It was so annoying. Whenever I reached my therapist’s voice mail, I’d hear: “If this is an emergency, please hang up and call the Crisis Connection,” followed by the phone number, which he recited and repeated. Slowly.
It was annoying for years until I needed that number. The mental health, addiction and abuse hot line took 20,000 calls in Minnesota last year, including mine. The hot line, which has announced it will shut down on Friday for lack of funding after nearly 50 years in operation, saved my life.
I’d been in severe pain for two weeks after reinjuring my shoulder. A slip and fall down our basement stairs tore something a few years ago. This time I merely looked over my shoulder at the cat. I heard something tearing and, oh my God, did it hurt.
Thank goodness for the drop-in orthopedics clinic, where the doctor ordered an X-ray and pronounced it normal. Just rest and take Tylenol, he said, and it would soon be fine, which it wasn’t.
Back at the clinic a few days later, I received a shot of cortisone that didn’t work. Meanwhile, the pain was worsening, and I was losing income, because my supplemental job requires two functioning arms. Pain and loss of income are dangerous ingredients for someone with major depressive disorder; I remember being depressed in kindergarten and have battled depression all my life.
Gritting my teeth to endure the pain, I headed back on the Thursday before Labor Day, determined not to leave without relief.
Doc No. 3 said I needed an MRI and left the room. Finally, we were getting somewhere, I thought. I waited hopefully, but after 10 minutes peeked into the corridor to make sure they hadn’t forgotten me, which they had. They put me in a line to set up the MRI, which I hoped would be that day or, at the latest, the next day before the long holiday weekend.
Then the other shoe dropped.
“We need prior approval from your insurance, and that usually takes a few days.”
“You’re kidding,” I shot back. “I can’t wait that long!”
My protests met a brick wall, even after speaking with the supervisor. I filled out a complaint form, furious — and certain I could no longer bear the pain, frustration and seemingly endless dead ends. With my body on high alert in this fight-or-flight ordeal, I stormed out, anxious, agitated and oh-so-angry.
In my car, I sobbed and screamed epithets at the clinic and the universe. I had reached the nadir familiar from 2008, when I’d been seriously suicidal and sent to the hospital on my therapist’s orders. I slumped in my seat, sending more shock waves through my shoulder. In pain, with no hope, I knew I’d run my course. I couldn’t go home and continue to inflict myself on my husband in this condition, regardless of how loving and supportive he is, but this is the thought process when you have severe depression.
You start to think that the world would be better off without you, that you’re a burden on your loved ones and that even they’d be better off without you. That it’s your time to exit this life. In 2008, it would have been pills. This time, the car.
That’s when I remembered the annoying message about Crisis Connection. I called and reached someone who understood and said all the right things to pull me out of the pit. She took things one step at a time, asking all the right questions. For instance, did I need a first responder? After listening for some time, she kept me on the phone while she notified my husband that I was in crisis. She encouraged me to go back inside the building. When I refused, she contacted the clinic’s patient services manager, who met me at my car and accompanied me to a sunny patch of grass, where we talked the whole thing out. She listened, showed compassion and guaranteed that I would have the MRI the next morning, followed immediately by an appointment with the physician who had ordered the test.
Thank God I remembered that annoying voice message. I am beyond grateful for the Crisis Connection and the counselor who took my call.
Now I’ve “outed” myself to the world, not only as a sufferer of depression but as a veteran of suicidal ideation and hospitalization for depression. Some may find scandal in it. Some may think less of me. I don’t care. This is my choice, because I know that people long for open and honest discussion about depression and suicide.
Since that trip to the precipice of self-annihilation, I’ve helped spread the word about Crisis Connection. Now that it’s going away, I wonder how many lives won’t be saved. Give or take a year, it could have been mine.
Leslie Martin lives in Mendota Heights.