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Coming to Terms with the Gun to my Head

"Seventy-Two hours?" I scrambled to sit on the stretcher in the middle of the noisy ER. On my right, a man with swollen legs was dying of heart failure. The kid my toes were pointing to was so low on oxygen his lips were blue. Everyone had curtained-off pseudo-rooms, but I was parked at the nurse's station in my psych-patient-green hospital gown with the only items they allowed suicidal patients: panties and a hair tie. "No, no, no. I can't do that. I have to take care of my son. Can't I sign out AMA?"

"Sorry, no." Dr. Willard--who, by the way, woke me up at two in the morning--answered. "Have you heard of California Legal Section 5150?"

Sure. Aren't we all well-versed in our state's legal code? I shook my head.

"My attending just signed your 5150 order. Only a psychiatrist can release you once you're no longer considered a threat to yourself."

I internalized the eye roll. "You don't understand. My husband's a medical student and can't take time off to watch my son. I have to be home this morning."

Then he tried to encourage me with some "remember when the pilot tells you to put your oxygen mask on before your kid's" crap. I was not comforted.

The plane was still going down.

And, in my defense, I had been putting on my oxygen mask for years. Therapy. Medication. Spiritual direction. Grief support group. Wonderful friends. Exercise.

Fine. You caught me. I had been off meds for two years to have my son, breastfeed him, then unsuccessfully carry my fourth and fifth pregnancies. Meds are important, I guess, because there I was in the ER wishing I was dead.

I awaited my transportation to whatever psych hospital had room for me. Unfortunately, it was a few cities away and ghetto as prison. After my strip search, I sat in the solitary room looking at the scuffed-up nautical mural on all four walls. I sat in there because the overworked nurses forgot about me. I sat in there studying the safety measures they implemented, crying because I wished I had gone through with it before going to the ER. I cried harder when I called my husband, E, and heard my sixteen-month-old son asking for "momma" in the background. J was asking for me and I couldn't get to him. I couldn't for sixty-some-odd more hours.

And if I had gone through with it, I could never get to him.

It was then that I fought, really fought, for myself. I called E back and told him to beg the med school's dean to get me the hell out of there. He pulled strings and got the university psych hospital to hold a bed for me, a facility with real doctors and therapists and windows without locked-closed blinds and hot water (hot water!) and outpatient programs to transition into.

I agreed to extended treatment because my doctor said after a year of being on medication, the severed connections in my brain would be repaired, and I could stop taking them. Then I'd get back to watching my body fail at sustaining pregnancies.

If only.

A year later, my doctor found that my body was genetically incapable of metabolizing most of the antidepressants and antipsychotics that I had been taking. Another year later, I'm on the right mix of medication and healthier than I've ever been.

That doesn't mean I don't have bad days. A few weeks ago, I wrote this in my journal:

I’m going to lose this battle one day. I just know it....[then] my brain will stop itching in that place only a bullet can scratch.

So, more pregnancies for me.

Oddly enough, when I tell people I can't have any more children because I need antidepressants, they usually argue with me. Yes, argue. (Now, do I show them my batshit crazy diary? No. Maybe I should start doing that...)

"You're so young. You have time." Yes, I've only had depression for twelve years now. Maybe in twelve more, I'll be cured and still have some eggs left. Oh, and not miscarry those babies.

"Isn't there something you can take while pregnant? My friend was on [insert name of a medication I'm genetically incompatible with], and her baby was fine." Sure, maybe one drug would be fine. But all five category C drugs? And, again, I have four dead babies. I'm high-risk on a multi-vitamin.

"Do you really need med--" That's me slapping them. No, I'm just kidding. This last one is usually worded passively if at all. But, really, do people think it was easy to tell my husband that we can't have any more kids because I'm terrified I'll die without medication? Trust me, I wish I could just be stronger, think brighter, fight harder.

But I'm fighting as hard as I can.

Once in awhile, you see cuts on my wrist. You don't see all the times I fought to put the scissors, the razor, the knife down.

You see the row of pills on my counter. You don't see the immense control it takes to swallow one instead of thirty.

You see how strapped for cash I am because I pay my therapist hundreds a month. You don't see the courage it takes to tell her when I'm losing the battle.

Because I know if I lose people will say:

"How could she be so selfish?"

"Doesn't she know what she did to her family?"

"She just took the easy way out."

But if I lost a battle with any other disease, they'd say:

"She was a fighter."

"She was a great wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend."

"She'd rather be here with us."

I can assure you, if--God forbid--I ever do lose, it wouldn't be because I'm not a fighter or a good wife and mom or because I don't want to stay.

It'd simply be because I lost.