Chasing mental health: Day 01


Today is the first day of my DIY mental health recovery experiment. I do not recommend this experiment to anyone. If there is a way for you to get professional help, get it. As explained in the introduction of this series, I am starting this experiment out of desperation, not because I think it's the best way to deal with mental health disorders. I will be recording my progress every day. Some days will be longer than others, so don't expect long essays every day. This is a journal of sorts. When I was busy, I recorded short notes or voice memos on my phone or computer, then later put it all together when I had time scheduled to write.

Fuck, everything hurts. I'm longing for my phone to turn the lights off. My own personal sunrise sponsored by Phillips Hue* is way too early today today. I'm not tired, but rather groggy and exhausted. A look out of the window tells me that it's still dark outside. Damn this German winter. I miss California. It's been more than two years since we left Los Angeles involuntarily and not a day goes by where I don't wish I was back there.

I turn on my Kindle and check the time: 6:07 am. I banished my phone fromm my bed a few weeks ago. There are only five six things in my bed with me: two pillows, a blanket, a water bottle, a lip balm, and my Kindle. Thus, my Kindle is the only way to find out what time it is. Shortly after 7 I crawl out of my bed. My joints feel as creaky as the ladder of my loft bed. Everything hurts.

I stink. I don't know when I showered last. A shower will be the first diversion from today's plan. But there's no way around it, so it's time for some much-needed self-care. With a T-shirt wrapped around my hair (I don't remember where I read this, but the girl was a genius), I sleepwalk into the kitchen. I place a cup under the coffee maker and press the tea button. Wait, I need tea. I pause the water, clean out the tea filter. It's the only surviving part of a glass tea bottle I used to own. I think I broke three of the damn things before giving up on the idea of having a glass tea bottle... The filter survived, so I'm using it like a tea egg. It's oversized, but as long as I don't fill it too high, it works fine. No need to replace it. Not yet. In an attempt to fill the tea filter without a spoon, I spill a good portion of the loose tea. While the machine resumes the water flow (now with tea in the cup), I clean the mess I made, fighting back the first tears of the day. A look at the analog watch on my wrist tells me that I'm running late. It's almost eight. I was supposed to get through last week's biology lecture before class this morning. The second diversion from the plan.

With three minutes to spare, I arrive at my laptop and start the Zoom group call. Luckily, I don't have to enable video, so it doesn't matter that my hair is still in a T-shirt and my eyes are puffy from crying and lack of sleep.

Twenty minutes into the lecture, there are more todo markers than notes on the page and I give up. I'll use the recording later when I can pause to catch up. I'll finish last week's recording instead. Still one lecture behind.

I pull up the recording on my iPad and open Roam to take notes. No internet connection. Seriously, dear universe, what the fuck are you trying to tell me? (Note: I don't actually believe that the universe gives a crap about any of this. I don't even consider the universe a sentient being.)

There's still a Roam window open in my browser, so I start typing. Might as well get some writing done. I can copy and paste it to the right place later. Who needs internet?

I haven't written more than two sentences before my door opens. "I'm awake," my husband announces and I remember with a jolt that he'll need the internet to work from home. Damn it. I get up and unplug the router. It takes more than ten minutes to get it booted up again. When it's finally up and running, the connection is back, more or less.

The connection on my laptop drops every few minutes and I resign to buy a damn Mac dongle to connect ethernet to my Macbook. There's an ethernet port right underneath my desk, but as the dongle I owned was outdated, I couldn't actually connect it to my computer. I pushed off buying a new dongle thinking the Wifi would do. I'm not exactly in a financially prosperous position, after all.

Amazon's front page makes me panic a bit. I hate shopping, especially online. Every thing I have considered buying lines up with sales or warnings that they are nearly out of stock. Quickly, I head to my past orders. No need to torture myself with temptation. I ordered the USB-C hub I want for my husband a while ago, so he can connect his company laptop to the ethernet port underneath his desk. It works well, so why waste time searching for another one. Plus, it's pretty and blue, so that's an added bonus. When I click the link to reorder, I realize that it's now 10 bucks cheaper than it was when he bought his. 22% off is a lot when you are trying to pay off debt, so I open the chat window for amazon support. They explain that they can't give me a gift card and that they would instead let me return the unit and order it again at the lower price. The environmentalist in me screams. I get angry and yell at the poor guy from customer service. I decide to reach out to the merchant instead (who ends up doing the sensible thing of giving us a gift card for Amazon). When I turn to close the chat, my eyes fall onto the fire hazard of a charger on my desk. Right, it's been sitting there for a while. Amazon sent me a recall email weeks ago. I guess, the poor customer service dude has to deal with me for a little longer. Unfortunately, he has no clue what a recall is. Thirty minutes into the chat, he finally understands that they requested this return and that I don't have an issue with the stupid charger. That's when the internet craps out again and the chat disconnects. Oh, for fuck's sake.

I'm now cutting it close for my doctor's appointment, so I have to postpone this to later. Another thing that didn't get done. Luckily, the practice is five minutes away by car. I had planned to walk there but thanks to my Amazon distraction, that's now out of the question. I take off my woolen socks (hand-knitted by my husband's grand-grandma) and put on my everyday boots.

A few minutes early, I pull into the last parking spot at the doctor's office. Finally something that is working out. I use the remaining minutes to record a voice message for my best friend, then rush inside only to wait until a few minutes after the arranged appointment time. Ah well, I was here on time. They can't blame me. "Please, have a seat in the waiting room," the nurse announces. I smile and walk away. In the waiting room, I answer my mom's questions about my health until I get called into the doctor's office.

My facade crumbles at her smalltalkish "So, how are you doing today?" I was managing until she asked. It's like when my husband told me the day before that I seemed better. Don't question my mood or I will.

I manage to stop the tears by breathing deeply. In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. In, two, three, four. After a few repetitions I have myself under control again. Luckily, my doctor pretends to be busy with her keyboard while I fight the tears. When my breathing returns to normal, she looks up from her keyboard. She doesn't ask how I am again, instead waits for me to start talking.

That morning, I had prepared the questions and comments I needed to get through on my phone. To avoid further breakdowns, I start at the top. Executing a plan is easier than thinking. Fifteen minutes later, I leave the practice with a new referral to a psychiatrist ("Please treat urgently.") and a prescription for different meds.

For the second time in my life, I'll be on SSRIs. Quotes from Lost Connection by Johann Hari run through my mind. I started reading the book (or rather re-reading, as I listened to the audio book version a few years ago) that very morning. I know SSRI aren't a long-term solution. But, I tell myself, right now, I need something to reboot, to get better, so I can actually tackle the underlying issues. My doctor agrees. I'm not sure cares about my long-term plans, as long as I take the damn pills.

So, I'll take the damn pills, fully intent to find a better solution over the next few months.

Back in the car, I record an updated voice message for my best friend and my mom while I drive two roads down to the shopping center where the next pharmacy is.

"May I order these for you?" the nice pharmacist asks.

My first reaction is panic. Yeah, five minutes ago, I wasn't even sure if I wanted the damn pills but now that I can't get them, I suddenly need them. I manage to keep the anger out of my voice that's suddenly bubbling under the surface and ask when they will be availble. Today, 4pm, okay, good. I pay the co-pay and get back into the car.

In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four.

After a few breaths, I'm calm enough to drive. I get home. The husband is in a call, so I'll have to walk the dog. "Wanna go for a walk?" I ask without much enthusiasm. Pepper doesn't care, wags his tail, runs toward the door.

After another minimal-distance walk, I sit down at my desk again. It's two minutes to eleven when I have a call with the student counselor. I take a few more deep breaths and join the Zoom call. I explain the situation and the plan, ask about the prior learning. He agrees with my plan and promises to figure out why I haven't heard about getting my prior learning accepted for credit. The internet craps out at the end of the call, so we have to finish via email. At 11.20, I'm finished with the call (and the emails). As the internet is wonky, I decide to write again. My husband's lunch break starts in ten minutes. I ignore the fact that I'll get interrupted again and get a few sentences onto the page.

My door opens. "Lunch?" I knew this would happen but it still annoys me that I didn't get far. I interrupt mid-sentence and join my husband for lunch. I don't feel like anything but force myself to make a large salad. It's surprisingly delicious. I follow it up with some grapes.

I sit back down in my chair thirty minutes later. I'll get some writing done, then work on biology until my therapy appointment (self-paid until I can find a spot for insurance-covered therapy) at 3.15 pm. I have to pee what feels like every ten minutes. My phone rings, a callback from a company I called last week. Not a good time, but I take it anyway before they make me wait another week. Electricity is kind of essential.

Back to writing. I even manage to get into a flow state and write without distraction for a while, but it's not long before the door bell rings. I hear the doorbell downstairs, too, and their dog barks up a storm. My dog growls and stands at attention by the door, ready to run into the living room.

It's a giant package of dog food. The nice post man asks about the sauna situation referring to the fact that we still can't control our heating and it's too hot during the day and too cold at night. Right, I need to call the landlord about that. He's been ignoring my emails for ten days. It's about time he answers me. I manage to get the dog food package out of the way and sit back down. Two minutes later, both door bells ring again. Another package... this time for downstairs. I really need to get some temporary labels onto the door bell until the landlord finally gets the real ones.

I look at the time. Fuck, it's past two already. I should call that one therapist who opens at 2 before they close again at 2.20. Why do therapists make it so hard to reach them? They all have different phone hours and they are all way too short, so you don't get through even if you get the right time frame.

The line rings. I wait, not expecting to actually get through. I'm already annoyed that no one picks up, when the receptionist finally does. I explain that I'm looking for therapy. "No, sorry, we don't offer therapy. The doctor has the necessary qualifications and we are on all the lists, but we don't actually offer therapy." Maybe they should alert the doctor's network that they don't offer therapy.

Back to what I was doing. What was I doing again? Oh right, writing. But wait, shouldn't I call the landlord. I might as well. I've already interrupted the writing, so what's the harm? I call the landlord and get a few excuses about being too busy. I manage not to yell at him and finally add a temporary name sign to the doorbells. It's progress but it's not what I had planned on doing today.

You are what you do. Well, then I'm a fucking secretary.

The left side of my abdomen hurts. Is it another ovarian cyst or just my brain being stupid again? The fact that my brain causes the symptoms doesn't make them less real. But it makes me feel stupid, like I'm just not able to cope and that's what's causing the entire mess. The guilt of having caused the symptoms with my mental health just adds another worry to the system and causes more physical symptoms. How will I get out of this cycle? And then there's the fact that everyone still thinks that I have endometriosis. I have a specialist appointment at the end of the month. Maybe it's related to that? Maybe it's not my brain after all. I get stuck in thinking about the cause of the pain instead of doing anything useful.

It's 2.40 pm now. I have about half an hour until my therapist appointment. I decide to use the time to continue writing this post and actually get quite a bit done. I manage to write the entire introduction and catch up the present time. Progress. I'm proud of myself for getting something done.

At 3 pm, my alarm goes off to remind me to call the next therapists before my session at 3.15 pm. I rush to the restroom again and as expected I don't actually have to pee but am just nervous or stressed or whatever. Time to get to work.

I gave up on finding a permanent (insurance-covered) therapist after calling the first five numbers on the list. All of them had the same answer: The doctor doesn't offer therapy. All of them are on the fucking list. But I had to stop anyway, as it was time for my trial therapy session with Chloé.

Chloé seems like a really good fit. If she turns out to be ideal, I might figure out how to keep seeing her despite the cost. I'm much less stressed about finding an insurance-covered therapist now, as I have hope. I haven't been hopeful in a long time. I feel like she might actually be able to help me. We didn't go deep and just did a first assessment of where I am and where I want to be, talking about my current emotional distress and past trauma. Over time, I'm sure ,we'll go deep on most of those topics we touched upon today.

I am hopeful. And it's strangely motivating. I know I might be talking myself into this hope. I'm fully aware of it. But right now, I don't care if the hope is warranted. I'll use every damn piece of this energy burst. Well, right after I pick up my meds.

This turned out much longer than anticipated. It's unlikely that the future posts will be this detailed but we'll see. I'll share the journey, no matter how many paragraphs it takes.

*This is just an expression. I'm not actually sponsored by anyone, let alone Phillips Hue.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.