See Why I Saw My First Psychiatrist, Part One and Why I Saw My First Psychiatrist, Part Two and Why I Saw My First Psychiatrist, Part Three and Why I Saw My First Psychiatrist, Part Four for the full story.
For the first time in my life, I had someone to talk to about what was going on in my head. My history was littered with failed attempts at reaching out, which made Dr. Ragu's intense attention all the more unbelievable.
For instance, when I was in grade ten, I joined a group called Peer Counseling that met over the lunch hour once a week. I had this idea that it was going to be some kind of support group, which I wanted, because I was fighting strong suicidal feelings at the time, but when I showed up to the first meeting, I was greeted by a circle of smiley-faced eleventh- and twelfth-graders dressed in expensive clothing and seated with their hands folded on top of their desks.
I'm sorry, I said. I think I have the wrong room.
Are you looking for Peer Counselling? the guidance counselor leading the group asked.
Then you're in the right place, she said.
I thought to myself, I doubt that very much, and took a seat near the door.
As it turned out, Peer Counseling was not a support group that was intended to help its own members; it was a support group that was intended to reach out to students in apparent need outside the group. We were all supposed to be well-adjusted good samaritans who kept lonely students from offing themselves in out-of-the-way bathrooms.
I am not kidding. The guidance counselor, to whom I will refer as Mrs. Lester, took a few minutes during our third meeting to give us all a heads up about a loner who was often found eating her sandwiches alone in the bathroom just outside the theatre. One girl shot up her hand.
Do you think she's depressed? she asked.
Yes, I do, said Mrs. Lester.
She must be suicidal, another girl said. I totally would be suicidal if I ate my lunch in a bathroom. What should we do?
I think it would be nice if you all could make an effort to bump into her and let her know that she's not alone, Mrs. Lester said.
I could just imagine it. Ten members of Peer Counselling were going to drop on this girl like Christian fundamentalists on a possible new convert, filled with the spirit of charity for the psychologically downtrodden. I was a bit of a loner myself, so I felt bad for her that Mrs. Lester had sicced a bunch of rosy-faced do-gooders on her in what might have been her only calm place in that whole high school. These people irritated the hell out of me, and I rarely even had to speak to them directly let alone be cornered by them in a dingy bathroom where no one could hear me scream.
A few meetings later, Mrs. Lester showed us a film that contained interviews with suicidal teenagers. She turned off the lights and started up the clattery film projector. As soon as an ancient, green, metal film projector made an appearance, you knew that you were going to be treated to a scratched 1960s educational movie with stilted line delivery. We spent the next half-hour watching teenagers who were now our parents' age telling us how hopeless they felt.
Mrs. Lester asked us what we had learned from the film.
I think that you would have to be crazy to feel like that, one person said.
I agree, said another. No sane person would ever think that way.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I had contemplated suicide off and on for six years already, and the other peer counselors' reactions to the film seemed cruel to me. I finally figured out what I hated so much about all of them: they saw themselves as benevolent, psychologically superior, leaders of the lost. All I ever really saw them do was brag about how they had bothered to wave hello or say something nice to someone who looked sad, and Mrs. Lester did nothing to dispel their belief that other people were sad because either they did not smile enough or they were completely mad.
You're all full of shit, I said under my breath. My hands and legs were trembling. I never spoke out loud in formal situations.
What was that? asked Mrs. Lester.
You are all full of shit, I said more loudly and stood up. I swivelled around and propelled myself toward the door. I was unsteady on my feet from all the adrenaline my glands were spitting out, and I was not sure that I could make it out of the room if I waited any longer.
Why do you say that? asked Mrs. Lester, ever calm.
Suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone, Mrs. Lester, and you should tell them that. I made it through the door and pulled it closed behind me. There was no sound from the other side. I felt like a freak. I was pretty sure that I was a freak.
A few days later, I was called down to Mrs. Lester's office. She told me that she was worried about me. You would think that I would have seen that as an opportunity to share how afraid of my own brain I was, but I knew that I could not talk to her. I was less than impressed with her Peer Counseling group.
Can you tell me what's going on with you? she asked.
It's hard to talk about, I said, trying to buy myself a little time until I found a decent diversion. Then, I hit upon it. I think I might be a lesbian. Lesbianism: a surefire way to add tension to a conversation in the mid-1980s in a largely uninhabited agricultural province.
What? Are you sure? How do you know? She almost always spoke in questions, and they were almost always stupid. Do you want to talk about it?
Nope. Not really, I said as I gathered up my books. I'll come back if I need anything. She told me to make another appointment with her on my way out, but I didn't. I was gender-confused and bi-curious at the time, but I did not know enough about lesbianism to keep up my end of a fake counselling session.
That last meeting with Mrs. Lester following my outburst signalled the end of my Peer Counselling career. I decided never to go back. I was relieved, but I also realized that I had completely screwed up any opportunity it had afforded me to be honest about what I was going through. I had joined the group because I had a need to fill, only I did not tell anyone why I was there, including the guidance counsellor. Of course, I later discovered that they were all a bunch of nimrods, but before I found that out I had ample opportunity to tell someone, anyone, what I was going through and that I needed help.
I guess I was too used to keeping mum. I had managed to stay quiet about being suicidal for six years, so I wasn't exactly itching to spill the beans. I just wanted to stop feeling so alone with it, and the other members of the Peer Counselling group only managed to compound my sense of isolation with their utter lack of comprehension.
Some days, I wish I could take that fifteen-year-old Schmutzie and drag her to a therapist already.
Oh, but wait! I did! Only she was twenty when I took her to see her first psychiatrist. I mean, I was twenty when I took myself to see my first psychiatrist, Dr. Ragu. It is a good thing that fifteen-year-old Schmutzie did not know that it would be another five years before she sought help in any sort of effective manner, because things got really hinky after that, and she did not need any more stress than she already had.
(This entry is also posted at RealMental.org)
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