone else to feel as invalidated and shut out of the Stone Center as I have; no one should ever have to feel foolish for seeking help.
From April 2015 Issue