No one should ever have to choose between health care and food and shelter.
And yet, I’ve spent the last five years doing just that despite having health insurance through my husband’s employer. In American English, my health coverage is misleadingly called a “benefit”. However, I fail to see how something I pay for yet can’t afford to use actually benefits me.
It does not. All I have to show for my insurance is a bunch of plastic insurance cards bulking up my empty wallet, not wellness.
Because co-pays are the problem. We’ve been barely surviving on one salary that never stretches far enough in one of the most expensive parts of the country so any health care beyond a yearly physical — especially that which requires an ongoing commitment like therapy — is a luxury.
This is why I do not have a “medical team” and I didn’t talk much, if at all, about what ailed me for the longest time. Instead, I lost years of my life as I singlehandedly tried to deflect depression and prevent my brain from killing me. Survival became a full-time job with a constant death threat hanging over my head.
But when you live like this, a brain that keeps telling you life isn’t worth living sounds rational, realistic, even helpful at times. Pushing back against suicidal ideation requires the kind of sustained and ongoing mental strength I never knew I had. Getting to witness a new sunrise is still a surprise, mostly a good one, but not always.
I’m still smarting from the brutal realization that I live in a country that doesn’t value human life and dehumanizes sick people, a country where health care is just another commodity.
Reading about this in the news while sitting on the other side of the Atlantic where universal health care is your birthright is one thing, living it is quite another.
What’s more, there’s the shame of being sick compounded by the shame of lacking the resources to look after yourself, both of which can — and do — lead to isolation.
I became a hermit.
Depression felled me almost as soon as I landed in the U.S. although it took me a while to identify it.
For lack of means, it’s an illness I’ve been fighting alone. As a result, I’ve lost several years barely navigating life among conflicting thoughts likely to go off at any time, like undetonated landmines.
Before I even had a chance to build a new network of friends and colleagues, I had retreated between four walls and cut off almost all contact with the outside world so as not to inconvenience anyone.
So as not to be a burden.
But I became obsessed with survival and saving my own life, MacGyver-style, only with a pen instead of a paper clip.
When that failed to happen because the only thing oozing from my pen was bilious, amorphous screeds on how pointless life seemed, I stopped writing in a bid to protect what used to be my craft and livelihood.
Bereft of the mental clarity needed to confidently articulate thoughts, I sank deeper and deeper into the cesspool of depression. Unused to turning the pen on myself, I believed America didn’t need another “poor me” narrative or another emotionally incontinent writer letting it all hang out on the internet for sympathy.
Although the urge to write never went away, the shame inherent to my current circumstances censored it. I was so disconnected from life I couldn’t even comprehend how speaking up was the only way to reclaim not only my voice but also my agency and dignity from depression and resulting hardship.
For someone whose stock-in-trade is words, this belated realization felt like a homecoming.
The moment you express what is within — whatever your means of expressing it — you send out a flare into the world, no matter how isolated you may be.
If you keep sending out those flares, sooner or later someone will see you. Some kind of connection will happen, clearing some space in your mind for new imaginings, ideas, plans.
Call it possibility, call it future, call it hope: refocusing the lens of your mind onto the many ecosystems to which you belong can yank your brain out of isolation.
By engaging with the world at large, you not only allow yourself to be seen but you also provide others with the opportunity to join in the conversation, think aloud, and ultimately come up with ways to make life that little bit easier for everyone.
If naming what ails you sets you free, think about the effect speaking up might have on another human when they realize you’re in the same predicament as them. The solo becomes a duet, the duet becomes a choir…
But first, you need to take back your voice and narrative from whatever inner and outer forces conspire to silence you.
Here’s a shortcut: get angry.
Even if you’re the mild-mannered type and depression is mental Teflon that prevents any feeling from sticking because you’re so numb, your anger is in there somewhere. So much has gone awry in 2018 America (or Brexit Britain) that to not be incandescent with rage every single minute of every single day is a challenge for most folks. Although anger is often portrayed as a destructive force, deep discontent can be used to fuel intellectual inquiry, conversation, and art, all of which bring people together and keep darkness at bay.
This is how we grow; this is how we evolve; this is how we overcome.
Because whether we want it or not, we’re all one another’s witness, even in this deeply individualistic, consumerist capitalist abomination.
Your voice is your weapon.
Be heard, or fall silent and remain defenseless.