Interview Seventeen: Delayed Realization
“But, if there is one thing I’ve learned from this process, it’s that there are people out there who care. Every single person who called campus police on me genuinely cared. Every single person who I worked with in treatment cared. Every single person who came to visit me after I lost my enrollment, they especially cared. To some degree, I regret having not shown enough gratitude to every individual who has helped me along the way. I only hope that this piece may show them that I say thank you.”
[Content Warning: Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts, Abusive Relationships, Alcohol Abuse, Some Strong Language]
Reading Time – 18 minutes
Part One: Childhood
There’s Probably Not Everything Right With Me
My path with mental health can either be taken back to when I was six… or when I was 12. When I was six, 9/11 happened. My mom picked me up from school, and she said that there was someone attacking our country who hated Americans. And that we needed to get home to be safe. I turned on the television when I got home, and I saw the image of the World Trade Center falling down… that playing over and over and over again throughout the night. I didn’t really understand what was geopolitically going on; all I knew is that there was someone who attacked Americans. For a while, I was anxious. What if this could happen again? What if this happens even closer to home? I was living in Maryland at the time, about ten miles away from the Pentagon. I was close.
My mom was very concerned about me and decided to put me into child therapy. I was in and out of school a lot, because I had such anxiety about being in the public eye. My mom wanted me to do just standard therapy, but my dad really wanted me on meds. You know, giving meds to a six-year-old isn’t always the best option. It’s not something to be taken lightly. My dad understood this, since he’s a clinical psychiatrist. But still… giving medication to a six-year-old is a little severe. They decided not to give me meds, and during the course of the year, my anxiety calmed down. It was my first real experience with… you know, that there’s probably not everything right with me. There’s something about me that’s different from the other kids.
I Thought That Wouldn’t Happen to Me
When I was 12, my parents got divorced. Divorce is not an easy process to go through. I didn’t see it coming. Now that I’m older, I’m like, “Oh my God, they are so bad for each other! Why the hell weren’t they going to divorce?” They are so much happier now since they aren’t together, but at the time I didn’t get that. It felt like my world was shattered. I had friends whose parents were divorced, but I thought that wouldn’t happen to me.
I felt vulnerable, and throughout 7th grade I was going through a depressive phase due to this vulnerability. The divorce affected me through high school, but I think it was especially hard dealing with it while I was also going through puberty. I mean, middle school is a tough time for everyone… everyone’s self-conscious. Dealing with the normal pressures of middle school plus this… it was exhausting. Some things were very triggering… like when my dad was starting to date again… three months after the divorce. I just wasn’t ready to hear that stuff yet.
I began seeing an adult therapist… as in, a therapist that didn’t just do play therapy with me. The therapist… well, he was more of a listener. Now that I’m older, I know what coping mechanisms are, and he didn’t give me too many mechanisms to work with. Perhaps because I wasn’t at the age to get what a coping mechanism was. A lot of the time it seemed like he was just taking my mom’s side, rather than giving me a balanced perspective about divorce. He seemed more interested in repeating to me what my mom said. I didn’t feel I could work on my health at that time.
Part Two: High School
Signaling That I Was Done
In high school I behaved pretty badly. I think it was a reaction to the depressive feelings related to the divorce. I did the typical things that any rebellious high school student would do… smoked too much weed, drank too much, did drugs… It put a lot of stress on my mom. She immediately brought me back to the therapist I saw when I was 12. That was really bad. He was just like, “You shouldn’t be smoking weed.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it… You don’t have to keep repeating this to me!”
About six months into therapy I hit my first episode of temper. I think one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t recognize my severe temper for a long time. The last session that we had, I was so frustrated with him that I decided to pick up a chair in his office and throw it across the room… not at him. The moment I threw that chair, therapy immediately shut down.
Psychology is an imprecise science. Sometimes therapists have ways of dealing with things with imprecision. Perhaps this therapist wasn’t ready to deal with anger management… especially someone my age. As my mom so eloquently put it, “You may be a child, but you have the physical capabilities of an adult man.” At the same time, I wasn’t really interested in dealing with him anymore. Maybe, to me, that outburst was a way out… a way of signaling that I was done.
One of the big things about my temper… it scares people. People think of homicidal ideation, but I never intend that. It’s always in the sentiment of trying to get out deep anger that I’ve had. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized through skills therapy that getting your anger out through physical expression actually makes your anger worse. When people say “punch a pillow”, that’s actually a bad idea. DBT therapy has taught me about that. No matter how angry you are, you have to deal with your anger in a constructive way.
I Try So Hard to Rid Her From My Thoughts
In high school, I was in a relationship where my girlfriend physically abused me. This girlfriend… she was really bad. I dated her for about a couple months, and it was probably was one of the most stressful times of my life. Her outbursts were incredibly random. One minute, she was totally happy and joyful… the other minute, she was throwing shit at me. Beer bottles, chairs… almost emulating my first temperamental episode. I thought that after a while, maybe I could figure out the pattern… like if she was drinking, or if we were in a public environment, perhaps that set her off.
I link a lot of my temperament problems to her. I try so hard to rid her from my thoughts. Maybe these physical outbursts could be emulations of her… or me wanting mental control over my life in ways she didn’t give me. My parents tried to get me to leave the relationship, but I was so sick of them telling me what to do, I used my temper to throw a big ass Listerine bottle across the room. Blue liquid was everywhere.
After she had thrown a beer bottle at me, I just got to a point when I said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore.” I was an absolute fucking wreck. I cut her off, blocked her number, blocked everything of hers. You know, she tried calling, she tried messaging… but I wanted to make it clear to her that I couldn’t do this anymore. Surprisingly, she eventually got the point.
Generally Feeling Like I Didn’t Deserve Happiness
I felt confusion. For me, it was my third real relationship… and at that point, maybe I just wasn’t ready to accept that it was abusive, because she was warm and caring with me in the other moments. This is a thing with toxic relationships in my life; I think I confuse the fact that one wants to be physically intimate with me with the idea that they are stable. In the aftermath of that relationship, I started drinking a lot more, hanging out with unstable people, and generally had self-loathing for myself. Generally feeling like I didn’t deserve happiness.
Previously, I haven’t been comfortable in talking about it, because it’s so embarrassing at times, to be a man abused by a woman. But the people I’ve discussed it with have been incredibly supportive. There’s so many taboos about men being abused in society, so I’m glad my peers have been supportive. It was so hard to talk about it, like… “Fuck! There’s this thing above my head. I’m in a new place. No one knows who was involved. What should I do about it?”
My First Period of Genuine Love
My next significant relationship was with this girl… she really helped me process that a lot of my problems stemmed from self-loathing and self destruction. We dated from high school to early college. She’s a great person, and she really got it. We’re still friends today. We eventually had to break up, because it was apparent that we were in different priority zones. We tried long distance at the end, but it wasn’t working. We were becoming different people. That being said, she’s still key to my support system.
It was my first period of genuine love, and… this sounds so fucking schmaltzy… she was the first person to show me what a healthy relationship and healthy love looked like. I wish I had took it more to heart with myself.
Part Three: College
A Sense of Emotional Distance
I had a significant relationship in college… she was a junior, I was a sophomore. For the first year or so, it was a fucking dream relationship. She was pretty, smart, thoughtful. We got to talk about interesting things… from race to memes. But, I think I should have recognized at that at her age, her indecisiveness as a person would come to hurt me. Here’s the thing: if someone’s indecisive, they have a hard time committing to things. And if they have a hard time committing to things, they aren’t going to be very committed to your relationship.
So, about a year and a half into our relationship, she starts feeling a sense of “emotional distance” as she calls it… or feeling “emotionally detached”… a sense of missing how she was when she was single. She wanted to do things like going out until 5am, but I told her, “You don’t have the energy for that because you’re older now…” There’s ways to try and work through relationship problems. But, she never seemed to want to work that hard on it.
The Whole Thing Seemed So Defeated
Instead, we tried being in an open relationship for a few months. Here’s the thing… polyamory works… open, not really. It was a huge emotional weight on me. I thought I’d be willing to try this out, because I loved her. I wanted to make sure she felt comfortable and that she wasn’t unhappy. The whole thing seemed so defeated… she just wanted physicality with another man. I think she wasn’t expecting our relationship to go on this long.
Eventually we stopped being open. It was putting a strain on our relationship, and she felt that she wasn’t giving enough respect to her partners… that they deserved real relationships. For the rest of the year, I thought we were working on the emotional distance, but eventually she said, “No.” She said we weren’t compatible. One of the guys she was hooking up with during the open phase, she decided to become his girlfriend… two weeks after we broke up. I suspect that she was cheating on me, and several other people have substantiated those claims.
I’d say the moment this girl and I broke up, I hit a severe situational depression. And when she wanted to break up, she wanted to break up… didn’t want to talk about it or discuss it, even today. I didn’t really know what to do about my support system anymore, because she was it for two and a half years. One time I tried to call her to tell her what happened, and she said basically, “If you call me again I’m considering putting a restraining order on you.” That landed me in the hospital. Now I’ve never physically threatened nor had the intent to physically violate her space. I could never live with the idea of being a “stalker”. Everyone deserves their personal space… even Brock Turner, and he’s a shit.
Taking My Depressive Feelings Out on the Family
[Content Warning: Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts]
Maybe I should have realized that she had some problems of her own. Loving me so quickly, then being that quick to want me out of her life. It put an immense pressure on my mental health, and it still does. You know, I still sometimes miss her. It will probably come back to bite her, because let’s be real… dating a rebound is not going to get you over your feelings.
I go on dates now. I do OkCupid, that kind of stuff. You know, it’s great to meet new people… I really enjoy it, but I don’t look at it as pivotal to my recovery process. You can’t get too emotionally attached to people, especially when you’re in all sorts of transitions.
But, I hit a pretty severe fucking depression after this break up. The first suicide attempt I made was a week after the relationship ended. It was before I found out about the new guy she was seeing. I was sitting in the bathtub, sitting with some pills… I called up a friend, and she told me to talk to my parents about it. So I did that, and my mom basically said she couldn’t deal with this right now. She felt that I was taking my depressive feelings out on the family. It was absolutely painful. My mom has often been an obstacle to my mental health, though things have gotten better recently. Recently, she’s felt very guilty about her past actions.
Breaking Stigma or Promoting Stigma?
Because of that, I decided to leave home and move back to Pittsburgh. I really felt like a pain. I felt this severe emotional loneliness. In that emotional loneliness, I talked to a friend and told her that I thought the best way to deal with this situation would be to drink everything in my liquor cabinet. Next thing I know, CMU campus police was at my door. My friend was worried, because I stopped taking her calls. She had every right to call… we’re still friends, despite some rough spots.
At this point, I started working with the CMU administration and student affairs. The liaison to student affairs there… had good intentions, but was really good at exacerbating situations. This is unfortunately common in the field of mental health care… they seemingly want to break stigma, but by creating unstable situations for individuals, they end up promoting stigma. I was assigned to an intensive outpatient program (IOP) and was told I would be getting some campus-based therapy along with it… sometime in the future. You’re going to see a trend… I kept being told I’m getting campus-based therapy, but I never actually got campus-based therapy.
I signed all these kinds of releases, and I was told I would be assigned to an IOP within two weeks… which is a bit of a differential of time, especially for a kid in crisis. I was told I couldn’t use campus-based therapy while in the IOP, because you can’t have an outside therapist during that time. I understood that, but it was still annoying to have my therapy so delayed. There’s a question I’ve been thinking about recently: what does CMU do if someone doesn’t have the money or insurance coverage to be a part of an IOP program? Do they just kick people out? I still don’t have a clear answer on it.
The Restraining Order Threat
Over that weekend, I hit another episode of loneliness. I called up another friend to tell her I was feeling some suicidal ideation. She told me to go to the campus counseling office and wait for the campus police to pick me up. This is when the liaison told me that for the sake of ensuring my enrollment on campus in the upcoming semester, they wanted me off-campus for the rest of winter break. I took his threat in stride, because he had the ability to put a forced leave of absence on me. I felt I had no choice. I left Pittsburgh.
Once I got back to Maryland, I called my ex… probably one too many times… 10 times. Eventually she left me a voicemail, because I didn’t want to answer. I knew I scared her, and I regret having done that. She said, “If you call me one more time, I’m going to seriously consider putting a restraining order on you.” I just wanted to know what was up with her life….. I felt a sense of withdrawal. I wasn’t ready for abandonment, especially from someone I loved.
Once she mentioned the restraining order, I started drinking everything in the liquor cabinet. I got super, super drunk… and starting yelling on the phone with my friends. I started telling people that my ex was putting a restraining order on me and that I couldn’t fucking do this anymore! It scared a lot of people. My stepmom came into my room with the EMS, and they took me to the hospital. My BAC was around 0.242. The legal limit is 0.08… a lot lower. That was my first instance of recognizing a needed to recover. I needed to get better. I went into inpatient for two days. Inpatient is the fucking worst! There’s nothing to do, and it feels as though everyone else has worse problems than you.
Starting the IOP
After getting out of inpatient, I went back to Pittsburgh. The liaison to student affairs knew what happened, because my father called him. He specifically told me that if there were no trouble spots, they could make sure I graduated. That means I needed to make sure that campus police wasn’t called on me again and that I stayed in treatment. It was the first time he notified me that campus police was a benchmark of my enrollment. From then on, I told my friends, “If you’re ever concerned about my health, find a different resource than campus police.”
I started the IOP, which was geared towards adolescents and young adults, and I was the oldest one there. It was hard for me to relate. The IOP wasn’t really focused on processing what you were going through, but rather drilling skills into your head. It’s okay, but I needed the processing. When you’re feeling emotionally unstable, I think it’s key to have some sort of process group involved. It was also schedule-wise problematic. It isn’t easy to do nine hours a week of therapy when I’m taking a full course load and working on my thesis.
I had to skip classes and lectures. The scheduling might be okay for someone not in college, like many in that group, but for me, it was hard. Because I was expected to perform at a much higher academic level than many of the kids, I needed an IOP that was more flexible.
I felt out of place, and during this time I also found out that my ex was seeing that guy she was with when we were in an open relationship. I started binge drinking again… as a way of trying to ignore my obligations… just binge drink and play video games. Now I know that’s not the right action. If you think alcohol is going to make you feel better, it’s not. It’s a depressant, so it’s probably going to make you feel worse.
My friends found out what I was doing and notified my case manager. He called me into a meeting, and I said, “Yeah, I get it. Binge drinking is not a healthy way of dealing with things. It’s functional alcoholism.” I knew that deep down. But I also knew deep down that this was a mode of exertion… a way to get my feelings out… a way for me to self-harm. I tried to explain to my case manager that IOP wasn’t helpful… that this whole arrangement was not sustainable. Rather than working with me to find another treatment, he actually slapped me with a mandate. The document basically said, “You need to go to IOP, or we can take away your enrollment.”
Too Severe for Campus Therapy
I stopped binge drinking for a while… decided to work on other methods that would make me happier. I started using other escape mechanisms… started eating a lot, starting taking on a lot of project work, went on way too many Tinder dates… like four a weekend. It was a confidence booster… I could get over my ex romantically. There were other women out there. I was honest and transparent, letting my dates know that I was going to graduate and leave Pittsburgh soon.
IOP still sucked so much… but I made it work. Even if I have this nine hours a week, even if it’s stressful, I’ll just make it work. That being said, I requested discharge about four weeks into IOP. IOP was okay with it, as long as I got some regular outpatient care after it. They contacted the campus counseling office, and they said: 1) you need to find some kind of outpatient care, and 2) it cannot be campus therapy.
It came as a shock to me, because up until this point, I had been told by individuals in my treatment plan over and over again that I would be allowed this treatment. Their argument was that they were only short-term therapy, not an actual outpatient provider. I was told my case was too severe at that time for me to get their therapy. I only had two months left to go to graduate… why the hell couldn’t it work?
“Oh, we can help you find a therapist!” They didn’t.
“Oh, we can connect you to the community outside of CMU!” They didn’t.
And so, it was completely up to me to find my outpatient care before my discharge later that week. I went on HealthGrades and called every goddamn clinical psychologist who had decent ratings on there… trying to make some kind of meaningful connection. Getting short-term outpatient care is surprisingly hard. They put me in a shitty situation where it’s hard to find someone in the short term, and clinical psychologists don’t typically want short-term commitments. Thankfully I found someone within the week.
I discharged from IOP and saw my psychologist, who basically said, “You seem not in crisis mode. We can do every other week.” Originally, that made sense to me. I didn’t feel like I was in crisis mode, and I could work through a lot of these feelings on my own… but if something did come up it wouldn’t be such an issue. Unfortunately, the week after I was discharged from IOP… I kinda slipped.
That week my ex came to pick up some of her stuff. When I saw her… something was triggered deep inside, just having to face her again. Recognizing that she didn’t want me in her life anymore… ever. It felt like I hurt her.
So after she picked up her stuff, I went to the O and picked up three six-packs of Angry Orchard Cider… so I had to get one of the employees to carry one out for me. I drank about nine of those in 30 minutes and went through… basically a psychotic break down. Drunk as fuck… throwing shit around my room… throwing my phone at the wall… burned a t-shirt, one my ex gave me. My roommates found me and said I needed to go to the hospital. I was brought to Presby, threw up, blacked out, threw up again, blacked out again. Then I was brought to Western Psych, and I convinced the psychiatrist to let me go.
I got back and was absolutely emotionally drained the next day. I told my friends that I was feeling spent, and my roommate called campus police on me. I was interrupted in my recitation to campus police showing up. It didn’t make me feel any better to have campus police show up in the middle of class. Then a couple of days later I told a friend on Facebook that I was feeling really drained… kind of out of it. They called campus police on me too.
The liaison showed up and said we needed to consider what to do. I told him that dropping my enrollment would probably make my depression worse. I went for a walk to clear my head, and my roommate insisted on following me. I told him to leave me alone and walked to Schenley, where campus police showed up… a fifth fucking time. I told my roommate that my enrollment would be in danger if he kept calling campus police. I think he saw it as though getting kicked off campus would help me get better.
After that incident, the liaison said to me, “We can’t ensure your safety on campus, so we’re going to have to put you on indefinite leave.” I was crushed, but maybe I should have seen it coming at that point… inevitable. I just wanted to jump off the bridge at Schenley. I didn’t know when I could be back on campus or how I would pay for extra semesters. I had a job lined up for summer, and I didn’t know what would happen with that. Most of all, I didn’t know where I was going to live in the immediate future.
Part Four: Recovery
Even though I was in an existential crisis that whole week, I recognize now that it was so important that I kept going. After that incident, I had a lot of people coming to my dorm, checking up on me… seeing how I was doing. They knew how crushing that would be. I didn’t realize how many people would reach out to me. I was so ready to jump off that bridge, but people care. I realized I had a bigger support system than I thought.
Even though I’m doing better, it was because of me. CMU hasn’t really given me a lot of resources to help me since I left. All the following inpatient care, the next IOP I was part of, the work with a private practice psychiatrist… all me. If there’s one secondary thing that I’ve learned, it’s that campus resources aren’t always going to help your situation. If anything, they can seemingly exacerbate the situation.
But, if there is one thing I’ve learned from this process, it’s that there are people out there who care. Every single person who called campus police on me genuinely cared. Every single person who I worked with in treatment cared. Every single person who came to visit me after I lost my enrollment, they especially cared. To some degree, I regret having not shown enough gratitude to every individual who has helped me along the way. I only hope that this piece may show them that I say thank you.
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