2 AM, the pit of summer. The family sleeps. You’re awake, searching in private mode. You need to know your options for partial and full hospitalization.
Here is the main issue: You don’t drive.
This means the following:
1. Pay $50 for an Uber.
2. Confess to Mother how depressed you’ve been this summer.
3. Go to the clinic that offers pickup. Said clinic is also guilty of holding people hostage,
scamming insurance companies, and being filthy.
After a series of routine 2 AM searches, you are beginning to realize the filthy place is your best option. You’re terrified. You confess this terror to a friend. She pretends to listen and continues pretending until she abandons you. Don’t worry, post abandonment you won’t be mad at her, just surprised. You let her in. She shut you out.
Even though you’re a first world mutt, you’re running out of resources. You’re scared and empty. You’ve learned from the whites that the depressed, despaired, and disjointed rely on psychiatrists with names like Betty, so you call your psychiatrist, your Betty Crocker, who will bake you into happiness.
Your psychiatrist, now let’s call her Dr. Killjoy, asks, “Can we stop the jokes? There is a real you behind the person I see.”
On the phone, you’re quiet. You attempt to shut out Dr. Killjoy’s words, but they have a way of snaking into your ear and biting open the compartmentalized chambers of your brain. Once bitten, you remember that you’re afraid of her discovering the version of you that you hide and never try to seek.
You’re still on the phone, afraid to talk. Talking means Dr. Killjoy will hear a voice that breaks when crying. Talking means that you will eventually apologize for wasting her time.
She asks, “Are you still there?”
Now, this. This shit right here is the most annoying thing about Dr. Killjoy. She asks questions she already can answer. The second most annoying thing about Dr. Killjoy is that she thinks being the only woman in the medical class of 1776 is the same as being Black and studying on a campus built by the enslaved. Because of these two annoying factors, you don’t trust Dr. Killjoy, and for every appointment, you pick which truths to tell.
Examples of truths you never tell:
1. Taking sleeping pills after a night of kitschy cocktails.
2. Researching razors for when it’s time to cut again.
3. Recurring dreams where you die of overdosing.
You never tell Dr. Killjoy these things, but you can tell your friends—never the same friends. Divide the truth as if you’re casting lots for your unsanctified flesh. Remember, you’re afraid of your friends and their exhaustion.
They’ve read your late night texts, your typo-filled essays about conquering depression. They’ve listened to the complaints, they’ve listened to the sorrows, the wallows, they’ve proclaimed their love, they’ve checked in, they’ve said and done everything they’ve learned in “How To Make Sure Your Depressed Friend Doesn’t Kill Themselves.” And since you’re not a complete cunt, you’ve listened, thanked, and been grateful.
But honestly, the sweet platitudes make it worse. They feel like placations constructed from pity. In bed, you text a friend for validation about why you should be alive.
You know it’s not fair to interrupt your friend’s late-night emergency pee with an SOS, I want to die text—texts like these are manipulative, triggering, and time-consuming, but you can’t help it. You’re embarrassed, depressed, and possibly insane. Insane? Well, yes, there’s that dumb and problematic definition of insanity your mother told you: “It’s when you keep doing the same shit and think something different will happen.”
You’re not possibly insane. You definitely are. You think a comfort text is all that you need. Despite what you’ve told your league of former and new therapists and psychiatrists, despite reading and recommending and then teaching The Collected Schizophrenias, you still don’t understand having a chronic condition. You keep staring at your phone, attempting to anticipate the text that will save you, making everything right and never wrong again. No text arrives. Nothing is right, and you are left with a truth—you love the comfort that your pain provides. So, some days you still take sleeping pills at 3 PM as your thigh dries from the freshest cut. Some nights you still starve yourself, overdrink, and make lullabies out of suicidality.
You’re twenty-four, kissing twenty-five. You see your friends shedding their past selves as they step into the narratives of their new lives. You don’t trust it. After your 2 AM searches, you go to Instagram, and you try to discern whether your friends’ new faces and bodies are still similar enough to the old ones.
Like Dr. Killjoy, you already know the answers to the important questions. Yes, she did get lipo, and yes, he Facetunes all his photos, and no, no one will announce your death on Instagram. You’re not famous so you won’t get the caption of RIP Jenny, which is accompanied by half-naked pictures of girls you dream about.
It’s 5 AM and your mother is awake. You hear her rustling in the bathroom. It’s time to sleep. On the bed, you starfish your body and imagine yourself falling. You drift in and out of asleep until it seems like an appropriate hour to be awake.
Morning is here. It’s another day, and you’re drinking coffee to stay awake and fit into the daily actions of what is normal and healthy. You know that coffee won’t fix this, but you’re your mother’s definition of insane. You keep drinking it. It keeps you up. It makes the depressed you functional. Functional and prepared.
When people ask what’s wrong say, “I haven’t had my coffee today,” because no coffee is the reason for punching pillows and kicking chocolate wrappers off the bed during fits of shame and exhaustion, no coffee is the reason for spring sadness, when during this awakening, you weakly arranged and rearranged sentences for a novel about a girl named Sahara who is so depressed she pisses herself in her dorm room bed, and despite what you told yourself, your professors, and your best friend, “she’s not me,” she is you. No, you’ve never been so depressed that you pissed yourself, and yes, you tried passively dying in college, but the passivity never ruined your GPA. You had coffee, deep-dish, Netflix, a best friend, and all of this helped you survive the hangovers, the panic attacks, the crying spells, and the impulses to wander to a lake and contemplate the Woolfian ways to die before graduation.
You survived and then coped the only way writers know how. You wrote. You performed your trauma. You showed a truth. You thought the book could cage your past, but reentering those pages meant reopening the wounds. You told Dr. Killjoy, “I’ll be free once I finish this book,” but now the book is done, and you’re not free. You are falling and waiting to feel the hit that jolts you back into yourself.
As you fall, you keep up with the coffee and the meds, and you slow down the drinking, and you work out even when your knees still hurt from jump squats, and you stop shaving because you’re scared of making purposeful nicks, and you listen to the podcasts that tell you to envision your happiness.
A British woman with a voice that is chamomile tea says, “Close your eyes and envision your happiest memory. Go back to that moment. Was it with your grandmother? Your best friend?” Your eyes are closed. They’re fucking pressed shut. You’re focusing on happiness and not seeing anything. Come on, you knew nothing would appear, and if a thought did come, then it would have been in the wrong order. You’re dyslexic, depressed, and aphantasic. Your mind is that grandmother you have to repeat everything to four times so she can understand 1/3 of what you’re saying.
And oh yay, it’s another day. The night before, you played with your pill bottle the way you tried squeezing your own neck as a kid. You realize if you hold onto your silence any longer, it will kill you. You’re in front of Mother, Older Sister, and Little Sister. Your coffee cup is empty. You repeat, “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
You tell 4/5 of your family that you’re going to schedule an appointment for partial hospitalization. No one knows what that is, so you have to explain it to them.
To your explanation, Little Sister replies, “It’s like summer camp.”
“Yes. It’s like summer camp.”
You laugh and schedule the appointment. You feel good three days before, and then two days out you start rereading the Yelp reviews, and then you’re terrified of being stuck there forever, or becoming the next person to write a negative review, or of your father and his friends finding out, or being diagnosed with something else, or being away from your work for 8 hours a day, or being stuck with yourself, and so you cancel and when the woman on the phone asks if you want to reschedule, this is what you say as you’re pouring a new cup of coffee: “Not right now. I figured it out.”
J K Chukwu is a half Nigerian, half Detroitian writer from the Midwest. She is an MFA candidate at Brown University. She was a 2019 Lambda Fellow and her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, DIAGRAM, TAYO, and elsewhere. Her audio essay, “Love Sounds,” published by A Velvet Giant was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.